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Why handstenciling?

The original technique for creating enamel signs is labor intensive but delivers the most brilliant results

If you are looking for a house number with personality and that sets you apart from your neighbours, look no further than hand-stenciled porcelain enamel signs.

The technique has been around for more than 2000 years and is still one of the most exclusive and sought after material used for house numbers and name plaques  in Europe today.

If you are not familiar with porcelain enamel signs, you may have heard of  “French house numbers” – the classic blue and white sign seen in the picture on this post.

You may also  have seen imitations out there and wondered whether it’s worth the extra money for the real thing. The answer is yes.

Traditionally, craftsmen used a porcelain surface and enameled it on to a metal backing. Porcelain enamel can withstand weather without losing color or clarity and will last for many years. The same cannot be said for the knock-offs.

The process can take time, but the result is stunning. The design of a hand stenciled sign, whether is a name plaque or house number, is built layer after layer, with each one stenciled out by hand before being coated with enamel and burned at a very high temperature. This end result is a surface which is very durable and vibrant in color.

The color of the enamels can be affected by factors such as the firing time and temperature, and air humidity.  Once the layers have been added and fired, and the sign cools down, the vibrant colors of the enamel  command the attention of anyone passing by.

Traditional hand stenciled enamel signs can be hard to find – mainly due to the level of skill and experience needed to craft them. But it is worth the investment to make your house number or name plaque “pop”

More enameling techniques

Our last post showed you five of the most beautiful techniques used in enameling over history. Today we look at five more

1. Plique-à-jour: Here, enamel is applied in cells, a bit like cloisonné (mentioned in previous post),  but with no backing, allowing light to shine through the transparent enamel, giving it the appearance of stained-glass. The name of the technique is French for “open to daylight” It’s a very difficult process and requires patience and persistence. Hungary’s St Stephen’s crown, right,  is an example.

2Stenciling: I’m sure we all remember this from grade school art classes! This is when a stencil is placed over the metal and powdered enamel is sifted over the top. You remove the stencil before firing, and the enamel stays in the pattern, slightly raised.

3Ronde bosse: Meaning “in the round”, this can also be called,  “encrusted enamel”. For this technique, sculptures or wire framework is partially or completely covered with enamel, producing a 3D figurine.  A historical example is the 15th century Holy Thorn Reliquary, housed in the British museum (left).

4. Freehand. Or “painted enamel” is when the artisan simply paints the image on to a smooth metal or glass surface before firing.

5. Serigraph: This is fundamentally silk screen printing with enamel, using a 60-70 inch grade mesh.

We hope you enjoyed the past two posts, we certainly enjoyed writing them. We’d love to know your favorite – or whether there was one we have missed.

Numéro Maison Émaillé – French Housenumbers

Here is a selection of photos of “Numéro Maison Émaillé” from a little French town. The classic blue house numbers has beautiful white numerals and has a single white trim.

One enamel – many techniques

You will find there is more than one way to create a beautiful enamel finish – in fact there are many.

This post describes- and shows some  images of – five of the most beautiful.

1. Cloisonné: This technique involves applying thin wires to form raised barriers which seperate the different areas of enamel, applied after the wires. It is widely practiced throughout Europe, the Middle East and east Asia. Limoge, in France, became famous for this its Cloisonne enameling. The Enamel Plaque of St Demetrios (right) is a good example of Cloisonne. Its lettering uses the champleve technique, described below.

2. Champleve: In this technique, the surface is carved out to form pits that are then filled with enamel before firing, leaving the metal exposed. It is named for the French word for “raised field”

3. Basse-taille: In this enamelling technique, the surface of the metal is decorated with a low relief design – often in silver or gold – , which can be seen through translucent and transparent enamels. Basse-taille is the French word for low-cut.


4. Sgraffito
: This technique involves placing an un-fired layer of enamel  over a fired layer of a contrasting color. The top layer is then partly removed to create the design. the Princess of Dreams mosaic panel (right ) of Moscow’s Metropole Hotel is a gorgeous example of this technique at its best.

5. Grisaille: This involves applying a translucent enamel over a dark background (often blue or black), and building up the design in a  in a monochrome gradient, similar to a relief. A well-known example of this is the Stations Of the Cross at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, below.

Hope you enjoyed these beautiful examples of enamelling techniques. We will feature more in the next post.

How porcelain enamel gets it colour

Coloured enamel can be produced either by grinding highly friable coloured glass, or by adding specific minerals – usually oxides – to clear glass.

The most often used minerals are metal oxides such as cobalt (blue), praseodymium (yellow), iron (green), tin (bright white), gold (red) or neodymium (which can give differing hues from violet, to wine red, to warm grey).

Coloured enamel can be opaque, transparent or translucent, the latter getting more and more “milky” the longer it is fired.

Unlike paint, different colours of opaque enamel do not mix, so you can’t, say, use blue and yellow to make green.

Instead, mixing enamel colours results in that beautiful “flecked” look – blue with yellow flecks or yellow with blue flecks, depending on the amounts of colour used. Although, a clever artisan can grind the two colours so finely that the eye is tricked.

Also mixing opaque and transparent enamels in combinations of two or more can produce some amazing effects.

For example, an opaque yellow, overfired with transparent blue would produce a green affect – but a close look would uncover that the eyes are, once again, being deceived.

Designers often mix and match various techniques and bring out lovely colours in their enamel artworks.

Getting the best colours from enamel requires specific skills that are, unfortunately, being lost in these modern times.

Why Hand-Enameled Signs and House Numbers are truly a Work of Art

When you look at a hand enameled sign or name plate you may not realize that you are actually looking at a work of art. Hand enameled signs may look similar to those that are made via automated processes but they are actually much more complex and unique than you might realize.

Highlander 5 x 21 cmThe process is a fairly involved one. A design (such as letters, house numbers or a combination of both) is etched on a metal backing. This is then covered in powders which have been colored with a variety of metal oxides. The sign is then fired at an extremely high temperature and the result is a smooth, shiny surface and color that goes all the way through the piece. The design is not limited to the surface of the sign as it is with signs that have been painted.

Because all of the work is done by hand it means that each enamel sign or house number is truly unique. It takes experience to know how to apply the powdered metals and how to fire the piece so that the colors are as vibrant and beautiful as possible.

The porcelain enamel piece is also much more durable than any other type of sign would be. The surface cannot wear off in inclement weather the way a painted sign would. It will also not fade or wear down the way a wooden sign would. Even spray paint can simply be cleaned off the smooth surface. It will not penetrate into the sign as the surface is non-porous.

Examples of how durable enamel signs can be are visible all through Europe. Many of the enamel signs and house numbers that look like they are new have actually been up for decades and are still as beautiful and vibrant as they were when they were first created.

Capture the Atmosphere of France with Enamel French House Numbers

Anyone who has spent time in the older portions of French cities or towns has likely seen French house numbers. These beautiful enamel signs feature white type and a white border set against a rich blue background. Traditionally, these enamel house signs were used not only to indicate a street number but also to advertise a business or to show the last name of someone who lived at a particular address. In some areas, even the street signs may have been created using a traditional French house number style of sign.

Although some models can be created using mechanized production techniques the best examples are still those that are produced by hand. The design is etched into a metal background and colored glass that has been powdered is then applied. When the sign is fired, the true color and beauty of the sign is revealed.

Using traditional French house numbers on your own home or business can be a great way to bring to mind all the beauty and historical background of France. Signs are available in a wide range of sizes and can contain anything from a single number to a name plate personalized with a last name or the name of a business.

Incorporating Enamel Signs and House Plaques into your Home Renovations

Many people choose to renovate the exterior of their home prior to selling it. A home that looks attractive from the street is more likely to attract viewers to any open house. This can increase your chances of attracting a buyer and may also help you achieve a higher price for your home.
Potential buyers will like the fact that they will not need to spend as much money in order to maintain the exterior of your home. If they see many elements that are broken, worn out, or which need to be replaced they are less likely to pay top dollar for your home.
When you are renovating the outside of your home you may want to make sure that you include enamel signs or house plaques into your home renovations. The use of enamel house numbers or other signs can make it easier for potential buyers to identify which home is yours and will look inviting and appealing.
Choosing the right design elements is important. You want to make sure that they are durable and will stand up to the weather conditions where you live. This can be a money saver since you will not need to replace them time and time again. It also means that you will not be caught with a worn-looking exterior just when people will be viewing your home.
You need to make sure that the design elements work together with the basic style of your home to create a complete image. For example, you want to make sure that you do not use modern decorative elements on a home that is very traditional. They will look out of place and may mean that viewers will be less interested in taking a look at the interior.
It can be a good idea to make sure that the enamel house signs that you are using are impersonal if you are trying to sell your home. If a sign has your last name on it or it contains a more personal message buyers may not want to go to the expense of switching it out. Even though it is a minor cost it may deter potential buyers from making an offer for your house.
Many elements can go into ensuring that the exterior of your home is likely to attract buyers. By keeping the color scheme of your home, its style and its size in mind when choosing items for the exterior you can make your home look much more appealing and well cared for.

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Building an Environmentally Friendly Home? Enamel Signs can help

It may seem strange to think that enamel signs, house plaques or door numbers can help you do so. But there are many reasons why signs made using traditional hand manufacturing techniques are a greener choice than other signs are.

The first is how long they last and how well they hold up against the elements. A sign made from any other material may wear out or fade very quickly. This means that it will often need to be replaced in a very short period of time. This can really increase the amount of materials that are entering dumps and landfills. While some may be recyclable, others cannot be reused and may even leach harmful materials into the water or air.

The second is that enamel signs are made with materials that do not harm the environment. The backs are made from metal and the glass powders that give them their beautiful appearance do not contain lead.

Finally, because the signs do not break down from exposure to weather, they do not leach harmful chemicals into the environment while they are hanging. A painted sign such as an address plaque or business sign may slowly allow paints or dyes to run out of them and contaminate the local environment.

If you want a beautiful and environmentally friendly way to dress up the outside of your home or business, enamel signs can help you achieve both of these goals at the same time.

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Enamel Signs – Why Hand Stenciling?

The original technique for texting enamel signs is labor intensive but still delivers the most brilliant results.

If you are looking for signs for your home that are beautiful and durable you need to consider a hand stenciled enamel sign. You may have seen imitation enamel signs available in different shops and wonder what the difference is between a hand-enameled sign and a knock off and whether the increased cost is worthwhile.

Hand stenciling is a technique that has been used to create custom designs using a variety of different materials. It has been used for more than 2000 years as a way to decorate many different items. With enamel signs, the traditional choice is to use a porcelain surface that is enameled onto a metal backing. Using a porcelain enamel coating is good because it can withstand the weather without losing any of the brilliant colors or clarity and will last for many years.

The process can be quite labor intensive but the result is beautiful. With a hand stenciled sign, regardless of whether it is a name plaque or a set of house numbers, the design is built layer after layer. Each layer is stenciled out by hand and then enamels are applied to the surface of the sign. Each layer is then burned at a temperature of approximately 800 degrees Celsius. This creates a surface which is very durable and vibrant in color.

The color of the enamels can be affected by factors such as the time it is fired for, what the humidity in the air is and what temperature it is being fired at. Once the layers have been added and fired one at a time the sign is allowed to cool and the colors of the enamel are allowed to shine through. The surface becomes extremely hardy, and the layers of glossy enamel make these signs pop so that they command the attention of anyone passing by.

Although hand stenciling used to be very common and was used in factories throughout Europe it slowly fell out of favor. This is because creating beautiful designs takes a high level of skill and experience and that is becoming much more difficult to find in today’s world.

This technique can be used to create a number of different signs for homes and businesses. Hand stenciling can be used to create custom name plaques, house numbers and enamel signs. Some of the most popular include the classic blue and white signs that are often referred to as “French house numbers”.

If you want to add a touch of class to your home you need to consider adding a stylish feature such as an enameled sign. The skill that is used to create them will elevate your home and demonstrate the pride of ownership that you have been trying to display.

Although traditional hand stenciled signs can be difficult to find, one manufacturer is still producing hand enameled signs and house numbers following traditional methods. Ramsign is a company which prides itself on supplying clients with beautiful and durable enamel signs that will remain beautiful year after year.