Old-school sign painters are bringing beauty back to brands


Before the invention of the vinyl plotter in the 1980s, the vast majority of signs, from shopfronts to billboards and even street signs, were painted or created by hand. Imagine the richness and variety of our high streets back in the day! Sadly, with its cheaper and faster production, the vinyl plotter turned the sign painting industry on its head. Artists were usurped by machinery and unskilled workers, and the craft was all but lost.

Now I know the merits of beautiful, hand-rendered type is not exactly a new discussion topic. There is clearly a growing respect for the painted word, which is reflected in design trends around the world. Perhaps this is a backlash against the banality of our homogenised high streets, or an escape from our digital bubbles. Whatever the reason, the trend is bringing about something of a renaissance in the sign-painting trade. Filmmakers, Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, have documented over two dozen old-school practitioners in their new film/book project, Sign Painters.



The book explores the trade’s time-honoured methods and profiles the work and words of America’s sign painting veterans, as well as the industry’s new blood. This is a proper visual feast for type-nuts!


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Featured artists, New Bohemia Signs are the longest established sign shop in San Francisco, dealing exclusively in hand painted signs.


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Colossal Media live up to their name with enormous hand painted murals and ad campaigns. The impact of their work cuts through the sensory overload of New Yorks busiest streets.


The Sign Painters movie is set for release some time this year. Stay tuned!

Tamarin Watson
Design Creative



  1. Janet Bromley

    Hey, was having a look at current vacancies and Truly Deeply popped up. If I had the education and the background I would be applying not talking to you here. Firstly: Truly Madly Deeply the best film I have seen so that is why I stopped and had a good look and then this post. Prior to the 80’s advertising grew at a slow pace and like music and art moved on to the next big thing with an acknowledgement of what had come before. I feel that design in advertising has been so caught up in the new that the past has been dismissed and devalued not intentionally but in the scheme of things the old way was not easy to duplicate, individuals have their own stamp on things and i guess there’s the issue of reproducing art and who gets what. Because it was art and when you look at it it is art, not so much now its just advertising – branding, a stamp. I will enjoy art coming back into what I look at every day, I think we all will.

    twitter: everart

  2. Thanks for your insights Janet! Glad you enjoyed the Sign Painters movie trailer, but just to be clear, this isn’t one of ours. This is a project by American film makers, Faythe Levine and Sam Macon. If you’re interested in the sign painting revival, please be sure to check out the project here signpaintermovie.blogspot.com.au. Thanks again for your comment.

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