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Terrain Idea: Letterboard Letters for Signage

I just thought I’d share something useful I found while scavenging in the local craft store (JoAnn Fabric, but I’m sure others have this as well): Letterboard plastic letters for signage! Basically, these are sets of plastic letters on sprues (with a number of duplicates and punctuation marks) that have tabs on the back intended to be slotted onto “letterboards” – mini versions of the sorts of marquee signs you might see outside a road-side theater, motel, church, or older fast food restaurant advertising what’s currently playing, what’s special, a motivational message, etc. So far, I’ve found them in 2", 1" and 1/2" high varieties, with a different typeface for each size, and in an odd assortment of colors. I’ve also found some letterbox accessories that consist of entire words (often in fancy calligraphic or cursive script) that can be clipped onto such a board, but so far I haven’t been struck with any as being terribly useful for my purposes.

Here’s an example of a sign using the 2" high letters. I drilled holes into the bottom of each letter, and used paperclip wire to pin them down to a length of sprue that I then affixed to a section of mat board and anchored with some epoxy putty and a few decorative “Tehnolog/Robogear/Platformer” panel pieces, to set atop the gate in the picture. A nice bonus to the letters is that if any of them fall off … well, it’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland! That only makes it look more authentic. :slight_smile:

Here’s a more recent project. Of course, for the above structure I COULD have just measured the size of the available space, arranged something spelled out as “MONORAIL” in whatever typeface in Photoshop or even a word processing program, then printed it off in paper or cardstock and glued it in place. However, it just so happened that the 1/2" high letters (pictured) fit very nicely, and they gave that nice added “pop” by virtue of being in 3D rather than a flat printed image. No pinning was required – I just trimmed the “tabs” off the back (making sure to scour the back flat, so the whole surface would be fairly smooth), and then super-glued each letter into the recessed area.

I suppose I COULD use them for self-standing letters, but with this particular set, some of the letters are attached to the sprue by the bottom, and some by the top. The letters themselves are getting thin enough that getting a pinning hole into the body of the plastic is a bit trickier than for the 2"-high letters, so I’m reluctant to go that route just yet. (I might experiment with it later, but in that case I might well just try to keep the letters attached to some portion of the original sprue, and then do the pinning on the SPRUE piece instead – as it offers more thickness for drilling. These letters are made to be broken off the sprue, so breakage is a high risk, but in that case I suppose I can take fallen letters and glue them on somewhere near the base of the sign, as it’s entirely appropriate for some of them to have simply fallen off over the past 200 years or so.)


Here’s another application: deliberate MISMATCHING of letter styles for a “scavenged” look. This is a facade meant to represent an off-board settlement (and entrance thereto), built out of a GeoTax “Big City Lights” partial playset I picked up at a thrift store. For the general look, I was inspired by “scavenged”-looking signs from Fallout: New Vegas – starting with the “PROSPECTOR SALOON” sign in Goodsprings.

The large light blue letters are 2"-high letterboard letters; the red “A” is a 1"-high letterboard letter.

The “T” is a Warhammer 40K “tank trap” scatter terrain piece – originally an “X” shape, but I cut off one prong and reattached it on the opposite side to make a “T” and then used some clear plastic sprue to make “light bars” to place on top of the painted rusty “T.”

The “W” is cut out from a translucent green plastic small “bin” or “basket” that I got some strawberries in a long time ago; it just happened to have a curvy grid pattern that I was able to identify a “W” that I could cut out of it.

The “S” and “C” and “O” are made from some “tangle toy” pieces (a string of macaroni-shaped plastic sections that pop together end to end – unless, of course, someone breaks off the little plastic plug).

I’ve been keeping an eye out for other sources for lettering I could use for other “scrappy” signs. I could of course just cut whatever shapes I want out of cardstock or cardboard, but the nature of signs is that they’re usually somewhere on the model that’s extended away from the body of the terrain piece and hence a bit more vulnerable to bumps and scrapes when moving things around or even putting into storage, so I’d like the components to be a bit more durable than that. ALSO, I like the “3D” look; I use so many printed paper or painted-on elements as it is (i.e., FLAT) that I think it adds something when it’s clearly something that exists in 3D space and “pops” out of the surface. And then there are the few pieces I’ve been able to get that are translucent or transparent, which lend nicely to the attempt to represent “neon” lettering in a way that I just can’t do the same way by painting an opaque object (even though I might be able to use bright colors and gradients to at least suggest a glow and “cast light” on nearby surfaces).


That’s looking great, I love the look that the letters give to the piece! :slight_smile:

Those buildings look awesome! Do you have a pic showing a full table set up at all?

@Alaiteir: I don’t have a permanent “gaming table” setup. Most of my stuff is about being modular and transportable, because most of my games are run at conventions, game stores, or else at a friend’s house with a much more serious game-room setup than I have. (Toward that end, I’ve been making a lot of use of Secret Weapon Miniatures “Tablescapes” tiles to set up the basic board, though I’m still working on fixing up those tiles.)

As a sample, here’s a setup of my “Wok-a-Doodle” board at Necronomicon 2017. The “Wok-a-Doodle” is typical of one of my “play-set” builds – essentially a facade that stands at one end of the table and helps for “scene setting,” and might provide positions for snipers on a rooftop or such, but isn’t fully 3D – in that it’s not in the middle of the board with all sides represented. (The toy in question was formerly a Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles play-set, but I found it – missing lots of pieces – at the thrift store for $2. Being a toy, scale was a bit squishy, as the doors at “street level” were scaled for 2"-tall figures, but the upper parts of the buildings had windows that looked okay for 32mm scale. I just did a bit of creative modification to try to transform windows and doors at street level into looking like they’d be scaled for 32mm, by adding a few more struts and supports – basically shrinking the doors. I also removed a ridiculously over-sized manhole cover and replaced it with a crater.)

This is another view of the same “board,” but arranged a bit differently during one of my play-test runs:


Having a façade at the edges is a brilliant idea, makes the set-up feel more dense/urban without taking up much space. That looks really fun to game on!

Slight variation on this theme: fridge magnets! I found a small bounty of fridge magnets in a rounded-edge serif typeface that doesn’t necessarily strike me as “retro” in any way, but still looks at least passable for terrain-building purposes. I ripped the magnet strips out of the back (might find use for them elsewhere), and used a couple for a ruined former “B & K Cleaners” shop. (Here, a post-apocalyptic entrepreneur has re-purposed the shop as a “B & K ClOTHIers” by sticking up a patch of scrap and painting over the “EAN” with “OTHI.” I’ve got a rack of “clothes” made from painted scraps of paper napkin and such inside, etc.)

A nice thing about these big letters is that you can have them falling out of place. I figure I’ll work a few random letters into some scrap barricades eventually – I’m just reluctant to pick them randomly, because I’m never quite sure what letters I’ll “need” next.

The ampersand is from a 1"-high set of DCWV letter board letters, on account of how I didn’t happen to have an ampersand among the fridge magnets, and I figured I could get away with it being a totally different style and size in this context.

P.S., if you want to see this terrain “in action,” I’ll be running 20 hours of Fallout-themed games (including two sessions using the new Fallout: Wasteland Warfare RPG rules) at Necronomicon – Oct 18-20, 2019 – Tampa, Florida. ( :slight_smile:


That looks great! I love the idea of the post apocalyptic clothes shop being set up in it :slight_smile:

I went into our local dollar store a few days ago and bought a batch of little wooden letters for exactly this kind of use. They’re about an inch tall, haven’t figured out what exactly I want to use them for yet, but I know I want to do some signs with them.

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Love the repurposing of the sign, that’s the kind of thing that absolutely sells the idea that the terrain is lived in to me :slight_smile:

Great idea! Now i need to find a store that sells this kind of stuf :smiley:

@HumanHamster: I found the “letter board” letters at JoAnn Fabrics, which is a fabrics/craft store near me. I’ve tried looking for letter board letters at Michael’s (another craft store franchise), but had no luck. HOWEVER, on a recent Michael’s visit, I did find some “Alphabet Beads” from “Creatology.” There are only 80 pieces in the bag, so I’m not sure it’s really worth the price just to make some sort of signage, but JoAnn Fabric and Michael’s frequently have coupon deals (along the lines of “20% off your entire order” or “50% off one non-sale item”). It’s the sort of thing I might consider grabbing if I happened to luck out and find a 50%-off-one-item coupon on my app when browsing. (That’s the same strategy I used when getting those letter board letters to try out. :wink: )

I think the letter board letters are better for my purpose, in terms of quantity for price, and general utility, but I guess the point is just that there may be different things in a craft store that could be put to use toward making some interesting terrain. In the department of just letters, I’ve seen wood-cut letters (usually pretty pricey), “thickers” (thick self-adhesive stickers), and other such things, often in or around the “scrapbooking” section. Of course, if I want signs, I could just put something together in Photoshop (or equivalent program) and print it off, or maybe do some fine cutting of some mat board or scrap plastic for more dimension, but there’s just something to the look of something that has some thickness to it and more precision than I can manage when cutting pieces by hand.