Mécanique Technique


At press time, the artificial intelligence Skynet system had yet to launch its line-up of Terminators to take over the human race, nor had the robotic Cylons attempted to track us down. However one creative sign shop is taking a cue from the Borg and proving that, when it comes to imaginative sign design, “resistance is futile.”

Stephen Hoey is the president of KDF Custom Graphics in Rockleigh, New Jersey. Last issue, we profiled a cookout-inspired identity sign his shop built and installed for a BBQ restaurant in Blauvelt, New York (“Signs on the Grill,” June 2014).

Recently KDF was in the process of automating some of the equipment in its shop when inspiration hit Hoey: Why not take his sudden fascination with what robots can do and turn this mechanical theme into an in-shop sign that could also be used to also show customers what his company can do?

Hoey knew he was going to need a heavy-duty sign to replicate this look. So far from using the friendlier C-3PO and Robby the Robot as models, his vision went the opposite route. He wanted tougher apocalyptic-style robots, so he employed the “Rise of the Machines” motif from the popular Terminator sci-fi action movies here.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see KDF work on a sign of this type; in fact, Hoey and his shop have a bit of a fantasy streak in them. We recently showed you how KDF incorporated Game of Thrones elements in its sculpture work (“A Not-So-Fishy Fish Tale,” December 2013), and the shop also produced retail P-O-P signage related to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Their work has even stretched out to a “galaxy far, far away,” as Hoey tracked down a mold of Harrison Ford’s face from a store in Los Angeles in order to make a router-cut, life-sized 3-D replica of Han Solo-frozen-in-carbonite from the original Star Wars trilogy for personal use in the shop. “That was something I’d wanted to build forever,” he says.

For the “robots” sign, Hoey worked on a couple of sketches in EnRoute Pro during his free time at night and on weekends. His original concept registered pretty close to the finished sign. The word “Robots” sits atop a tank-inspired roving robot, which has two robotic arms hovering above the letters (simulating putting them into place). Another robotic appendage patrols the bottom portion.

The robotic elements were carved out of thirty-pound Precision Board™ HDU on a MultiCam 3000 CNC router, while the machined letters were cut out of fifteen-pound Precision Board.

After cutting the letters, KDF glued them together with Coastal Enterprises PB Bond 240 One-Part Urethane Adhesive and attached a cable that holds up one of the letters.

The bottom robotic arm is PVC, and the back panel that looks like rusted-out gears is MDF. “We put a sheet of Dibond® on back of the MDF to keep it sturdy,” comments Hoey. “And we glued and screwed them in place.”

To get the MDF back panel and letters to look like rusted steel, KDF first applied two coats of Coastal Enterprises FSC-88 Primer. They then painted the backer with a faux-iron paint from Sophisticated Finishes.

While the second coat was still tacky, KDF sprayed on the Green Patina Solution and waited. “The finish ‘rusts’ before your eyes,” says Hoey.

KDF used Modern Masters Silver as the base coat for the letters with a glaze over the top. “We wanted it to appear like it was real metallic and a little scary looking,” states Hoey, noting KDF did texturizing touch-ups later on the painted faces of the letters.

To paint the “guts” of the letters, KDF used Modern Masters Metallic Copper and applied a glaze of Black Pearl over the copper. Once dried, they “rusted” out the metal clamps. Then KDF shop members dry-brushed some Pure Silver back over the face of each letter.

Hoey admits that, when designing the sign, his initial thoughts were in the 2D realm, but he soon realized KDF was going to need to go deep and get the robots behind the letters.

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Because the robot pieces were so big and heavy, Hoey created a little shelf behind the letters for them to sit on. The shelf also acts as a stand-off for the letters. “It was important the sign stand out and have a lot of depth,” he says.

When you think of “scary” robots, a red ominous glow comes to mind (The Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.). So KDF placed long strips of red AgiLight SignRayz LEDs in an oval along the back of the shelf to create this effect, which in turn also highlights the sign.

The robotic arm protruding from the bottom of the sign features white SignRayz LEDs on its end. “There’s a wire from the LEDs that goes down the arm into the back of the sign,” explains Hoey. “And the wiring goes up through the ceiling, where the power supply was placed.”

To keep with the robot theme, Hoey felt it should incorporate some movement, so KDF also installed a motion detector and a motor. His initial idea involved the top robots moving back and forth with the letters, but since an attached cable holds up one of the letters, this might’ve been a little too much.

So KDF placed the motion detector inside a little box on the sign. “As you walk by, the motion detector trips, moving the arm back and forth and gently shining light on the front of the sign,” says Hoey.

The finished sign measures 45-by-45 inches and weighs close to seventy pounds. The shop made a cleat out of MDF with a 45-degree cut on the MultiCam 3000 router and mounted this to the wall. They then made a negative of that cleat, attached it to the back of the sign, and mounted it onto the wall.


KDF is thrilled at being able to use this robot sign to not only show its customers what the shop can do for them, but also help inspire them what they can use for a sign. “It shows clients that they can do something really cool, more than just a plain channel letter or sign panel,” explains Hoey.

For KDF, this robot sign proved to be super-fun to design and fabricate. “We’d love to build these all day long,” says Hoey, “and want our customers to let us do so for them.”

So when the machine overlords eventually take over the planet and focus their binary view on KDF’s work here, they’re liable to give this collective group of sign makers a pass and let them continue to make even more dynamic signage—which they’ll no doubt do for the human resistance, of course.

By Jeff Wooten

All photos: KDF Custom Graphics