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The Mystery of Street Signs

Updated on January 17, 2012


Do you remember back to when you were fifteen and a half-years-old and wanting to get your temporary driver’s permit? You had that little book to study in order to be able to pass the written test. There were all those rules to memorize and those silly little pictures to know what they meant. If you are like most people, you promptly forgot what each one of those little pictures stood for immediately after you took your test.


Those little pictures I keep referring to are street signs. Yes, those beautiful pieces of metal that come in all different colors and shapes. I have a slight infatuation with street signs. Not to the point where you will see me on some cable-network television show going through rehab to kick the habit but they just interest me.


I have always enjoyed street signs, but my interest in them was only perpetuated by my time spent working for our local city’s street department where we made all of our street signs. Making street signs is nothing more than playing with really big, expensive stickers. It is actually a relatively tedious and complicated process involving many steps.


1. Start with a roll of vinyl


2. A plotter (like a printer except it cuts the picture out instead) cuts the vinyl based of the image on the computer


3. Using an exacto knife, pick the excess vinyl off that will not be used on the sign. This process is called weeding


4. Next, cover the vinyl with transfer tape (a clear cellophane like material)


5. Then, line the vinyl up with the blank (actual aluminum sign) and tape a hinge on one side


6. Peel the backing (shiny white paper like any sticker has) off the vinyl


7. Gently using a roller or squeegee, press the vinyl down to the blank



That was one sign. As I mentioned before, it’s a relatively arduous process. It’s an extremely difficult process to describe, and it would be much easier to understand if you could actually watch the process take place. This is about as simply as it can be broken down. Some signs can be much more complicated because there are two or three different colors of vinyl on them, which have to be put down in layers and adds more steps. I wanted to give people a general idea of what it takes to just create one sign.


I am pointing out this amount of time and detail that it takes because it’s one of those unknown things, and on top of that, a large percentage of people driving do not even know what a lot of the signs stand for. People often fail to notice the plethora of signs that are hung up around towns. Unfortunately, I cannot keep from noticing the condition of the street signs whenever I drive somewhere. However, I won’t bore you by talking about high intensity or any of the laws that dictate how signs must be.


Now, I bought up street signs because they are a curious matter. They are important to aid us in our driving, but I know they are intriguing to other people besides myself. How do I know this? Have you ever noticed how many street signs get stolen? Have you ever seen workshops, garages, or college houses decorated in street signs? I don’t know what it is about signs, but people seem to enjoy them in some way. It could be the fact that they are much bigger up close than they look when we drive by them. It could be the bright colors. It could be the interesting symbols on them. Or it could just be because they are unique.


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    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @teaches - The symbols are great for a quick, clear message. They definitely make driving easier.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I remember when the symbols started to show on street signs. It does make for a clearer message, and much faster to read as you pass by them. Interesting hub topic and found the instructions simple enought to follow.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Laura - Yes, signs can be extremely helpful in the sense they can guide us or just provide that extra assurance that we are on the right path. Thanks for reading.

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 5 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      Signs are like little helping hands along the roads and pathways of life. You usually already know the right way to go, signs simply confirm it. If you're totally lost, indoors or out, signs can help you find your way again: Exit, Women, Dead End, 5th Floor, Yellow Concourse, 84th Street, #207, In case of Emergency break glass, customer parking only--all others will be towed at their owners' expense, Jerry's Barber Shop, and so on. Signs make people feel more comfortable about where they are now and where they are going or could go.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Raevyn - I'm not sure what they mean? What are you getting at with this comment?

    • Raevyn14 profile image

      Raevyn14 5 years ago from Tecumseh, Oklahoma

      you're not sure what these signs mean.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @htodd - you're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for reading.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      Informative post..Thanks

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Laura - thanks for reading and voting up. I am always fascinated by signs as well. I always look at them when I am somewhere new. They can be so useful and interesting. A lot has been done with signs to make them more visible and last longer. One thing I always appreciate is reading signs that have been translated to English when I visit foreign countries. They are often very humorous.

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 5 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      As a writer in Minneapolis, I'm fascinated with signs and where they're placed and how well people follow them and can read them, day, night, or through mid-winter storms. I'm also fascinated by the fonts used in various countries, especially the new ClearType font used here in the US (I think it's being phased in slowly, last I heard). ClearType IS much easier to read at any distance so I hope they really are using on all new signs.

      One funny sign I saw in Chicago: "Don't even THINK of parking here" (and the curb was painted non-standard blood red).

      Great hub! Voted up and interesting. I'm off to read more of your hubs...

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @htodd - I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      That is really informative post...Thanks

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Cre8tor - Thanks for reading. The stealing part happens so much it's crazy. I can believe there is a great amount of testing that goes into reflectance.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Dan Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

      LOL...Laughing at the "how many people steal them" remark. Spot on. I worked for a product safety test lab and it's remarkable how much testing goes into the materials used on the signs as well. Reflectance tests and so forth...just another bit people may not realize. Interesting piece. Thanks.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @annart - Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it. Signs can be extremely humorous in certain situations that's for sure.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 5 years ago from SW England

      Amusing subject, interesting too. We have some funny and odd ones in Britain. There is one near Goodwood racecourse in Sussex, on a very busy dual carriageway, which says,'No racing of horse-drawn carriages'. Then there are the 'alternative' captions which are given to many signs - the roadworks one is 'Man having trouble with umbrella', the humped-back bridge is 'nudist colony ahead'... and so on!

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Real - Thanks. I had plenty of street signs hung up to decorate my house going through college. They are great for that.

      The KKK story is classic. That definitely made me smile.

      I know the signs in our town have a sticker on the back of them that threatens up to a $2500 fine and 5 years in prison if they are damaged or stolen.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Awesome idea for a hub! My friends used to steal street signs for decor! lol Of course - some of them got caught and apparently that is very illegal! lol

      The best was - The KKK as a group was allowed to adopt a portion of the highway - but someone kept stealing their sign! Then a camera was installed and turns out - it was a white guy - he would steal it everytime they put it up to protest! I loved it! What a bandit:)

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Jess - Glad to be able to inform you.

    • Jessica Setz profile image

      Jessica Setz 5 years ago from Philipsburg, Netherlands Antilles

      Interesting to know how simple it is to make, thnx

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      You are right about this not being the only way, but it is becoming the most common. Most signs used to just be screen printed, but they do fade away more quickly. You have a point with red because that is one of the more expensive colors of vinyl. The printing doesnt work any more with most signs in Ohio because of recent law changes requiring a higher reflectivity.

    • Allana Calhoun profile image

      Allana Calhoun 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Not sure if the process you described is the only one they use today. I know some signs are printed - because they fade. Since I've worked at an ink manufacturer, I realized that some signs (especially ones with red markings) tend to fade away. Red is one of the hardest colors to keep colorfast, however, it is possible - but most people probably don't want to pay the extra money for the exterior-grade ink/sign. :D