How to Trace an Image to Paint on Wood.

How to Make Sign Art (Without a Cricut)

Words can create emotions. When we surround ourselves with quotes or images that are funny, encourage us, cause us to think, or inspire us; we can really transform how we view the world. Putting words on our walls changes our environment, which can change our negative thinking and can in turn create a sense of contentment and possibility. Having the ability to make sign art from the quotes most inspiring to you is the best. Really. To do that you can either; make it by hand with some basic supplies, OR make it using a cutting machine. Today we’ll learn how to make sign art with using a cutting machine.

Two ways to make it happen

I started out creating text for art using stamps, hand lettering, printing it out and gluing it; there are all sorts of ways. For the wall art the simplest and easiest way to get the look that’s the most similar to the quote art that’s trendy is to use a PDF print out and tracing paper. Using a basic Word doc you can just type out in the style you like and with the spacing you want, the quote you’ve chosen. Simple. Print. Done. Boom. I did this literally for 20 years.

The second option requires a cutting machine like a Cricut Maker, Explore Air2, Silhouette Cameo, or other. These can get kind of costly I believe the Explore starts in the $250 range and the Maker is $380 or so. I have the Maker, but started with the Cameo. I think I literally cried when I first realized that I could design my text but then have a machine cut it out as a stencil for me. The machines do so much more than that, but that’s what I still use mine the most for.

Digital designs are digital files

A few years ago I started to play around with the software that came with my cutting machine, and I found I really like creating digital files. I like it so much in fact, that almost every post that I write for this blog has a free downloadable PDF and/or SVG file attached to the bottom of the post!

How to use the different file types

The PDF’s are either for simple printing and framing; OR you can use them to create wall art similar to what you would make with the cutting machines.

The SVG files are vector (cutting) files that can be used with the popular cutting machines like the Silhouette Cameo, or the Cricut Explore Air 2 or the Cricut Maker. To use these files you really do need access to one of these machines and the software that they come with.

Find this Free PDF in the Resource Library

Which to start with?

I would recommend everyone start with the intro beginner method below. It doesn’t cost much to try and the results are similar to those you would get with a machine. However, that being said; if you love the freedom of designing and crafting with words (and digital images) then you really want to get a machine. They literally open up an entire new world of possibilities. It also allows you to get consistently professional results that make creating multiples of a product easy.

Project: How to make trendy sign art (without a cutting machine)

To show you how to do this, I made a quick little video and have a full step out with supplies and tools below. However, if you do this and love the results; you might want to check out the cutting machines. They’re SO MUCH FUN, have a ton of possible project applications, and you can design your own custom phrases or quotes in their software. You have been warned…

Supplies and Tools

  • Print out of PDF quote or image you’d like to create on wood (check out my Creative Resource Library for the downloads I’ve created)
  • Wood pine board- approx. 11″ h. x 7″ w. (pre painted with chalk paint).
  • Tracing Paper (you want dark if you’re transferring to a light surface and the white if you’re transferring to a dark surface.)
  • Ruler and pencil
  • Masking tape
  • Pen or stylus
  • Paint, black or grey (I used Martha Stewart craft paint, but usually use chalk paint)
  • Small bowl for water
  • Teflon paint mat
  • Small detail brushes (one liner, one round or flat, and one super small liner)
  • Paper towel to dab water and extra paint off brush
  • Optional: Eraser
  • Light grit sandpaper
  • Optional: clear furniture wax


Step One: Find the center of your board

Using a ruler find the center of the board (approx. 3.5″) and mark at top of board with a light pencil mark. Lay your tracing paper flat, shiny side down on the board.

Step Two: Center your sign on your board

Fold the top of your print out in half to find the middle, crease, and unfold. Then align the crease with the pencil mark at the top of your board. Tape in place.

Step Three: Trace your sign

Using a pen, lightly trace an outline of your text or image. Flip up the paper and tracing paper to check the transfer. If it is too light you’ll have to press harder. Don’t press too hard, we want a transfer, not gouges in the wood. Continue until the entire piece is outlined. Remove the tracing paper and print out. Fold up the tracing paper, it is reusable.

Pro- Tip: Gather the painting supplies and tools. Put some paint on your palette. Dip your brush in a little bit of water and dab off onto the paper towel. You want the brush wet enough that the paint will flow off it, but you don’t want it so wet that it dilutes the thickness of the paint. Dab a little paint on to your brush. Do a small stroke on the palette to test how much paint is on the brush. You want a smooth line, too much paint and it will glob.

Step Four: Paint your tracing

Start to outline and then fill in your tracing. The liner brush will outline well, and the rounded brush will help you to fill in. Try to do longer strokes, shorter one’s will seem more jagged. Work in one area, and then move to an area separated so that you are less likely to smear the paint as it dries. Working from the side of the piece (or turning it) will help to minimize the potential for smears as well. Use the ultra fine liner to paint the thin font.

Step Five: Let dry and touch up the edges

Let dry and if there are some places you messed up, don’t stress. Use the same paint as you used for the background to go back in and clean up your black. If you really don’t love what you did, you can either paint over that part all together or sand it back. It’s a pain; but it’s fixable. You can also choose to lightly erase any pencil you might still see, but make absolutely sure that your paint is dry first.

Pro- Tip: The rustic/simple look really lends itself to the hand done and imperfect. Just go with it, and distress the areas you don’t love by sanding them a little more.

Optional chalk paint embellishments

(Optional)- If you used chalk paint as your background base paint a light coat of clear wax really helps to add a subtle finish to your piece that I just love. It’s a small detail but really looks good. When the wax is dry you can sand it back lightly and then buff with a soft cloth for a professional looking satin sheen.

(Also Optional)- If you used chalk paint as your background base paint a light coat of clear wax really helps to add a subtle finish to your piece that I just love. It’s a small detail but really looks good. When the wax is dry you can sand it back lightly and then buff with a soft cloth for a professional looking satin sheen.

FREE Digital File Downloads to Create With!

If you’re inspired by this John Muir quote and want to try this project as shown, then you’ll need the PDF file below! It’s also available with a ton of other files, printables, cut files, templates and guides in my FREE Creative Resource Library. The password for the library is free when you subscribe your email, you can unsubscribe at any time. Thanks!

Thanks for checking out our “how to make sign art” tutorial for how to make custom sign art without a cutting machine! Love it? Please share it- Just pin the image below! AND the how-to tutorial for creating a simple, rustic frame is coming soon- so subscribe by email for post updates. Thanks!

wellcraftedtstudio | Jen Swift

How to make sign art motivational quote without a cutting machine | Cricut | silhouette | handmade | paint sign | tracing technique
Love this? Pin it!

How to make sign art without a cutting machine like a Cricut or Cameo
Want to remember this? Pin it!

1 thought on “How to Make Sign Art (Without a Cricut)”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
Free Resource Library of Digital Downloads

Want Freebies?

Who doesn't? As long as they're good! Sign up and get the password to my Design Library and get a weekly email that encourages you to be creative (with even more freebies and ideas)! ​You want to make stuff and I want to help!