Hot rod!

As always it began in my head and then as a quick scribble in my sketchbook. I worked out the basic ideas on paper then set about building the vector files in EnRoute.

While some amazing 3D files of very complex shapes can be built using EnRoute Software, sometimes I like doing things in a simpler way. This sign was of a little cartoon convertible car sitting on a sign with a waving flag as a background. The sign face and flag were built in EnRoute using texture bitmaps I had created. The 3D waving motion of the flag was created by using a fade.

Then a second bitmap was applied to create the the raised areas of the flag using a checkered pattern which was distorted to the shape of the background in Photoshop. The lettering is prismatic shapes built up as reliefs using create relief tools – all pretty simple stuff.
I had thought of creating a complex 3D file for the car but I decided it would be faster and a little more fun to create simple cut shapes, laminate the car up and then hand carve it afterwards to a basic form. I would then add a layer of epoxy sculpting medium to form the final skin of the car. The wheels and tires were created in EnRoute as part of the cutting file for there was no doubt the CNC machine could do them fast faster and better than I ever could. This car would be a happy blend of machine and hand work. Here’s a screen capture of the files just before I tool-pathed the reliefs.
The files routed pretty quick for the piece was fairly small. I used a 3/8″ ball nose bit to rough things out and then a 1/8″ ball nose to make a finish pass. The yellow portion of the car outline was a simple cutout to form the interior of the car. It left a 1/4″ thick piece in the relief to form the doors. I cut the pieces from 30 lb Precision Board.
Once the MultiCam was finished I glued the pieces together and left the clamps on overnight. In the morning I removed the clamps and then spent about 15 minutes with my air powered die grinder to quickly form the fenders and rough shape of the car body. I also used the same tool to add texture to the big block of glued up Precision Board that made the body of the sign.
Stay tuned for more progress next time…


Once the wrench was out of the clamps I gave it the once over with my air powered die grinder. I purposely added in a few dings and dents. We all use our wrenches for a hammer if we are stuck under a car and need a little force in a hurry. It’s much quicker than climbing out and getting the proper tool. Then I used Coastal Enterprises heavy bodied primer and a small brush to add a little more texture to the piece.
The two coats of silver paint made it look pretty good… but I wasn’t quite done yet. The wrench needed a little grime and dirt in the cracks and crevices to make it look like the rest of the tools in my toolbox.
The end result is a quick dimensional sign done in less than four hours from start to finish including machine time. I think it’s a sign every gear head would love to hang in their shop and be the envy of all their friends. At least that’s my hope…


Not every project we do is complex nor hard. EnRoute is the perfect software for even the simpler projects too. We are entering a large hot rod show in a few weeks and I needed a few signs to appeal to this specialized crowd. I didn’t have to go far for inspiration. Just to my tool box. I grabbed an open end wrench and used it as a model. The vector file only took minutes to produce using the drawing tools.
Once I had the vectors I created the reliefs – all separate until I was satisfied. I first flipped a copy of the files but not the lettering so I could route two back to back files. Here’s the screen capture of the piece just before I tool-pathed it. The finished piece would be four feet long so I decided to only use a 3/8″ ball nose bit and cut it in one pass using a 90% overlap.
I sent it to our MultiCam cutting at 300″ per minute from a 1.5″ thick piece of 30 lb Precision Board. It took a little more than an hour on the router – while I was busy with other things. Once it was done I glued up the two halves and left it in the clamps overnight.
Stay tuned…

GEARING up for a trade show…

With the upcoming international sign trade show coming soon in Orlando, Florida I needed to produce a panel for the EnRoute display booth. The panel would showcase my DVD of 101 bitmap textures while also providing some eye candy of what could be done with EnRoute. I struggled to come up with an image that showed the textures and also that they could be produced on a machine. As I thought about these things the solution became obvious… the panel had to feature textures and a simple machine of some sort… GEARS!
Our sandblasted woodgrains are the most popular bitmaps so they had to be included. I also use one called splotches a lot to produce a well aged and used metal. I drew up two quick sketches and when the ideas was far enough along it was time put to down the pen and go into EnRoute to produce the needed vectors. The vector file took about 30 minutes to produce. The shot below is before I replaced the straight vectors with my famous wiggly lines.
Then I built the reliefs and imported the bitmap files to create the textures. This only took a few minutes to produce the results I was after. Here’s a screen capture just before I tool pathed the file and sent it to our MultiCam for machining.
Onc the router was done I textures the edges of the big panel with my air powered die grinder. It only took a few minutes and instantly added believability to the panel no matter what angle it was viewed from. The small gear was glued on prior to painting. I then primed the panel and added the base coats of color. I first put on one medium brown glaze on the wood before painting the metallic colors. Once they were dry I added a dark chocolate glaze over the entire sign and lastly glued on the big gear with epoxy.
The end result is subtle yet is still a screamer compared to most flat signs. I’m hoping it will catch everyone’s eye who visits the EnRoute booth.

Instant age.

The primer was my last opportunity to add a little more texture to the sign. Coastal Enterprises primer goes on with the texture of cream. We apply it by hand with a brush. For areas we want more texture we will apply a second coat with a small brush and then purposely leave rough brush strokes which dry without flattening out. It’s a cool technique.

The painting is all done with acrylic paints by hand. Once the base coats are on we flooded the sign with a paint glaze and then wipe off the excess judiciously leaving bits of color on the low areas and on the edges. It adds age, character and heightens the illusion of depth. It also makes our signs look hand crafted rather than looking like they came off a machine. Once the sign was done I set it outside to do a photo shoot. The mountains out back of my shop provided the perfect backdrop.
I was delighted with the result to say the least. The sign was finished the day before it was to debut at a trade show. I’m happy to report the effort was well worth the trouble!

Sculpting details

Once the clamps came off I went over the sign with an air powered die grinder. I first evened things up and then added a subtle texture over all the edges to match the texture which we had programmed into the files with EnRoute. Once the sign was ready for paint I drilled holes in the sign to accommodate the brackets. Everything was test fit to make sure it looked right, then glued to make it permanent.
Holes were burned through the support pipes for the vertical rods and everything fit and welded to make the sign secure. the last two balls were welded onto the rods after they had been cut to final length. The third rod was welded to the post to make the sign REALLY secure. There was no fear of this sign coming down in the wind. Then I used some sculpting epoxy to form the barnacles, fish and starfish which added the nautical flavor I was seeking. I could have routed the bulk of them but hand sculpting them added a randomness and hand sculpted look to the sign which I really liked.
I mocked up the whole sign once more before paint to make sure it all looked right. I decided to make the ship into a whole scene complete with rocks, gravel and some scrap lumber on the ground. The barrel and other tools were also sculpted into the scene. The boat was held up securely with two sturdy steel rods drilled into the hull of the boat and down into the sign.The epoxy sculpting medium was allowed to dry overnight. Then it was time for paint.
Stay tuned…

The sign comes together quick

The routing files for the Shmyer’s Harbor sign consisted of four pieces. I built each relief separately, then added textures to key pieces. Then I ‘floated’ them separately until things looked right rendered. Before I merged them I made duplicate copies of the scroll and sign, flipping them so they matched back to back. The lettering was also duplicated and applied to each so it read correctly. They were stacked to best fit on our piece of 1.5″ thick Precision Board. Tool-pathing took only seconds once we had everything arranged correctly.
The file was sent to our MultiCam and the machine was set into motion. While the machine was routing I started in on the welded steel brackets for the sign. It would have been ideal to simply cut some large angle iron for the corner pieces but I didn’t have any of that on the steel rack. Instead I cut two lengths of 4″ square tubing and then split it to give me the right angle pieces I needed. Some short lengths of 5/8″ steel bar was pushed through a hole I burned with the plasma cutter and then welded on. A hollow steel ball was welded onto the end of two of the rods. The other two were kept over length and would be finished off after the assembly and mounting of the sign.
Once the pieces came off the MultiCam I glued everything up. The sign was 6″ thick at it’s thickest point – more than enough to accommodate the little boat. It took a forest of clamps to hold everything in place while the glue set.
Stay tuned for final assembly and paint…

Home for the boat – at last

Well over a year ago I fabricated a little boat as a name plaque for one of our attendees at our Sign Magic Workshops. While I was at it I routered a second copy as a sample for our shop. I’ll post a how-to another time on that project. It was my intention to incorporate the little boat (named after my wife Janis of course) into a larger sign at some point. But like all good intentions the project languished on a shelf – until recently.

As I often do I was sketching while relaxing and watching TV. Inspiration hit me and I came up with a cool idea to create a sign which incorporated the boat. I would use a square shape but tip it 45 degrees and then put a scroll in front. The magic however was the bracket I would use to hold up the sign. Ultimately I would change it slightly from the sketch but the idea was good enough to proceed.
I created the vector file in EnRoute using the drawing tools. As I often do however, after drawing the perfectly square and straight lines I used the freehand tool to go over them and wiggly them up some – deleting the straight lines afterwards. The design was developing some character already.
Next up was creating the reliefs and the necessary textures. Stay tuned…

Shake, rattle and roll

The streetcar glued together quickly. There was still a little hand work to do but it didn’t take long. The Precision Board sands easily and in only a few minutes to was ready to mate with the rest of the sign.

This was just a small sample sign measuring about two feet square and six inches deep but the detail I was able to achieve was incredible!
The electrical pickups were fashioned from welding rod. I painted on the base coats of color during brief periods during the day allowing it to dry between. A dark red glaze was added to the bottom to highlight the textures. The last touch was a little gold leaf to add some bling.
In a period of only three days and only using spare minutes I had created a wonderful sample piece for our trade show display.


Even after more than four years of running our MultiCam router I can’t resist sneaking into the router room to watch it perform it’s MAGIC. I know it is all based on math formulas but I find it incredible that I don’t have to think of all that. I dream up my ideas, create my files and push start on the router. Then the MAGIC happens every time!
While the machine was busy I went back to my office and stated work on the next file needed for the sign. The vector files were created in mere minutes using the drawing tools in EnRoute.
I built the relieves needed and then added the bitmap files I had created to generate the textures. Its as easy as importing the files, entering in a numeric value and hitting enter. By the time the streetcar was done on the router another tool-pathed file of the sign was ready to start.
While this portion of the sign was running I started in on assembly of the streetcar.
I’ll post pictures of that progress next time…