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Vinyl, HTV or Paint? The Sign Debate!

Has there ever been an argument that you found never actually has a definitive answer or outcome? I know you are thinking, 'Gawd there are so many, can you narrow it down a bit?'

Okay. I will narrow it down for you a bit more. Has there ever been an argument within the crafting world when it comes to signs that never seem to have an outcome?

Again, I get it there are so many! The one that I am thinking of is the one about what medium to use when making signs. This isn't just for the base of the sign either. This is for the WHOLE sign! If there is one thing you will realize in the crafting world it is that crafters have VERY strong opinions on how to craft!

Since I began my crafting journey using a vinyl cutter about five years ago, this has been one of the arguments I have heard repeatedly. I have always been on team paint, mainly because using paint as the base layer allows for more creative freedom. With paint, depending on what tool you use to apply it, you can make it look like stain, paint or even give it an aged or weathered look. For the top, I have always preferred painting as well. After searching for a long time, I found the PERFECT stencil film to use and let me tell you it is AWESOME. I love it so much I even wrote a whole blog on it! You can read it here.

Something I have wanted to do for a while now is try three different methods for the top of signs and compare. Then I would tell you honestly what I think and how professional they appear. I will provide pictures for sure but sometimes pictures don't give the full story.

The Sign Idea Journey

As most of you know, sometimes the hardest part of making something is choosing WHAT you will make. Why the hell is it so hard to find the 'right' thing to create? It's not like we don't have ideas floating around in our heads. The ideas are ALWAYS there until we actually want to create something. Then it seems like we get this creative block or we don't know how to narrow it done to just one thing. My suggestion is to make a couple of those ideas. If you are totally unsure that you will like them, you can always use a material that isn't as expensive. This is so much easier now that dollar stores are selling so many knock-off craft supplies and blanks. Then if it turns out shitty, you aren't out a whole lot.

Pinterest is a great place for ideas. Start there. When I say start there I mean that in every possible way. I don't mean to go there and find an idea to use. I mean, go, look, discover some thoughts and ideas YOU CAN BUILD ON. So go and find an IDEA you like, a color combination you like and go from there. I believe strongly that when people say something they create doesn't sell, it is because of a few things. One is the lack of originality to it. By this I mean, they take an idea they see EVERYONE doing and create the same thing, then sit back and say I haven't sold any. This does NOT mean don't find an idea and jump on the trend. It means taking that idea AND adding to it, tweaking it and making it different and better.

For my idea journey, I started looking at the ideas I had already pinned. I saw a couple I loved and some I liked. As some of you know I used to own a vinyl store. When I owned this store I use to sell wood blanks. I have some of those blanks left, well the ones that were 'seconds'. I figured I would change the thought from a round sign for this post to a rectangle sign for my office door. One that would let everyone know to F' Off when I am recording, Proceed with caution when I am writing and one that let them know that it is okay to come in because I am just simply working. You could think of it as - this is my dollar store blank that I am trying my idea out on.

The Creation

This is the part of the process that I truly LOVE! The part where you get your hands dirty and create!

The hard part of choosing colors and design is done. You did the hard work. Now all you need to do is create. I never rush this part. My mom was always a strong believer that when you rush a creation or create in an off mood, especially when baking, the product won't turn out right. Your BEST work is ALWAYS done when you are in the right headspace.


For my base I always use paint. The method I apply it always varies though. I use one of three things, a baby wipe, a sponge brush or a cloth. If I want more of a stain look I use the baby wipe or cloth. If I want more of a saturated look, I go with the sponge brush.

Honestly, don't complicate the process. Just do it. The best thing is you can always sand and repaint.

Top Layer

This is the part I want to test. I am going to use three different materials for the top of three different signs. Vinyl, HTV and Stencil. Now remember I am on team stencil currently. You never know, I may change by the end of this although I doubt it.

To create the design for the top of each sign I used my Silhouette studio to design it and then my Silhouette Cameo 4 to cut it out. I know I just heard a few people gasp and shake their heads that I didn't use Cricut. I do have both machines however I did NOT want to risk the constant updates and problems the Cricut Design Space has every time I use it. Using a system that is COMPLETELY offline is my choice. Anyway, back to the reason we are actually here, because I could go on forever about the two machines and I am going to save that for the October Honest Reviews segment.

To design the project in the program I first measured the area I had to work with. I then drew a rectangle shape. I use to me help choose my fonts initially and when I am designing, if I feel a need to change something, Silhouette Studio's font selector makes it easy enough to select a different font while creating. After adding the words in the positions I like within the rectangle shape I weld them together, delete the box and make sure it is positioned on the mat the way I want it cut. (Another great thing about Silhouette is that you create your project ON the mat.)

*Remember when cutting the stencil design, leave room at the top, bottom and sides for a buffer space while painting over top.*

Here are some quick tips for applying the design to the base

  • DO NOT try to be quick with removing the excess on the vinyl and HTV. I have a saying I love to use for myself and I think it applies to this so very much. While I use this for my personal growth journey, I think it speaks volumes for this. Your speed doesn't matter. Forward is forward.

  • REMEMBER when you are weeding the vinyl for the stencil, you are KEEPING the OUTSIDE and REMOVING the INNER BITS!

  • Roll the transfer tape back slowly so that you are actually rolling the tape it seems. Go SLOW and when you see a letter or piece begin to come up rub it down with your finger or squeegee.

  • When applying the paint for the stencil, be very very light with it on the first coat. Then gradually work up in layers of paint. This way there is no bleeding.


Here are the results.

Here is how the stencil looks. It looks clean and appears to be part of the design, rather than placed on top.

For this, I used a black chalk paint with a dollar store make-up sponge. (that is what I use to apply the paint for all of my stencils.)

This sign shows the vinyl. This one shows any imperfections in the vinyl or wood I find. It is nice from afar for sure but not my go-to for sure.

For this I used Oracal 651 Black Matte. I find if you are going to use vinyl on your sign, it is best to use a Matte color as it would be closer to a painted look.

This is the sign I used HTV with. I feel it gives a seamless look. The HTV blends into the wood and doesn't appear to be sitting on top of it.

For this sign, I used Siser Stretch in Black. I used Stretch as it was the only black I had and honestly ,I wanted the matte look and I wanted all of the signs to have black writing.

The Finished Signs

(Please ignore the doors. Yes they are brown and yes they are old.)

While I do like how they turned out, I do have a favorite. I haven't used HTV a lot in creating signs. I think I only used it once before and that was actually for a coaster and not a sign. The order that I would rate them from my favorite to least favorite would be,

  1. HTV (I know! I have a new favorite medium for the design portion of my signs.) While this is a more costly method, it gives a professional look.

  2. Stencil (Yep, it moved down one. I can still hear the stencil film cursing this blog.) While this also gives a professional look and is more cost-effective than HTV, it is always a tricky medium to use. If you are distracted or rush and apply too much paint on the first layer, you will risk bleeding through onto the base. The upside however is that it also gives a wide variety of possibilities of color and style that vinyl doesn't

  3. Adhesive Vinyl. While this is a more cost-effective method, as shown above, you risk bubbles or bumps when removing the transfer tape. There are so many variables involved in getting perfect enough to give a professional appearance. If you have no problem using it and find that it is flawless every time then keep on using it! If it works for you that is amazing!

I think my new go-to for signs will be HTV! Unless I want a specific color or effect I can't get with HTV, then I will use the stencil.

I hope this has been informative and that it has helped solve an argument, which I am sure will continue until the end of sign-making time.

Happy Crafting



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