An easy way to make subway art

An easy way to make subway art - no die cutter required!I think it’s so cool that Man Podger David is bi-coastal – he’s spent amounts of time in both Los Angeles and NYC! In this post, David will show you how to make subway art to commemorate his fave cities – and you don’t need a fancy die cutter! I like the panels that raise the names of the places up a bit, giving the subway art a lot of texture. These would look smashing on my wall (how about in dark teal??). Here’s David to tell you how to make subway art. PS – you don’t need a die cutter to make these signs. You just need Microsoft Word!
I’m perhaps a bit late to the party, but I’m totally hooked on subway art. I wanted to create something that represented my two “home” cities (LA and NYC) and I wanted something a little different than what I’ve seen. The goal was to create something fun and spend as little as possible.

I used:

Supplies-For the Backboard – Plywood cut to 2’ by 16” rectangles
-Black and white (not pictured) paint
-For the street signs/slats I used strips of composite wood cut into 3”x14” strips. (You could use craft wood from Michaels, MDF, anything that was fairly sturdy and thin.)
-Four more strips of scrap wood ¼ thick and 22” long – any wood will do – you won’t see them

In addition I used:
-An old candle
-80 grit grit sandpaper
Mod Podge Matte
-Foam brush
-Matte Acrylic spray sealer
-Glue (I used a glue gun)
-A scanner and printer
-Electric Sander (optional)

Step 1: Prep the Boards

Prepare Slats• I painted the edges and sides of the composite wood signs/slats white.
• After the white paint dried I rubbed my candle over the white using varying pressure.
• I then covered the entire face and sides of the slats with black paint and painted the plywood backboard and backing strips black as well.
• After the black paint dried I used my 80 grit sandpaper to sand the edges of the slats. The black paint won’t stick to the candle wax so you end up with nicely weathered edges.

Sand Backboard
• After that I used my power sander to distress the edges of the backer board.

Step 2: Make the Street Signs

I don’t have a vinyl cutter, I didn’t want to cut out each letter by hand and my stencil skills are lacking to say the least. So I decided to do it on the computer using MSWord.

Here’s how I did it:

Sign Creation Steps• I scanned a couple of my finished slats and saved them as JPGs. I then opened a New Document, legal size in landscape orientation and Inserted the JPG of one of the slats.
• Using Word Art, I created the lettering in an Arial font.
• I set the Text Wrapping Option to “In front” and resized the word to the size I wanted.
• Next I made another copy of the scanned slat and brought it to the front.
• I chose the “recolor” option from the Format menu and clicked on a black section of the image which wipes out most of the black in the image leaving you with a rough, distressed texture.
• I then moved that layer in front of the Broadway lettering and viola – instant distressed sign!

To create variations (so they all didn’t look alike), I scanned a couple of my pieces of wood and then simply rotated them or cropped and stretched them. After that, I just printed out my signs and trimmed them to fit the slats and, using Mod Podge, attached them. There was a bit of a difference in sheen between the painted wood slats and the decoupaged paper so I used two coats of a matte spray acrylic finish to balance them out.

Next I hot glued my support strips in place:
Backing Strips attachedAnd then attached the street signs to the strips – again using the glue gun. And there you go!

An easy way to make subway art - no die cutter required!I realize some of the MS Word stuff may be confusing so I will monitor the comments and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks!

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  1. Janeous says

    Hi Amy! I love your blog! I just came across it and recently finished a project with mod podge myself! I LOVE that stuff! :)
    -your newest follower @

  2. Atticelf says

    GREAT tutorial and these look incredible. I’m so going to do this for my family room wall. Thank you!

  3. Katie says

    Love this idea–I want to make an NYC one for our NYC themed pool table room. I also love that you have a “man podger”! lol.

  4. Mel M. M. McCarthy says

    Amazing! I’ve wanted subway art, but like David, I didn’t want to cut letters or use vinyl. Clever.

  5. Donna Huisinga says

    Great tutorial that I will pin. I don’t have a way of cutting vinyl and don’t want to cut letters so I appreciate this very much.

  6. Christie says

    Awesome! I don’t have the patience to cut and stencil each letter and I like how this looks even more!

  7. Keith says

    I have used mod podge for a project very similar to this and am having trouble with ripples. Any ideas?

    • Amy says

      Hi Keith! I’d try browsing my videos – I have one on tips and tricks for avoiding wrinkles. Thanks!

      • Keith says

        Thank you for your reply and I watched the video but I have done all those tips and still have wrinkles when it dries. Could it be that my mod podge is too thick and I need to water it down? I’m really surprised I’m the only one having this trouble and need to find out what I’m doing wrong.

        • says

          Hey Keith,
          I’m sorry you’re having problems.
          My only tip for avoiding wrinkles is to briefly soak the paper in water before laying it down. Just drop the image in a tub of water briefly, while you spread the Mod Podge on your surface. Remove the paper from the water and smooth it out onto the Mod-Podged surface. Then with your damp fingers smooth out any wrinkles or bumps. You can then remove any excess Mod Podge or water with a paper towel (just be gentle as the paper is delicate)
          Please note however, this technique will not work if you are using an ink-jet printer as the water will make the ink run. If you are using a laser printer or a laser copy you should be fine.
          Hope that helps- keep us posted.
          Man-Podger- David

  8. Stephanie Carver says

    I am attempting to re-create this. First I’m finding out that unless you have most of the supplies, this project will cost roughly $60. And also, even though I’m good at using MIcrosoft Word, I have found that there is no way to change a photo’s opacity. I have no scanner, so I am trying to just put a stock distressed photo over the top of the letters. Pretty much impossible. I’m not saying you didn’t do it, I’m just saying it’s a very complicated project. You have an artistic ability to make these kinds of crafts. But the steps are very hard to follow if you are looking for exact results. I will update you when I’m finished, but I’m in for a long night I can tell when I’m stuck on one of the first steps.

    • Amy says

      Hi Stephanie! A few things:

      -To reduce costs on supplies, I’d go to the discount wood section of your hardware store. Mine has one where they sell pieces for pennies on the dollar. Since you aren’t building with them, if there are a few imperfections it will just add to the piece. My local hardware store will cut the wood for me, too. If that doesn’t work, see if a local builder has extra supplies. How about Habitat for Humanity ReStore? Sometimes it’s trickier to get free wood, but it can be done.
      -Option #2 would be to use canvas, which you can still distress. You can get canvases on sale at craft stores – or always use your coupons.
      -Look for the “transparency” option in Word to get the same effect as David (I have Word for Mac, but it’s the same). So you can change the opacity, it’s just not called that.
      -David used the matte acrylic sealer for extra protection, but it’s not absolutely mandatory. Mod Podge will seal your project. I always take the extra step if I have some on hand, but not using it will not break your project.

      Let us know if you need additional help. Thanks!

  9. says

    Hi Stephanie – sorry you’re having trouble with the project. I can only offer up sort of what Amy has suggested.
    Since doing this project the first time I now make these signs as part of my business.
    The Home Depot and Lowes often have left-over, partial or damaged wood – it’s usually back by the saw where they cut wood for people. Last week I went in (Lowes) and, back by the saw, they had some remainder pieces of plywood. A full sheet of it (4×8) costs about $28 but they charged me $1 each for the leftover parts and I got six signs out of them. That kind of luck doesn’t happen every time but almost every time they have some scrap that will work.
    The same applies for the wood to make the slats. My Home Depot always has lots of scrap wood that would work for those. Keep in mind you could also use heavy cardboard or foam-core or anything that’s thin an sturdy.
    I’m not sure how to help with the MSWord issue. It may have to do with which version of Word you’re running. As an alternate to using the Format/ReColor option you could play around with inserting shapes, textures and text boxes until you get a look you like.
    Or, you can skip the computer part all together and simply print out your text un-distressed and then using 220 grit sandpaper lightly sand the paper itself. Or crumple it and smooth it out.
    Hope that helps.
    Man Podger-David

  10. LinhC says

    Thanks for the tip about using wax then sanding off the top coat of paint to get distressed edges.

  11. Denice Stapleton says

    How did you scan the wood? Isn’t a standard scanner smaller then the measurements used for the woods pieces?

    • Amy says

      Denice, you can place a piece of wood on the scanner (whatever size it is) then stretch it when you get into Word. Hope this helps!

  12. Andrea says

    Love the look of this! I was able to find the “recolor” option on Word, but it won’t let me use it. It’s “gray” in color, rather than black, and can’t be selected. I don’t know if that makes sense? I can see it, but not select it. Any advice on this? Thanks!

  13. Kristina says

    Is there anyway you can upload the jpegs of the wood you created for us to download?

  14. dorelle says

    Hi what version of Ms Word did you use for this I could not find word art or a bunch of other things that you referred to on my MS Word which is 2003 I believe. Thanks

  15. Beth says

    Hi! This is the first time I’ve ever left a comment on a site. I read you were having trouble with wrinkles in your mod podge projects. Something I’ve tried and works great is to apply a thin coat of the mod podge to the area you plan to attach (the wood) and apply a thin coat to the back side of your design (lettering in paper). Let them both dry. Then continue as you normally would attaching letters to wood using mod podge. Just make sure that you dont over do the coats of mod podge each application should be thin. May take a tiny bit longer but well worth the couple extra minutes. I really hope this will help and would love to here if it helps out or not. Love,

  16. Michelle says

    I see that David said he makes these to order. How can I order one??? I know that I will NEVER be able to be able to do the MS WORD modifications and I am very good with the computer but that made no sense to me! I figured it might have been easier for me to just order one!