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Signs and Scape

These signage offerings are anything but traditional.

By Kim Crowley

Incorporated in 1994, Art & Sign F/X Inc. of Fredericksburg, VA, offers more than just traditional signage. Originally launched as a partnership between childhood friends, the company is solely owned by Troy Dawson.

Art & Sign F/X is made up of two divisions—visual communications and landscape. This business model is unique. Dawson says he does not know of any other company in his area that provides such a well-rounded solution.

With 24 employees, the shop offers a diverse portfolio of projects that help customers build their brand. The Art & Sign F/X sign division designs and produces logos, multiple density overlay (MDO) and wood signs, vehicle graphics, street signage, business identification packages, entrance monuments, and more.

Routed and painted letter work, as well as digitally-printed graphics and vinyl are produced for office lobbies, storefront signs, store windows, and other business identity campaigns. Street signs—from routed signs decorated with metallic highlights and attached to wooden fixtures to reflective traditional signs attached to scrolled metal poles—are another example of the company’s capabilities.

Signs and Scape
The union of sign shop and landscaping was not exactly intentional, Dawson confides. With a degree in urban planning and a 12-year career as a civil engineering site planner, Dawson always had an interest in art. A drive to do something with his career that incorporated this passion led to the start of Art & Sign F/X Inc.

Initial work consisted of entrance monuments, with the shop designing and producing outdoor signage; the majority of which was permanent. Today, this work includes carved entry signs for builders, developers, and retail establishments.

In the early stages of the company, Art & Sign F/X subcontracted landscaping jobs. Dawson found that many customers wanted to accentuate outdoor monuments with landscaping to draw attention to their business. But, he says, "We just couldn’t get the quality we wanted." To ensure the product was top notch, Art & Sign F/X decided to bring landscaping in-house.

This business model is so successful for Art & Sign F/X that they rely solely on repeat customers, word of mouth, and people who see the branding on the company’s two landscaping trucks. "I’ve never marketed the company at all," says Dawson. "The only thing I did was a newspaper ad for the landscaping side in 2007," he recalls.

Sign Tools
Today, the sign world is anything but traditional. "Large format digital printing is really changing the sign industry," says Dawson. He remembers a time when most sign work was painted and graphics were cut vinyl that had to be assembled. Large format digital printing offers customers a high-end, dramatic product at a speed that was once inconceivable. Customers benefit from the on-demand, eye-catching output and become repeat customers.

A Roland SOLJET PRO III XJ-740 allows Art & Sign F/X to offer large format printing at up to 74 inches wide. The device uses Roland DGA Corporation’s ECO-SOL MAX eco-solvent inks, which Roland says produce virtually no odor, require no special ventilation, dry fast, and resist scratching. Projects, including banners, POP, vehicle graphics, and canvas prints, are rated for up to three years of outdoor use without lamination by Roland.

A Gerber EDGE FX thermal transfer printer is used to produce items including labels and vehicle graphics on materials such as pressure-sensitive vinyl. Art & Sign F/X uses Gerber OMEGA design and output software for its Gerber EDGE FX and its Gerber SABRE router.

With the addition of the Gerber SABRE a new niche evolved. "It was one of the best investments I’ve made on the sign side," notes Dawson. Mostly used to cut dimensional high-density urethane (HDU), the Gerber SABRE is perfect for dimensional signmaking, woodworking, and parts fabrication. It cuts foam, plastic, wood, composites, and non-ferrous metals.

The shop also uses a Summa D160 SE cutter for vinyl production.

Dawson notes how tools like Delcam’s ArtCAM software help to produce high-detail 3D design projects. Other software used for design, layout, and sign production includes Adobe CS3, Roland DGA Corporation’s VersaWorks RIP software, and SA International, Inc.’s FlexiSign.

The company recently invested in estimating software from EstiMate Software Corporation. EstiMate Software is designed to streamline the bidding process by offering customers a professional quote in seconds. The shop uses the software to estimate jobs based on plugins they are already using, see the profit on a job, and archive customers’ past project estimates.

Art & Sign F/X uses media from 3M and Avery. For the most part, the designers work with Macintosh computers, while PCs drive the printers and cutters.

Spotlighted Applications
Highlighted here are recent signs created by Art & Sign F/X. These projects include work done for a bookshop, an artist gallery, a clockmaker, and a home development chain.

Art & Sign F/X created an outdoor sign for The Griffin Bookshop and Coffee Bar. The sign features hand painted and routed lettering, a 3D griffin figure, and rope work. For a local artist gallery, Brush Strokes, Art & Sign F/X shaped the gallery’s outdoor sign like an artist’s palette with two paintbrushes extending off the side. Another example of a unique storefront sign features a series of carved, metallic-painted watch gears suspended from metal scrollwork for Fox Clocks.

Grand Entrance
Art & Sign F/X is particularly proud of its recent work for a home development chain. Hazel Homes, a division of Hazel Land Companies, has spent 35 years building residential communities in central VA and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The company specializes in single-family homes, townhouses, villas, and active adult residences. Its recent single-family home development, Hopyard Farm, features a number of amenities including a 10,000 square foot clubhouse, fitness center, pool, a boat ramp on the Rappahannock River, and tennis courts. Hazel Land chose Art & Sign F/X to put a dramatic face on this impressive new development.

A real estate purchase represents a significant investment for a consumer and is made after careful scrutiny. To draw potential customers, curb appeal is key. For the Hopyard Farm development, Hazel Land Cos. needed a grand entrance to attract buyers. "We selected Art & Sign F/X for the entrance feature at our Hopyard Farm project in King George County after meeting and discussing the project with Troy Dawson several times," notes Dan Sweeney, project manager, Hazel Land Cos.

Hopyard Farm provided Art & Sign F/X with a logo from Spangler Erkert & Associates, an agency in Fredericksburg. The entrance walls were created from HDU and their final size is approximately 43x90 inches. After carving—routing—the letters, border, and contour of hops into the HDU, Art & Sign F/X applied enamel paint to the piece. The logo and hops were hand airbrushed on the carved entrance sign by staff artist Dan Ramsey. Dawson shares that the hand airbrushing was done to the sign "to give it it’s beautiful appeal." To enhance the sign, striking landscaping was added to the surround.

"We expressed our goal of creating an entrance that would both attract future customers and at the same time maintain the look and feel of the surrounding area," says Sweeney. "I believe those goals were not only met but exceeded by Art & Sign through their ability to understand our vision and even improve upon it with ideas of their own."

The benefit of dealing with just one service provider for both signage and landscaping is appealing. For Hazel Land Cos. this made choosing Art & Sign F/X an easy decision. "The landscape division of Art & Sign allowed them to deliver a complete package and was a real plus in our decision making process," explains Sweeney. He continues, "We worked with the staff arborist and were able to go to the nursery and help select the plantings for the project."

Hazel Land Cos. is very satisfied with its entrance monument. "We are more than pleased with the outcome and believe the features and landscaping package provided by Art & Sign F/X provide the ‘wow factor’ we were looking for," says Sweeney.

A Unique Model
Troy Dawson established Art & Sign F/X as a sign provider with an eye for detail and value ad for the customer. In addition to digital and traditional signage the shop offers landscaping to deliver a great first impression.

To extend the shop’s current success, Dawson tells us that he would like to get back into vehicle work. At the outset, Art & Sign F/X did mostly small vinyl or painted work on vehicles. Digital printing now offers a much more efficient vehicle graphic output. One employee has nine years of experience and is the company’s go-to person for working with and installing vinyl graphics.

Dawson would also like to expand offerings to include digitally printed wall coverings, especially for use in children’s bedrooms and playrooms. He recently printed a Disney Cars mural for his son’s bedroom that he feels rivals painted murals. Surely Dawson’s many goals will help to expand Art & Sign F/X far into the future.

Mar2008, Digital Output

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