There’s no School like OLD School

by Mallory Lynn 1.25.22

The famous saying goes “history repeats itself” and every few years or so we see the same trends resurface. Maybe it’s been tweaked or it now carries the name “Retro”, but it always comes back around.  

Here are some things in the sign industry that we are seeing make a comeback or being repurposed in a new way: 

STENCILS – Before vinyl became mainstream in the 1990s, paint was the primary method of advertising not only on vans, trucks, and cars but also on all sorts of signs. Stencils became a prominent tool in a sign maker’s bag of tricks to create beautiful lettering and images that were eye-catching and could be repeated. 

Recently, we completed some stencils with our laser engraver for a catering company so that they could “dust” powdered sugar logos onto cupcakes. A relatively innovative use for a regular stencil.  

Businesses are using stencils to “brand” their tools with their logo and information. Tools are the number one thing stolen from work trucks, so it is imperative to keep track of important business assets.

A movie set for Wise Guys was shown using stencils on a window to give a 1957 look to the graphics. Signspotter Greg Leming sent this snapshot of a downtown bar (the “Arnold’s” sign, top right) being temporarily transformed into “C.C. Bonito Italian Bread & Grocery”. This photo captures the Hollywood sign crew using paper templates to create the window sign.

NEON – Neon lighting debuted back in 1910 by a French engineer by the name of Georges Claude. As the years went on and as the sign industry grew, the popularity of neon signs declined due to safety concerns, inefficiency and expense. Now neon lighting has become a high-paid rare artistry, but the need for nostalgia is in demand. To meet somewhere in the middle LED tubing has been developed. It’s definitely not the exact same effect that neon gas lighting gives, but it comes close, is easy to service, more simple to maintain, and is energy efficient.  

MAGNETS – The first classic magnets were developed in the late 1960s by Sam Hardcastle because the Space industry needed magnetic numbers and letters for visual tracking charts. Fast forward to the early 1990s several companies were creating these molded magnets for advertising and souvenir purposes. 

Magnets have been used primarily on vehicles to promote the business name. But now cars and trucks are not manufactured with steel and the magnets don’t adhere. As a result, new ways to use magnets have emerged.

Now magnets are becoming increasingly popular in many forms of signage, especially when a section of a sign needs to be easily changed.

From employee-of-the-month signs (see our featured article on our own employee-of-the-month sign in Signs of The Times Magazine here) to vehicle magnets and ballot boxes to office suite signs, the use of magnet signs is consistently growing.  

Modern problems often call for solutions that worked in the past. We often say “why reinvent the wheel?”