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Creating a great looking tool shadow board wasn’t exactly written into your contract now was it!

Here, our latest post will try to explain the first stages you will need to think about if you have been given the task of sourcing or creating your own 5S shadow boards within your company.

I embark on this information with the assumption you know what 5s or shadow boards or Lean Manufacturing is. If you don’t then have a look at some of the other posts on the blog or go to


Decide how far you are wanting to be involved in the whole manufacture of the shadow board. We have customers that really need full support in creating the “shadows”, design and layout of the shadows and finally fabricating the board itself. Others, incorporate the creation of the boards into their particular 5S journey and want to keep control of each step and may utilize the materials and processes they have to hand.


Determine what type of shadow board you need. What tools are most in need of organizing, why are you wanting to organize them? Do you have a traceability issue with tools wandering around the site? Do you need to color-code in order to stop cross contamination?

How and where are the shadow boards going to be located? Do you need a wall mounted, free standing or mobile aspect to the design? Will the board material need to be outdoor proof, resistant to chemicals etc.

The more you wish from the end product will determine how much can realistically be obtained without the facilities of a dedicated sign shop but don’t let this stop you from creating your own shadow board  if you decide to go down this avenue. Most materials are readily available from the internet and those parts of the process that you are struggling with, Lean 5S Products, will I’m sure be able to support you.


Creating your particular shadows seems to be the most difficult for most Lean Managers. The sign industry uses various graphic software packages that are powerful pieces of kit but you don’t really need to invest in all this just for the project. We use Adobe Illustrator CC for most design jobs but there are others like Corel Draw, Signlab etc, all very good tools.

But, there are lots of graphic packages out there which are  great AND free for one-off projects such as creation of your “shadows”. I’ve found Inkscape ( is a great open source platform where you can play around with vectored shapes and come up with your own particular designs.

So, why do we need a graphics package and what are intending to do with it?

OK, in order to create the particular shadows of the tools you wish to include on your board, you will first need to take an overhead photo of the piece. Make sure you have plenty of light but it doesn’t have to be photo shoot for Vanity Fair grade conditions.

Depending on your package the software will do the next stage. We need to take that photo and get the silhouette of the shape minus the background. In Illustrator this process takes only a few clicks but as explained how much contact you have with graphics packages may be limited. In this case, perhaps send off your images to your local designer or marketing team who I’m sure could help you with this stage.


In order to obtain the correct dimensions of the tool you will also need to know the length and width of the item so the finished shape can be created with the proportioned features. As it’s a 2D image you will not need the depth measurement.

If a color coding system has to be applied or you want to make the shadows blend in with your branding then fill in the silhouette of the shadows with your designated colors.

A good tip is to make the shadow slightly bigger so that when the tool is placed on the board the shadow stands out around the outline of the tool


Once you have all your shadows created have a good think about layout. Take as much time as possible to involve the operators who will be using the shadow boards, regarding where the shadows should be placed.  Operators work differently in the same areas so watch for individual nuances. Some tools may get dirtier or be dripping so have a think if this will impede tools around them. For instance a shadow board may include cleaning equipment like a mop. Locating the mop head at the top of the design may create dripping wet gunk all down the shadow board. The total opposite to what you wanting to achieve in the workspace. Create order!


If you have an outside company supplying the substrate material then this stage will involve you placing the shadows onto the board. Most cut vinyls will have a self adhesive side which will adhere to clean flat surfaces easily enough. Take care to align and adjust while thinking where the fixings will be placed later.

Next you will need to attach the tool fixings. Think carefully how the tools are going to be held. The constant use will require the fixings to be appropriate and durable. We can supply are variety of clips, push & grip fixings as well as custom laser cut shelves, tool holders or frames. See here for examples 5S Tool clips


Once all your hard work has resulted in a great looking and functional shadow board that your colleagues will work to use now you need to locate in the right place. Shadow boards should not add waste to your process but eliminate time and cost from repetitive tasks. Designate that area and make sure the design of the board helps others indentify quickly what is being asked of them.



Its the analogy. “You cant see the wood for the trees” that springs to mind when it comes to creating a 5S shadowboard. But it doesnt have to be like hard work. Just attempt to divide the creation process into chunks and work out why you are organizing the tools and keep those goals in mind.

Capture tool image >

Convert into a silhouette/ shadow >

Change color of shadow shape >

Define the dimensions of the shape to reflect the true dimensions of the tool>(Rememember to leave a small offset around so the shadow can be seen in the background when the tool is on the board)

Apply to the substrate>

Attach the fixings>

A place for everything and everything in its place!