Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Tips and Tricks: Now let’s get this straight! Using a T-square, ruler, and tape center mark

Ever have trouble getting your type lined up properly when applying vinyl or a vinyl stencil? I’m sure we all have. So here is something I do that ensures all the other completed work does not end in disappointment. Crooked or poorly centered lettering on a sign just looks amateurish, and it can be avoided if one takes care and uses a few simple tools.

Mostly what I see, on YouTube videos, is that folks line up type simply by eye and then call it good. Now I must admit, from what we see on the videos, it usually looks pretty good at a glance. But we’re also not passing by these signs day in and day out as they hang on our walls. When things are not aligned, especially when they are close to the straight edge of a sign for example, they become more annoying and obvious over time. It’s like that photo frame on the wall that is just slightly crooked and screams for someone to make the adjustment.

First I use a desk that has a solid left edge (I’m right-handed) so that I can guide a steel T-square along its width. If you don’t have one, it is surely worth the investment. I tape down the sign with painters tape after aligning it with the T-square. If the surface of the sign was not an issue, I would simply mark a centerline at the top after measuring the width dimension and dividing by 2. However, not wanting any marking on the surface, I will stick a piece of painters tape perpendicular to the top of the taped-down sign with the left edge considered center. Now I take my transfer tape, already having the stencil burnished to its sticky backing, and I carefully fold (loosely) the type image and align the beginning and end of the longest words that will be centered. I pull the transfer tape/stencil combo down at the top edge and make a small crease in the tape (transfer tape should exceed the size of the stencil so the stencil is not creased). This is now my center mark that I use to align with the perpendicular painters tape stuck to my desk. Top to bottom is usually a much easier measurement visually, but the same method could be used as well. Personally, I just consider my descenders of the type and realize that, visually, all items on a surface tend to look like they are dropping. This, by the way, is why most framed artwork should have the bottom edge of a mat cut slightly larger than the other 3 sides.

When placing down the transfer tape with the stencil, use your steel T-square over the surface of the item and overlap the stencil to keep it from sticking at the bottom while you align the top. If stuck to the T-square, it acts as a vertical slide for up and down adjustments of the stencil. You can also use transfer tape or vinyl backing paper (shiny side up). Press down the transfer tape from the center outward to help avoid bubbles. 

In reality, whatever works for you is good. This is just one way to use simple tools, and actual measurement, to help your eyes make the right decision when trying to get things straight.

Align the left edge of painters tape with the crease in the transfer tape

Use T-Square to align type with bottom of sign; acts as a vertical slide for stencil

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