How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

I’m excited to share that over the next few weeks I am going to be sharing a series of posts on how to make DIY wood signs! My first DIY wood sign post was this DIY Wood Sign with a Calligraphy Quote and it has been one of my most popular and favorite tutorials. Ever since I shared it, I’ve received many questions about the wooden sign making process. So, I’m going to be addressing those common questions and going into more detail in this series on DIY wood signs.

DIY Wood Sign with Calligraphy Quote

Today I am going to start with one of the first steps in the sign making process, how to paint DIY wood signs. As simple as this step seems, there are quite a few details to cover which can make a difference in the final quality and look of your DIY wood sign. Let’s get started!

Also, if you’d like a printable checklist of the tutorial, just click below!

Free Printable Checklist for painting wood signs

Start with a High Quality Wood Sign Backing

One of the most important steps is starting with a quality piece of of wood or plywood for your sign backing, which is what is going to be the base of your sign that gets painted with your design. When I say high quality wood or plywood, I mean that the wood has been sanded and is smooth and free of splinters, sawdust, dirt, etc. You also want to avoid wood that has a lot of knots, cracking, or warping. The better your wood sign backing surface is, the better your paint job is going to look! For details on sanding wood, check out my beginners guide for how to sand wood.

Below are my favorite wood backings to use for small and large wood signs. Note, you can use other wood materials too, but these are common and easy to find!

Note, this post contains some affiliate links. For more info see my disclosures here.

Large Wood Sign Backings:

When I make a larger DIY wood sign, I love these ready to paint plywood project panels. They are formaldehyde-free plywood and they are high quality to begin with as they are sanded, smooth, and typically free of any kind of large wood knot. They also come in multiple sizes and thicknesses (I use 1/2″ or 3/4″ for DIY signs), or you can have them custom cut to size for free. I’ve used these plywood boards for almost all of my DIY wood signs, including all the signs I used to sell.

Also, if you are making signs to sell, check out my tips on how to make wooden signs to sell!

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

You can use other plywood from the home improvement store, but it may need to be sanded and prepped first to make sure the surface is smooth and ready for painting. For details and tips on sanding wood, see my post on how to sand wood.

Small Wood Sign Backings:

For small DIY wood signs, I use the above project panels cut down to size or I use a 1×12 pine board from the home improvement store cut to the length I need. I’ve also used other sizes such as 1×8 and 1×10, depending on the width I need for the sign. For details on what the actual width dimensions of these wood boards are, see my lumber size guide.

I try to use the high grade wood, for example a select 1×10 wood board instead of a common 1×10 wood board. The high grade boards cost more, but they usually need less sanding and are more free of knots and warping.  However, if I’m trying to save money, I’ll look for a common board that is in good shape by digging through the pile and looking for the best board! If there are any small knot holes that need filling, I will fill them with a lightweight spackle.

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs



Gather Paint Supplies for painting DIY wood signs

Before we get started painting our wood signs, we need to gather all the right supplies and paint!

Types of Paint for Wood Signs:

Any type of paint can be used for painting a wood sign, but some work better than others. Here are a few common paint types:

Latex Paint – Interior based latex paint that you can find at any home improvement store in basically any color is usually the best kind of paint to use for painting DIY wood signs. Latex paint is my paint of choice for painting DIY wood signs. It comes in multiple sheens (I always use Flat or Eggshell for my signs), is easy too apply, and provides great coverage. It also cures to a hard, durable finish that doesn’t need a top coat or sealant.

Chalk PaintChalk paint is nice because it doesn’t require primer to be used before painting. Chalk paint is formulated to be easily sanded or distressed (and can scuff easily). So, if you want a rustic, distressed sign then use chalk paint, but if you want a more classic wood sign, with no distressing, latex paint is best to use. Check out my review of Rustoleum Chalk Paint, my new go-to chalk paint.

Acrylic PaintAcrylic paint is easy to find at craft stores, is inexpensive, and comes in many colors.  If you’re making a small sign and this is all you have on hand, it works. I’d avoid using acrylic paint  on a larger sign as it comes in small bottles. Also, in my experience, the coverage of acrylic paint isn’t as strong compared to latex paint.

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

Other DIY Wood Sign Painting Supplies Needed:

Here are some other essential supplies to gather before starting to paint your DIY wood signs:

  • Small Paint Roller Handle and Roller Refills (see step #3 below)
  • Paint Roller Tray
  • Plastic or Cardboard (to cover work surface)
  • Foil and plastic bag (optional – see step #3)
  • Primer (if using latex or acrylic paint)


Paint DIY Wood Sign Backing

Now that we are all properly prepared for painting, it’s time to actually paint our wood sign backing!

1. Prep Work Surface

First, prep your work space by using cardboard or plastic to cover and protect your work surface. Then, I like to line my paint tray with foil, this helps me to get many uses out of my paint tray and creates a quick and easy clean up process. Also, I use some scrap wood pieces to set my sign backing on top of and raise it up off the work surface.


2. Prime Wood Sign Backing (if using latex or acrylic paint)

It’s always good to add a coat of primer to raw wood, even if your latex paint says it has primer in it, especially if you have any dark spots or wood knots, it really helps provide good coverage. Shake the primer can (with the lid on) or stir with a paint stick, then pour the primer into the paint tray. I use the roller (or a paint brush) to clean up any excess primer dripping on the side of the can.

Use the paint roller and apply one coat of primer to the wood sign backing. Allow to dry. You can pour any excess primer in your paint tray back into the can and remove the foil from the paint tray.

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs


3. Paint Wood Sign Backing Using a Paint Roller

Add a fresh piece of foil to the paint tray and a new paint roller to your paint roller handle. These roller refills are the best rollers I’ve found as far as price and quality goes. Out of all the affordable rollers I’ve tried, these rollers have shed the least. I don’t like using foam rollers for sign painting as they can cause streaks sometimes. And I can’t stand when I’m painting and the roller leaves fuzzies in my paint job!

Shake the paint can (with the lid on) or stir with a paint stick, then pour the paint into the paint tray. I use the roller (or a paint brush) to clean up any excess paint dripping on the side of the can. Apply one coat of paint with the roller to the wood sign backing and allow to dry.

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

While the first coat of paint dries, I wrap my paint roller in a plastic grocery bag (you can also use saran wrap too) to prevent the roller from drying out while the painted sign dries.

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

Next, add a second coat of paint to the wood sign backing with the paint roller and allow to dry again. The sign back painting is all finished!

Note, I always roll my sign backings with paint instead of using a paint brush because it goes much faster and provides even, clean coverage with no brush strokes.

Finally, before adding your design to your DIY wood signs, it’s best to allow the paint on the sign backing board to dry for at least 24 hours as it cures to a hard, durable finish.


Paint for DIY Wood Sign Designs and Lettering

Once your sign backing is painted, it’s time to add your design, lettering, line art, etc. There are many ways to transfer a design to wood. My favorite way is to use a vinyl stencil on the wood sign. This is the same method I used in my DIY Wood Sign with a Calligraphy Quote project.

The second method I like to use (if you don’t have a vinyl cutting machine) is the easy, pencil transfer method for transferring a design onto wood. You can check out those tutorials for how to actually transfer the design onto the painted wood sign. But, I want to cover the type of paint I use with these two methods and why.

Vinyl Stencil

DIY Wood Sign with Calligraphy Quote

Easy Pencil Transfer Method

transfering a desing onto wood

Vinyl or Stencils – If I am using a vinyl stencil to make a DIY wood sign or any other type of stencil material, my favorite paint to use is a high quality spray paint in a flat finish. Spray paint is durable and provides light, even coats, which really helps to avoid paint leakage under the stencil. The key is to do multiple, light coats.

If you want to make a lot of signs or sell wood signs, I’d recommend investing in an airbrush kit with a compressor to have better control on this part and not use as much spray paint. Again if you are making signs to sell, see my tips on how to make wooden signs to sell.

Latex paint would be my second choice. The paint needs to be applied with a paint brush that has VERY LITTLE PAINT on it (again to avoid paint leakage under the stencil). So, dab the excess paint on a paper towel first and do multiple light coats to fill in the stencil. As far as what kind of paint brush to use, I’ve used just a craft paint brush before, but a stencil brush with stiff bristles works too. On my DIY Wood Sign with a Calligraphy Quote, I did use black acrylic paint and a craft paint brush.

You can use a roller too that has VERY LITTLE PAINT on it. So, you may want to roll the excess paint on a paper towel.

Pencil Tracing Method or Non-Stencil Method – If using the pencil transfer method for transferring a design onto wood or another non-stencil method such as graphite paper or chalk, my favorite paint tool to use is a paint marker. A permanent marker can also be used too! Another option is a craft paint brush and paint, but it’s going to take a lot of fine painting precision to trace over the lines. A paint marker is my favorite because it makes the tracing the design outlines much easier and it’s paint in a marker instead of on a paint brush!

How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

Wow, we have covered a lot of details on how to paint DIY wood signs and the best paint materials to use! I hope this in-depth sign painting post has been helpful and answered any questions you may have about painting wood signs! Also, if you’d rather stain your sign, check out my how to stain wood tutorial.

Again if you’d like a free printable checklist of this tutorial, click the button below:

If you have other questions feel free to ask in the comments! The next DIY wood sign post is all about creating vinyl stencils for making DIY Wood Signs! Follow along on Instagram and Facebook for my latest projects, fun updates, and sneak peeks!


79 thoughts on “How to Paint DIY Wood Signs

  1. I love your tutorial and website! I had a question about lettering with the markers… when I use paint markers or sharpies on a painted background, they dry up so fast and I go through half a dozen sharpies on a single project. How do you get around this?

    1. Thank you so much Claire! That’s a great question! I’ve noticed that too, especially with the sharpie markers but less with the paint markers. I wish I had a good solution, but unfortunately I don’t! I usually just try to use the paint markers which seem to do it less and I end up having a few of them on hand to use in case one starts to dry up too fast.

  2. Hi there!
    I started an online business last year where I create and hand letter wood signs. To prep, I use an oil based conditioner and stain, and then I use a waterbased paint pen for lettering. I then seal it with waterbased polycrylic. I sand the wood before I apply the stain, and I sand in between coats of polycrylic. My question is will the paint last for a long time without paint cracking with this method? I have heard many myths about how oil and waterbased products should not mix. I have also heard that it mixing the two are fine unless I sand properly. So far, the outcome of my wood pieces have been perfectly fine. I’m torn! Thanks Angela
    Lindcy A.

    1. Hi Lindcy, I haven’t tested this method out over many years so I can’t be 100% sure, but I think the painted letters from the paint pen should be fine and not crack. Also, in my experience I’ve never had a problem using water based poly over oil-based stain. The only thing I do foresee maybe happening years later is that the stain and maybe the polycrylic may fade the color of the painted letters if it’s a lighter paint color like white. I have some wood stained (oil based) signs from about 5 year ago that I used white and blue paint pens on and they have faded some in color. But, it’s not really noticeable unless you get close up. Hope that helps!

    2. Hi Angela, what an extraordinary guide to sign painting! Have you by chance done videos that chronicles the entire process?
      I like the spray paint approach. I could not find matte at Home Depot, only Satin and Gloss. I chose Satin. How long before coats do you wait and how many times do you generally need to lightly apply the spray paint before it has a solid color coating? I did about 3, waiting 2+ minutes after each new coating.

      1. Thank you Rick! I haven’t done any videos yet, but I do plan to in the near future! I usually wait a few minutes between coats, it depends on the temperature/humidity levels and how fast the spray paint is drying. Three coats of spray paint sounds good. If I’m using black spray paint, I’ll usually do around 3 or 4, but if I’m doing a lighter color like white over a dark base, I do a few extra.

  3. Love this tutorial! Quick question-what color paint is the one you use? I’ve been having trouble picking the right shade of white!

    1. Thanks Heather! I usually use White Dove by Benjamin Moore, it’s one of my favorite white paints that looks good in a variety of different rooms and lighting.

      1. Thanks Angela ! πŸ™‚
        I stay in India and I am unable to find Benjamin Moore white dove paint in India as even I had trouble in picking up the right shade.. :(. Can you help me with the particular specifications ? as I could get asian paints in India but I am not sure about the right quality and shade
        and is this latex paint( eggshell). Please advice.

        1. You’re welcome! Yes, a latex paint in eggshell would work best! Maybe get a few paint samples first of some different white paints to see which white you like best?!

          1. Who or where are you purchasing your wood from? I live in the DFW, TX area. Any suggested stores in this area?

          2. I usually get my wood from Home Depot or Lowe’s, that’s where I would suggest trying! I don’t know any stores in the TX area since I’m in SC.

  4. Hi, Angela. Your work is beautiful. Do you know the name of the font you used for “Angela Marie Made”.

  5. Thank you for this great tutorial! Do you have any suggestions for how to make many (100+) signs with lots of small text in a short period of time? Do you know if 1 vinyl could be used on a silkscreen to create many signs? Any advice you have is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome Amy! I’m not sure about any good methods for making 100+ signs with lot of small text, including the silk screen with vinyl method, as I haven’t tested it out to know for sure. But, I have seen some Youtube videos before of the process and it does look like it would be a good way to do it and definitely worth trying!

  6. Should we use a clear primer over stained wood before we paint a design on the stained wood surface? We are creating a wedding guest sign, painting a tree with leaves on top of a stained surface. Should we add some kind of primer or sealer on top of the stained wood before we paint the tree on? We will be using a cricut to create the vinyl stencil of the tree and leaves. I appreciate any advice you could give. Thank you

    1. It’s totally personal preference but I don’t think it’s necessary, especially if you are going to be using a spray paint for the tree. If you’re using a light or white colored paint and are concerned about any kind of stain showing through the paint over time, you can use the clear primer to help prevent that. You can also try testing it out on some scrap wood first that’s stained and using the exact paint on it to see how the paint looks on the stained wood to be sure you like the look!

    1. Yes! MDF does swell/expand a little once painted, so just keep that in mind, but it’s a nice smooth surface for paint.

  7. Hi there! what airbrush and paints do you use? Looking into investing in one, but I already have a ton of paint and don’t necessarily want to spend too much. I currently do the sponge method for my letters but very time consuming πŸ™‚

    1. I actually don’t have one I can recommend as I mainly use can spray paint! If that changes I will definitely update the post!

      1. Hi! If I purchase already smoothed out plywood for my signs, do you recommend putting any type of sealant on it after painting/before doing lettering?

  8. I love this tutorial! Thank you so much for sharing with us! This might be a stupid question, but how do you use regular spray paint and make sure it does not get on anything else?? thats always my fear!

    1. Thanks Sherri! That’s a great question! For the spray paint, I make sure to cover the edges of the sign that are exposed and not covered by the vinyl stencil with painter’s tape. Then, I make sure I place the sign on a piece of cardboard, plastic, or plywood board to ensure I don’t get spray paint on anything else. You can see a photo of this in Part 3, step 1 of this post:

  9. Hello Angela Marie, I’m trying my hand at my first wood sign and used some paint pens but they bled as soon as it touched the wood. Yikes! Should I have sealed the wood first? I do love the look of natural, finished wood – unsealed most times. Do you have any tips to share? Thank you!

    1. Hi Bryanne! If the wood was just raw wood with no paint or sealant on it then unfortunately markers and paint pens can bleed on the wood when used. To avoid this if you want to keep the natural wood look you could try selaing it first with some matte or satin clear poly or a natural stain that is basically clear, although I think the poly may work better. Both will enhance the grain of the wood some but keep it looking natural. Either way though I’d test these sealants out first on some similar scrap wood with your paint pen to make sure it works well! Another alternative is to use vinyl and make a decal with your design (using a Silhouette or Cricut machine) to put on the raw wood, you wouldn’t need any sealing for that!

  10. Do you ever experience your stencil leaving the sticky on the board after you peel it off? If not, what material do you use? I was using cheap magic cover con-tact paper…..

  11. When I make painted signs, the vinyl stencil is ripping off some of the paint. What am I doing wrong? It doesn’t happen when I stain a board and put a stencil on. I let the paint dry for 24 hours. Do I need to seal it before putting the stencil on? Do you seal after, also? Thanks!

    1. What brand of vinyl are you using? I always use Oracal 631 which works great and I’ve never had that issue. I don’t seal my signs unless they are going to be outdoors. Another thing you can try is waiting for the paint to dry a few extra days so it has more time to cure. Hope that helps!

  12. Hi Angela. Thanks for tutorial. I have a question whether it’s better to do vinyl or do a stencil. I making a hat rack for my grandson. Thanks

    1. You’re welcome Terri! I use vinyl because it’s usually less expensive than the stencil material and works well. But, you could definitely use stencil material if you prefer.

  13. I have used chalk paint and acrylic paint on the base of my sign. I primed it first as well. When I pull up my stencil some of my paint pulls off too, what am I doing wrong?? Will latex work better?

    1. How long did you let the paint dry for? It may take a few extra days for the paint to cure with the chalk paint. Also, with chalk paint you don’t need to use primer, I’m not sure if that may have been part of the issue. If waiting a few extra days doesn’t help, then I’d just use the latex paint!

  14. I need to make several wooden signs for work, which is a farm/gardening center. I love the idea of the chalk paint being distressed, as it will fit well with the look we are going for, but does it need a top coat? These signs will ALL be outdoors, most likely for at least 1 whole season, if not 3 seasons, at a time. Any tips for long-lasting signs and top coats to use to keep them in good shape? Any upkeep that might be necessary that you know of for outdoor signage?
    Many thanks!!

    1. For outdoor signs, I would use cedar wood for the sign framing (instead of pine). It’s more weather resistant and doesn’t need to be treated with any top coat. For the sign backing you may want to use a weather treated plywood. Or if the signs are small, you could use a 1×12 cedar board cut to size for the backing. If you use chalk paint for an outdoor sign, a top coat would definitely be needed. You can buy a clear exterior polyurethane but they are usually oil based, so if your sign is white, it may yellow with the poly. You can always test it out and see though! Another idea would be to buy an exterior paint and use that and just distress it some with a little hand sanding. For the lettering paint, I would also recommend using an exterior/outdoor spray paint or paint too. Hope that helps!

  15. I love this! But i am struggling so badly with my paint. I cannot, for the life of me, get it to be completely smooth! was yours completely 100% smooth? I had to sand my board down all over again after i used a stencil and spray paint and it leaked underneath my stencil. Any other tips? i swear I have read this article over and over again! If it wasn’t for you i probably wouldn’t have even gotten this far!

    1. What type of wood are you using? Some wood requires more sanding than others. My wood is usually pretty smooth so that when I run my hand over the wood surface, it feels smooth and not rough, but it doesn’t have to be 100% smooth. Also, make sure to wipe the sawdust off well before painting. I like to use tack cloth for this part. As for the leaking part, are you doing multiple, really light coats with the spray paint? That’s the key to avoid leaks. Although there will sometimes be very small leaks which can be touched up if minimal. You can always try using a stencil brush and paint instead of the spray paint. With the brush you can have more control on the amount of paint used, by dabbing the brush with paint on a paper towel to get all the excess paint off first before applying to you sign. And again do a few light coats. Hope that helps!

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