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Channel Letters 101: Understanding This Popular Signage Option

Channel Letter Re-Branding Project: Pearle Vision - Austell, GA

Channel Letter Re-Branding Project: Pearle Vision – Austell, GA

Thinking about a new sign for the storefront of your business? Not sure what the options are, or even what the various terminology means? Welcome to Channel Letters 101, where we explain what a Channel Letter is, review the different types of Channel Letters, and explain the various parts of a channel letter sign. Take time to learn the channel letter basics before you buy – – make sure the first sign you buy is the sign you want to keep!

What is a Channel Letter sign?
A channel letter sign is a three-dimensional graphic element with an individual structure and separate illumination. In simpler terms, a channel letter can be any letter, number, or other character that, when combined with other like characters, makes up a sign presentation. Each letter is made using aluminum sheeting, and acrylic. Channel letter signs are highly flexible, and can be made using a wide variety of fonts, colors, and sizes.

How are Channel Letters Fabricated?
Channel letters consist of the following parts;
Face: For a standard or front-lit channel letter, the face is made using 3/16” thick colorfast acrylic sheeting that is typically cut to shape using a CNC or multicam router. The acrylic sheeting is available in a variety of color options, and can be customized to a wider spectrum of available colors through the use of high quality translucent vinyl or perforated vinyl from leading manufacturers including 3M, Avery, and Oracal. The acrylic face of a channel letter is attached to the channel letter “can” through the use of “trim cap”.
Trim Cap: The mechanism for attaching the acrylic channel letter face to the body of the channel letter is a UV-stable, earth-friendly, highly durable plastic that is extruded around aluminum foil. The trim cap attaches to the acrylic channel letter face using a liquid bonding agent that “welds” the trim cap to the channel letter face. The face is then ready to be attached to the body of the channel letter.
Return: The side of a channel letter is known as the “return”. For standard of front-lit channel letters, the depth of the return is typically 3”, 5” or 8”, and may be specified either in the Sign Criteria of your Lease Agreement, or in local city/county ordinances. Returns are shaped to form the appropriate character by the use of computer-driven bending machines. The aluminum sheeting used in the manufacture of channel letters is also available in a variety of standard colors, or can be custom-painted with your choice of PMS or other color-match shades.
Backs: The back of a channel letter is made using router-cut aluminum sheeting, which is available in a variety of thicknesses, including .040, .063, and .090.
Light Source: Channel letters are made both as an illuminated sign option, and as a non-illuminated sign option. Today, nearly all internally-illuminated channel letters are made using LED illumination, resulting in significant energy cost savings over neon illuimination options commonly used in the past.

What Types of Channel Letter Signs Are Available?
Front-Lit Channel Letters: The first and most common type of channel letter is the front-lit or standard channel letter. A front lit channel letter will have an acrylic face, trim cap, aluminum returns, and an aluminum back. Again, the number of options is large – – these signs can be customized in a variety of ways!
Reverse Channel Letters/Back-lit Channel Letters/Halo Channel Letters: For a unique and classy look, consider reverse channel letters! Instead of an acrylic face, reverse channel letters utilize .090 metal faces and .063 aluminum returns, and have clear 1/8” or 3/16” Lexan or poly-carbonate backs. The return of a reverse channel letter is typically smaller, usually about 3.5”. These letters are mounted with a 1.5” standoff so that – – when illuminated – – there is a “halo effect” surrounding the shape of each individual character.
Combination-Lit or Front/Back Lit Channel Letters: Ever thought about doing a sign that has red illuminated faces, and a blue halo effect? Well, then a combination-lit channel letter is for you! These signs use 3/16” acrylic for their faces, mounted with trim cap to the aluminum returns (usually about 5”). Like the reverse channel letter, combination-lit channel letters use clear Lexan backs that have been customized using translucent vinyl graphics to create the desired halo color.

Reverse Channel Letters with Direct Mount, 1.5" standoff.

Reverse Channel Letters with Direct Mount, 1.5″ standoff.

How are Channel Letter Signs Priced?
Every channel letter sign we sell is considered a custom sign due to the large number of variables in the makeup of the sign, from letter height, stroke thickness, font, return depth, return thickness, return color, back thickness, type of mounting, face color, trim cap color, trim cap thickness, and so on. Our process is to quote each approved design on its own, based on the options chosen.

What are the mounting options?
There are a handful of mounting options that anyone considering a channel letter sign needs to be aware of.
Raceway Mount: Many property management companies and landlords will require that any channel letter signs be installed on a raceway, which is a metal “box” that houses the electrical wiring and power supply for the individual letters themselves. The advantage to a raceway mount is that it reduces the number of wall penetrations that are required to complete the installation – – something most landlords appreciate. Raceways are typically painted to match the color of the building façade or sign band.
Direct Mount or Flush Mount: If appearance is key, then chances are you’ll favor a direct mount installation. With a direct mount, the letters are attached directly to the building façade using a pattern, with non-corrosive fasteners. For reverse channel letters, direct mount with standoff spacers is the common option. With direct mount or flush mount channel letters, the power source and electrical wiring connecting one letter to another is housed behind the bulkhead wall or façade.
Backer Mount: Similar to raceway mount, except that instead of a metal box, the channel letters are attached to a metal cabinet or backer panel that is typically larger in height and width than the channel letter configuration. The power supply and wiring can either be housed inside the backer “cabinet”, or behind the bulkhead wall or façade.

Front-Lit Channel Letters with Backer-Mount

What are the Watch-Outs?
1. Before spending any time considering the various types of storefront or business sign options, check what is required – – either in your lease, in a local zoning classification such as an area labeled as a historical zone, or in the local sign ordinance. Consult with the property owner/manager, and read the Sign Criteria in your lease agreement thoroughly!
2. Think long term… Purchase the best sign you can afford. Signs aren’t like print media or direct mail. With a sign, you have a higher up-front cost, but a relatively low cost once the sign has been installed (electrical and maintenance). A $3,500 channel letter sign costs less than $10 per day in advertising. Divide the cost of your sign by the number of days in your lease.
3. It’s less expensive to buy a sign once. In other words, purchase a sign that you will be happy with next year, and three years down the road. Are you sure bright pink is the way you want to go?
4. Don’t cut corners. Using low quality LED’s means your sign won’t be as bright today, and will be even dimmer tomorrow. Using low quality trim cap means the trim cap will crack, and the appearance of the face of your sign will deteriorate. Using low quality acrylic that isn’t Colorfast means the red, blue, green, yellow, purple, or orange face of your channel letter sign will fade sooner than it should.
5. Check before you order… Will your sign be UL approved? In many cases, your lease will require all signage to be UL approved. Confirm all colors, including the raceway color, if applicable.
6. Sweat the details. Don’t just compare price. Compare the thickness of the acrylic used for the face, the thickness of the metal used for the returns. What’s the warranty on the power supply, and what is the hour life of the LED? Remember, it’s less expensive to maintain a quality, well-made sign!

– Big Mouth Signs is a full service custom sign provider in the Metro Atlanta area, serving Gwinnett County, Fulton County, Dekalb County, Forsyth County, Cobb County, Douglas County, Clayton County, Rockdale County, and Cherokee County with quality signs and excellent customer service. Our goal is to provide you with a product that’s better than you expected! If we can be of service to you, or if you have a sign-related question, please give us a call!

Value-Added Channel Letters in Atlanta, GA for Benchmark Physical Therapy!

In today’s ultra-competitive business environment, everyone is looking for an edge.  Sometimes that edge can be found in less-obvious places, like storefront signage.

Town Brookhaven is a pedestrian-friendly urban village in Atlanta’s popular Brookhaven area.  Located just off Peachtree Road, residents and visitors can find a wide variety of merchants, ranging from Publix, Marshall’s, and Costco to a variety of trendy bars and restaurants, as well as all types of boutiques and salons.  In effort to create and maintain a consistent, attractive look, the developers of Town Brookhaven mandated a sign criteria that requires each merchant tenant to utilize reverse channel letters for their storefront signage.  One of the newest tenants at Town Brookhaven, Benchmark Physical Therapy turned to Big Mouth Signs for their new clinic at 705 Town Boulevard.  Big Mouth Signs has been a trusted business partner since 2010, and has provided quality signage execution, including site visits, permitting, design, production, and installation services throughout Metro Atlanta and the surrounding area.

Channel Letters - Benchmark - Brookhaven - 1

Reverse channel letter signs are not new, as they’ve long been popular with companies including fashion retailers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Luis Vuitton, as well as restaurants including Maggiano’s Little Italy.  As you might guess, reverse channel letters are manufactured just the opposite of a standard or “front-lit” channel letter.  Instead of an acrylic or polycarbonate face and a metal back, a reverse channel letter utilizes a metal face and a polycarbonate back.  Reverse channel letters are most often installed directly to the storefront façade, but can also be attached to a sign cabinet that is then mounted to the façade.  Once the sign has been installed and powered on, the internal light source illuminates the white painted interior of the letter.  This intense light bounces through the acrylic/polycarbonate back, and creates a visually appealing “halo” effect around the perimeter of each character.

Adding a little personality to your reverse channel letter sign is easy – – starting with your chosen font.  The outer face and sides (aka “returns”) of a reverse channel letter can be painted your choice of custom colors, and can be further enhanced using specialty finishes such as satin aluminum, scratched metal, oxidized metal, etc.  Since most reverse channel letters made today are illuminated using LED, you can also customize the look of the halo effect by choosing from a number of LED color options, including white, yellow, green, blue, and red.

 

For Benchmark Physical Therapy, we produced 3” deep aluminum reverse channel letters with custom color dark red faces and returns.  The letters were mounted directly to the façade with 1.5” spacers and non-corrosive threaded studs.  The finished product provides a premium look, and adds value to the brand.  While a lease requirement is an excellent reason to choose to utilize reverse channel letters – – but it’s not the only reason.  Reverse channel letters will add to the look of your storefront, and can help separate you from the competition.

If you happen to own a retail or storefront business, or are thinking about opening one, then you owe it to yourself to take the time to really investigate the possibilities for your storefront sign.  Big Mouth Signs can help.  We’ll take the time to review options with you, conduct a site visit, provide a layout showing how your new sign will look, followed by a free estimate – – including permitting and installation.  You can reach us at (770) 381-9300.  We look forward to hearing from you soon!