Perfecting the sign making craft with skills and knowledge

Like any skilled trade, the key to becoming an effective signmaker lies in having the right training and knowledge for those who want to polish up on their skills, or even learn new ones altogether. Do aspiring sign makers have much to choose from? Ashwin Mehra unravels the clearer picture when he went searching.

What's out there?

Having been in the sign making industry for approximately...five minutes I wanted to see what training was offered to those in similar shoes to me - how do I get trained up as a sign maker?

Traditionally, there are two ways in which you can expand your horizons in sign making; attending a course or becoming an apprentice. There are many courses that you could help you diversify your current skill set. Depending on what you are looking for, we have found the best, most well informed choices to help you add that all important string to your bow. This is an investment in your future, after all.

That's a wrap!

Walsall Student

APA UK offers a comprehensive two-day vehicle wrapping course for free. I spoke to Sales Director Scott Cowup to find out what this course offers and why should you attend it.

"APA offers a free two-day wrap course at our premises located in Belvedere, Kent. We have been successfully offering this service once a month to our customers (who purchase vinyl from us) for the past three years and on average have between 6-10 people in attendance, all with varying degrees of knowledge and ability."

Scott explains the certain uses a student would gain in attending their free vehicle wrapping course: "As an introduction to wrapping, our aim is to give our customers a solid grounding in the art of vehicle decoration, and for the more advanced on the course, we can concentrate on more intricate and technically demanding applications. The APA course encompasses not only application but also vinyl composition, sales (why the customer needs a wrap), design, workflow and costing. We can also tailor courses for individual companies who would like to focus a little more on any of these subjects. Although, this may incur a small charge."

When asked why they offer a free service for offering this unique skill to members of the industry and public alike, Scott candidly explains it is free to purchasers of APA's vinyl: "At APA, we believe that if our customers choose to use our wrap films, then we are happy to show them the correct techniques. However, we do not view this as a revenue stream, instead as a valuable service from a trusted manufacturer.

Walsall Student

Customers new to wrapping, then have the opportunity to decide whether to pursue this avenue of revenue generation, without investing thousands of pounds in training and film acquisition. If the former is chosen, then for inexperienced fitters we recommend practice, practice and more practice before attempting client's projects. This is advised because after only one course and applicator you will not be a professional, but rather a very well informed amateur," Scott says.

You can find out more about APA's two-day free wrapping course by visiting: or calling by Scott on 0208 3114400.

Other companies that offer vehicle wrapping courses include William Smith who provide a two-day course by 3M authorised trainer, Andrew Gamble at £495+ VAT per person, with the option for accommodation to be arranged for you near their offices in County Durham (at an additional cost). You can find out more by visiting: or by calling 01833 690 305.

Graphiwrap also offer a similar two-day course at their premises in Tamworth, Staffordshire for £395+VAT per person. You can find out if this course is for you by visiting: or by calling 01827 300 500.


Student gets hands on training

The signmaker's apprentice

Those who are already 'in the know' are fully aware that sign making is no dark art, but for those uninitiated, like me, it could be a pickle as to decide which course is for you.

The dated viewpoint is that you would train in a classroom or shadow a sign maker for a period of time. Modern courses challenge this preconception by ensuring that students are equipped with the right hands on skills and relevant knowledge needed to enter the market.

Walsall College offer a QCF (City & Guilds Qualifications and Credit Framework) Levels 2 and 3 in Apprenticeship Signmaking - based at various locations, this 12-15 month course is positioned as a stepping stone into the signmaking industry for students aged 16 onwards. This apprenticeship deals with the design, production and installation of all sorts of signs, from those displayed on company entrances to advertising hoardings.

In partnership with the Roland DG Signmaking Academy, Walsall College also offer short courses including Intermediate Digital Print and Vehicle Wrap, which are popular with established signmakers and apprentices. These are taught by recognised industry experts, which make them unique to Walsall College.

Apprentices would learn a range of skills including how to design signs; prepare different types of surfaces; cut out and build plastics into letters and logos; use digital technologies and install signs. The nature of the work will vary with the employer, but it could involve machining, joining, engraving, etching, hand decorating, spray painting and screen-printing.

The mode of attendance is very flexible, ranging from College one day a week up to fully delivered on site work at an employer's premises, or a combination of both.

"Our apprentice programmes at level 2 and 3 are unique as Walsall College have spent the last 17 years developing a delivery model where the full framework can be delivered onsite, without the need for the apprentice to attend a traditional day release mode of attendance. The experienced worker route to level 2 and 3 has also been developed to be delivered at distance with a combination of workbooks, oral questions and observations, which build up a portfolio of evidence. Employers are always eager to offer work experience to those attending full time college courses, and most will go on to gain full time employment in the industry," explains Andrew Evans, Commercial Academy Manager at Walsall College.

You can find out more by visiting: or calling 01922 657000.

Cornwall College offer Levels 2 and 3 apprenticeships in Signmaking, both are one year work-based apprenticeships aimed at teaching students aged 16 years and over how to design signs, prepare surfaces, cut out and build plastics into letters and logos, use digital technologies and install signs; using a range of skills (e.g. graphic design and electrical engineering) and a variety of materials such as perspex, vinyl, metal and glass.

"The Cornwall College signmaking apprenticeship achievement rates have been 100% for the last 3 years. Apprenticeships do help people, especially young people, understand the industry requirements, and begin developing their practical skills immediately," says Malcolm Higham, Course Manager for Signmaking at Cornwall College.

For more information visit or calling 0800 731 7594.

Home grown talent

Cornwall College courses

In these tough economic times, sending an apprentice or worker on a course can be an expensive dent in your budget. For those of you who want to hire your very own apprentice to work on projects for you would be pleased to know that the government are offering an Apprenticeship Grant for Employers for ages 16-24 of up to £1,500.

Offering around 40,000 grants between April 2012 and March 2013 and is available in full for young people aged 16 to 18 and 50% for those aged 19 to 24.

The grant is offered to companies who hire apprentices for up to 12 weeks, at 30 hours per week, and is open to any company to apply, provided they haven't employed an apprentice since September 2009.

Apprentice minimum wage rates from 1st October 2012 will be £2.65 for apprentices under 19-years-old or 19 or over and in their first year of their apprenticeship.

National mimimum wage rates starting from 1st October 2012 are: £3.68 - the 16-17 rate for workers above school leaving age but under 18; £4.98 - the 18-20 rate and £6.19 - the main rate for workers aged 21 and over.

You can find out more about the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers scheme by logging on to: or by calling 08000 150 600.

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