Window Signs: Reverse Painting

Seriously, who doesn’t love old signs? They’re not so affordable or easily found these days, so why not make your own? When I was selling antiques in a few years back, I couldn’t make these reverse painted signs fast enough. Here are a couple from years past. One hanging in our barn and one was for my (tom-boy) daughter’s camouflage-themed room. Another hangs in my studio, a sign that hung in my (antique) store space. Type only signs or those with simple graphics aren’t as hard as they look. It helps if you have a steady hand and a software program that allows you to do simple layouts. Even better yet if you have access to vintage art such as Dover Clip Art books or copyright free images from the web. Keep it simple or if you’re up to the challenge, paint multiple colors in layers.

(1.) Our local transfer station (the dump) has a recycle area always full of old windows. If your savvy, you can find these pretty easily on craigslist, through companies that replace windows, etc. The trick is finding one in a paint color you like and a size you prefer. I keep several colors and sizes in my shed for future signs, but recently I picked up a little window just for this tutorial. You will also need acrylic paint, a paint brush, and tape.

Before you begin painting, clean your window well. This includes sanding or dusting off any flaky paint and dirt. You can seal the flaky paint with a paint on sealer. I would avoid spraying a coating unless you mask off the window from overspray. A straight-edge razor will scrape all the old paint and additional junk you find stuck to the glass. Please use caution when sanding and displaying, as most old windows contain lead paint. Once clean, give the glass a nice cleaning on both sides.

(2.) Determine which side is your favorite as this will be the side you tape your template to.

(3.) Create your art (I am using my name for use at a craft fair for this project) and FLOP the image before printing. You may need to print in tiles and puzzle piece together your final artwork. Remember, your art MUST be backwards. If you are painting with black paint, it is a good idea to print your image in a different color than black, such as grey (50% black). This is helpful to see areas you have yet to paint. When your paint and template art are the same color, you are more likely to miss areas. I am using off-white paint over a black template -very easy to see where I’m going.

(4.) Tape your art into postion on the BEST SIDE of your window face DOWN. I taped mine in place in one spot and then cut close around image and finished taping all around. This helps keep the image tight against the glass so that it doesn’t sag in the middle and cause a visual distortion. Begin painting on the opposite side. One tip is to NOT turn your artwork as you paint. Because of the thickness of the glass, there is a gap between your painted side and the actual template, so turning your sign as you paint will cause another visual change and your artwork may turn out thicker and thinner in places -not how you’d want it. Once dry, you can remove most of the template, keeping a small area taped just in case you have to replace the template, and view from the good side to see if you have any transparent areas you’d like to go over.

Some paints are more opaque than others and I recommend you test before subjecting yourself to mulitple layering of tedious painting to get good coverage. The paint I used took only one coat.

The final piece adorned with some holiday fluff is ready for its hanging hardware and a successful gift show.

Other little tips: Add a large vintage decal to the sign on either side; Signs with acrylic paint will last best indoors; If you find you were a little shaky in painting, you can always clean-up your edges with a razor blade or X-acto knife.

Have fun, and I’d LOVE to see your signs!


I just found these photos of the girls’ rooms when the signs were hanging over their beds. Sweet Sarah’s Bed & Breakfast and Jamie’s Army Supply.

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