Sign-Painting the Farmhouse38 Way


I get asked quite frequently how I go about painting my signs, so I thought I’d do a quick tutorial for those of you who are game!

The ‘crafty’ methods out there for sign-painting (unless you are one of the mind-boggling talented few who can actually paint a perfect sign by hand) always involve some sort of image transferring from a computer-generated design to wood (or whatever material you are painting your sign on).  And there-in lies the conundrum of sign-painting.  How do I get my tidy computer-designed image onto this darn piece of wood?  And how do I do it easily?  There are many, many methods out there, but a lot of them rely pretty heavily upon specialized (expensive) printers or other materials/ methods that aren’t easily available to the average crafter.  I’m also pretty impatient, so the idea of designing up and having any sort of professional materials (ie, vinyl stencils, large-scale prints, etc) made ahead of time is just too much hassle for me.  And all of that costs extra money.  No bueno.

My method assumes a couple of basic things: first, and foremost, it assumes that you have a computer and average, consumer-grade printer.  Secondly, it assumes that you have some sort of program for ‘designing’ up your image, which can be as basic as Word (really, this is all about being able to print letters, right?).  Third, and finally, it assumes you have, or can acquire the magic ingredient:

I give you....the grease pencil (or china marker).

I give you….the grease pencil (or china marker).

I love me some grease pencil.  For those of you who have never had the pleasure, this is a great tool–it is a waxy, crayon-type marker that will work on pretty much any surface, including wet ones.  And it is also the key to easily transferring printed images onto another surface.  So if you don’t have one, go to any craft or art supply store and pick one (or five) up.  They come in very handy for a multitude of projects.

Allrighty!  On to the sign-making.  So first of all, you need to pick your wood (or whatever other material you want to make your sign out of).  I have a ton of scrap wood sitting around the yard, and I selected a piece that was about a foot wide by about 5 feet long.

Here is one of my infamous scrap piles.  The arrow indicates the piece I chose.

Here is one of my infamous scrap piles. The arrow indicates the piece I chose.

This wood originally was part of an old work-bench table-top, so it was painted and chippy and old and dirty.  In other words, it was perfect.

After you have your signboard selected, you’ve got to figure out what you want to put on it.  I can’t help you here.  You are on your own.  My sign was destined to hang over our new compost station, so I wanted to be clever and make an old-timey advertising-type sign.  I came up with “Miss Kate’s Special Grow Sauce”.  Don’t ask me why.  Given the size of your signboard, you also need to decide on your layout.  I got creative with this one and had all sorts of different sized and shaped lettering, but that’s just me.  Figure out the approximate size you want your letters to be, and then head to your computer and get to work.  I always print everything on standard 8×11 printer paper, so if your sign is larger than 8×11″, you’ll need to print out the various bits and pieces and then put it together like a puzzle….the bits for my sign looked like this when they came out of the printer:


Then you will need to cut them out and place them on your board, anchoring them a bit with a single piece of tape on each one.


Once you have them more or less where you want them, then one at a time, remove the parts, flip them over, and use a grease pencil to color the back side of each letter.  The thicker you put the grease pencil on, the better the transfer.

Grease it up

Once you have the back side of the paper colored, flip it back and attach it where you had it before.  Do this with each segment, one at a time, until they are all colored and all reattached.  Now, it is time to trace your letters.  Press firmly, and I find that it helps to make tiny little scribbles instead of perfect, straight lines, because perfect, straight lines never seem to turn out like perfect, straight lines.

Tiny scribbles.

Tiny scribbles.

Soon enough, you will have your letters pretty neatly transferred:


At this point, your sign is ready for paint, and it’s all about staying inside the lines….I never can.  Cheers!


Finished Product

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31 thoughts on “Sign-Painting the Farmhouse38 Way

  1. Green Door Hospitality January 14, 2013 at 3:39 pm Reply

    Thanks for the tutorial! 🙂

  2. hopefarms January 14, 2013 at 4:12 pm Reply

    Super simple – your tutorial is perfect! Love the signs AND the photo of the girls making sure it’s all good.

    • farmhouseK8 January 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm Reply

      I know–they crack me up! I couldn’t have lined them up better if I’d tried!

  3. Alex @ northstory January 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm Reply

    You have no idea how much I love this process b/c for starters this is way easier. I’ve been postponing doing a white letter one on red b/c I don’t have a silhouette machine and all I keep thinking is please don’t make me cut out contact paper stencil. I just may try this one out. 🙂

    • farmhouseK8 January 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm Reply

      Seriously–I have tried EVERYTHING (including just free-handing)–this is the easiest and most versatile, in my opinion! I was putting carbon paper under the print-outs for YEARS and that was such a pain, I suddenly was like, wait, I am making this more difficult than it needs to be!

  4. Katja @ Shift Ctrl ART January 15, 2013 at 12:05 am Reply

    Great tutorial! I love your signs!

  5. keepyourmemoriesinyourshoes January 15, 2013 at 3:12 am Reply

    Reblogged this on keepyourmemoriesinyourshoes and commented:
    Great directions! I NEED a sign for our coop and have been wondering how to do one – cant wait to try this out!

  6. Laurie Biggs Marshall January 30, 2013 at 3:36 pm Reply

    Fantastic! Thanks for sharing! I’ve been wanting to do some signs up but the possibility of screwing it up (I do the freehand thing – not going to spend $ on a machine) was putting me off. I’m ready now!!

    • farmhouseK8 January 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm Reply

      Good luck–let me know how it works out! 🙂

  7. laura little February 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm Reply

    I just want to know how you got your chickens to pose. My girls are fabulously un”coop”operative in pictures! Thanks for the tutorial as well!

    • farmhouseK8 February 7, 2013 at 9:49 pm Reply

      I swear–they just are photogenic–it’s not anything I’m doing (other than snapping a million photos and one in a hundred turn out like this). They crack me up!

  8. home, garden, life February 12, 2013 at 6:21 pm Reply

    I should hire you to perk up my blog…

  9. […] text-transferring method for the rocks is one and the same as for my Hand-Painted Signs.  You start, of course, by finding yourself a decent rock.  The smoother the surface, the easier […]

  10. Judy Bass March 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm Reply

    I’m planning this in my mind…LOL.. Question: When you are painting, if you paint on the wax markings, will the grease lines hold the paint or will that part pop the paint off?

    • farmhouseK8 March 21, 2013 at 6:07 pm Reply

      The grease lines wind up being super faint, so I’ve never had any issues with the paint sticking to them. I’m sure if it was on there really thick, it might mess with the paint a bit. But I’ve never been able to achieve a really thick transfer (which is fine, because you only need the faint lines). Let me know how it works for you! 🙂

      • Judy March 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm

        Thank you I’m going to try it. I went to 2 different art supplies today and did not find the pencils. I went to the office Depot and found some but had to buy a box! LOL.. Hope it works because I have plenty!!

      • farmhouseK8 March 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm

        Oh NO!! Well, I’m glad you found some–they truly do come in handy in lots of projects! Too funny!

  11. […] for the sign-painting magic.  As I’ve demonstrated before, all you need for this transfer method is some sort of basic computer design program, a regular old […]

  12. Black Sheep Farms August 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm Reply

    Sooo excited about this! Thank you! I have several signs in my head and now I am encouraged to finally do them. Plus, I haven’t played with China markers since I was a kid. Bonus!!!

    • farmhouseK8 August 22, 2013 at 7:43 pm Reply

      LOL–my pleasure!! Let me know how it turns out! Thanks for commenting! 😀

  13. Grub and Grit | Farmhouse38 September 12, 2013 at 6:33 pm Reply

    […] which I painted, distressed, and then stained to get a nice dirty-aged vibe.  Then, using my sign-painting technique, I labeled it clearly so that the chickens wouldn’t be confused.  I bought some inexpensive […]

  14. Dana July 31, 2014 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Any tips on transferring letters to dark background? I wanna do a piece that has a chalkboard look with white lettering but I don’t think grease pencil will show up against black background.

    • farmhouseK8 July 31, 2014 at 2:00 pm Reply

      White grease pencils sure will! (In fact, white grease pencil is a great permanent chalk look–I use it all the time for outdoor chalkboards instead of chalk).

  15. Dana July 31, 2014 at 2:47 pm Reply

    Great! I didn’t know the pencils came in white. I’ll give it a try 🙂

  16. tori August 27, 2014 at 7:58 pm Reply

    Where can you find the “grease pencil” ?

  17. Halloween Mantel Makeover | Farmhouse38 October 15, 2014 at 5:46 pm Reply

    […] a snap to make: a reclaimed piece of MDF board coated in spray chalkboard paint. Then, using the Farmhouse38 Sign Painting method, I transferred the lettering and then colored them in with white grease pencil for a […]

  18. Kira November 8, 2014 at 4:16 pm Reply

    lovely! Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge, I learned quite a bit!

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