Window Signs: Reverse Painting

Seriously, who doesn’t love old signs? They’re not so affordable or easily found these days, so why not make your own? When I was selling antiques in a few years back, I couldn’t make these reverse painted signs fast enough. Here are a couple from years past. One hanging in our barn and one was for my (tom-boy) daughter’s camouflage-themed room. Another hangs in my studio, a sign that hung in my (antique) store space. Type only signs or those with simple graphics aren’t as hard as they look. It helps if you have a steady hand and a software program that allows you to do simple layouts. Even better yet if you have access to vintage art such as Dover Clip Art books or copyright free images from the web. Keep it simple or if you’re up to the challenge, paint multiple colors in layers.

(1.) Our local transfer station (the dump) has a recycle area always full of old windows. If your savvy, you can find these pretty easily on craigslist, through companies that replace windows, etc. The trick is finding one in a paint color you like and a size you prefer. I keep several colors and sizes in my shed for future signs, but recently I picked up a little window just for this tutorial. You will also need acrylic paint, a paint brush, and tape.

Before you begin painting, clean your window well. This includes sanding or dusting off any flaky paint and dirt. You can seal the flaky paint with a paint on sealer. I would avoid spraying a coating unless you mask off the window from overspray. A straight-edge razor will scrape all the old paint and additional junk you find stuck to the glass. Please use caution when sanding and displaying, as most old windows contain lead paint. Once clean, give the glass a nice cleaning on both sides.

(2.) Determine which side is your favorite as this will be the side you tape your template to.

(3.) Create your art (I am using my name for use at a craft fair for this project) and FLOP the image before printing. You may need to print in tiles and puzzle piece together your final artwork. Remember, your art MUST be backwards. If you are painting with black paint, it is a good idea to print your image in a different color than black, such as grey (50% black). This is helpful to see areas you have yet to paint. When your paint and template art are the same color, you are more likely to miss areas. I am using off-white paint over a black template -very easy to see where I’m going.

(4.) Tape your art into postion on the BEST SIDE of your window face DOWN. I taped mine in place in one spot and then cut close around image and finished taping all around. This helps keep the image tight against the glass so that it doesn’t sag in the middle and cause a visual distortion. Begin painting on the opposite side. One tip is to NOT turn your artwork as you paint. Because of the thickness of the glass, there is a gap between your painted side and the actual template, so turning your sign as you paint will cause another visual change and your artwork may turn out thicker and thinner in places -not how you’d want it. Once dry, you can remove most of the template, keeping a small area taped just in case you have to replace the template, and view from the good side to see if you have any transparent areas you’d like to go over.

Some paints are more opaque than others and I recommend you test before subjecting yourself to mulitple layering of tedious painting to get good coverage. The paint I used took only one coat.

The final piece adorned with some holiday fluff is ready for its hanging hardware and a successful gift show.

Other little tips: Add a large vintage decal to the sign on either side; Signs with acrylic paint will last best indoors; If you find you were a little shaky in painting, you can always clean-up your edges with a razor blade or X-acto knife.

Have fun, and I’d LOVE to see your signs!


I just found these photos of the girls’ rooms when the signs were hanging over their beds. Sweet Sarah’s Bed & Breakfast and Jamie’s Army Supply.

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31 Responses to Window Signs: Reverse Painting

  1. #1 - thatissocute says:

    Nicely done tutorial. Can I add something? If you’re thinking of adding an element like polka dots to your letters, with reverse painting you will need to paint the polka dots on first…let dry completely…and then finish with another color. Of course, this works best on fat letters!
    Makes me want to dig out my old windows and paint again!!

  2. #2 - Cornerstone says:

    Very nice!

  3. #3 - cheryl says:

    Uggg!!! I had a beautiful paned window that would’ve been perfect for this technique that we ended up dumping when we moved last year. Geez… this isn’t good for my “simplify” mindset as I keep finding purposes for things that I’m gettting rid of. This is the perfect idea for my new studio room…

    Thanks for the tutorial, and the gorgeous pictures that go along with it!

  4. #4 - Nancy says:

    I found you on Design Mom today. I am a calligrapher and loved your painting on glass idea. I will try it out. I read your bit on Spenserian too…I have done some of that as well and had a few classes, but I do more of the historical, broad-edged alphabets. Just saw an article using copper paint on black papers…it was in a periodical entitled Bound & Lettered (artists' books – bookbing – papercraft – calligraphy. You can find it on the John Neal website. I will keep checking your blog – I live down the street from Stephanie's parents…

  5. #5 - dandyapple says:

    Wonderful tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

  6. #6 - Anonymous says:

    Cathe…can you come live with me for awhile?? 🙂


  7. #7 - Felicia says:

    Excellent tutorial 🙂

  8. #8 - BackwoodSophisticate says:

    Fabulous! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this!

  9. #9 - Fancy says:

    I love this! Satisfies my need for creating and old things.

  10. #10 - Elizabeth A. says:

    Hi! I have a question. How much would you charge if it was your first time painting lettering on a 3′ x 5′ area (approx.) on a Hair Salon?

  11. #11 - Cathe Holden says:

    Hi Elizabeth. If you click on my email envelope in the right column, you can send me an email and we can start a dialogue there and hopefully I can answer some of your questions.


  12. #12 - Jen says:

    You are beyond talented! I love your work!

  13. #13 - Amy from Texas says:

    This is so cool! How about I feature this next week? I want to make some for presents someday when I have time. Maybe by 2020? ha!

  14. #14 - Tom says:

    I notice you did not specify a particular type of acrylic paint. Any recommendation? Also, I need to do a sign for a nonprofit group with street frontage; I'm guessing that white or pale colors would be best. Correct?

    tom c.

  15. #15 - Cathe Holden says:

    Hi Tom-

    All of my signs were for indoor use, so your typical craft store 2 oz. bottles of acrylic paint will work just fine for that. There are many brands you can choose from.

    As far as a sign for street viewing, I recommend you stand outside and look to see if the view from there has a dark background to the inside. It's likely it does and then, yes, I would recommend light paint.

    Be sure to take photos, I'd love to see them!

  16. #16 - Adirondack Metal Designs says:

    I like this idea for a window project. I did a different win project once. I used black and white photos and crackle paint…it hangs in my dining room….it's on my blog. I want to try your idea now!

  17. #17 - Sophie says:

    I have try it ^-^ and I love it. We loved it so much…

  18. #18 - Annie Rose says:

    I love this idea – thanks so much for sharing it. I am hoping to try it out this weekend.

  19. #19 - Lauren says:

    I love love love this idea!! I want to make a couple for chistmas but Im having a really hard time finding the Clip art for it online. Any suggestions as to what website I can use ? Or even the name of the program you used to create yours. Thank you so much 🙂

  20. #20 - LINDA FISH says:


  21. #21 - Jason Paul says:

    Excellent crafting idea and super simple to do!
    Thanks for the step by step instructions on how to make these, I am bookmarking your page to make these this weekend with my kids!



  22. #22 - aimee says:

    Oh Cath, it’s beautiful. Thank you very much for the tutorial…

  23. #23 - Katy says:

    I know of signs on windows but I have never really thought of signs as an interior décor. Your post gave me some interesting ideas for framed decors. It may not be limited to calligraphic text but may also involve some images. The unique idea is they are set on glass. Awesome!

    Keep those ideas coming…
    Katy of

  24. #24 - Shell (Panama-mama) says:

    Thank you! I am going to do this on my boys’ bathroom door. It’s half frosted glass and think it would be so cute to have “MEN” on the door. Wasn’t sure how to do it and now I know!

  25. #25 - Liam says:

    Thanks for the great tips, just made this for my front door:

    Some other tips for people:

    Microsoft paint has the option to reverse an image for you, and in paint you can also set how many sheets of A4 you want to print across – I chose 2 by 1 to do the above.

    Print of the item you are copying in grey rather than black, it’s easier to see where the paint goes that way

    Start the top corner, opposite to the hand you write with, I’m a lefty so started top right and worked down and left, this way you don’t get your hand in wet paint

    Nail varnish remover is great for cleaning the glass first.

    A small 20ml bottle will be enough to do 3 or even 4 sets of numbers like I did. I had no idea so bought way too much – still sure will use it

    Once you are ‘finished’, remove the item you are tracing and place white paper underneath the glass, and prop the glass up on the back two corners, this way you can see where you didn’t get enough paint on the first time (you might need a bright light)

    First time I’ve tried this, and worked OK for me, so give it a try!

  26. #26 - Corey Eubanks says:

    Hi my name is Corey Eubanks. I stumbled upon you page today looking for a way to seal a reverse glass painting. I have been dabbling with this art form and was curious on how to seal the back of one of these paintings. I see that you use indoor out door paint. I use just basic Acrylic on Plexiglas instead of glass. However I read that I will have issues with the paint sticking to the frame and peeling off through time.

  27. #27 - Roy Condrey says:

    Hello – Loved the article and I am wanting to try this. Can you tell me what size brushes I should purchase and the brand of paint you used?

  28. #28 - Kim Schipper says:

    How do you seal it after painting on your words so it can be cleaned when dusty?

  29. #29 - Eva M. says:

    I think if it’s going to be adorned on a solid colored wall, it would look good to find a paper or texture with a color complementary to the lettering and the wall to add to the back of the window. This would give it a little extra pop and a splash of color and texture to an otherwise fabulous design!

  30. #30 - mat says:

    how do you clean the glass without taking off the paint?! please help lol

  31. #31 - LORI CHRISTENSEN says:

    Thank you for this. I was wondering if there is any need to seal the paint on the glass? And if so what would I use?