Many of us, from both sides of the political spectrum, are marching in protests for the first time in our lives. Protest signs are a great way to add your own personal touch to a march, but if you’ve never marched in a single protest before, you may wonder how to make a protest sign. When I asked friends how to make a sign, they acted like I was an idiot, but I was unsure how to attach a stick, what to do if it rained, and so forth. So I googled the subject, but there weren’t any super helpful tutorials. I took the information I could find and have since developed a system for making protest signs that I thought I would share.
It Takes Time and Energy
I find it helps to imagine if a photo of myself ends up on the front page of a paper. Would my sign be able to be read in that photo? Would my message be conveyed? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, they you’ve wasted a really good opportunity to spread your message. With all that in mind, you need to remember that it takes time and energy to make a good protest time. This isn’t something you can whip up the morning of the protest. If you’re going to take the time and energy to make a protest sign, you might as well take the time and energy to make it right. I’d allow a couple of hours to think of your idea, take your time with your lettering, draw a picture, and so forth.
But Simple Can Be Effective Too
Despite everything I am going to say here today, if you don’t have time to make something fancy, a simple sign can be effective too and is usually better than nothing. It will help you feel empowered and let bystanders know what you’re protesting. I’ve been to impromptu protests where bystanders had to ask us what was going on. Not everyone will be aware of whatever issue you’re protesting, even if that seems impossible to you, so it’s good to have that visual information for people.
It Starts With…
I have found the easiest way to make a sign is to use poster board, though if you have some good sized pieces of cardboard, that works well and is a good way to reuse your cardboard. I find that foam board tends to crack easily, so I don’t recommend it.
In this case, size really does matter. I’ve seen some really great signs that could only be read when I was a couple of feet away. You need your letters to be a minimum of two inches tall. They also need to be thick letters. You can use a super large marker like chalk or paint markers (minimum 8 mm, but 15 mm is the best width) or a large paintbrush with acrylic paint to make your letters thick enough.
Keeping It All Straight
If you find that you are having trouble keeping your writing straight and your rows evenly spaced, try drawing horizontal guide lines across your poster board using a pencil. You can erase them once you have written your message.
Choose Your Font Wisely
Just as the font you use in a blog post or printout can invoke different reactions in your reader, so can it on a protest sign. In general, sans serif fonts/writing is easiest for people from a distance to read on posters. Most of us don’t write with serifs, but if you use stencils or sticker letters, it is something to be aware of. Serifs are the little line things that some fonts have on the ends of letters. Also, don’t use fancy fonts/handwriting, as people will struggle to read your writing and some won’t bother. Just stick to straight letters and save your artistic talents for your artwork
Contrast Is Your Friend
When choosing a color of ink, using contrast will make your sign easier to read. So if you have white poster board, use black or other dark colors, if you have black poster board, use white or other light colors, and if you have colored poster board, use colors from the opposite end of the color wheel (i.e. yellow writing on blue paper will stand out most).
But Color Conveys Emotion and Emphasis
While contrasting colors make it easier to read, color can be used to convey emotion. I’ve seen red used quite well to project the feeling of bloodshed. Black writing with red outlining can convey evil. Blues and greens convey eco-consciousnesses. Just remember that when you choose a color, still strive for as much contrast as possible so people can read your sign. Using color for just one or two words can also be used to bring extra attention to those words.
Keep It Short and Sweet
Like many things in life, you will only have people’s attention for a few seconds, so you need to keep your message short and sweet. You may feel compelled to write a diatribe about the horrid injustices that you are protesting, but most people won’t take the time to read a long and complicated message, so your message won’t reach your intended audience if you do that. You can try looking at photos of signs that you like and note how long their messages are.
Double and Triple Check Spelling
For some reason, it is easier to misspell common words on posters. There is something about writing on such a large format that causes people misspell things like their own names. You don’t want to become a viral meme for your misspelled poster like the guy in this photo, so double and triple check your spelling. Ideally, have someone else check it also.
Some sort of artwork, visual, or image will grab people’s attention. For drawing on posters, I like to use Sharpie broad tip markers. Acrylic paint also works well. You can also print out graphics and glue them to your sign.
Weather Proofing Your Masterpiece
The weather doesn’t care what your message is and depending on where you live, you may end up in some bad weather. I find that Sharpie markers don’t run too badly in rain, though obviously poster board does begin to fall apart in heavy rain. I’ve seen people tape plastic sheets to their posters to protect them, but I have found that the best method for protecting signs is to wrap them completely in packing tape. Yes, it is a pain and it takes a ton of tape to do this.
Carrying Your Sign
Some people just carry their signs with their hands. If you do that, I recommend a horizontal orientation for your sign. I wanted a stick for my sign and that was where things got complicated as I read somewhere that wooden sticks are not allowed in some cities. I never was able to confirm whether sticks were allowed in Seattle, but no one has ever given me a hard time for having them. I do recommend trying to check if they are allowed in your city before using them. If your city does not allow wooden sticks, I have been told that you should use cardboard tubes. In regards to wood, I found that it is more comfortable to carry a wooden dowel than a rectangular stick (I used 3/4″, but you might want to go a bit smaller to save money and to have a less formidable looking stick that might upset the police – personally I like that it is a solid stick so I can defend myself if things get violent). To attach the sign to my dowel, I tape one side of my sign to the dowel and then attach the other side of my sign to the first side. You can also just make one sign and not have a second side to attach.
Turning Things Over to You
So that’s how you make a protest sign. Do you feel ready to go join the next big march in your area? If not, be sure to keep an eye on this space, because I plan to post more tutorials about protesting. I want this space to be a place where people of all political persuasions who have never been politically active before can ask questions and get answers about being politically active. It can be quite daunting to get yourself to a protest. In the interim, stay safe, stay sane, and stay strong! (Lest you think that there will be too many political posts here, I am trying to remain politically neutral and only plan to post something once a month at most)