Sales pitch on a window using a shark cartoon

The Revival of Window Sign Painting

Using window painting to promote a business may seem like a blast from the past. With so much of life taking place online now, including social media platforms focused on local communities, why would businesses invest time and money in painted window signs? Yet a wide range of businesses, including retailers, artisanal studios, and service providers, are finding that a modern take on this old school approach to advertising both spruces up their establishments and keeps their cash registers ringing.

boutique window


The calligraphy on this window is called ‘Word Jazz’ by the artist, Drury Brennan. He is a jazz drummer, so he uses jazz terminology to explain his art.


Here are just a few of the benefits of window sign painting:

  • It is proven to increase sales by promoting brand recognition/retention and boosting word-of-mouth advertising.
  • It is less expensive than TV, print and radio advertisements, but unlike social media blasts, reaches potential customers’ eyes in moments when their attention is relatively undivided (for example, during an evening stroll).

Sales pitch using a shark cartoon

This sales pitch is by Nick Barber of Barber Signs,
a window sign painting company.

  • It greatly improves the visibility of small shops with limited street frontage.
  • It serves multiple purposes—for example, catching the eyes of pedestrians while providing privacy for customers inside the store.
  • Unlike with sandwich boards, awning signs or storefront banners, painted window signs require no special permit.

Mobile window ad on SUV windshield


And if that all weren’t enough, when applied to company vehicles, painted window signs become free mobile advertising seen by commuters all over town!

The evolution of sign painting
According to filmmakers Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, who produced a documentary on sign painters, the sign industry was a byproduct of efforts to brand and badge products in the late 19th century. Sign painters used quills and oil-based paint on signboards, store windows, fabric awnings and more. In those days, the painter (known as a ‘sign writer’) was the marketing expert—advertising agencies did not exist. In fact, a sign writer designed the Ford and Coca-Cola logos still in use today!

Vintage Coke sign by Barber SignsSource
This vintage Coke sign is by Nick Barber of Barber Signs,
a window sign painting company.

It takes an expert hand to make anything other than a mess with a quill dipped in oil paint. But with liquid chalk markers, even amateur artists can produce clean lines and eye-catching designs.

A dash of splash
Kim O’Brien, owner of A-Z Window Painting, says her signs are referred to as ‘window splash’ because of their flashy designs and instant impact. Her website, started in 2013, has a database of window painters nationwide. Its mission: To connect businesses interested in painted window signs with the artists who create them.

Care with colors is the key to standing out
To make your storefront window the most vibrant one on the block, artist Maria Burgess suggests adding fluorescent tones to your primary color palette. She explains, “These vivid colors pop off the window when used as fill or highlights,” but warns that they should be used sparingly. We suggest using our neon liquid markers as an inexpensive, high-quality equivalent to the specialty paints artists like Burgess employ.

Handle the job in-house with liquid chalk
Removing paint from glass requires a specialty scraper and a steady hand. Making a mistake in traditional window sign painting is costly. But Versachalk liquid chalk markers can be erased from a glass (or any smooth) surface in an instant with a damp cloth, making it possible to correct mistakes with an ease 19th-century sign writers would have found astonishing. As a result, some business owners are finding that they already have on their payrolls all the talent they need to create beautiful, effective window signs.

Place some liquid chalk markers in the hands of your more artistically inclined employees and turn them loose on a small section of window to start. Remember that even a simple design can garner a lot of attention if it is cleanly executed with well-placed splashes of vibrant color. If your artists are also your employees, it is easy to update your signs anytime—for example, to announce a spring sale or new product arrival.


Florist window display
This display belongs to Woodstock Florist & Design Store in
Wellington, New Zealand.

Of course, for elaborate designs on large windows, there is still no substitute for a sign painting professional.

The once and future method of choice for street-level advertising
The arrival of automatic vinyl cutters and plotters in the late ’70s and early ’80s threatened the very existence of the sign writing industry. These machines print text or designs onto self-adhesive vinyl sheets that can be stuck onto signboards, windows, or automobiles.

The process wasn’t always cheap for sign printing businesses, though. As Levine and Macon found out when producing their documentary, the printers had to buy expensive software for each font or lettering style. So the sign shops shared these templates with each other to lower their costs and as a result, a lot of signs started looking the same. After a while, business owners who valued originality began returning to window painting to supplement or even replace cut vinyl signs.

Inside or outside—how well will liquid chalk window signs stand up to the elements?
Many business owners think that all sign painting, especially if done with liquid chalk markers, should be done on the inside of the window (called ‘subsurface’), because of the possibility of erasure by rain, sleet or snow. In reality, barring a tsunami or three-day hurricane, your liquid chalk designs will stay put even when the skies let loose.

The advantage of using liquid chalk markers is that they are waterproof and yet, can be easily erased with a damp cloth. That sounds contradictory, but it really is true. There is science at work in the way the fibers of the cloth, combined with moisture, can lift the ink off the surface even though a splash of water won’t. But seeing is believing—put our liquid chalk markers to the test, and you’ll witness this minor miracle firsthand.


Lululemon Valentine window display
This is a Valentine display from sportswear retailer and yoga advocate,
Lululemon Athletica.

Liquid chalk versus paint
Traditional paint is longer lasting than liquid chalk (O’Brien reports that some of her clients have left the same sign up for over 10 years!), but it is far more difficult to remove. If you want to take a one-and-done approach, creating a window sign that you will keep for years without a single change, traditional paint applied by a pro is almost certainly your best option. But if you want durable signs that can be changed without great expense or effort, liquid chalk may well be the better choice.

Either way, you will know if your own window design works by the feedback it generates and, hopefully, a little extra wear and tear on your cash drawer and card swiper.

Are you considering window advertising for your business? We hope the information on this site has cast away your doubts. Once you have your window advertisement set up, tell us if it has helped your business... in the comment box below.

Summary: Window advertising: its proponents, history, and why it is great for business.