Sign Making With 3D Printed Letters

I’ve been wanting to do some custom sign work for a while now. My mom is a crafty person and does a lot of craft shows throughout the year… I thought having the ability to make custom signs like these could expand her capabilities. I also thought it could be a little side gig for me to make custom lettered signs for people. Not sure if that second one will happen or not, but I have the option now.

When I edited this video together, I really struggled with how much of the story to tell. This 10 minute example represents about 6 weeks of trial and error. Obviously, this isn’t a full-time job for me, so it was in fits and starts, but I went through tons of designs for both the template and the router base to end up with something serviceable. I’ll give some more details below the video.

SIGNMAKING WITH 3D PRINTED ROUTER TEMPLATES – YouTube.com

As I mentioned before the video, this was about the 4th or 5th iteration of templates. My first few attempts involved me trying to print a base plate that included a follower bushing. I tried many times to go this direction for a few reasons: I could print my own base plate with included bushing which would allow me to print shallower templates… thus, saving plastic.

The original design.

I tried it on my big router, and found it very cumbersome to use. Also, the plastic bushing failed almost immediately and tore up my templates. So,  I switched over to printing a base plate for my trim router, with bushing, and I tried about 3 iterations of that design… all of them failed spectacularly with the bushing caving under pressure and eating up my template.

Base plate with integral bushing for the trim router.

I knew I was onto something though, so I broke down and ordered a kit of brass bushings to try. With the new bushings, and a new base plate design, I was able to get everything dialed in perfectly. I had to redesign the templates some because of the depth of the bushing, and also to make up for the distance between the outer diameter of the bushing and the bit. This would make sure  that the letters didn’t print too thin.

 

New base with brass bushing.

One of the design concerns with making these letters is how to handle letters with “floating” centers. Things like A, O, and P have center bits t hat need to be accounted for. I could fix this problem by making stencil letters, but that wasn’t the look I was going for. I wanted this system to work with any font so I had to do some letters in two parts. This became a bit challenging when cutting out the letters.

Laying out the letters.

First I would layout the letters with one part of each half-letter in place.

Adding extra letters.

Then I added extra letters to the end and taped them in place.

After cutting the half-letters, I could remove them, and replace them with the second half to finish the letter. Having the extra letters in place helped me to maintain registration between the two half letters.

I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. The letters have a lot of fuzz on them because I used a straight-flute router bit. A down-cut spiral bit would make for a much cleaner edge, but i didn’t have one on hand, so this worked. Some of the letters shifted a bit because they weren’t taped tight enough, and the half letters need some work to make them better, but I was able to easily clean the sign up with a small chisel and some sandpaper.

This was a project for mom, so I used some rustic pallet wood, and wormy chestnut bases. They turned out great and she is super excited to have them. The main reason I decided to make my own templates instead of spending the $40 to buy a set was that I wanted to be able to use a font of my choosing. I spent way more than $40 worth of my time and materials figuring this whole thing out, but now that I have I can make whatever I want, which I can’t do with one of the store-bought sets.

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