How to Make Vintage Signs

sign. ice-cream & beer sign image by L. Shat from

Things You'll Need

  • Cupboard door
  • Sandpaper
  • Ruler
  • Stencil
  • Tape
  • Paint
  • Brushes

Vintage signs can give your small business a personalized touch, distinguishing you from larger competitors and reminding your customers of the olden days when supermarkets and the like were family operations. Real vintage signs are now collector's items; you can purchase them online or in antique stores, but they can be quite expensive. You can make your own vintage-style sign at home with some recycled material and paint. This project can be completed in one weekend and does not require any special artistic skills.

Find an old cupboard door to make your sign. You should be able to find a cupboard door in a flea market. Kitchen cupboard doors are perfect for this project because they are just the right size for signs, and they often have some sort of trim around the edges. It's OK if the paint or stain looks bad because you won't see it when your sign is finished. Even a crack in the wood can make your sign look authentically vintage.

Sand the cupboard door thoroughly outside or in your garage. If you sand the door inside, you'll make a mess. Make sure that you sand off any lacquer and try to get old paint off, too, especially if it's flaking. You want the door front to be smooth. You don't need to sand the back, though, because no one will see it.

Paint the entire cupboard door a light color, such as gray, cream or light blue. You might want to browse through books with pictures of old signs for some inspiration. Think about the color scheme for your sign and choose background, trim and letter colors that will look good together. If you plan to hang the sign on a colored wall, think about whether the colors in your sign will look good with your wall color.

Paint the trim of your sign in a contrasting, dark color. The trim will be more noticeable if you paint it a different color from the background. The carved details on the trim will make your sign look elegant.

Measure the area of your sign inside of the trim, where you will paint your letters. Decide what you want your sign to say, such as your business's or family's name, or an advertisement for a product. Don't include too much information on your sign because this will make it hard to read. Make your lettering centered and even, not too crowded together. Fill the entire space rather than adding a string of tiny letters. Figure out approximately how large your letters need to be to fill this space evenly.

Purchase lettering stencils from a craft store. Pick a typeface and size that best match the measurements you took for your sign. If none of the letters are the perfect size, remember that it's easier to space out smaller letters than it is to squish in big ones.

Arrange the stencils on your sign the way you want your letters to read. Make sure they are even and straight, then tape them securely into place.

Paint inside of the stencils in a dark color. Allow the paint to dry a bit and carefully remove the stencils, lifting straight up so you don't smear your paint. Allow the paint to dry for 24 hours.


  • You can hand paint flowers or other decorations on your sign if you have free space.