Lettering a Painted Surface

Question:  Is there an easy process to apply lettering to a painted aluminum surface?


 Is there an easy process to apply lettering to a painted aluminum surface? I am working on a small run (eight units) of a project in a cast aluminum box and need to apply dark lettering to a light painted face of the box (which is about 1 x 4 inch). The placement of controls on the face limits the line height of the lettering to about 1/8 inch. I don’t have access to or budget for either engraving or silk-screening machinery, although a draftsman’s lettering tool is available. I was considering experimenting with the draftsman’s lettering tool and perhaps a paint-pen or stiff brush that could be attached. Do you have any suggestions? W. H.


There are many ways to apply lettering to painted surfaces in addition to engraving, silk screening and using a draftsman’s lettering tool. You can apply film-faced decals, die-cut letters with adhesive backing or dry transfer letters. You can also cut stencils and spray paint or daub brush the lettering on the surface. Depending on your personal preference and ability any of these could qualify as an easy process. I have used all of them.

Since your letters will be small, about 1/8 inches high, because your working surface is small, the use of a stencil would be difficult and the die-cut letters would be hard to handle. Since your decals must be custom made, your production run is too small to justify the cost. I have had good luck lettering HO scale model railroad cars using dry transfer letters. They come on plastic sheets in a variety of sizes including 1/8 inch high and smaller. The sheet holding the letters is placed on the intended surface. The plastic sheet is rubbed in the area over the letters, which transfers the letters to the painted surface. The area is then burnished with the plastic sheet in place. After burnishing, the plastic sheet is removed. The applied letters can now be coated with a clear overcoat varnish to protect them. Dry transfer letters are available from drafting and art supply dealers.