Growing old gracefully: The beauty of vitreous enamel signs
Reade Signs products can be found on display to the public all across the south east, but passers-by rarely admire them for the works of art that we think they are.
However, that may change after we became involved in a public art project as part of a regeneration development in south London. We were asked to create lectern-style interpretation signs for two sculptures and a water fountain in public spaces.
It’s great to be associated with art, but this project set us the challenge of coming up with signage that would look good, stand up to the elements and be appropriate next to some high profile pieces of artwork.
We worked alongside the designers to create the wording and images to go with each piece of art in order to create an interpretation scheme for each of the installations.
We also visited the sites, not only to look at the practicalities of installation and how best to relay the information required, which was obviously important, but to also get a feel for the place and for what would look right in these environments.
As a result of our site visits, we decided to use a vitreous enamel finish to the signs because this time-honoured technique would give the signs a real heritage feel.
Vitreous enamel (VE) has been around since the Victorian times and many of London’s most iconic street signs, including Downing Street, and London Underground’s station names are made from it, so there can be no question over its longevity.
VE is made by fusing coloured glass powder to metal to give a tough glazed surface that will resist weathering for decades. The result is pleasing to the eye and very resistant to graffiti and impact damage.
However, this is a complex, skilled and time-consuming process and we work with one of the few specialist factories in the country that still uses the traditional processes that allows us to deliver VE signage. During the process, the metal base is coated with layers of glass grit, with subsequent layers of colour added using silk screen printing methods. Each layer is then heat-treated at up to 800 degrees centigrade.
Although vintage, it’s still a popular finish and we’ve used VE signs on a range of different, contemporary subjects, from town centre wayfinding to marketing suite signage, in locations from Manchester to Kent. It’s a very adaptable material.
Why use Vitreous Enamel?
Using VE enhances the look and feel of any sign. With its resistance to fading, longevity and the ease with which graffiti can be removed, it’s an ideal product for signage and interpretation in an urban environment.