Business Information Factsheet

Become A Signwriter

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Trading issues
  • Sources of further information

Introduction

Signwriters produce and install hand-painted interior and exterior signage, often where there is a need for signs that conform to the historic or traditional character of a building or surrounding area. Key customer groups include pubs, restaurants, churches, fairgrounds, narrowboat builders and owners, and businesses located in designated conservation areas.

The market for traditional signs is small, and many traditional signwriters also produce and install signage using modern methods such as digital graphic design and vinyl printing. For more information about this type of service see BOP172 Signmaker.

Trading issues

  • Signwriters require artistic talent and creative flair, and many enter the industry from a background in fine art or graphic design. However, there are courses available that can help prospective signwriters develop their skills and learn professional techniques. Examples of courses suitable for anyone intending to offer signwriting services include:
    • The one-day Workshop Course run by Osborne Signs, which covers tools, paints, basic brush techniques and classic lettering styles. It takes place in Midhurst and costs £145. Go to www.osbornesigns.co.uk/classes/entry/workshop_course for more information.
    • Signwriting courses run in London and Margate by NGS Signsmiths, which cover topics such as brush skills, 3D letters, shaded blocks, chisel effects and how to price work. Two-day courses cost £280 and four-day courses cost £440 (www.ngssignsmiths.com).
  • A key market for traditional signwriting services is shops and other types of business located in conservation areas, which are subject to specific planning rules designed to preserve their historic or cultural character. Many local authorities specifically recommend hand-painted signage and fascia boards using traditional materials such as brass and wood in their planning guidance.
  • The Heritage Crafts Association has defined signwriting as being currently (2020) a viable craft, with around 200 professional signwriters in the UK earning their main income from the practice (http://heritagecrafts.org.uk/signwriting).
  • Hand lettering and vintage typography have become increasingly popular in recent years as part of a broader trend for nostalgic design, which could lead to growing opportunities for traditional signwriters specialising in this style. Go to https://99designs.co.uk/blog/trends/font-trends/ to read more about the hand-lettering design trend.
  • Under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, the copyright of original works of ‘artistic craftsmanship’, including hand-painted signs and any original design element within them is protected by law. Signwriters must ensure they do not infringe the intellectual property rights of other signwriters by copying their signs or by using any copyrighted design elements without proper licence or permission. They should also ensure that their terms and conditions are clear about who will own the copyright for any work they supply.
  • In England, all outdoor advertising, including shop fascias and projecting signs, is regulated under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007. Similar legislation applies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With some exceptions, permanent hand-painted signs bigger than 0.3 metres require planning consent if they are displayed outside and are not on enclosed land (such as a shopping mall or a railway forecourt).Many hand-painted signs that are erected on business premises in order to draw attention to the goods or services offered there are subject to ‘deemed’ planning consent. This means that, although consent is required, it is not necessary to apply for it since it is granted by default. However, local authorities are empowered to designate certain localities as Areas of Special Control of Advertisements where deemed planning consent can be withdrawn or made subject to special limitations. They can also order the removal of any particular sign if it is causing “substantial injury to the amenity of the locality” or is dangerous. Go to www.gov.uk/government/publications/outdoor-advertisements-and-signs-a-guide-for-advertisers for guidance on the 2007 Regulations.
  • Before beginning work on a project, signwriters should advise customers that signs may only be displayed subject to planning consent and that application for consent is the customer’s responsibility unless the signwriter explicitly offers to undertake this task on the customer’s behalf.
  • Promotional opportunities for signwriters include advertising in specialist directories, such as The Trade Finder (www.thetradefinder.co.uk), which provides free basic listings for signwriters. There are also directories enabling signwriters to advertise their services to specific markets; for example, narrowboat website Canal Junction maintains a directory of signwriters specialising in traditional narrowboat painting and offers free basic listings. Go to www.canaljunction.com/boat/painters_signwriters.htm for more information.
  • Signwriters need to source reliable suppliers of tools, equipment and materials. Examples of signwriting suppliers include A.S. Handover (www.handover.co.uk) and Wrights of Lymm (www.stonehouses.co.uk).

Sources of further information

The International Sign Association (UK-ISA) is a trade body representing the signmaking industry, including anyone who supplies traditional hand-painted signs.
https://uksigns.org

‘Creative Review’ is a print and online journal publishing news, updates and features on a range of creative industries including signwriting.
www.creativereview.co.uk

The Heritage Craft Alliance (HCA) represents industries in the heritage craft sector.
www.heritagecraftalliance.co.uk

DISCLAIMER While all reasonable efforts have been made, the publisher makes no warranties that this information is accurate and up-to-date and will not be responsible for any errors or omissions in the information nor any consequences of any errors or omissions. Professional advice should be sought where appropriate.