Lettering on buildings.

Since Roman times the touchstone for lettering on buildings has been that on Trajans Column in Rome (114 AD).  The Romans only used upper case letters and as the letters were cut by hand there was room for elegant variations by individual craftsmen.

The invention of the printing press and movable type around 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg led to many different typefaces being developed, and since the hegemony of computers everyone has easy access to multiple typefaces; my computer has well over one hundred different styles.

These typefaces, suitably enlarged, inevitably became used for signs on buildings.  A common fault is to simply enlarge a typeface to create lettering on buildings but it doesn't always work; even a good typeface can make a bad building sign. The limitations of the forms of the letters and the spacing imposed by a printing technique don't always translate at a larger size into something that is also appropriate for a building.  Too often they look like an afterthought, stuck on later like a stamp on an envelope.

The same strictures apply to printed material now that the physical limitations of solid metal type are removed.  We are seeing more and more graphic excesses with letters reduced to sizes that were not physically possible with solid type, and often too small to be read without a magnifying glass; see my recent article 'Six out of ten!'

As in most things, common sense more often prevails on signs on vernacular buildings as the following examples show.  Building signs on these sorts of working buildings were often painted for reasons of economy, and like the Romans this gave greater scope for the individual craftsman signwriter to exercise aesthetic discretion and judgement about the spacing and proportions of the individual letters.


Mr Leggett's message is simple and the type of letters without serifs is well suited to the lines of the boarding.


The lettering on the Monds & Affleck building in Tasmania is just the right size and location for the building.



These two signs in Cessnock NSW, one on the gable of a pub and the other on a glass shopfront window for the local newspaper are both idiosyncratic and appropriate for their locations.

Victoria Bitter Milawa

The Victoria Bitter sign on a pub in Milawa works well and complements the scale of the pub. 

Shop Bendigo

The designer the gable front of a shop added onto a house in Bendigo also hasn't been afraid to be bold with the name, and the other signs fit equally well.

Post Office in Wandandian

Catholic Hall in Wandandian

The timber Post Office in Wandandian, NSW is the exact opposite of the solid brick Catholic Hall but both have lettering appropriate for the sort of buildings they are, even down to the full stop after the word Hall!