This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Signmakers design, print and install signs in a range of materials, for indoor and outdoor use. They use computer technology, and occasionally produce signage by hand.
Newly qualified signmakers usually earn
$33K-$50K per year
Signmakers with at least five years' experience usually earn
$60K-$90K per year
Source: Competenz, 2016.
Pay for signmakers varies depending on experience.
- Newly qualified signmakers usually earn between minimum wage and $50,000 a year.
- Signmakers with at least five years' experience usually earn between $60,000 and $90,000 a year.
- Signmakers who own their own businesses may sometimes earn more than this.
Source: Competenz, 2016.
- PAYE.net.nz website – use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Signmakers may do some or all of the following:
- discuss design ideas with clients
- create designs, lettering and layouts using a computer or sometimes by hand
- make neon or illuminated (LED) signs
- put signs onto a variety of surfaces, including billboards, vehicles and buildings
- seal finished surfaces with a chemical spray and clear vinyl
- clean and maintain equipment
- prepare quotes.
Skills and knowledge
Signmakers need to have:
- skills and knowledge in art, design and layout techniques
- skills in using computers and industrial printers, and knowledge of computer graphic design programmes
- knowledge of hand-lettering techniques for traditional signmaking
- knowledge of paints and solvents, and how they react on different surfaces
- practical abilities – for putting up scaffolding and signs.
Signmakers who run their own companies also need business and marketing skills.
- usually work regular office hours, with some early mornings, evenings or weekends
- work in workshops and studios, and may work indoors or outdoors erecting signs
- work in all weather conditions, and may work in environments where they need to use protective equipment because of chemical fumes from paints and sprays.
What's the job really like?
Paul Mendes da Costa
Always another challenging project
"I've had some really interesting assignments in this job. One that comes to mind is when the team and myself had the privilege of doing the very first aircraft wrap [a large printed design applied to a plane's exterior] on a 747 for an All Blacks World Cup campaign.
"Since then we've done quite a few planes and travelled around the world to put these wraps on large aircraft."
Computer design and artistic skills required
"Signmaking now is so computer-generated. You are expected to produce a digital print, mount it on a board and stick it up. Most sign businesses now will have a graphic designer who has all the computer skills – Photoshop and Illustrator – so they can create new art, or work with the art that a client is giving us.
"Previously you had to be an artist, and although you don't need to do art to the same degree, it is always beneficial to have those skills. I think you are better off doing this job with a combination of computer and artistic skills."
Dion talks about life as a signmaker - 2.30 mins. (Video courtesy of Got a Trade? Got it Made!)
Smudge Signs, well basically this is my family away from home. We help each other, I’ve learnt a lot of skills from my supervisor, also my boss, and also my peers here.
Corey: Smudge Signs was started six and a half years ago. We’re a sign manufacturing company with extensive in-house sign manufacturing equipment. So, pretty much a one-stop shop really.
We believe it’s important having apprentices on board to upskill and bring through the next generation of sign writers.
Kylie: Coming from someone who wasn’t in the industry, didn’t know it at all, I love it. And the reasons I love it are because it’s so varied, no day’s the same.
Steven: The variety in the job is pretty awesome.
Peter: It’s always challenging, it’s always something fresh and new, new ideas.
Dion: It’s using my mind now instead of just physical labour. I have learnt a lot of things, a lot of skills, which is quite hard at times but that’s why the boys, they’re all here to help. From window frosting all the way to –
Steven: – CNC cutting 3D letters –
Dion: – welding –
Steven: – vinyls that’ll wrap around cars, that’s another highlight for me, love that –
Peter: – company signage, building signage, big pylon prints –
Dion: – also there is a bit of electronics involved as well –
Steven: – when all that comes together it’s amazing.
Corey: You need to have a passion in something regardless of what type of business or what type of trade that you decide to do, I think if you don’t have a passion in something I don’t think you’ll go far.
Dion: I can basically use these life skills to apply in everyday life. Whether I want to build something at home which makes my partner feel a lot better.
Peter: Whatever I learn here I can definitely apply in any other area wherever my career path will take me after this. I do recommend signwriting to anyone who’s interested.
To become a signmaker you need to complete a four-year apprenticeship, which involves on-the-job training and working towards a New Zealand Certificate in Signmaking (Level 4).
Signwriting apprenticeships are available through Competenz.
A minimum of NCEA Level 1 is preferred to enter further training. Useful subjects include English, mathematics, visual arts, digital technology, media studies and design and visual communication.
You can also earn signmaking unit standards through the Gateway programme at your school. The standards include both theory and practical components, so you can gain NCEA Level 2 and Level 3 credits as well as practical work experience.
Signmakers need to be:
- creative, with an eye for layout and design
- good at communicating with clients and interpreting their design briefs
- able to work to deadlines
- good at working in a team environment
- practical, with a hands-on approach to their work
- accurate and detailed.
Useful experience for signmakers includes working as a:
- screen/digital printer
- graphic designer
Signmakers need to have:
- good hand-eye co-ordination
- normal colour vision
- a good level of fitness – some jobs require climbing and balancing to erect a sign.
Signmakers who erect signs on high billboards or buildings must be comfortable working at heights.
Find out more about training
- 0800 526 1800 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.competenz.org.nz
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Approach companies directly when starting out
The best way to get work as a newly qualified signmaker is to approach signmaking companies in person, as this shows employers you are motivated and enthusiastic.
Sometimes you can gain employment where you did your apprenticeship, if you have shown a willingness to learn and have a positive attitude.
Qualified and experienced signmakers have a good chance of getting work in larger cities.
Most signmakers work for small businesses or for themselves
Signmakers work for:
- sign companies
- printing companies
- visual display companies
- graphic design companies.
Some signmakers are self-employed and may work freelance or run a local franchise.
- Competenz website, accessed September 2016, (www.competenz.org.nz).
- New Zealand Sign and Display Association (NZSDA) website, accessed September 2016, (nzsda.org.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Signmakers may progress to set up their own signmaking business.
Last updated 1 June 2017