Working with Paint Masks

I have been doing some form of masking off paint on panels for as long as I’ve made signs. Generally that is because I’ve wanted to achieve durable custom colors with crisp precision.

Of course, many types of printers have made some of what I’ve learned obsolete, but I still find uses for a few of the techniques. Occasionally masking can solve a sign painting conundrum that can’t feasibly be done any other way.

Here are some of the bleed coat masking tips that can make this type of first-surface work more reliable—and hopefully others can give it a try without too many headaches.

  • Paint mask vinyl needs a good seal to get a crisp result, which isn’t usually possible on porous or matte surfaces. The paint will always bleed under the vinyl and look like failed mask work. The answer is to intentionally bleed a color similar to the background that will not show as it fills in the voids.
  • Once the mask is removed, the final layer of color should be perfect even using flat house paint as a top coat, which I’ve used with faux-finish signs.
  • The trick is to use one or two coats as the bleed layer. This technique works well on odd surfaces such as awning fabric or relatively smooth wood surfaces. A bleed coat of varnish on wood will completely disappear if the background is varnish, or if a top coat is applied to the whole piece at the end.
  • For awning fabric, a clear coat can be used when there is no color paint that would be suitable.
  • If you pre-bleed the mask with a couple of coats of the original wall color before painting on your oil enamel, the result will be similar to silk-screen quality.