How to color routed characters on signs

Was hoping for a little direction from some of the sign makers. What is a good way to color in just the routed characters on a piece? Specifically, I am making clocks out of rustic wood and want to make the numbers and marks black. I would route them through masking tape and then paint, but the rough wood surface will not allow that. I saw a video where someone used a syringe to apply black stain in just the letters. Was looking for a more elegant solution.



I made all our paddle trail markers out of rough cut cypress, and I ended up picking up some artist’s paintbrushes and hand painting them. For smooth-surfaced pieces, I’d just paint first and sand after (with sanding sealer as a helpful pre-painting step, especially on open-pore wood), but I’ve never come up with a better way of adding color to unsanded rough cut stock.

Painstakingly hand painting the routed parts of the signs was quite tedious, and it was like playing Operation on steroids (as sanding off errors wasn’t possible), but I got the results I was wanting. Of course, for the several hundred 50mm/2" cypress magnets I’m making to give away at our table at Earth Day this year, I’m giving up the rustic look in the interest of production efficiency, but if anyone wants a rustic one, I will gladly make one for quite a reasonable price. :grin:


I’ve used this technique before. Your mileage may vary depending on what species of wood and what type of paint you are using:

I sand the stock down like I’m getting ready to put a finish on it. I put on two or three (or more) coats of spray polyurethane (if you want the rustic look, find a matte finish poly spray). Then, cut your sign. The cut portion of the sign will expose bare wood. After the sign is cut, paint the letters using whatever method your prefer. The paint will only soak into the wood exposed by the cutting. The poly will seal up the uncut portions and allow you gently and carefully wipe the paint away before it dries. It helps if you wipe towards the cuts. If you are ok with sanding the final product, you can also sand the paint off of the uncut portions like Mr. Klumb suggested.

Another method that I have not tested is to cover your stock completely (and I mean thoroughly with blue painters tape. Then, cut the sign through the painters tape. Paint the sign using your preferred method and wait until you are absolutely certain the paint is completely dry, then pull off the painters tape. NO IDEA if this will work or how well, but it’s worth a couple of test pieces to find out.

On either method, do lots of test pieces. A couple variables you can try out are different kinds of sealer (polyurethane spray, wipe-on poly, lacquer, danish oil, sanding sealer, etc.), type of paint (oil-based, acrylic, gel stain?, etc.), and different brands of masking tape.

1 Like

On the filled stuff that I’ve done coating/sealing the wood before the carve is super important, especially in rough open grained wood, otherwise whatever you fill with will bleed. I do the 2-3 coats of spray poly, then carve, then fill, then lightly sand after the paint dries.


1 Like

For something really simple you can use a grease pencil or melt wax and scrape off the excess - tends to work better for non-porous materials such as plastics or engraving in aluminum - probably not wood as @DanoInTx mentioned, although I haven’t tried it

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 30 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.