Possible? "Indestructible-ish styrofoam marquee letters

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ilikewinter

New Member
I hope I'm posting this in the right forum!

I'm hoping to make large art deco marquee letters with light bulbs for a blade sign, similar to what you would have seen in the 20s and 30s on the exterior of a cafe or diner (e.g. "Eat here!" with an arrow pointing to the entrance). I do want to use this outdoors as well.

I've searched a lot of videos and found some great ideas for using styrofoam for different projects, but all of them just say "hardened styrofoam" without giving any idea of what that actually means (e.g. what can the styrofoam hold up to after it's been hardened?).

For my project, the letters would be the part made from styrofoam, and then attached to a metal or wooden board to center them in a row, vertically. RE the backing: I'm not planning on covering the entire back of the sign with the metal/wood board - just enough to give something to attach the letters to and then be able to attach to. This means some parts of the letters would be freely open/exposed to all the outdoor elements.

I'd like the project to be as easy as possible - including easy-to-find supplies (I live in a small town in Canada and shipping supplies here is crazy!).

I'm trying to harden the styrofoam letters enough so that the letters

a. can be able to be attached to a metal rod and not fly off in high winds (screwed in? glue?)
b. will not rip in half in winds or hail; and
c. will be waterproof and fire repellant (since they will have light bulbs in them)

Some denting is okay since it will be high off the ground and can't be seen at eye level, but I want to find a way to make it pretty permanent in whatever nature can throw at it!

Some people in the videos suggested mod-podging or Elmer's glueing newspaper or cloth to the styrofoam; others plaster and latex paint mixed. Not sure if either of these would work in my situation it if there's a better solution.

FYI: I originally planned to try to do this by cutting out a few stacks of letters from cardboard and glueing together, then treating it like wood to finish it, but it seemed super time-consuming. Maybe it's the best way to go, though?

Thanks so much!
 

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udog

Active Member
Some people in the videos suggested mod-podging or Elmer's glueing newspaper or cloth to the styrofoam; others plaster and latex paint mixed. N
That won´t do for exterior, specially for rain.
There are different ways of hardening styrofoam.
The most extended nowadays is using polyurea. But this material has to be sprayed with special guns. I have a small one that works with cartridges (Rhino, but also Polytek and Smooth On have it) and there are bigger ones, which I hire or commission others to spray the EPS. So that option is the best, but it will need higher investment.
There are others, like fiberglassing with epoxy (doesn´ attack EPS) or using products similar to this:
Never tried this one in particular though.
Here in Spain I can get low styrene polyester wich doesn´t attack EPS either, we fiberglass the styrofoam with that. Take in account normal polyester resin attacks EPS.
You could protect the EPS letters with something...wood sheets, tin foil or others and then use normal polyester. It will depend on the shapes too.
Or you could change materials and carve/cut your letters in PU rigid foam sheets. You won´t have to worry about using normal polyester resin on that, as it won´t eat it.
Also, just to say that fiberglassed EPS can give problems as EPS absorbs some moisture and might swell. That´s why once in a while one can see fiberglassed EPS pieces out there with cracks etc. But that will take time to happen.
If you want a much more permanent thing, there are other options that would involve moldmaking for example.
 

udog

Active Member
If you could get your hands on polyurea, or someone that has the gun can do it for you I´d say that would be the best.
These guns (big ones) are mainly used for isolation purposes (building walls, roofs etc.). Maybe there´s someone in your area.
 

Pro Mod

Well-Known Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Styrofoam is cheap to buy but as udog states, it takes a lot to make it look good, weather and fire retardent.
It may be quicker / less messy to fabricate the letters from Sintra PVC sheet which is weather proof, flame retardent (it is in the UK) and lightweight, or water resistant MDF.
Out of interest how large and deep are the letters?
This is an example of letters we made from MDF.
 

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chibobber

Member
Not exactly what you asked,but, Check out the sign companies in your area. They all have salvage yards for old signs and letters. You may get lucky and find what you need or can use once modified.
Good Luck!
 

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joberg

Master Member
Styrofoam is cheap to buy but as udog states, it takes a lot to make it look good, weather and fire retardent.
It may be quicker / less messy to fabricate the letters from Sintra PVC sheet which is weather proof, flame retardent (it is in the UK) and lightweight, or water resistant MDF.
Out of interest how large and deep are the letters?
This is an example of letters we made from MDF.
Pro-Mod...great sign btw (y) (y) How did you achieve the rounded parts of those fonts and how thick is the MDF?
 

Pro Mod

Well-Known Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Pro-Mod...great sign btw (y) (y) How did you achieve the rounded parts of those fonts and how thick is the MDF?
Thanks joberg. The Mdf was 12mm and for the curves we used 2 pieces of 6mm Flexi Mdf with the grooves facing inwards. Once the glue had dried we filled the open grooves with car filler. It was used in a TV commercial and then thrown in the skip!
 

Zinger

Active Member
Sign makers often use a high density polyurethane foam called Precision Board for outdoor signs. It's durable but easy to carve and shape. You can make it look great with just a flood coat of appropriate paints. Exterior grade paints are available.

It's expensive but you can sometimes get a deal buying odd pieces from a distributor's cut off pile. Find a distributor on Coastal Enterprises' web site and give them a call.
 

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