Celebrating 30 Years of Sign Creativity: A Journey Through the History of Sign Making

Signs have been integral to human society for millennia, conveying important information and adding color and character to our environments. For the past 30 years, Signmakers has been a part of this rich history, producing custom signs for clients in Los Angeles and beyond.

In this blog post, we’ll stroll through the history of sign-making, explore the various techniques used over the years, and celebrate the ingenuity and artistry that have made Signmakers a leader in the industry.

Ancient Signs: The Dawn of Communication

The dawn of communication can be traced back to the earliest signs and symbols created by our ancestors, who recognized the power of visual representation to convey information, express ideas, and tell stories. These ancient signs laid the foundation for developing written language and the diverse forms of signage we see today.

In prehistoric times, cave paintings and petroglyphs were some of the earliest examples of sign-making. Early humans used natural pigments and stone tools to depict scenes from their daily lives, including hunting, rituals, and celestial events. As human societies evolved and became more complex, so did their signage’s sophistication.

For example, the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia developed cuneiform writing around 3200 BCE, allowing them to record transactions, laws, and religious texts on clay tablets. Similarly, ancient Egyptians utilized hieroglyphics, and pictorial symbols, to represent words and ideas on temple walls, papyrus scrolls, and monumental inscriptions.

In ancient Greece and Rome, public signs known as “tituli” were used to identify buildings, provide directions, and announce important events. These early forms of signs and symbols facilitated communication. They played a critical role in developing complex societies, allowing humans to record history, share knowledge, and express their culture and identity.

Medieval Signage: Guild Signs, Heraldry, and Trade Emblems

Medieval SignageThe medieval era witnessed a significant evolution in the world of signage, with the emergence of guild signs, heraldry, and trade emblems shaping the landscape of communication and visual representation. Guilds, organized associations of skilled artisans and merchants, played a crucial role in the medieval economy, and each guild would proudly display a distinctive sign to differentiate itself from others.

These signs often featured elaborate designs, incorporating symbols and colors representing the guild’s profession or craft. Heraldry, the practice of designing and displaying coats of arms, was another important aspect of medieval sign-making.

Coats of arms, adorned with unique symbols, patterns, and colors, were used to identify noble families, religious institutions, and even entire communities. As a largely illiterate society, these visually rich and easily identifiable symbols were vital for conveying information and asserting identity.

Trade emblems, too, held an important place in medieval signage, with businesses adopting unique characters or pictorial representations of their goods and services to attract customers.

For instance, a blacksmith might display an anvil and hammer, while a baker would showcase a loaf of bread. These early forms of branding enabled businesses to stand out in the bustling marketplaces of the time, facilitating commerce and paving the way for the diverse and sophisticated signage we see today.

The Rise of Trade Signs: Symbols and Pictorial Representations

As trade and commerce expanded during the late Middle Ages and into the early modern period, trade signs became increasingly crucial for businesses seeking to attract customers and distinguish themselves from competitors. These signs, which typically featured symbols or pictorial representations of the goods or services offered, allowed companies to effectively communicate their offerings to a largely illiterate population.

For example, a cobbler might display a sign featuring a shoe, while a tavern would showcase a tankard of ale. In addition to their practical function, trade signs also served as an early form of branding, helping to establish a business’s identity and reputation within the community. As companies vied for attention, sign makers employed a variety of materials and techniques to create visually appealing, durable signs that could withstand the elements.

The rise of trade signs laid the foundation for the modern signage industry, demonstrating the enduring power of visual communication and paving the way for the diverse array of signs and symbols in today’s bustling urban landscapes.

 The Industrial Revolution: Innovations in Materials and Techniques

The Industrial Revolution, which spanned from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, marked a turning point in sign-making, bringing forth numerous innovations in materials and techniques. The rapid manufacturing, transportation, and communication advancements during this period revolutionized the sign-making industry, offering signmakers access to new materials and processes that expanded their creative horizons.

Cast iron, sheet metal, and zinc emerged as popular choices for sign construction, providing durability and resistance to the elements while enabling the creation of more intricate designs.

The development of new printing techniques, such as lithography, allowed sign makers to produce signs with detailed illustrations and vibrant colors, further enhancing their visual appeal. Additionally, the advent of the railways and the expansion of urban centers led to an increased demand for signs for advertising and wayfinding.

Businesses and organizations sought to distinguish themselves in the bustling urban environment by commissioning signs that captured the attention of passersby and communicated their identity effectively. As a result, the Industrial Revolution not only transformed the materials and techniques used in sign-making but also played a pivotal role in shaping the part of signs as a critical component of modern commerce and communication.

The Birth of Neon: Electrifying the Signage Industry

The Birth of NeonThe invention of neon lighting in the early 20th century marked a turning point in the history of signage, bringing an electrifying new dimension to the industry. First introduced by French engineer Georges Claude in 1910, neon signs quickly captivated the public with their distinctive, vibrant glow and the ability to be shaped into various forms.

These signs rapidly gained popularity in the United States and worldwide, with cities like Las Vegas and New York becoming iconic for their dazzling neon displays. Businesses across all sectors adopted neon signs to stand out in bustling urban landscapes, using them to create eye-catching advertisements and brand identities. 

 The flexibility and versatility of neon allowed sign makers like Signmakers to push the boundaries of creativity, experimenting with different colors, shapes, and designs to produce visually stunning signs and highly effective at capturing attention. Moreover, neon signs proved to be a reliable and energy-efficient form of illumination, adding to their widespread appeal.

Today, neon signs are popular for businesses seeking to make bold and memorable statements. Their enduring allure stands as a testament to the transformative impact of this innovative technology on the sign-making industry and the urban environment as a whole.

 The Age of Plastics: Flexibility and Versatility

The introduction of plastics in the mid-20th century marked a turning point in the sign-making industry, ushering in a new era of flexibility, versatility, and creative possibilities. Plastics, such as acrylic, PVC, and polycarbonate, offered sign makers a wealth of shape, size, color, and durability options.

The lightweight nature of plastic materials enabled the creation of more prominent signs with ease, while the ability to mold and shape plastics allowed for intricate designs and customization to suit various applications. Acrylic, for example, quickly became a popular choice for dimensional signage thanks to its transparent properties, which mimicked the appearance of glass while providing superior strength and resistance to weathering.

Plastics also facilitated the mass production of signs, making them more affordable and accessible to businesses of all sizes. Furthermore, the advent of plastic materials paved the way for developing innovative sign-making techniques, such as vacuum forming and channel letter fabrication.

These advances enhanced the visual appeal of signs and expanded the possibilities for creative expression within the industry. As a result, the age of plastics has played a significant role in shaping the modern landscape of sign-making, offering unparalleled opportunities for businesses to make a lasting impact with their signage.

 Dimensional Signs: Adding Depth and Character

In sign making, dimensional signs hold a unique and distinguished place, offering an unparalleled level of depth and character that elevates the visual appeal of any space. By incorporating raised letters, graphics, and other design elements, dimensional signs create a striking contrast between the sign and its background, adding a sense of sophistication and professionalism that sets them apart from their two-dimensional counterparts.

Signmakers have long been at the forefront of creating these distinctive signs, utilizing various techniques and materials to achieve the perfect blend of form and function. From expertly carved wood and precision-cut metal letters to lightweight yet durable acrylic and high-density foam, dimensional signs can suit various settings and design aesthetics. 

Whether used for exterior building signage or as an elegant addition to an interior lobby, dimensional signs offer a timeless appeal that can enhance brand identity and leave a lasting impression on visitors and customers alike. Moreover, by employing advanced lighting techniques, sign makers can further accentuate the depth and visual impact of dimensional signs, creating an interplay of light and shadow that brings the design to life.

Overall, dimensional signs represent the perfect marriage of artistry and craftsmanship, capturing the essence of a brand while adding a touch of refinement and elegance to any environment.

 Large Format Printing: Making a Big Impression

Large Format PrintingIn recent years, large-format printing has emerged as a vital tool in sign-making, allowing businesses to make a big impression with high-quality, eye-catching graphics. With the ability to print on various materials, ranging from vinyl and fabric to canvas and rigid substrates, large-format printing offers unparalleled versatility and creative potential.

Signmakers has embraced this technology, enabling our clients to create stunning banners, murals, window graphics, and more, all tailored to their needs and preferences.

Advances in printing technology have also made it possible to achieve exceptional color accuracy, ensuring that the final product is visually striking and authentic to the original design. Furthermore, with UV-resistant inks and protective coatings, large-format prints can withstand harsh weather conditions and maintain their vibrancy for extended periods.

This combination of stunning visual appeal, durability, and adaptability has made large-format printing an indispensable part of the sign-making industry, enabling businesses of all sizes to make a lasting impression on their target audience.

The Future of Sign Making: Digital Innovations and Sustainable Practices

 As we look to the future of sign-making, it is clear that digital innovations and sustainable practices will play increasingly important roles in shaping the industry. Rapid technological advancements are already transforming how signs are designed, manufactured, and displayed. For instance, digital signage and LED displays are becoming more prevalent, offering businesses dynamic and energy-efficient ways to convey their messages and engage with their audience.

These digital solutions provide flexibility in terms of content and interactivity and enable sign makers to reduce their environmental footprint through energy conservation and decreased material waste. In addition, cutting-edge technologies like augmented reality and interactive touchscreens promise to revolutionize the signage world further, blurring the lines between physical and digital realms.

Sustainability is another key factor driving the future of sign-making, as businesses and consumers alike seek environmentally friendly solutions. Sign makers are increasingly adopting eco-friendly materials, such as biodegradable substrates and non-toxic inks, and implementing recycling and waste reduction initiatives throughout production.

These sustainable practices benefit the environment and contribute to a company’s overall reputation and corporate social responsibility. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of sign-making, it is exciting to envision the possibilities ahead, with digital innovations and sustainable practices leading toward a brighter, more connected, and environmentally conscious future.


Celebrating 30 years of creativity, innovation, and success at Signmakers in Los Angeles is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the fascinating history of sign-making and our contributions to this ever-evolving industry. From the earliest forms of communication in prehistoric times to today’s sophisticated, digitally-enhanced signage, the art, and craft of sign-making have come a long way.

Throughout our journey, we have embraced the latest technologies and materials, continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of design, quality, and sustainability.

Our expertise in neon signs, electrical signs, dimensional signs, interior and exterior signs, large format printing, special event signage, and historical sign restoration has enabled us to create bespoke, eye-catching solutions for businesses across Los Angeles and beyond. Our commitment to artistic excellence and environmental responsibility has garnered us a loyal clientele and cemented our reputation as an industry leader.

As we look to the future, we are excited to continue exploring new frontiers in sign-making, leveraging digital innovations and sustainable practices to create signs that captivate, inform, and inspire.

We are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the rich tapestry of sign-making history and are eager to see what the next 30 years will bring. Thank you for joining us on this remarkable journey, and we look forward to continuing to serve the Los Angeles community and beyond with unparalleled craftsmanship, creativity, and dedication.


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