Things commenced to change in the early 1970s. Vinyl lettering was available but as single letters mounted on paper, the lettering had adhesive already on the reverse side. It was time consuming and laborious as each letter had to be mounted individually. There were two basic colors, black and red and a limited range of different type faces and sizes, it certainly was a step in the right direction. A vinyl letter cutting machine together coupled to a computer was the next step. Sign writers were tickled pink for here at last was a machine that had many different type faces and the size of letters could be changed by the press of a button on the keyboard to enlarge or reduce. In the seventies computers were very expensive and limited in their capacity. One of the other great joys was that you now could make graphics in almost any color just by changing the roll of coloured vinyl you set up in the machine The largest letter one could make was 18 inches (45 centimeters) high and the smallest just over one eighth of an inch (4 millimeters). The letters were cut by a scalpel like razor sharp blade very similar to a stainless steel hobby knife blade. As the machines were improved the cutting speed of the machine increased dramatically. Once the letters had been cut it was then “weeded”, the non necessary vinyl removed off the base sheet, that is the vinyl surrounding the letters or graphics and the insides of some letters such as the center of the letters O A D B Q R P G 6 8 9 0
The Gerber Edge was the next step and the advent of computers to manufacture decals, stickers and graphics was firmly entrenched. The Gerber Edge actually printed onto vinyl using a foil and by four separate color foils (cyan, magenta, yellow and black, the same colors in you inkjet printers) perfect coloured illustrations or reproduction of photographs or artwork could be reproduced. This machine was also perfect for making small labels, for example small instructions signs to go on machinery, computers, plant and equipment and could produce these in the hundreds or thousands and all cut to size ready to mount.
The industry now has huge “inkjet printers”, a simple way to describe them, these will take vinyl up to 12 feet or larger wide and the length of the signs can be dictated by the operator or made into panels for easier installation on the sides of trucks or large advertising areas ,eg buses, trolleys and tram cars.
Strangely enough early in the early 1970s when the vinyl cutting machines first commenced appearing and in their infancy an old timer sign writer I knew very well told me, “ Computers and these new kind of machines will never be able to do the work that a sign writer can do. I will not be buying one”. I haven’t seen the fellow for many years and I wonder if he has a job now.