Microsoft Tips: How to Make Signs in Word

By Helen Bradley
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page setup screen shot
Start by setting the orientation and page margins for your sign.
(Click for larger image)
It may seem obvious, but in order for a sign to deliver its message to your intended audience, it has to be legible. And it's a bonus when it also looks good. While it’s easy enough to type a sign in Microsoft Word, creating a good-looking sign is a little more complex. I'll explain how to create a sign that delivers its message and that looks professional, too.

Understanding Signage Needs

Look around your office and you'll see signs everywhere. These vary from requests to keep the staff room clean and warning signs about chemicals to operating hours or an invitation to an office picnic. Some signs exist for you and your staff, others for customers and visitors. Some are required by law and others not — but all of them have a message and an intended audience.

page setup screen shot
Create a background color for your sign using a simple filled rectangle.
(Click for larger image)

In this article I’ll focus on signs that you create for day-to-day use, such as detailing office hours and notices about turning out lights. I won't discuss signs that need to meet legal requirements, although it's good to understand the standards and the mandatory words and colors so that you don't create signs that deliver a mixed message.

When you are designing a sign, first determine your audience and the message. You need to be clear about what you're trying to say. It can help to rough the design out on paper so you can see how it might look before you waste time designing it in Word only to end up not liking it. If it doesn't look good as a thumbnail size sketch it won't look any better in Word.

Decide whether you will use landscape orientation or portrait orientation — landscape is a good choice for a few lines of text and portrait works better when there are more lines. Color is important since it can carry some of the message for you. For example, red is a warning, stop or take-notice color, orange and yellow and black are also often used to convey a warning or caution.

page setup screen shot
Create a background color for your sign using a simple filled rectangle.
(Click for larger image)

Text size is another issue to understand. Here the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards can help us make a decision — it specifies a minimum of one inch of text height for every 25 feet of clear viewing distance. If the light is low or the conditions less than ideal you will need to use larger type. If you are working in Word, 72-point type is approximately one inch high.

To make an attractive sign, use only one or two fonts, and be sure to choose easy-to-read fonts. If you are using a fancy font, don’t use all capital letters — they’re tricky to read — use mixed case instead.

Use a sans serif font when you’re placing white text on a colored background. Characters in sans serif fonts have thicker lines. Fonts with lines that range from thick to thin are more difficult to read on darker backgrounds.

Edit the text for your sign carefully and use the minimum number of words to convey your message. For example, instead of saying "Our opening hours are", you can say "Opening hours" or "Open" and follow with your hours and the message will still be clear.

Create a Sign in Microsoft Word

To setup Word for landscape printing, choose File > Page Setup > Margins tab and select Landscape. You should also reduce the page margins to around 0.5 inches so the sign uses most of the available space on the page. Size the document on the screen so that you can see the entire page by selecting Whole Page from the Zoom dropdown list.

page setup screen shot
The finished sign contains text inside two text boxes and a simple clip-art image.
(Click for larger image)

While black and white is acceptable, signs will look better if you create them in color. For our "turn out the lights" sign we'll use green because it carries a save-the-planet message for us. Display the Drawing toolbar by choosing View > Toolbars>Drawing and select the Rectangle tool. Draw a rectangle to fill the page on the screen. From the Fill Color dropdown list, select Lime green.

To create a content area, add a second filled rectangle along the bottom of this first one and fill it with white. Set the Line Color for each rectangle to No Line. Size the second filled rectangle to slightly narrower than the first so you create a built-in border effect. To group these shapes, click on one to select it and then Shift + click on the other. Right-click and choose Grouping > Group. Now they are grouped and will stay in position relative to each other.

To add the text for your sign, select the TextBox tool and draw a textbox over the rectangles. Set the TextBox Fill Color to No Fill and its Line Color set to No Line.

Type your text in the textbox and size it to suit. An easy way to do this is to select the text and press Control + (or Control - ) to size it down or up in small increments. You will find it easier to create and move text around when it’s placed in a TextBox than if you were to place it in your rectangle shapes. You can add a clip-art image to the sign if you can find something relevant and that complements the sign.

Tips for Good Sign Design

  • Comply with all legal requirements
  • Keep the wording short.
  • Use high-contrast between letters and background.
  • Use a type face and type size that’s easy to read.
  • Use colors to reinforce the sign’s purpose and message
  • Incorporate arrows into the design where direction is important.

Bonus Resource

Check out SafetySign.com for lots of good information about designing safety and warning signs.

You'll find lots more software tips and tutorials from Helen Bradley in our Small Business Essential series, How-To With Helen Bradley.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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This article was originally published on November 04, 2009
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