Standout signage

By: Vivienne Haldane, Photography by: Supplied

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Cliff Mannington’s portfolio of truck signage is well worth a look at

Having eye-catching signage on your truck creates a strong brand and allows you to stand out from the crowd. That’s what Mt Maunganui signwriter Cliff Mannington intends when he creates a design for a client.

To him, a truck is like a blank canvas. When finished, it turns into a moving billboard for the business. A customer told him that his new branding had changed his whole business. "Everyone knew who he was after that, whereas previously, no one noticed him. Others have told me I’ve made them famous," says Cliff.

Handy with a paintbrush

Cliff Mannington adds hand-painted touches to the scrollwork

Cliff is fortunate to have been able to combine his talent for drawing with his love of trucks. His father Ben used to drive for Mainfreight and so he grew up around trucks. "When I was little, I was a truck nut, so it was always my dream to work with them. When I turned 17 and had just left school, there was a guy signwriting dad’s truck.

I’d always been good at drawing so when the signwriter got me to give him a hand, he saw I had a talent for it and gave me a job there and then. Back then (1989), everything was done by hand with a paintbrush."

Cliff worked there for seven years. His boss sent him to trade school to gain his trade certificates, and he achieved the top tradesman in New Zealand for signwriting. It was the first of many awards to follow.

Truck Signs

The large workshop can accommodate six trucks inside and 15 in the yard

Cliff started his own business, Truck Signs, first in Tauranga in 1996, at the age of 23, before moving premises to Mt Maunganui in 2010. The spacious 850sqm workshop has three large truck bays. He employs seven or eight people, plus additional contractors when required. "I’ll only employ good people. Everyone who works here has their trade certificates.

These skills are hard to find now; most of us are now in our 40s, and I went to trade school with them," Cliff says. "We all know how to paint with a brush, which is the old school way. I reckon you can tell the difference between those taught like that and those taught on a computer.

What we do revolves around being able to design well, so if you are good at that, it’s half the battle." In addition to big trucks, Truck Signs create signage for everything else, from small trucks, vans, utes, cars, cranes, and commercial buildings.

Tricks of the trade

Airbrush and mural work are a speciality

Truck graphics have moved with the times, going from that pot of paint and brush to computer-generated artwork and digitally printed graphics. However, Cliff still has a yen for what he calls the "old school look", which he uses alongside modern technology.

Tying it together allows him to do impressive work. "I’m big on colour; working out colours that go together appeals to me. I put a lot of thought into my work," says Cliff. "I use just about every medium there is, whether it’s hand-painted scrolls or airbrushing. I do the stripes in vinyl; if I did everything by paint, it would take too long.

I make sure we put a kick of old school into the design with paint. People like that; it’s not always perfect but it gives the finished design a bit of soul. When it’s finished, I add my signature so you can tell it’s my work."

And it’s not just old-school paintwork that Cliff is familiar with; he’s computer savvy too. "I’m right up with the computer stuff and can even build my own. I have a CNC router, which enables me to carve 3D signs. I don’t just use ready-made stickers and stick them on the truck door."

He describes his way of working as unique. "I talk to the truck owner and work out what they like. Often, I’ll do a drawing on the computer, and then the truck turns up, and I’ll change my plan."

From start to finish, a truck can sometimes take up to 100 hours of work. He admits that staring at a truck for hours on end while he works on it can get a bit ho-hum but when he sees it months later, he gets a real kick out of it.

Awards and accolades


Truck Signs has won many awards. "In my office, I have a wall of them from the NZ Sign and Display Association (NZSDA)," Cliff says. "Receiving awards helps to put the trucking industry on the map.

I’ve had heaps of signwriters come up to me and tell me they are amazed; they think a truck is just a truck. They’re blown away by what is possible. It’s worth investing money in to create great signage."

Happy customers

Cliff says Graham Redington is a valued friend and customer

Customers come from all over the country to have their rigs branded. Cliff describes his business as the "imagination corporation", and you can see why. The variety of artwork they turn out is enormous, with styles that range from conservative to what Cliff calls, wild.

He adds that he doesn’t follow trends but creates his own. "From year to year, I change the type of lettering, sprays, and styles I use. I am always trying to better what I do. I go back and look at my work and go, ‘oh wow, how did I do that?’

It triggers other ideas. I never run out of them." He still gets a thrill comparing the truck from its raw state to when it leaves the workshop sporting a new image. "I’ve had some truck owners come in here and when they see their finished truck, they just about cry. They’re blown away. I get a bigger kick seeing these guys grab their truck than I do getting paid. They are so happy. They become friends and often end up being good mates."

Cliff was surprised and heartened by the support he received recently. "During the COVID-19 lockdown, some truck dudes rang to say, ‘We’ve got a truck on the way for you to do and we’d like to pay you now because we don’t want your doors to shut.’ Others phoned to show they were concerned.

"It’s unreal. The people I meet are down to earth and humble. I didn’t realise this business would be so good to me. And it has all happened from starting out as a young guy who just loved trucks."

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