How to Design Metal Signs in 9 Simple Steps

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Have you ever wanted to create a custom metal sign?

Maybe you’re thinking about opening a new store or simply looking for a way to give your home decor a personal touch. Whatever the reason, there are certain things you should be aware of when it comes to designing your masterpiece.

To design and cut a metal sign, you need to meet certain specifications. Even though the requirements and guidelines are very precise, they’re easy to follow.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to design a metal sign.

1. Begin with the right file format

For your sign to be cut, it will need to be in a vector-based format. We have an automatic quoting system for cutting metal signs here at SendCutSend which accepts .ai, .dwg, and .dxf file types. Alternatively, you can request a manual quote with other vector files such as .pdf, .step or .eps designs.

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While your metal sign doesn’t necessarily need to be designed in these formats, it has to be exported to these file formats if you want to use laser cutting. For example, if you have a file that is a raster image, you can always convert it.

2. Import or design your image from scratch

To create your metal sign, you can either import a 2D image or design an image directly in your CAD software. Adobe Illustrator, for example, is commonly used for 2D designs but other design software includes AutoCAD and Fusion360. When designing your sign keep in mind that anything that is opaque in color will be metal, and anything that is transparent will be cut out.

As you design, make sure that you don’t have details that are too small to cut out using a laser. Anything that is smaller than 1.5x the material thickness will be too small. For example, if you’re cutting on .25″ of steel, holes less than .375″ will be too small. In this steel pendant, you can see that the details cut are quite small because the material is thin.

3. Avoid any “orphan” shapes during your design

An orphan shape is a shape that is meant to be part of the metal sign but is not connected anywhere else. A common example of a nested shape is the space inside the letter “e.” If the letter “e” is cut, unaltered, the small shape inside of the letter will not be in the sign: it isn’t connected to anything else.

To fix this problem, you need to create bridges. Bridges are shapes that are intended to connect nested shapes to the rest of the structure.

In this La Rosa’s sign, you can see the bridges that have been created around the “o” very clearly.

Basically, you need to remember that because this is being cut on metal, anything that isn’t connected to the bulk of the sign is simply going to fall out. You can modify your design to compensate for this.

4. Make sure lines do not intersect or cross

Intersecting lines will cause issues with the cutting process. You can check to make sure that your lines are not intersecting by viewing your product as an outline.

One way of avoiding intersecting lines is to combine all the elements in your file into a single element to make sure that none of your designs are intersecting.

Likewise, you should make sure that all of your elements are “closed” so there aren’t any breaks in the lines. The machine needs a complete outline. Imagine the outline of your items to be the cuts that the machine will make.

5. Convert any text to outlines

In vector programs, text is handled differently from standard images or shapes. This makes it easy for you to modify your text on-the-fly, but when it comes to laser cutting, your text needs to be converted into outlines (shapes) before you can cut your metal sign.

With most CAD software solutions (such as Adobe Illustrator), you can select your text, right-click, and select Convert Text to Outlines.”

In this Landscape Architecture sign, all of the text elements would have been converted to outlines, for example:

Convert Any Text to Outlines for Design Metal Signs

6. Prepare your file for cutting

Here are three things you need to do to prepare your file for laser cutting:

  • Delete anything from the file that is not intended to be cut. The file provided should be “clean,” with only the exact design itself. Any cutting guides, borders, or instructions should be removed.
  • Scale the artwork to size. The metal sign will be cut based on the artwork given; if it’s currently scaled to six inches, it will be cut to six inches, unless additional instructions are provided.
  • Only include a single sign, even if you want to cut multiples. Just let us know if you want multiples and we will duplicate your design ourselves, in order to save you money and material. If you provide multiple copies, the cutting process will be less efficient.

Your final design should be the outline of the metal sign exactly as you want it cut.

7. Decide how you want to cut your sign

There are several types of metal and metal thickness available to choose from. You can cut your sign in:

  • 1095 High Carbon Steel. A strong and brittle metal best used for cutting tools.
  • 6061 Aluminum (Aerospace). Light weight. durable and welds beautifully.
  • Aluminum. A lightweight, strong, and versatile metal, which is affordable and will not rust.
  • Brass. An attractive, brushed, yellow brass that is rust-proof and attractive.
  • Cold Rolled Carbon Steel. Commercial-grade steel that is high-quality and durable.
  • Copper. Heavy, dense metal with high electrical conductivity.
  • Cor-Ten. Rustic, weathered steel material with a unique look. This world map was made with Cor-Ten.
  • Hot Rolled Carbon Steel. Strong, durable metal with a slate gray finish.
  • Stainless Steel. Bright, corrosion-resistant metal that welds easily.
  • Titanium. Incredibly strong and lightweight.

Different thicknesses can be selected based on the application for your sign and the designs that you want to cut.

8. Choose your polishing and finishing options

Finished metal signs may have some minor scratches due to the cutting process. You can choose to polish this yourself, or have the polishing done for you as a part of the manufacturing process.

If you choose to have polishing done for you, one of the following finishing options will be used:

Alternatively, you can complete the finishing process on your own.

9. Get your quote!

Once you have a design file on-hand, get a quote by uploading it to our automatic quote feature. The costs of your sign will be estimated based on the number of cuts you need, the metal you select, and the metal thickness. The thicker the metal you choose, the more expensive your final sign will be, but it will also be more durable.

If you find that your design is more expensive to cut than you want, you can attempt to reduce the “design density” of the file. The design density is the number of cuts that the machine needs to make. The more cuts, the longer the design will take. If you simplify your design, you may be able to significantly reduce the cost of cutting your metal sign.

Ready to cut your metal sign? Upload your file today to get a quote!

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