Get “Lit”: The 411 on Channel Letter Signs

Business signage is an integral part of a company’s advertising strategy. Showcasing a brand can be done effectively (or ineffectively)  through the style of signage a company selects. A popular choice is the channel letter sign.   

ID Signsystems has manufactured thousands of channel letter signs for our clients. In this article, we explain what channel letter signs are, the types and reasons why a business would select one, and we show off several channel letter signs IDS has built over the years. 

To begin, what is a channel letter sign?

A channel letter sign is a 3D structure where each letter or design element is an individual piece and, when combined, creates a complete sign presentation.

Channel letter signs are highly customizable, turning any logo or wordmark into a vibrant work of art. Most often, channel letter signs are illuminated, further enhancing the sign. They’re a go-to sign choice because they can be constructed as small as four inches in size up to twenty feet.

Styles of channel letter signs

Traditionally, channel letter bodies are painted or powder-coated with acrylic faces. Colored faces can be achieved using custom-colored vinyl appliques or self-colored translucent acrylics matching a company’s brand. Channel letter signs are nearly always lit with LED bulbs; RGB LEDs can be used for special color effects.

There are three main styles of channel letter signs, each varying in the finishing of the sign’s face and the illumination options. 

Non-illuminated channel letter signs are, as the name implies, designed without a lighting component. A business may choose a non-illuminated sign if the sign doesn’t need to be seen during nighttime hours, therefore, eliminating the need for a lighted sign. 

Front-lit channel letter signs are constructed with an acrylic face, trim cap, aluminum return, and back. The light shines through the acrylic sheeting through the front of the sign.

Reverse/halo-lit create a more sophisticated look and are constructed with a metal face and returns, and acrylic back. When installed, the sign is mounted on a standoff, allowing the light to shine from behind, creating a halo effect at night. 

Combination-lit, as the name implies, uses both lighting options, giving added effect with front illumination and the back-lit halo. 

The latest design developments in channel letter signage use trimless face solutions, creating timeless sophistication.

Design and Fabrication

The design of a channel letter sign involves a combination of font selection, letter size, and illumination requirements. 

IDS begins the design process using software such as CorelDRAW and 3D rendering software to create the sign’s shape. The sign is then digitally projected at scale on a rendering that shows the sign’s proposed location. Once a rendering has been approved by the client, engineered drawings and cut files of each component are produced for fabrication.

The components of the channel letter sign are manufactured on machinery built for bending aluminum into shape. From there, LED bulbs are adhered to the metal casing and finished by welding the acrylic and trim caps to enclose the finished shapes.  

Creating custom signs can be complex, balancing intricate font styles and illumination, often in large letters and shapes. Surprisingly, channel letters are quite light for their size.

Installation considerations

Several factors will determine a channel letter sign’s installation: the sign’s size, location or site access, power access to that location, and any building façade considerations.

A decisive part of a sign pre-installation process is meeting city codes. A business must meet the building location’s zoning or sign ordinance requirements and consult the property manager for all sign considerations. In special circumstances, additional mounting structures may be required. At IDS, we thoroughly examine and meet all zoning requirements for every sign project.

There are several ways channel letters can be mounted to the building. 

The raceway mount style involves installing the sign on an elongated metal channel (called a raceway) that houses the electrical power supplies and cabling needed to light the sign. The raceway is then mounted to the building, reducing the number of building penetrations required for mounting.

A direct mount installation means each component of the sign is mounted directly to the building’s façade, where the wiring and electrical are housed behind the wall. For reverse-illuminated halo-lit signs, standoff spacers achieve the lighting effect by holding the letter form away from the reflecting surface allowing the light to reflect onto the building and bounce out toward the viewer. 

The third option is called a pan mount, where the complete sign is mounted on an oversized cabinet, with electrical housed inside. The cabinet then adheres to the building with the letters attached to the support pan.

The raceway and pan mount options are used when access to the rear of the sign is restricted in some way.

So, what makes a channel letter sign a good option?

Channel letters create a brand statement, translating a two-dimensional name into a striking three-dimension brand statement, offering a high-impact, permanent look for any business.

For their ROI, channel letters are an excellent investment. They incur a higher cost upfront (determined by font, size, illumination, and installation complexity), but when once installed, the maintenance is typically low cost. A channel letter sign will endure years of longevity.

IDS has helped create brand statements for hundreds of companies with channel letter signs, fabricating thousands of sign components. Below are a few of our most notable creations.

When your business needs to make a statement with signage, consider channel letters and ID Signsystems as your signage partner. IDS can help you with design to meet your budget considerations and help you get noticed. Connect with us.

More channel letter signs by ID Signsystems

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