What Is A Channel Letter Sign?

Dustan Fankhauser explaining channel letter signs.


  • Channel letter signs can either be front lit (lighted through the sign face) or halo lit (also called reverse lit), which creates a sophisticated lighting against the building’s face to outline the solid aluminum letters.
  • Channel letter can be flush-mounted right to the wall, or they can be raceway mounted, in which the letters are affixed to a solid metal box. Many landlords prefer raceway mounts because it creates fewer holes in the bulkhead wall.

Channel letter signs have become one of the most common, go-to storefront sign solutions nationwide for a reason: illuminated channel letters look great, last forever, and are accepted by many property management companies and landlords. With myriad mounting options and hidden lighting elements, channel letter signage is a no-brainer for buildings and locations of all kinds.

In the video above, Dustan Fankhauser gets into the details on channel letters, reverse channel letters, channel letter configuration, and more.

What Are Channel Letters?

As a professional sign company, we get calls all the time from customers that say they need a channel letter sign, or they call it an individual letter sign, or “halo channel letters.” Call them what you will, channel letter signs work, and work great for businesses and building facades of all shapes and sizes.

If you’re a new business and opening up a new retail space or office, chances are you’re going to be looking for lit channel letters. There are instances where you can get away with other types of signage, but the channel letter sign stands out. It’s customizable, direct mount, with low power supply needs, and you’ll be able to create logos, letters, numbers, and pretty much anything you can come up with for your dimensional letters.

And, you can use channel letter signs on all different types building facades. We’ve put them on block, tilt up concrete, stucco, EIFS, wood frame, and metal buildings. Any building type you have, a channel or sign will mount on.

Types of Channel Letters

The video above demonstrates combination lit channel letters, a sign that we mocked up for demonstration purposes that shows both face lit channel letters and the halo effect of halo lit letters.

Flush Mount Channel Letter Signs

A flush mount, face lit channel letter sign

In the video above, the “54” is flush mounted, and light shines through the acrylic front of each number.

Flush mount means each letter is attached directly to the wall or the substrate. Take the face off, undo the screws holding the trim cap to the return, and you can get to the underlying LEDs no problem. These are sometimes also called front lit channel letters.

Halo Lit, Reverse Lit, or Back Lit Channel Letter Signs

A halo lit channel letter sign

The “Safe” lettering in the video above use halo lighting. This is a halo lit sign, reverse lit, back lit channel letters.

Instead of an acrylic face that allows light to shine through, reverse lit signs use a solid aluminum letter. The sides and the face are aluminum, but the back of these letters are clear and stand off the wall an inch or two inches, with LED lighting inside.

The LEDs inside the letter shine back against the wall through the clear acrylic, creating a halo effect that is perfectly demonstrated in the video above. This creates a beautiful and sophisticated look.

Raceway Channel Letter Signs

We can also add halo lighting to raceway signs.

Raceway mount signs include a backer panel or backer mount, so each letter is affixed to this panel or metal cabinet rather than directly to the building facade.

Individual channel letters mount to the raceway as one structure, and then the raceway mounts to the facade.

Landlords often prefer the raceway mount simply because it requires fewer holes in the building facade. With individual letters as with a standard channel letter sign, you’re going to have three or four holes and penetrations in the facade. With a raceway, since these letters mount to the raceway, the raceway mounts to the wall, you just have a couple penetrations into your facade.

All of the electrical wiring can also be easily hidden inside of the metal box of the raceway mount.

Parts of Channel Letter Signs

The video above offers some great insights into how lit channel letters come together, but the following is a good start to understanding front lit or illuminated channel letter signs.

The Face

The front of your channel letters, through which the light will shine, is made of translucent acrylic or a 3M translucent vinyl. At Excel, we use an exceptionally high-quality 3M product. You’ll get seven years guaranteed on it without fading or cracking or peeling, but you can apply plethora of colors to this face, to change the color. We can digitally print patterns or a specific color, if they don’t make a vinyl color and apply it right to this face.

Trim Cap

The trim cap is what holds the face to the side of each letter and can create a small silhouette to each letter.

The trim cap can be customized, and we have a multitude of colors you can use, or if you really need customization to match a specific PMS color, they are typically painted.


The next part is the return or sign band, which is the 3-4 inch edge to each letter that adds depth and allows space to accommodate LED and electrical components for both the face or back lit lighting.

The return is made from aluminum, goes all the way around the letter, and we bend these with a specific machine that accepts art files to then form the channel letter return out of thin aluminum. Metal construction with aluminum is ideal because aluminum will not rust.

We can customize the color of the return, or we can paint it a specific color to easily match your brand image or brand guidelines.

LED Lights and Power Supply

The last part of the channel letter sign is the LED illumination inside (or neon lighting in the old days) plus the power source. A well made sign will be thoroughly water proof, and you’ll get the desired lighting effect without any obtrusive wiring.

Order Your Exterior Signage From The Best Sign Company Around

Excel Lighting and Signs is Kansas City’s choice when it comes to a custom sign or new sign for your business. We do it all: from the highway-side pole sign to neon lights and standard channel letters, we provide custom sign solutions at affordable and transparent pricing, and with killer customer service from the start.

We also do LED retrofits in Kansas and Missouri!

Get a free digital render, business sign pricing, and see your sign on your facade before you spend a dime. Call Excel Lighting and Signs for a free sign quote today.

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