So, About Those Subways Signs...

New York City subway signs are iconic - the white-on-black type with the Helvetica font signs are one of the most universally recognized design schemes in the transit world.

The current design has been in place since the 1970's -; but the system has seen a vast array of distinctly unique signs over the past 100 years.

Transit Museum Subway Signage Exhibit Photo

John Montemarano, director of the station signage division for 16 years, said: "We pride ourselves in making sure our customers know how to navigate the subway system, but clearly, some stations present more of a challenge than others."

The subway's sign shop, located in Crown Heights, looks more like an art studio. The dozen or so sign manufacturers, who have training in advertising or graphic design, make close to 200,000 vinyl decals, aluminum and porcelain signs a year. Signs come in all shapes and sizes and cost anywhere from $25 to $300 to produce. Placing new signs at a typical station can take up to two months.

There's nothing elaborate about the process. To create the signs, workers use old-fashioned rulers, X-Acto knives, vinyl prints and silkscreen machines. "It's like making T-shirts, but our signs last longer," Montemarano said.

And the sign shop goes into full gear anytime there are service changes. Small stations may only need a few signs replaced, but major transfer points could require more than 150 new signs.

This is all coordinated with the Department of Subways, Division of Station Environment as workers canvas the entire system to replace signs as needed.