Freeway blogging: How to make nicely lettered signs in under 6 minutes

This is  continuation of my small series on the Art and Practice of Freeway Blogging. The first post is here:

How to be a Freeway Blogger

In it I presented an nice short video of the original Freeway Blogger going about his work, and added some tips on how to do the work easily and effectively. Please do click if this interest you (it certainly does me).

This post contains another short video, again by the original Freeway Blogger, showing a single technique — how to get signs to look so nicely lettered. Watch:

I have it on good authority (the Freeway Blogger’s) that nice lettering really improves the effect. Again, you can make a nicely lettered sign in under 6 minutes, and you can make many of them at once. In fact, depending on your state of mind — altered, unaltered, relaxed, fully relaxed — you could have some fun just making signs. You could even do it with your friends.

What’s the process?

The machine at the start of the video is an “overhead projector” — a pretty simple mechanism. They look like this (click to see). You lay the thing you want to project onto the flat surface and turn on the light. The light shines up through the paper or slide or whatever, hits the mirror at the top, and ends up displayed — at a much larger size — onto whatever you project it against.

While transparent paper-sized sheets are made just for this purpose — and they can be sent through printers — I don’t think you need anything but plain paper. (Update: Maybe I’m wrong about plain paper. See this comment below.)

As near as I can tell, the process is this:

  1. Think up a nice slogan. Catchy is good. Steal if you want to.
  2. Go into any computer program like Word or even Notepad and make your sign. Change the page orientation to “‘landscape” — wider than it is tall — and just use big fonts. Any simple font will do. Times is nice. Arial is nice. They’re all nice.
  3. Make sure the letters are big and black.
  4. Print the sign on standard paper on any printer and look at it. Do you like it? If so, you’re done printing.
  5. Put your new sign on the bed of an overhead projector, turn it on, and do what the Freeway Blogger is doing — trace the outline of the letters, then paint with a nice wide brush.

None of this has to be perfect — just do what’s shown in the video. Your sign will look great from 100 yards away through a haze of carbon monoxide.

Where do you get an overhead projector?

Overhead projectors were once the bee’s knees in the corp world (yes, corp bees had knees in those days, before 2000 or so). Now overhead projectors have been replaced by computers.

Local grade schools still use them — maybe — but almost no one else does. People sell them though. Because they are so old, so pre-2000, they are really cheap compared to their original prices. And most of the sellers will bargain. After all, if they wanted to throw the thing away, they would have.

As of the time of writing, this one at Amazon was $65.00.  I see them on eBay for as little as $18.00 and up to the Amazon price (also here). Recycled Geekware stores in your town could have them, as could used office supply shops. I hear the Internet has other ways to look for things as well.

Why do Freeway Blogging?

The original Freeway Blogger offered 100 reasons in a Dkos diary. Do click; it’s a fun read. But I’ll offer the short version:

It’s fun.
It’s cheap.
You can have a huge effect.

Do you have an activist streak? You can be a freeway blogger. Did you hang out at Occupy? You have what it takes. Want to throw a wrench into the CEO-controlled world? Occupy the overpass and have your say to everyone who drives by. Change minds — change the narrative — be a freeway blogger.

Freeway blogging is especially needed in Washington D.C., where the kings and queens of the world can be spoken to in very high concentrations. Do you live in D.C.? Want to talk back to your lords and masters? They’re right where you want them, stuck in traffic, breathing that monoxide and staring idly out the window. This could be your work:

Freeway Blogger — Permafrost

Your audience awaits. See their bored hungry minds? Go for it. (You can even use freeway blogging for rebranding your favorite politician if you want. It will likely have an effect — especially in DC or the pol’s home district.)

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • GaiusPublius

    Yep. True statement. I was being colorful; that’s exactly the problem with monoxide — it’s both deadly and invisible. Sorry to confuse; I was just having fun with words.

    GP

  • SkippyFlipjack

    OK but how do you monetize it? And where does the link exchange go? And what about when it’s time for a redesign — is there a way to easily update all your existing posts? Also, does Disqus have a plugin for freeway signs?

  • Chathamization

    A good idea. Of course, it’s hard to get much traction if you’re just one or a handful of people, and it needs to be part of a broader campaign, but that’s true for everything. I also wonder how it could be used in more targeted (and at times local) campaigns.

  • hauksdottir

    To increase the effect, along a stretch with multiple overpasses, one could handle longer messages with the BurmaShave method: make it clever, make it rhyme, make it kick.

  • hauksdottir

    If there was negligible effect, our highways wouldn’t be littered with EXPENSIVE billboards for booze, cars, preachers, or movies… or, here in the SF Bay Area, computer solutions.

  • hauksdottir

    I used to have an light weight projector that simply sat on top of a document, which was then lighted and projected to the wall. You can get these new and used cheaply, and for this purpose (non-professional lettering on cardboard) would be quite adequate.

    http://www.nextag.com/projector-tracers/compare-html?nxtg=20270a1c050a-0BA4066121D47C14

    It got replaced by an Artograph DB400 that set me back about $1500 with accessories. Top of the line. Very solid and stable and precise. Slides or 3D items? Easy. It is currently in my storage unit, along with everything else I own. sigh This is the same model:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Artograph-DB400-ART-O-GRAPH-Projector-Commercial-Drawing-Artwork-Photography-/400322952579

    If you don’t want to use transparencies, there are alternative projectors. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

    And, you are absolutely correct about NEAT legible lettering. Freeway traffic isn’t always at a standstill.

  • emjayay

    Where did the dots over the i’s go?

  • emjayay

    There’s no such thing as a haze of carbon monoxide. If you could see it, no one would be killed by unvented or malfunctioning heaters.

  • Bingo

    I think you can use one of these Artograph Tracer machines with a non-transparent original. These are usually available at arts & crafts stores like Michael’s or A.C. Moore, which usually have coupons in Sunday ads, for a good % off on items not on sale:
    http://www.acmoore.com/p-52926-tracer-projector-and-enlarger-.aspx
    http://www.michaels.com/Artograph-Tracer-Jr.-Projector/fa1212,default,pd.html?cgid=products-artsupplies-projectorsandlightboxes&start=5

  • Patrick Randall

    Naah… it’s pretty much gotta be a transparency. Or if you’ve got a laptop projector – one of those things that shines your desktop on a wall (tres expensive usually) then you can do it direct from the computer.

  • GaiusPublius

    Thanks for adding this.

    A question — In other words, even with v.thin paper stock, and then taking a magic marker and heavily blackening the outlines of the letters on the page, the projector won’t show the outline of the letters enough to pencil them in on the cardboard?

    Just wondering…

    GP

  • Patrick Randall

    Quick Note (I’m the guy in California who does this) 1) You have to use transparencies with the overhead projector – plain paper doesn’t work. 2) the effectiveness probably depends on the words you use or the point you’re trying to make. For example, we were attacked on September 11th by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, yet for the next several years the President refused to even mention his name in public (July 2002 – November 2003) and, for reasons that still baffle me, the press seemed to go along with this, and as a result, nearly half of Americans thought we’d been attacked by Saddam Hussein. By placing signs reading “Osama Bin Forgotten” on freeways, I was able to remind people by the millions who the original attacker was. Did this help the situation for ordinary Americans? Perhaps not, but for foreign visitors on our freeways, it did make us look, as a nation, at least slightly less stupid.

  • GaiusPublius

    Thanks for the comment, perljammer. I think “effect” has to be measured in advertising terms. Yes, there’s no metric per se, but consider the cost of what ad-makers call “impressions” for the sign above. If that were one billboard as well placed as that one is, what would be the cost, and what the effect?

    Cost would be high, and for your pennies, you’d get the same effect as a billboard. Not nothing.

    Now let’s say someone makes 10 signs and puts them in 10 locations. Let’s say 3000 or more people pass each of those locations, and thesigns stay up for a week before the weather takes them down. That’s 210,000 impressions (eyeballs) for pennies and an hour or so of labor.

    Now consider the message. That sign above attempts to add force to the message people are already getting about the Arctic. Let’s say you were in SF or DC and attacking Pelosi as “ex-liberal” for her chained CPI approval. (Or better, just wait until after this Debt Ceiling deal, which, if I’m correct, will have a social insurance benefit cut that will pass. That will provide much meat in terms of actual votes, if it goes down badly.)

    In that, you have something that doesn’t piggyback off anything else, but starts the conversation in a different direction (some “progressives” betrayal). You could presumable monitor that “conversation” to see if it starts to include your meme as one of its poles.

    Just my thought. I think this has huge potential. I’m shocked that no one is doing it, save one guy in California. Thousands came out for Occupy, and ate up tons of time doing it. This is easier, less constrained by group approval, and can still be done with your friends — in, may I say again, a very relaxed frame of mind. Perfect for the young activist in your family or social circle.

    Mes centimes,

    GP

  • perljammer

    Fun? Sure, whatever floats your boat.

    Cheap? Yep, no argument with that.

    Huge Effect? You lost me on that one. Sounds like wishful thinking to me, but I’m open to any supporting data you might have to offer.

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