Make an Old Style Sign From Scratch in CorelDRAW


Following the instructions below you will learn the steps of creating a custom sign board. The base of a good shop sign design is the text which is the message itself conveyed towards the possible customers. All the rest of the sign should be built around the text.

The building blocks in this case are the logo (a spoon), the name of the store (Vectortuts),the description of the store (Spoonfed Vectors) and any additional information (like since 1935). For this tutorial, I used CorelDRAW but the techniques discussed apply for most vector editing software. Let's get started!

Final Image Preview

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Step 1 - Organize the Text

The store name is the most important so this will be the biggest, while the description part should be about 2/3 of the size for a good visual contrast and legibility. Any other elements should be much smaller (like the logo and additional information) to avoid stealing focus from the main parts.

Step 2 - Find the Fonts

You will need two different fonts with as much contrast as possible. Bear in mind while selecting the font that the final work should be ready for cut on a vinyl cutter-plotter and these machines don't really like too many nodes.

The shop name should be a fancy and bold font while the description should be a solid, legible one and preferably sans serif (once again consider cutter-plotters). For this tutorial, I've picked two great fonts from dafont: BigTop by Shamrock and MarketDeco by Steve Ferrera.

Step 3 - Convert Text to Curves

Once you are satisfied with your typography, grab the text and make curves out of them, which means their nodes will be editable. In CorelDraw use Command + Q or select Convert to Curves in the right click context menu.

Step 4 - On to the Board Design

Surround your text with rectangles and put the logo in a circle. Weld the geometric forms together making one object out of them. Shift-select all the rectangles and the circle. When two or more shapes are selected simultaneously, CorelDraw offers Boolean operations like Weld. These icons are shown in the Property bar. Press the weld icon.

Step 5 - Visual Detail

Add some more small circles and rectangles for visual detail and weld them to the main shape. If you are planning to make a real world sign board don't overdo this part, as it will make it difficult cutting the board.

Step 6 - More Visual Detail

If you have any additional information, you can expand your board by pulling down the lower part of the shape. Select the Shape tool (F10). Right-click on the line of the lower part and choose the To Curve option from the context menu.

Double-click the middle of the lower part with the Shape tool - thus adding an extra node. Grab this node and pull down a little creating an extra curvature on the board. These lower curvatures make the board look really cool and can be used for placing additional information or some kind of design element, for example a flourish or swirl.

Step 7 - Contour Over Contour

When the board shape is ready, give a wide contour to it. Actually, we are going to make three contours: a thick one and two thin ones. Select the Interactive Contour tool from the special effects fly-out. Click on the board shape and in the Property Bar select the outside option and type in a contour offset. Experiment with this setting until you are pleased with the outcome.

Step 8 - Second Round of Contour

With the board still selected, choose from the Arrange menu the Break Contour Group Apart Option, or press Command + K. If this option is not active, click on the board shape once again with the Interactive Contour tool. Now select the offset shape and give it a new contour like in the previous step, but this time make it thicker.

Step 9 - Third Round of Contour

Following the previous steps create one more contour, preferably the same thickness as the first one.

Step 10 - Trimming Contours

If everything went right you have four shapes: the original board shape and three offsets. Select the original shape and Shift select (add to your selection) the offset below it. When two or more shapes are selected simultaneously, CorelDRAW will offer Boolean operations like Trim. These icons are shown in the Property Bar. Select Trim, which is our best friend in this process.

Step 11 - Giving Depth

Select the resulting shape and move it down a bit. Before releasing the left mouse button press the right mouse button thus making a copy of the original shape. Trim the original from the duplicate. Select the resulting shape and press Command + K breaking it apart. Delete the lower portions of the broken shape. Grab the bottom most offset board shape, move it down a little, and duplicate it. By the end of this step you should have a 3D-ish effect.

Step 12 - Detailing Text

Grab the two main texts and move them down and sideways a bit, then make a copy of them. Trim the original text from its copy and move the resulting shape once again down and sideways.

Step 13 - Color Scheme

By now you have a pretty neat sign board design, so you can start looking for the right colors. Wash out and pastel colors make a great old time effect. You can further improve the overall atmosphere of the design by adding some extra text effects.

Step 14 - Text Effect

Offset the main text with the Interactive Contour tool, but this time chose Inside. The contour offset should be minimal. Break apart the contour group and pick the smaller top shape.

Step 15 - Steampunk Gradient

Draw two rectangles wider than the main text. Place one of them about the middle of the text shape and make it really thin. Place the other rectangle at the bottom of the text shape and make it six to seven times wider than the other (thin) rectangle. Pick the thicker rectangle and select the Interactive Blend tool from the effects fly-out and pull the blend to the thin rectangle. Change the Blend Steps to 5 in the Property Bar.

Step 16 - Doing the Trick

Select Break Blend Group from the Arrange menu or simply press Command + K. Shift-select the resulting rectangles and group them (Command + G). Trim the group of rectangles from the text shape offset. Delete the group of blended rectangles and you have the infamous steampunk gradient effect.


Using the techniques discussed above you can create almost infinite variations for a shop sign board. The strength of this procedure is that you will have a custom shape sign board perfectly adopting to the text. If you are preparing the design for a real world project, always pay great attention to minimize the number of nodes deleting stray or unneeded nodes. Keeping your nodes tidy will ease the work of the cutter-plotter resulting in better cuts.

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