Woodworking By LPI Custom

There are different paints for outdoor signs versus indoor signs. I normally create signs for indoor use. Not knowing a major difference I starting looking at the different types of paints for outdoor use.

Latex paint is generally the best paint for wood to use for outdoor use on your wood sign. The biggest concern with outdoor paint on wood signs is peeling and fading. Properly prepping your wood sign and avoiding dust so the paint adheres properly and not rushing the multiple coats of paint is the best plan.

Factors Of Paint For Outdoor Signs

There are many things to consider when choosing paint for your outdoor wood signs. I researched and came up with the best basic considerations for your outside wood sign project and how to apply them to my outdoor wood sign project. As I researched it was very apparent to me that process of preparing the wood signboard is just as important as the paint itself.

  • Is your wood dry – The ability your wood accept paint if it is wet is a critical consideration
  • Prepping your wood – Ensure you completely sand your wood sign to accept the paint
  • Primer Paint – This is an important step to ensure your wood sign is completely sealed
  • Exterior Paint or Solid Color Stain – The point here is to choose the best solution for the look your going for.
  • Exterior Latex or Oil – The opinion here varies but both are good solutions

Is Your Wood Dry – What Affect Does It Have?

This is a very important subject to consider and I was surprised to see very little information on this during my research. If you go to most of the wood suppliers local to you and purchase wood for your wood signs most of the wood has been exposed to weather, mainly rain. The concern with this is wood is known to expand and contract depending on the temperature as well depending on the moisture level in the wood.


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If you use a moisture meter and you measure your wood moisture level a good level to be at is between 15% to 18%. If your wood is above this recommended level you need to let it dry.

The reason this is so important is once you complete your painting outdoor wood sign and place it outside the sun will eventually hit it. If the moisture level is high the sun will dry up the moisture and cause the wood sign to shrink. This will impact the shape and paint which causes peeling and eventually you will not recognize your wood sign.

The recommendation is to let your wood sign dry for 2-3 days in the sun (Preferably) or a heated space to ensure your moisture level comes down.

Prepping Your Wood Sign For Outdoor Paint

As with the moisture content in your wood sign, prepping your wood sign for paint is highly important, and although a little work at this point will prove to keep your wood sign looking the same as time goes by.

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You want to ensure to remove dirt, mold, or algae (If you are looking to use a scrap piece of wood or a piece of wood that was really wet). If you have an excessive amount of dirt, mold, or algae you can use a pressure washer to clean as well. A pressure washer will get in the little nooks and do a great job cleaning your wood sign. Keep in mind safety and use a mask and safety glasses.

If you use a pressure washer ensure you refer to the previous topic on making sure your wood moisture level is acceptable.

The next step is to sand your wood sign. You will want to use a sand block, sandpaper, or a sander. Preferably use and 80 Grit paper to start, then to 120 Grit and slowly work down the wood with the grain. If you are using a sander don’t move quickly just about an inch at a time without a lot of big motions.

A myth to new wood for your wood sign is that new wood doesn’t have any damage. Ensure you lightly sand across the board to remove what you can visually see as UV damage or marks to include feathering the edges if you feel they need to be done.

Thoroughly clean the wood with a clean cloth or microfiber cloth and wipe down the wood sign completely. If you have a vacuum or shop vac that will also help remove any dust, but wiping the wood is the preferred way to ensure dust-free.

Priming Your Wood Sign For Outside Paint

Along with sanding properly, priming your wood sign for the final paint is highly important. If you don’t prime well the downside would be moisture getting into the wood, sunlight getting to the wood, and completely destroying your outside wood sign project.

Exposed wood that resides outside requires primer paint. What it does is provides a bond for all subsequent coats of outdoor paint. Imagine building a house, you start with the foundation, the same applies to painting your outside wood sign.

Paint which includes primer is new to the market. Do you use the paint which includes primer? Initially, from my research, I would not recommend them as the product line is really good for interior paint however not that great yet for the exterior.

A good coat of primer (You can use wood or metal primers) is the key to sealing your outdoor wood sign. Apply your primer with smooth strokes and apply multiple coats to ensure you have complete coverage, especially on the ends and corners where the wood sign is the most exposed.

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Always follow the manufactures coating times. This is important to ensure you are using the primer correctly and it performs well for you sealing and cracks, bleeding into to the paint and protection.

Utilize the same manufacture of primer paint with the manufacture of the final coat. This ensures your paint system will work. You don’t always know what other manufactures are putting into their product and how it will affect your final outdoor wood sign appearance.

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Exterior Paint Or Solid Color Stain For Your Outdoor Sign?

This is a personal choice, effect choice, or location choice. What is the difference? The truth is they are very similar however have a few subtle differences in application.

  • Exterior paint is thick and more thick then solid color stain. This is a better use for filling or bridging cracks and most imperfections in the wood sign. A good application of exterior paint will last 5-10 years depending on the quality of the preparation.
  • Solid Stain is thinner than exterior paint and would not bridge those cracks and imperfections. However solid stain would definitely show the accent the texture of wood sign. Additionally, solid stain would last only 6-8 years with quality preparation.

As mentioned it is a personal choice of what you would like your finished product to look like. Both offer a great color range although the solid stain is smaller than the exterior paint. Lastly, both require a good primer base so the workload would be the same.

Exterior Latex Or Oil (Best Paint For Wood) – That Is the Question

In the old days, oil-based exterior paint was the norm. However, these days latex paints have come a long way. What are the differences?

  • Oil Based Paints
    • Pros
      • Provides a great seal
      • Has proven of the years to protect the wood from the elements
      • Paints better on distressed wood
    • Cons
      • Tends to yellow after time
      • Becomes brittle
      • Drying time is longer
      • VOC concerns – Fumes
      • Need for thinner or mineral spirits for clean up
  • Latex Paints (All Non-Oil Based)
    • Pros
      • Provides a great seal
      • Water Based – Easier application and cleanup
      • Less dry time
      • Less VOC concerns – Little fumes
      • Mildew Resistant
    • Cons
      • Doesn’t work as well with distressed wood applications
      • Needs extra primer for smooth finish
      • Softer coating
      • Shrinks more than oil paint

As mentioned before oil-based exterior paint was the stand for exterior applications such as outdoor wood signs. However, times have changed.

Consider the latex exterior paint for more pros than cons. Additionally, consider utilizing a sealer over your outdoor wood signs which will make the appearance last longer as well as protect your outdoor wood sign project.

Related Questions

How to protect your outdoor painted wood sign by just more than paint? – You can use a sealer such as polyurethane or better yet an epoxy resin which is the ultimate protection. Unfortunately, all outdoor wood signs will require maintenance.

What outdoor paint is best for rustic appearance? – Oil-based paints are better for rustic applications. You will run into the concern of clean up with mineral spirits or thinner. You can use latex paint and distress after it dries.

How to make an outdoor sign waterproof? – There are several ways to waterproof your outdoor wood sign. The use of polyurethane, varnish, lacquer, or epoxy resin would be the best coating to waterproof.

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