Creating signs with waterjet cutting (laser, too)

Signs are popular application for both laser and waterjet cutting, as they typically convey their information in two dimensions. Logos, pictures, and lettering can all be cut using the these tools. Most of the signs we make at Big Blue Saw are either stainless steel or aluminum. I prefer the look of stainless steel, its darker color gives it a more solid, serious look. Signs can be made from very thin material, but for more visual impact close up, you can go with a thicker stock.

There are generally two approaches to cutting a sign or logo:

  1. Making the individual letters out of solid material and assembling them together.

  2. Cutting the lettering or design from within a solid outer frame.

In other words, you must decide whether you want the design to appear as positive space (material) or negative space (holes).

The second approach can result in a sign that’s easier to install. If designed correctly, you can hang up the sign as a single piece without having to worry about fastening separate letters or their alignment. In order to do this, you must be sure to join any separate islands within the design with bridges. This often comes up when adding certain letters that naturaly contain islands: A, B, D, O, etc. Note the bridging on the letters in the sign shown below.

This sign was easy to assemble, with just a few screws needed to hold the upper layer onto the lower layer, and 4 screw holes in the corners to allow the sign to be hung up.

A sign in two layers, with the logo and lettering waterjet cut from wood.

A sign in two layers, with the logo and lettering waterjet cut from wood.

If you want the letters to be made from solid material rather than holes, you can still keep them in one piece, but you will have to come up with a scheme for joining them together. The photo below shows one possible approach.

Note also that this sign is designed to be cut in a single pass with only one pierce of the material.

A nameplate sign with the letters as positive space and joined together.

A nameplate sign with the letters as positive space and joined together.


If you want the most accurate representation of a logo, you will probably choose to have each section of the design and each letter cut out as separate pieces. This allows, for example, letters to be exactly the shapes you want them to be without having to worry about bridging. Since you don’t have to worry about designing bridges or connecting elements of the logo, design can be easier. The chief downside of this kind of sign is that each piece must be hung separately. You must also take great care when installing the sign to make sure that the position and alignment of each piece is correct.

When designing a sign, you should consider how the sign is to be hung on a wall or otherwise mounted in place. If you are mounting to a wall or other flat surface, can include holes for mounting screws in each pieces of the sign. If you don’t want visible screws, you can mount the sign using adhesive, or by welding attachment points to the back. Make sure that whatever attachment method you use is strong enough to hold up the sign (Big Blue Saw gives you a weight estimate for your design in the ordering process.)


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