Beautiful Signs for a Better Planet

Custom ADA Signs
Custom ADA Signs Design Guide

Designers of custom ADA signs balance interior design, branding, durability, cost, project specific goals and more. This custom ADA sign design guide walks specifiers, designers, and buyers through key decision points, ensuring your Green Dot Sign® project is a success!

Over 50% of AECO designed projects are not ADA compliant.  Concurrent with design conceptualization, please master ADA sign requirements.  This page is a great start, or for experienced designers, download our 50+ page .pdf for comprehensive requirements and numerous diagrams.

Choosing wood for your ADA signs offers new opportunities to elevate and customize interior design, branding, aesthetics, and amazing sign fabrication opportunities not available from plastic.  And since ADA sign plastics are produced from fossil fuels, not biodegradable and very rarely recyclable, it’s the right choice for our shared environment, too.

To contact us regarding custom ADA signs, feel free to scroll to the bottom of this page and complete the form.

Choosing Wooden ADA Signs: Addressing the Durability of a Green Dot Sign®

The majority of custom braille signs rely on adhesive to hold together plastic layers of  different color.  Usually there’s a back substrate, and a top layer from which letters and pictograms are cut.  This method works well in many situations, but take a look around and you’re sure to see ADA signs missing braille or letters.  If using materials with different rates of thermal and hygroscopic expansion then product failure becomes a “when” not “if”.

Risk of adhesive failure was especially true for wooden ADA signs.  Using traditional methods, wood had to be “plasticized” with layers of coatings in order for adhesives to bond well.  This process was both costly and inconsistent.

Enter Green Dot Sign® and our new, patent pending 3D printing process.  It uses no adhesive so the final product is beautiful, cost effective, and more vandal resistant then traditional plastic ADA signs.  Prior to 3D building raised characters and braille, a special layer highly receptive to 3D “inks” bonds with the topmost wood fibers of the sign blank.  The raised characters are made directly on this topmost wood fiber matrix for a bond that’s a strong as the trees outside your window.

Another question to ask yourself when concerned about wood durability is “would I want floors made of drywall or wood?”  The answer is obvious, so why be concerned about a sign material more durable then the wall it’s mounted on?

What to add to your drawings

Your current specifications may not let your clients choose custom ADA signs similar to Green Dot Signs’. To do so, please add the following options:

  • Tactile characters and braille may be thermoset acrylic or equivalent
  • Lettering and braille may be direct bond 3D printed, adhesive not required
  • Indicate desired wood species
  • Remove brand names from material requirements, such as Rowmark or Duets®

In addition to typical tactile or panel sign specifications, the following notes insure successful implementation for any wooden sign project:

  • Knots, mineral streaks and other wood features may not interfere with ADA sign compliance requirements
  • No patches or voids allowed on visible surfaces or edges of plywood

There are five steps detailed below.  If you address all five in your prints, drawings or specs – in whatever way works best for your organization – you are taking the actions needed to make your Green Dot custom ADA signs a success.

Custom ADA Signs Design - Step 1: Selecting Wood Species

Following are common wood species used to fabricate wooden custom ADA signs.  The listings include species’ characteristics relevant to selection.

Practically any type of wood can be made into custom ADA signs.  If your project is best completed with a species not noted here, don’t hesitate to use it.

Some wood species cost more then others, some are more difficult to work, and some have limited sealing options, so flexibility on these points is important.  If you have criteria questions please contact us our your local distributor to insure feasibility.

Aspen Wood ADA & Wayfinding Signs

Bright white color with light grain.  Ideal for projects using multiple or bright colors, as well as natural wood based designs.  Excellent for painting due to extremely smooth grain. 

Low cost solid wood.  Takes all standard Green Dot Sign® wood finishes.  Excellent for edge routing and inlay materials. Light weight.  Available in 0.5″ and 0.7” thickness.  

Sealer recommendation: Standard Bio Based Oil Finish, Blended GDS Bio Based Oil, Teak Oil

Download a solid aspen image for drawing preparation.

Image shown is a solid aspen wood ADA sign with standard bio based oil finish, clear braille and forest green tactile numbers with flat printed black numbering.  Simple, modern designs like this work well with aspens’ low visual impact wood grain. 

Baltic Birch Plywood ADA & Wayfinding Signs

Bright white color with light grain.  Ideal for designs using multiple or bright colors, as well as natural wood based designs. Excellent for painting due to smooth grain. 

Lowest cost standard material.  Takes all standard Green Dot Sign® wood finishes.  Edges show ply layers unless painted.  Complex edge routing not recommended.  Light weight with excellent strength.   Available in ¼”, ½”, and ¾” thicknesses. 

Sealer recommendation: Blended GDS Bio Based Oil, Teak Oil

Download a Baltic birch plywood image for drawing preparation.

ADA sign to the right features 1/4″ Baltic Birch Plywood with full bleed digital print in light blue and black tactile lettering and braille.  Note the botanical element on the left has no ink, and simply reveals natural wood grain. 

Hard Maple Wood ADA & Wayfinding Signs

Light color with beautiful grain, used widely in molding, handrails and other interior features.  Best for designs with limited colors, that use wood character as a central design element since wood grain has a moderate to high impact on flat print color. 

Moderate cost material. Excellent strength, machinability, dimensional stability and general physical characteristics.  Takes all standard Green Dot Sign® wood finishes. Excellent for edge routing, inlays and highly expressed edge cornering.  Available in 0.25″, 0.5″, 0.7” and custom thicknesses. 

Sealer recommendation: GDS Standard Bio Based Oil Finish, Blended GDS Bio Based Oil

Download an image of hard maple for drawing preparation.

The room sign pictured here features 1.125″ thick hard maple wood with a compound angle cut to reveal wood from different angles.  The “N” indicates a north wing and includes a color highlight corresponding to colors used throughout the north wing to assist with wayfinding.  For best results, custom ADA signs should be considered in collaboration with wayfinding signage. 

Walnut Wood ADA & Wayfinding Signs

Dark color with beautiful grain.  Best for designs with limited and bright colors, using wood character as a central design element.  Above average color variance to be expected, even within the same piece of wood.  

High cost material. Excellent strength, dimensional stability and general physical characteristics.  Takes all standard Green Dot Sign® wood finishes. Excellent for edge routing, inlays and highly expressed angle cuts.  Available in 0.25″, 0.5″, 0.7” and custom thicknesses. 

Sealer recommendation: GDS Standard Bio Based Oil Finish, Blended GDS Bio Based Oil, Teak Oil, Aqueous Clear Coat Matte Finish

Download an image of walnut wood for drawing preparation.

These 0.7″ thick walnut signs include a 0.5″ wide grey slate inlay strip, brushed brass numbering and clear braille.  Note the sharp relief on the left exposes different aspects of wood grain and eases the transition between wall and sign.  

White Oak Wood ADA & Wayfinding Signs

Light brown to olive color with beautiful grain.  Best for designs with either very dark or very light colors using wood character as a central design element.  Very dense wood, and large signs should get extra installation consideration. Excellent color consistency across wood lots.  

High cost material. Excellent strength, machinability, dimensional stability and general physical characteristics. Only available with aqueous clear coat finish.  Excellent for edge routing, and highly expressed edge cornering.  Available in 0.25″, 0.5″, 0.7” and custom thicknesses. 

Sealer recommendation: Aqueous Clear Coat Matte Finish

Download an image of white oak wood for drawing preparation.

This sign uses a 0.5″ thick wood base with eased edges and light blue tactile characters. The simple wood centered design compliments other white oak wood interior design elements.  It’s easy to add elements to custom ADA signs, but reducing content and letting the material speak is sometimes the right choice. 

Ash Wood ADA & Wayfinding Signs

Light, near white, color with pronounced medium brown grain.  Appropriate with a wide range of colors, but generally not with large color swatches.  Markings from the emerald ash borer should either be specifically allowed, or disallowed at time of specification.  

Moderate to low cost material. Excellent strength, dimensional stability and general physical characteristics. Only available with aqueous clear coat finish.  Excellent for edge routing, and highly expressed edge cornering.  Available in ½” or 0.7” and custom thicknesses.  

Sealer recommendation: Aqueous Clear Coat Matte Finish

Download an image of ash wood for drawing preparation.

These signs use white ash with 90% K and standard teal for a clean, energetic and centered design concept.   Note the room sign has identical visual and tactile characters, so the tactile characters are allowed, and produced, at 0.5″ tall.  

Cherry Wood ADA & Wayfinding Signs

Light to medium brown with beautiful grain.  Best for designs with either very dark or very light colors, and is excellent for flat printed applications. 

Low to moderate cost material. Great machinability, and dimensional stability.  Excellent for edge routing, inlay materials and highly expressed edge cornering.  Great choice for clear solid panel changeable sign face material.  Available in 1/4″, ½” or 0.7” and custom thicknesses.  

Sealer recommendation: Standard Bio Based Oil Finish, Blended GDS Bio Based Oil, Teak Oil

Download an image of cherry wood for drawing preparation.

The sign to the right features 90% K grey lettering and clear braille on cherry wood sealed with Blended GDS Bio Based Oil.  The negative space in the left quadrant creates simple elegance, letting nature do the talking. 

Custom ADA Signs Design - Step 1.1: Wood Finish and Sealer

Sealing protects and strengthens wood.  If you don’t specify wood must be sealed, then the first ketchup smeared finger touching it can leave a “permanent impression” no one wants!

Rather than pigmented stains altering wood color, we recommend selecting a wood specie whose natural color fits your building or brand, and using one of the standard “clear” finishes outlined below.  Inherent characteristics of wood shine through with these finishes and they’re generally more sustainable, cost effective and repeatable for future projects and MRO signage.  

Not all finishes work with all woods, or all assembly methods.  For repeat purchases we encourage clients to define their desired finish type.  Otherwise leave it as “manufacturers recommended sealer” or contact us for a no-obligation recommendation for your custom ADA signs’ finish.

Our core finish, combining pure tung oil, linseed oil and beeswax.  100% bio based and heavy metal free.  Dense oil provides excellent protection for high traffic custom ADA signs. Works with all products and printing styles.  Adds 2 weeks due to cure time. Disclosed in our Red List Approved Declare label.  VOC free per manufacturer label.

Our core finish blended with standard furniture finishes for faster curing. Nearly identical appearance to the Bio Based Oil finish, and widely available. Our most common sealer. Cost effective.

Standard furniture oil finish, slightly darkens wood. Widely available from all providers. Cost effective and cures quickly.

Required for certain woods. Minimal color impact.  Most expensive interior finish due to labor requirements.

Many designers prefer custom finishes, either to match project elements or for tight pallet control. In most cases this is not an issue, but please contact Green Dot Sign® or your local distributor to confirm the finish will work for your project.  Custom paint colors are detailed separately below.

Exterior finish for signageTraditional blend using tung oil, iron particles and more. Selective use of exterior finishes gives many signs the same useful life as their plastic counterparts.

The only exterior custom ADA signs we recommend are our solid machined metal exterior signs.  This is meant for signs that are intended to last a few years.  Works well with laser engraved content.

Pictured is our standard exterior finish on laser engraved Baltic birch.

Custom ADA Signs Design - Step 1.2: Grain Orientation

Grain may be specified horizontal, vertical or not at all.  If not noted, Green Dot Sign® will select the most economical orientation for each sign size.  For instance, grain on a 3″ tall x 8″ wide sign would run horizontal, while grain for a 10″ tall by 7″ wide sign in the same project runs vertical.

Size is the last consideration when deciding if and how to specify grain orientation.  Signs over roughly 12″x12″s are more cost effective if the longest dimension, either width or height, is the grain direction.  

Custom ADA Signs Design - Step 2: Flat Printing Option

Flat printing adds a CMYK printed element to your signs’ wooden face.  It’s manufactured inline with raised tactile characters and is an excellent, low cost way to augment your custom ADA signs. 

Aspen and Baltic birch woods work best for complicated printed elements.  Their color is close to white, so it allows the broadest range of colors.  They also have smooth grain structure so there’s little or no texture.

Printing possibilities are unlimited, from simple single colors on a sign face to subtle yet complex design elements:

Custom ADA signs with different types printed elements

 

 

Face Printing Specification Notes

Green Dot Sign® offers fourteen standard colors: white, black, dark grey, grey, brown, pink, light blue, blue, teal, kelly green, forest green, purple, orange & red. 

Each color has been formulated for vibrancy using our “ink” set when printing on wood.

Ideally files are submitted as live, at size, vectored .ai or .pdf files with fonts outlined, and colors called out as Green Dot Sign® standards, PMS and % K outputs.   

Standard Colors to use for on sign design

Custom color matching is available.

Opaque or Translucent?

Flat printing on custom ADA signs may be opaque or translucent.  

Opaque means a heavy layer of white ink is applied prior to printing colors, whereas translucent uses the natural wood color as the background.  For light colors, translucent lets grain, mineral streaks and natural wood character come through.  

The ink formulations we use are based on printing to white materials.  Since wood has its own colors, a Pantone matched color on white comes out differently on wood.   Additionally, the same color printed on different woods can be dramatically different.

Many designers use this translucent characteristic thoughtfully, selecting images, colors and designs that “go with the grain”.

If your design requires a Pantone match, simply note the color is opaque and colors will match within typical digital printing accuracy ranges.

The close up pictured here shows raised, opaque and translucent colors from left to right.  The same CMYK color is applied to all three.  Note that lighter colors convey more wood texture, grain and color then darker colors. 

Going grey?

Shades of grey play a prominent role in graphic and interior design, and for good reason.  For instance, within the world of custom ADA signs, grey can be an excellent choice when you want signage to blend in with the background rather then be expressive.

However, cool and warm greys can easily verge into purple, yellow, blue…or even worse, BROWN when printed on wood.

For translucent greys we recommend using % K formulations.  This means rather then using cyan, magenta or yellow, only black pigment is applied, so a true grey comes through.

Note that opaque printing mimics printing to a white background, and is effective for specific grey Pantone colors.

This image shows grey printed in steps of 10% K, on Baltic birch plywood with blended bio based oil sealer.  % K is a widely and easily applied method for printing.

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Custom ADA Signs Design - Step 3: Raised Characters

The most common design phase ADA sign compliance failure is selecting non-compliant fonts, particularly fonts that are bold or semi-bold.

The list below is a good place to start, but please refer to our free Complete ADA Sign Requirements Guide for more.

  1. Font size – ⅝” to 2”
  2. Font selection – no decorative, serif, italicized or heavy stroke fonts allowed
  3. Braille must be directly below corresponding tactile characters
  4. Inset braille and letters ⅜” or more from sign edge
  5. Specify any Green Dot Sign® standard, PMS or % K color – for ADA sign requirement compliance insure a “high contrast” with background

 

Raised Character Specification Notes

Complimenting the physical strength of our tactile characters is the fact that they are non-toxic.  What does that mean?  All tactile and flat printing materials are disclosed on our Red List Approved Declare label.  This means we researched, disclosed, and in some cases changed, the constituents so your custom ADA signs’ tactile characters are free of Red List chemicals.   

This means there no phthalates, lead, or the hundreds of other chemicals considered most harmful to people and planet.

To insure your spec’s or drawing notes allow signs like a Green Dot Sign to be selected, please include the following notes:

  • Raised characters and braille may be thermoset acrylic or equivalent
  • Lettering and braille may be direct bond 3D printed, no adhesive required

 

 

Braille Color Choice

 

 

Braille has no visual ADA sign requirements.  From a design perspective sign braille can be clear, opaque or clear on a color.  A common mistake is noting braille cells as 1/4″ in height; a bit more then 3/8″ is accurate.

A translucent layer of ink on top of clear braille can create added visual interest.  Contact us or your local distributor to learn more. 

 

 

 

 

Custom ADA Signs Design - Step 4: Size and Shape

The most economical and common sign shape is a rectangle or square. 

Many designers choose to incorporate curves, rounded corners, and shapes into their custom ADA signs’ design.  Manufacturing cost impact ranges from minimal (rounded corners) to high (complex shapes).

Custom shapes can be used to expose the wood grain in a dynamic way, or to highlight an angle of design importance to the project. 

Notes for Specifying Size and Shape

When using shapes besides squares or rectangles, a few considerations help make the project a smooth success.

  • Select corner radii from standard options to reduce custom ADA sign cost, for example, r 0.25″ instead of r 0.287″
  • Commonize shapes and sizes as much as reasonably possible
  • For irregular shapes provide clean, at-size line art for each shape
  • If a specific shape has brand or building significance, an alternate to sign shape is to print or laser engrave the shape
  • Inside radii should be no smaller then 1/4″

Custom ADA Signs Design - Step 5: Edge Profile

One advantage of choosing Green Dot custom ADA signs is edges can be customized into a variety of shapes.  Our standard options are either eased or a 45 degree chamfer.  For 0.7″ thick solid woods the 45 degree chamfer is typically inset 0.16″.

As signs increase in size, deeper insets often look better.

The 45 degree edge chamfer is a timeless presentation, both modern and classic.  It is an especially good option to consider if your design has no content on the face besides tactile characters.

Additional options range from refined edges similar to molding, to compound angle cuts on plywood evoking a grounded, industrial feeling.

What are Eased Edges?

“Eased edges” refers to lightly sanding the corners of a sign edge.  There is practically no visual impact, however, it makes the signs easier to handle and creates a stronger surface.

In woodworking circles this is also referred to as “breaking” or “softening” the edge.

In general the more content a sign face has, the more eased edges, rather then chamfered, are appropriate.  For example, if your design includes full bleed imagery, eased edges are usually the best option.

Most modern custom ADA signs’ design feature eased edges, and many used eased edges in combination with other edge profiles.  For example, a deep angle cut on one sign edge and eased edges on the remaining sides.  

 

Edge Profile Specification Notes

To specify the edge profile of your custom ADA signs accurately, please include language similar to what is below:

For eased edges:

  • Uniformly ease all edges and corners

For all other edge profiles:

  • For angle chamfers, please include angle and depth of cut into face on the edge of the sign, not the face.  See diagram to the right and click here to download a live version for your drawings
  • For table, molding, ogee and similar decorative edges, include the router bit manufacturer code.  For example “Rockler OE869 Decorative Ogee Router Bit“.  Do not include depth for decorative edge profiles.

Note flat printing may abut, but not extend into, edge profiles.

Consideration 1: Painting

Many projects don’t need highly customized ADA and wayfinding signs.  We find in these, and many other cases, selecting a paint code and a contrasting color for copy is an effective way of quickly getting an excellent product that’s just right.

Paint can also be applied to only the edges of signs.  This is a great way to “hide” plywood layers or incorporate branding and design elements from elsewhere into your signs.

Green Dot painting to wood uses a primer base coat, followed by your paint color of choice.

The following notes and considerations are useful for manufacturers like Green Dot Sign® when you choose paint for your custom ADA signs:

  • Sheen – please note matte or satin.  We recommend satin for most applications as it has a stronger finish
  • Color – please include a Pantone color or paint code from any large paint manufacturer
  • Each paint color includes a setup and cleanup lump sum cost.  If you want a lot of color variety, printed faces are more economical.
  • Play with paint!  Just the face can be painted, or just the edge, for instance.  However, for best results paint all of a given plane.

 

Consideration 2: Channels and Inlaid Highlights

An advantage of wood signs is the wide range of easy machining options available. 

For example, V-channels are an interesting and cost effective way to create a visual separation line.

 

 

 

 

Inlaying strips of complimentary materials is another great design option.  We’ve seen materials of all types result in amazing designs.  Options include:

  • Stone inlay strips
  • Contrasting wood species, such as walnut on aspen
  • Site significant materials, whether repurposed building materials or brand significant materials or components
  • Specialty laminates, such a Chemetal or WilsonArt

 

 

Consideration 3: Changeable or Slide In Inserts

Changeable signs are often called slide-in signs or insert holders.  They feature a way to hold and view inserts the building user can easily change on their own.  This creates important functionality for many buildings, especially universities and schools.  

There are two standard Green Dot Sign® compatible fabrication methods for changeable signs.  

Insert Option 1: Folded Plastic Plates

The most cost effective option, folded plates may have a painted opaque back or be clear.  A folded over piece of plastic holds 4” x 6” inserts, pinching them at the top.  This size is stocked and available with a low standard piece price.  Standard piece outside dimensions are 4.09″ x 6″ and includes a half circle inset on the inside for easy paper removal. 

This image shows a typical changeable insert design using our standard 4″x6″ insert.

Glass or Plastic?

Insert Option 2: Solid Clear Faces

Solid clear faces are preferably made of tempered glass, though clear plastics such as acrylic are also available.  We are validating bio-based plastics to replace acrylic but trials are not complete. 

Solid faces present a refined appearance and accommodate large inserts, such as 11″ x17″ inserts often used for university classroom schedules.

The image below shows distinct colors for the sign pieces used to make a solid clear face sign.  Size and thickness may be adjusted.  Click to download a live, editable version.

Key specification notes include:

  • If choosing glass, be sure to note it is tempered.  Tempered glass is infinitely recyclable and more durable then fossil-fuel derived acrylic, however, half circle cut outs add more cost and lead time.
  • Ideally specify 1) clear material thickness and 2) the allowable gap range between clear face and backer, leaving other details to the manufacturer; a gap of 0.035″ is common to hold common office papers.
  • Backer and face materials may be mixed; selecting Baltic birch plywood for the backer and a more decorative face wood is common; backer edges may be painted, laminated or left exposed
  • Green element holding face may be on two or three sides, and may include tactile characters or flat printing

Consideration 4: Layers and…More?

By choosing wood, you not only bring nature inside and reduce demand for fossil fuel derived plastics, you also get the benefits of a material with excellent structural integrity with many low cost machining options. 

This means a sign may be designed with multiple layers, with some recessed for a smoother, cleaner appearance than layered plastic signage.  Combining wood species, alternate materials, brand or site significant components and so much more is also much easier with wooden ADA signage. 

Another option is to recess cleats on the back for a completely flush-to-wall installation.  “Go with the grain” for your custom ADA signage, and your creativity can tap into millennia of cultural aesthetic and manufacturing development.  And when you machine a cavity to hold your clients valued widget, the shavings are 100% biodegradable.  Compare to plastic, whose shavings are not biodegradable, so when machining a plastic cavity you are purposefully making micro-plastics that will last for as many years into the future as humankind has worked wood in the past.

Your custom ADA signs may also become something in addition to a sign, for example, built into a wood or tile wall.  Or two sided and accessed by both sides of a doorway.  The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. 

Exterior ADA Signs

Per ADA sign requirements, any permanent room or space in a public accommodation must have a tactile sign.  This includes many outdoor spaces. However, exterior plastic ADA signs offer a maximum 10 years of outdoor life, most 7, many only 2 – 3 years. 

Green Dot Exterior ADA Signs include a best-in-class lifetime warranty.  This means you won’t be revisiting your exterior custom ADA signs every few years as they fail; it’s a one-and-done product.  

Using plastic in exterior ADA signs means many spaces have failing signs, made with non-biodegradable, fossil fuel derived plastic.  So they’re made from ugly materials and look ugly after few years, too!  

Green Dot Exterior ADA Signs are machined from solid aluminum, bronze or brass.  Like our 3D printed tactile signs, this means there is no adhesive to fail or letters to pick off.  Key design considerations are the pictogram and letters must be natural metal color, and the base can be any one paint color. 

 

 

Combining Wood and Metal

Green Dot Exterior ADA signs can, of course, be used indoors. In fact, they are a great option for rooms and corridors abutting surgery rooms due to their extreme resistance to cleaning procedures.  

An option for refined ADA signs is to mount a metal ADA sign on a wooden base.  Complimentary materials create true visual interest and can be selected to blend with architectural accents and features. 

Combining metal with wood and other sign elements makes a high end, impeccable, unique, beautiful and 100% biodegradable or recyclable custom ADA sign.

Above, an ADA compliant brass face mounted to laser etched cherry wood sealed with standard bio based wood sealer.  While custom ADA signs with these features do carry a price, many clients are surprised at how reasonably they are offered. 

At right, a metal ADA sign featuring hexagonal design elements mounted to an aspen wood backer.  Hexagonal elements carry over on backer via flat printing.  Wood is sealed with standard bio based sealer.  

You design the best custom ADA signs

 

The most beautiful and refined sign designs come from creatives like you. 

We hope you found this custom ADA sign design guide useful and look forward to seeing your jaw-droppingly beautiful designs!