“Some of these things become landmarks,” says Charlie Stroud, describing the signs his firm designs and builds for clients ranging from high-end retailers, to hospitals, to giants of the digital economy like LinkedIn. “They’ll be there for generations – and they can have real cultural significance.”
Charlie, who has been working in the sign industry for over 35 years, is President of Arrow Sign Company, headquartered in Oakland, CA. Originally a sign designer, he now oversees the art, estimating, and engineering departments for Arrow Sign, which is one of the premier custom sign shops in California.
The products built, installed, and maintained by Arrow Sign can be highly sophisticated and in some cases very large, involving structural engineering and complex electronics.
Arrow Sign Company
“Canvas was easy to pick up and it had features that, still to this day, a lot of the other programs don’t have.”
The firm is currently working on a rebuild of the iconic illuminated letters of San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square sign, some of which are 19 feet tall and which will feature, when complete, programmable LED lighting.
“When these big opportunities come up we get together to strategize,” Charlie says. “We are fortunate to have a deep fabrication department, we have our own structural engineer, our own installation and maintenance team, so we’re really beginning-to-end.
“It’s very helpful when you are pitching a design to understand how it will be built, how it will be installed, how it will be serviced. All of these things are aspects of that design.”
Intuitive technical illustration for a turnkey process
Charlie originally discovered Canvas 3 in a computer store in Berkley in 1992. He has been a Canvas user ever since, with Arrow Sign relying on it to produce everything from sign designs, customer presentations, marketing materials, technical illustrations, manufacturing guides, wiring diagrams, and installation and maintenance instructions.
“When I first saw Canvas it looked to me like a technical illustrator’s program. The interface was intuitive, it was easy to pick up and it had features that, still to this day a lot of the other programs don’t have. The ability to work on multiple page documents, the import and export capabilities, and the depth it has in terms of dimensioning and drawing to scale are invaluable.”
Arrow Sign’s turnkey process is exhaustive, particularly when the sign has historic significance. When the firm was hired to recreate the landmark Fisherman’s Wharf sign in San Francisco, Charlie had to engage with not only the customer and the usual civic authorities but also local business associations and other stakeholders to ensure everyone was happy.
“We had to make sure it would last a long time and that it was accurate to the original, right down to the very last detail,” he explains. “I was able to get GE to donate the LED illumination. The sign restoration and retrofit to LED was featured in a Wall Street Journal article.”
AutoCAD integration for large engineering projects
The process begins with a sales drawing of the sign created in Canvas and used to generate an estimation for the project (sometimes the customer will have a design already, others will want their design evolved and improved). When the project is confirmed, the firm moves onto its shop drawings, Charlie explains.
For its largest projects, Arrow Sign’s shop drawings – which contain all of the technical information required for manufacture and installation – are created in AutoCAD.
“We take our Canvas drawing and export it as a DXF file which our engineer integrates into an AutoCAD drawing. That goes to the building department for approval and our Canvas drawing is submitted to the planning department.” For some projects, though, Canvas is all that is required.
“A good portion of the shop drawings we do are all in Canvas. We can add engineering drawings like mounting details, add in the nuts and bolts, the electrical diagrams and so on.”
“We build right from those documents. Our fabrication team exports the Canvas drawing as an EPS and that becomes a cut file; they’ll scale it to full size and cut out the individual components from it. We have CAD CAM routers and benders that form and cut materials. You take an EPS file or a DFX file and feed it into the software for that machine, it reads all the points, determines all the lengths, and creates the components for assembly.
Eventually the signs become landmarks seen by millions of people. “That really is a great part of the job,” Charlie says. “The sign industry is unique and we are a true custom manufacturing business. We use raw sheet materials, we have neon fabricators, electricians, sheet metal workers, as well as the designers. They are all craftsmen, just like the sign artists I knew when I first started out.”
We’re proud to count Charlie as a Canvas Original.
He’s an artist and technical illustrator with a rare depth of experience and expertise, still operating at the cutting edge of his industry, creating objects that become part of the landscape inhabited by millions of people.
If you would like to participate in the Canvas Originals series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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