It is hard to believe that it was almost ten years ago I witnessed a CNC router in action for the very first time. I was fascinated and simply had to have one! Although I had been in the creative end of the three dimensional sign business for most of my life I didn't really know what I would do with one of these machines - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Along with the CNC router I discovered the wonderful material called Precision Board and the glues, primers and other companion products they offer. Since then we have gone through many tons of the material using it in most signs and projects we tackle. This journal will chronicle our many adventures both past, present and future. I'll talk from the perspective of someone who pushes these products to the creative limit on a daily basis. I'll be adding to the stories two or three times each week. -dan

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Another quick panel

I had one other quick panel to do... this one to promote the launch of this journal at the show. Since the panel would air freighted to California and then carried on the plane by hand it had to be small. Small made me think of a mouse as I designed it. The panel had to be made from Precision Board of course since that was what we are showcasing. But it would have been my material of choice anyway. The panel was designed in EnRoute software and then routed on our MultiCam CNC router. A few minutes of hand work with the die grinder and it was ready for paint... except I had to add the little sculpture of the mouse first. He was done with sculpting epoxy. It cured over night and then I started the paint.
We use all acrylics painted on by hand with a brush. Two layers of glaze brings things to a finish in a hurry. I decided I would gold leaf the lettering on my name to add some bling. Gold leaf has long been hyped as something difficult expensive and mysterious. It really is none of the above. I painted on the oil based size then allowed it to tack up for about an hour. Two sheets of 23K gold leaf (about 4 bucks worth of gold) was then pressed into the slightly sticky surface and burnished down for a brilliant shine. It took about two minutes to complete the gold - faster than a second coat of paint that would have been needed if they were painted.

I'll send the panel by air courier to California on Monday. I can hardly wait to hear the stories Kellie has to tell after she carries the panel through security at the airport... :)


Friday, March 26, 2010

Instant age.

Precision Board is the perfect substrate for this type of project. Without any grain or texture inherent in the material we can instantly transform it into what ever we choose without any problems. After pulling the routed pieces off the MultiCam I did a little judicious sanding, continued the texture around the edges of the panel and then glued up the three pieces. Once the ten minute epoxy had dried I started in with the Coastal Enterprises primer. The thick, heavy bodied primer smoothed things out where I wanted, added a subtle texture where I dabbed it on a little thicker. Once dry it was time for some paint.

I am always amazed how quick paint can transform something into another thing completely. After the base color and two layers of different colored glaze the woodgrain became very convincing. I then brushed on the metallics and one coat of 'grime' glaze over them. The piece went from shiny and new looking to well used for decades in minutes. The tops of the letters were carefully cleaned while the 'dirt' was allowed to accumulate around them instantly popping them off the surface.

The end result is textures that work without much effort. Its a sign that subtly SCREAMS - especially in a world of flat competition.


Instant ideas...

I needed to quickly make a couple of display pieces for an upcoming trade show in Florida. The first would showcase the texture DVD's I sell. The panel had to be small and quick to make. It would be carved from 30 lb Precision Board. And it had to feature a couple of textures of course. I grabbed my sketch book and began to scribble down some ideas. The first few sketches weren't working for me but I soon came up with the idea of a machine with gears. Two quick drawings worked things out enough to go straight to the vector design stage. I could do the rest in EnRoute and then on to the router.

The piece measured about 18" square and was almost 3" thick at its thickest point. It was big enough to be noticed but small enough to ship easily. The file ran pretty quick on the MultiCam. It was cut in three pieces and I couldn't resist hitting the go button once more to make a piece for my display here in the shop too. While it cut I glued up the first piece.
Next comes paint.

Stay tuned...


Monday, March 22, 2010

WHY 30 lb Precision Board?

I often get asked why we use exclusively 30 lb (or higher) density Precision Board in our shop. The answer is simple. Our decision was based on real world experience. It's all we keep in stock.
30 lb Density HDU is not common. Many suppliers are reluctant to stock it for that reason. But I believe it well worth the effort to get it in. It is so much stronger than lighter weight HDU's. It is much more resistant to dents, hail, birds pecking it, flying rocks or golf balls and just about anything else that might harm our signs. There is nothing more frustrating than working on a project for hours and hours only to bump it accidentally, making a repair instantly necessary. Repairs take time and cost money. That's profits! To much to take a chance in my view.
Heavier density boards certainly hold detail well - much better than lower density boards. And I LOVE detail in our work. Textures route beautifully in 30 lb Precision Board and I can run our router just as quickly as the lighter weight boards. Working it by hand does require a little more effort. I would argue that the extra investment of the heavier weight board more than offsets the cost of labor saved when it comes to priming and painting the signs.
It's easy to sell too. REAL EASY. I keep samples of 15, 18 and 20 lb Precision Board handy in my sales area. When a customer is talking about a sign I'll grab one of the lighter weight samples and run my finger nail into it leaving a nasty groove. Then I'll hand my customer a sample of the 30 or 40 lb board which I also keep handy and ask them to do the same. They can't make a mark. I explain that this material certainly costs more but is worth the investment for obvious reasons. It's always an instant sale.
Most of all I love the peace of mind 30 lb Precision Board offers.



We were asked by the folks at Coastal Enterprises to create a display piece they could use in their trade show booth. As always there were some challenges. It had to be constructed from Precision Board of course. There was also the challenge of real estate as it was at a premium. The display could take up no more floor space than two by two feet and it needed to be tall enough to show up from a distance. It didn't take long to come up with the idea of a weather vane. But it would be no ordinary wind indicator...
I sketched up the idea and sent it down to California for their approval. They looked it over and replied with an enthusiastic YES! As the show was quickly approaching we got busy in our studio. The piece would be largely designed using EnRoute software and then routed on our MultiCam. There was some handwork too of course.
As promised the piece was made from 30 lb Precision Board in its entirety with the exception of the steel pole that holds up the plane.It was all painted with acrylic paints - complete with real gold letters for the compass points. Only four days after the drawing was approved the finished display piece was crated and ready for shipping. It proved to be a landmark at the trade show.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shooting for the moon!

Imagine doing things a certain way for many years but always looking for new methods, new materials and new tools. Imagine discovering all of those things in a short time span. That's what happened when we purchased our MultiCam router, learned EnRoute software and discovered Precision Board. Suddenly, anything we could imagine was possible. We could now produce incredible detail with far less effort and far more accuracy and speed. The Precision Board had none of the limitations we faced with previous materials.

In the next years we would constantly be pushing the boundaries, seeing just what we could think of. There were no limits. Inspiration surrounded us on all sides. We were shooting for the moon and we had only just begun!


Stay tuned for more of this exciting journey.

NOT following directions

Ever since I was a kid I've had trouble with directions. Some would even say I was directionally challenged. All kidding aside doing things this way has lead to some pretty cool discoveries. Its a different way of thinking.

While the rest of the world works very hard to sand things down and work toward perfect finishes we take a radically different approach in our shop. I LOVE texture and we are constantly seeking ways to easily introduce it to our work.

Coastal Enterprises primer is thick - the consistency of cream. It's just as smooth too. We discovered the FSC-88 WB primer brushes on to the Precision Board real cool - especially if we used a small brush and a little too much primer. By using a haphazard stroke we could introduce a subtle texture into our work real easy. As long as we didn't get too carried away it dried hard without any cracking. When coated out the final finishes with our acrylic paints, metallic paints and especially gilding it added a lot of interesting sparkle to our work. We were hooked!

Textures became a signature of our work. It's a whole different (and FUN) way of thinking!



Years ago I witnessed the absolute magic of using a sandblaster to reveal the wonderful grains of the wood we were using to make signs. I made countless signs of wood in the next years. Sadly those signs didn't last long in our climate. They would split, warp and throw the paint we put on them. While I loved the look I was more than ready to embrace this new material called high density urethane when it showed up on the market. Through personal research I determined the best qualitry brand to be Precision Board offered by Coastal Enterprises. Better yet they had a complete line of glues and primers which were compatible.

Sandblasting was a job I rated right up there with cleaning the oven. When I learned we could duplicate marvelous woodgrains or any other pattern I could imagine with a CNC router I was delighted!
Once we had mastered the basics of CNC routing I began to experiment with bitmap textures. When I imported them into EnRoute, typed in a value to determine the depth I wanted the texture... and PRESTO... MAGIC was again possible. Only this time there were no limits.

Over a period of time I would create bitmaps for a wide variety of textures in keeping with the theme of the project we were doing. I saved each one and before I knew it I had amassed more than a hundred. Since no one else out there had done similar work we decided to offer them for sale on our website. If you are interested take look and see. www.imaginationcorporation.ca/textures/index

Textures now are an important part of virtually every project we tackle these days. They have become a signature of our work. Building these types of signs is more fun than actually working for a living!

Stay tuned for more...


Brand new experience

I first saw a CNC router in action at a sign trade show in Las Vegas only five years ago. I knew immediately I wanted one for our shop. It would be a radical change in direction for us and a huge investment too. While we had long specialized in three dimensional projects and signs we had never used high density urethane before in a meaningful way.

I had met Kellie Miller of Precision Board (Coastal Enterprises) at a couple of Letterhead meets. I had fiddled with the samples they gave out at such meets. With the arrival of my high tech MultiCam CNC router I placed my very first order.

Before I put any paying projects on our router I was determined to learn to use it. The technology had certainly arrived. CNC routers and the software to drive them allowed for users to incorporate textures and dimension in ways only previously imagined. But in my considerable research I found no one who was using the software to anywhere near it's capability. We were about to change that in a big way.

After considerable research we had selected EnRoute Pro software to create our files. Although somewhat daunting in it's learning curve it offered the mosts user friendly package. I broke out the manual and set to work. The very first dimensional routing file I created was the letter'A'.

In the next weeks I learned to create vectors which are used to build reliefs in the program. We experimented with bitmaps, learning what worked and what didn't. We generated ton of samples and filled our dumpster with the experiments gone awry. While I was learning to run the router we also were learning about the properties of this new medium - Precision Board. We learned about paints, faux finishing and a whole lot more. We also learned that we favored a much heavier Precision Board than most other shops used. We made the decision to only stock 30 and 40 lb densities of board in our shop. We liked the durability it offered. We also strongly felt the extra cost was more than offset with the savings of time as we finished it.

Before we were done we had gone through the entire alphabet and generated tons of samples for our shop. These samples provided us with the education we required. They also were proudly displayed on our walls. We had built it and now our customers would come.

I documented our learning journey and sent it to SignCraft. Amazingly the very first letter 'A' was featured on the cover along with an entire article of this amazing new process of generating 3D signs. Our world and the way we did business had changed. This journal will be a record of that continuing process...



In this journal it is my hope that I will be able to share with you the many ways we use Precision Board high density urethane and other products from Coastal Enterprises in our projects. We don't always follow the directions or use things in a similar fashion as most other people. We have however, through proven experience used these products with great success to build the wildest things imaginable.

I'll be posting a couple times each week, showing projects we have done in the past and also giving peeks into what's going on in our studio on a regular basis. Hopefully the posts will inspire everyone to push their own boundaries as well.

What we do on a daily basis is WAY more fun than actually working! It's going to be a fun journey!