What Is A Channel Letter Sign?

In this video, I’m going to explain what is a channel letter sign. Everybody hears the term channel letter sign. Some people know what it is. Some people don’t. 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 the individual letters that light up. Those are all jargon out there. But I just wanted to go over the channel letter sign in more detail. I’m going to cover what is a channel letter sign. I’m going to cover what parts are in a channel letter sign that you can customize. And then the last part we’ll cover is the types of channel letter signs that are available, and I’ve got some to show you here and we’ll turn off the lights and light these up a little bit, so you can see the differences.

What is a channel letter sign?

Channel letter signs are the most common signs out there. It’s what the majority of retail centers are making their tenants put up now. It’s what the majority of cities are requiring for new signage is channel letter signs. So if you’re a new business and opening up a new retail space or an office, chances are you’re going to be looking at a channel letter sign. There are some instances where you can get away with different types of signage, but the channel letter sign definitely stands out. It’s very customizable and you’ll be able to create logos, letters, numbers, pretty much anything you can think of in a channel letter sign.

You can use channel letter signs on all different types building facades. We’ve put them on block, tilt up concrete, stucco, or EIFS, wood frame, metal buildings, any type of building type you have, a channel or sign will mount on. Some are easier than others. Some take a little bit more time, hence the installation cost goes up. But most situations we can find a way to install a channel letter sign.

Knowing the parts of a sign

So let’s go over the actual parts of a channel letter sign that you’ll hear a sign company talk about if you’re ordering one of these or having one built. The first part of the sign we’ll talk about is the face. When somebody says the face, they’re basically meaning this right here, which is acrylic. This acrylic will let the LED light shine through which we’ll talk about here in a minute. This can be a standard color of acrylic, a white, red, blue, green, any color that you can order acrylic or the most common way to customize it if you want a different color, is you’ll apply a 3M translucent vinyl to this face. It’s a very 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. You can digitally print patterns or a specific color, if they don’t make a vinyl color and apply it right to this face.

The trim cap is the next, you probably can’t see it unless you zoom in on this video, but the trim cap outlines the entire face. It actually gets glued to the face. And then the trim cap is what holds the face to the side of the sign. So the trim cap can be customized. There’s a multitude of colors you can use, or if you really need customization to match a specific PMS color, you can paint it.

The next part is the return. The return is the side of the channel letter. And in this instance, you’ll see the return right here is about four inches deep. So the return is made out of aluminum. And the return obviously goes all the way around. We bend these with a specific machine that you input the art file and it’ll bend the channel letters return out of aluminum. It’s a thin aluminum. There again, we can customize the color of that, or we can paint it a specific color too.

And then the last part of the channel letter sign is the LED illumination inside. That’s what this is down here. These are LED modules. The modules, if you can imagine, they weave in the sign like this. So all parts of the sign have LED illumination in them. If you have a really thick stroke, meaning stroke like this, you would have to use probably two rows of LED inside of those.

Those are the main parts of channel letter signs. There again, we can customize them any way you see fit with different colors. What types of channel letter signs are there? You’ll hear this a lot out there. There is a flush mount channel letter sign, which is what this 54 is. Flush mount means it mounts directly to the wall or the substrate. So it anchors, you take this face off, undo the screws holding the trim cap to the return. The face comes off and you’ll anchor it directly to the wall or the substrate. So that’s a flush mount channel letter sign. A very popular type of channel letter sign is what we’re showing here. This is a halo lit or reverse lit, back lit channel letter sign. So this is built a little differently. Instead of the acrylic face and trim cap up here, this is a solid aluminum letter. So all the sides and the face are aluminum, so no light shines through the face. The backs of these letters are actually clear and they stand off the wall about an inch or two inches just depending on how you want it.

How LEDs work in channel letter signs

The LEDs inside here, it shines back against the wall through the clear acrylic. So the sign actually halos behind on the wall as opposed to lighting in the front. I’ll shut the lights off and we’ll demonstrate how these look in just a second. The third type of channel letter sign, which actually I don’t have shown here, but is a raceway. So a raceway is, think of a 6 x 6 aluminum box with a lid on it. All the wiring is concealed in the raceway. These individual channel letters mount to the raceway as one structure, and then the raceway mounts to the facade. So a lot of landlords like a raceway simply because it’s less holes in your building facade, than if you put individual letters. With individual letters, 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.

So I’m going to turn off the lights. We’ll show a little bit how these light up at night. First thing I’ll light up is the 54 up here. This is a standard channel letter sign, internal illumination. So here you can see, as we talked about the LED is inside of the channel letter can, it’s shining out through the face. So if you use a different color acrylic, or if you use a 3M vinyl on the acrylic, you can obviously change the color that’s going to shine through, this is white in this case. If we were to use red acrylic here, we’d have red LED inside, these 54 would shine up red and so on.

The word safe here, as we talked about, is a halo lit sign. And as you can tell, the light does not shine through the face of the letter, it actually shines out the back and reflects off of the wall. So as you can see, it kind of halos around the word safe. This is a very high class, very sophisticated look and sign that a lot of people are fond of. We do quite a few of them.

The last thing I lit up here is just the individual channel letter modules. So this is the light source in both of these types of signs. I just put it up here so you can see how it lights up. So we will do what we call LED retrofit. So if you have an old sign that you bought 10, 12 years ago, it still is in decent shape, but you’ve got neon illuminating it, we can take out all the neon, put in these LED modules inside the sign, and then you’ll get a new five year warranty, lower energy, and a lot less maintenance from neon.

Have other questions?

That explains the channel letter sign. I hope you found this video helpful. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to your sign vendor in your community, or of course, here in the Kansas City metro, reach out to us at Excel Lighting and Sign. Thanks a lot.

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