Decorative Painting on Wood Signs

Create custom signs for your home by using this technique for decorative painting on wood signs.

Many of the things I prepare for craft fairs involve painting on wood. Rather than give a tutorial for each individual project, I thought I’d just do one that covers all the basics.

For any wood piece that I work on –whether it be driftwood or just a board- I first sand it roughly (to remove dirt) and then stain it on all sides with oil-based stain.

Decorative painting on wood signs

The stain seals the wood and acts as a primer. {I don’t choose cedar normally to paint on, since it is such an oily wood and the natural oils can sometimes change the color of your paints.}

Once the wood is prepped, I make a template for the design.

  • Using Microsoft Publisher, I put the dimensions (onto a “blank page document”) of the sign in “Page Setup”, “Custom”, and type in the width and height of my sign. Then I play around with fonts until I find the one I like.
  • I print out the final design using “Draft” quality (It conserves tons of ink and is dark enough to see.) Then I trim the paper and tape it together where it overlaps.

decorative painting on wood signs

The first step of painting is to give your piece a base coat. I use acrylic craft paint and just squeeze some right on to the wood, and smooth it out with a foam brush. You will often need to do more than one coat. Sometimes I layer colors – like black, then cream – so that if I want to “distress” it by sanding, some of the under color will appear. Below is a picture of the first coat of cream on a sign.

decorative painting on wood signs

Once the base coat(s) is fully dry, I transfer the design image using graphite paper (transfer paper for wood) and a stylus. Layer the transfer paper shiny side down on to the wood, then the design on top. One helpful tip it to tape the design paper on one end like a “hinge”. Then you can “peek” under if you need without moving the alignment of your design.

decorative painting on wood signs

Once the design is transferred, I use acrylic paints to fill in the lines. An assortment of brush sizes is very helpful. I invested in good quality brushes years ago and I’ve never been sorry. Take good care of them (wash them right away and store them brush-side up), and they’ll last a long time.

decorative painting on wood signs

I’m not a quick painter yet, but I’m hoping with practice I can learn to paint smooth, even lines at a quicker rate… They say it just takes practice. Don’t be afraid. Just do it! {Helpful tip: Thin your paint ever so slightly so that it is the consistency of ink. It will “flow” from your brush so much smoother.}

decorative painting on wood signs

Each sign is unique and how you choose to finish it at this point is a real preference thing. If I want to “age” the look (like the one above), after the paint is fully dry, I heavily sanded it to reveal the darker wood underneath. Sometimes I also add a little bit of drybrushing to give it a different effect.

If the pieces are wall hangings, I nail on a saw-tooth hanger on the back.

The final step is to spray them with a coat of acrylic sealer.

Voila! You’re finished!

Linking To: Home Stories from A -Z

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  1. Thank you so much for the step by step instruction! I have wanted to make a few signs for my home but I am a little intimidated by the process. This greatly helps!!

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