Adding Further Details To The Store
By Grant Knowles

Wall Signs

Now that the four wall panels have been assembled, it is now time to add any wall signage. It is easier to do this when the building panels are flat than when the structure has been assembled.

Have you ever noticed that most commerical buildings have some form of signage gracing their windows or walls? This type of "graffiti" serves to bring life to the building as well as establishing a time frame for the scene. For example, a movie poster for Gone With The Wind will place the era into 1950's while a Star Wars ad will make it more recent. Thus it is important to pay careful attention to these little details.

There are four types of signs:

Dry Transfers
Dry Transfers is where an image is printed on the back side of a Carrier Sheet. The image can then be transfered onto another surface by simply rubbing the Carrier Sheet with a blunt instrument.

The first photo shows some Dry Transfer sheets with typical business type signs and advertisements. The Carrier sheet is actually transparent which aids in the placement process. There is often a frosted Backing Sheet that retained on the back side of the Carrier Sheet to prevent the images from inadvertantly coming off until used.

There are many manufactures of Dry Transfers in the model railroading hobby so you will often find these in most hobby shops.

Two of many Dry Transfer sets available from Woodland Scenics.
Photo: B. Farquhar

A blunt pencil can be used as a Burnishing Tool or you can use a commercialy available tool.
Photo: B. Farquhar

The process to apply a Dry Transfer is straight forward:
1. Select the image from the Carrier Sheet and place it over the desired location on the model. Remove the Backing Sheet. The transparent nature of the Carrier Sheet will allow you to locate the image in the correct location and orientation. Make sure it is level and square with the rest of the wall. If necessary, you may have to cut the image out of the full sheet in order to fit it into tight quarters. You may also want to tape the Carrier Sheet in place so it doesn't move while transfering the image.
2. Take your Burnishing Tool (or soft blunt pencil) and gently rub back and forth on the Carrier Sheet over the image to transfer the Dry Transfer to the model. If you look closely, you will notice it start to drop away from the Carrier Sheet.
3. Gently peel back the Carrier Sheet checking to ensure the image has transfered over to the model. If not, repeat the burnishing process to complete the transfer.
4. Now take the Backing Sheet and place it over the transfered image. Gently rub the burnishing tool across the Backing sheet to "fix" the image to the model. This completes the image transfer process.
5. Return the un used Dray Transfer back to their packing and ensure the Backing Sheet is behind the images otherwise they will eventually stick to the inside of the bag. Unused Dry Transfers will dry out over the years to you may want to keep them in a sealed bag for storage.

The Burnishing Tool is used to transfer the image onto the model.
Photo: B. Farquhar

Here the letters from an Letreset have been applied to a wall panel.
Photo: B. Farquhar

The finished product. Be careful to ensure all images are in line.
Photo: B. Farquhar

This sign was made with a Woodland Scenic Alphabet set. Note the date of 1889 which helps establish an "era" for the scene.

The Reisen Bakery sign was further "aged" by rubbing a soft wire brush across the surface which removed portions of the lettering.

Paper Signs
Paper signs are perhaps the easiest source and apply.
Like Dry Transfers, there are a number of hobby manufacturers who make sheets of images directly related to model railroading but you can also find likly images in magazines, books and on the internet. Essentialy you are looking for an image that has been printed on a paper carrier material.

City Classics produces a number of image "sheets", each based on a particular theme.
Photo: B. Farquhar

There are a number of ways to install the Paper Signs, so we will just focus on the two which you will likley use.

Flat Signs
Signs are typically made from printing an image on a solid flat surface, like tin or ply wood, this panel is then mounted to a vertical surface. To replicate this simply:
1. Select your image and cut round it including some of the white space.
2. Now find a suitable backing material. Stiff cardboard could be used along with sheet styrene, sheet wood, etc. Cut out a piece slightly larger than the image.
3. Apply the appropriate adhesive to the backing material. Lay the paper image on top of the glued backing material ensuring the image is completely supported by the backing material. Work out any bubbles and set aside to dry over night.
4. With a sharp knife, cut out the image and the backing material.
5. You may want to apply some paint to the cut edge of the image/backing material or even add a strip wood frame aound the sign.
6. Glue the Sign assembly to your structure.

The Johnson sign was glued to a sheet of cardboard before mounting on the building wall. Notice how is sits very flat.
Photo: B. Farquhar

This represents a sign that has been applied to a backing material then mounted to the wall.

Surface Signs
Another option will be to represent a sign that has been applied directly to the surface of the wall. As such, it will mirror any variation and imperfections of the wall surface.


Notice how the signs "curve" over the clap board. For added interest and to denote the passage of time, we have one sign applied over another.

The sign has been cut vertically in order for it to snuggle down over the course board & batten surface.

To do this, we will follow a slightly more complicated process:
1. The paper backing on the image must be "almost" totaly removed in order to allow the image to follow the contour of the wall surface. Cut out your image as close to the final shape as possible.
2. Take a piece of medium grit sand paper and lay in on a flat surface. Now carfully drag your back side of yor image across the sandpaper. Keep repeatinfg this process until the paper starts peeling off the image.
3. Carefully rotate the image around as you sand to ensure all of the paper backing is equally removed. Do this step solwly otherwise you may find you image will tear in half if you are too aggressive. You may even want to do a "test" image first to get the "feel" of it.
4. When you are satisfied the image is thin enough, we can proceed with gluing it to the model. Take some diluted white glue (50/50 mixture of water and glue) and paint it on the back of the sign. Now place the sign on the model and apply some more of the glue mixture on the sign surface. Let this dry over night.
5. For rough surfaces, you may have to cut the sign with a sharp knife along the ridges in order that it can snuggle down. Re-apply the glue mixture as required.

Carefull "pull" the paper image across the sand paper wearing down the full backing evenly.

These two signs have just been applied to the wall surface with the diluted glue mixture.

The finished sign. Notice how the "tears" and dusting with chalk give the illusion of the passage of time.

Wet Decals
We mustn't over look the old stand by - wet film decals.
In this case, the printed image is in teh top of a Carrier Sheet and coated with a clear film. By soaking the image in water, we are able to separate the decal from the carrier sheet and apply it to our model.

Here is the general process:
1. Locate the desired image on the carrier sheet and cut it out with a sharp knife by closely following it's outline.
2. Allow the decal to soak in a shallow tray of water for a couple of minutes. A sour cream container lid makes a nice tray. DO NOT tamper with the decal while it is soaking as this may damage the decal as the adhsive softens.
3. Remove the decal / carrier sheet together from the water and place it on the model adjacent to the final location.
4. With a paint brush wetted with water, carefully ease the decal off the carrier sheet and into position on the model. Do this carefully in order not to puncture the decal. Some decal brands are so thin, they will not withstand any man handling so be careful.
5. Use the edge of a paper towel to draw the excess water away from the decal. Allow the decal to fully dry.
6. Apply some decal setting solution to help the decal snuggle down to the building surface. Allow this to fully dry.

Wet Film decals can be sourced from many manufactures.

After the decal has soaked, carefully apply it to the model. Here the carrier sheet is carefully pulled out from undeneath the decal.

The water is allowed to evaporate off.

Painted Signs

The final type of signs we are going to look at are those which are "painted" right on to the model.

This building sign was made by following the steps below.
Photo: B. Farquhar

Once again the multi step process is straight forward:
1. Mask off the area on the building for the sign.
2. Paint this area with the Lettering colour. Let this dry over night.
3. Apply the Letter "stencil". This could be Peel & Stick or dry transfer letters. Make sure the lettering is firmly pressed down on the building otherwise the back ground paint (next step) will weep under the letters.
4. Now paint the whole area with the Back Ground paint colour. Let this paint dry over night.
5. Now carefully peel off the letter stencils. This will reveal the first colur that was applied - the lettering. Also remove the masking tape from around the border of the sign. Touch up any flaked paint.

Painters tape is used to mask off the sign area.

The lettering colour, black, is then brushed on.

The Peel & Stick letters are then applied. The colour of the letter stencils does not matter as they will be removed later.

The Back Ground colour, white in this example, is then applied.

Removal of the letter stencils revealed some paint weepage which was corrected by brush painting the letter colour on.

The finished sign.

The R. M. Allen & Son sign was made by masking off the sign area and painting the white back ground colour. Black dry transfer letters were then applied and left on.

Painted sign on a plaster building.

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This Web page is maintained by Grant Knowles and was last updated on Dec 30, 2008.