In any discussion about Wall Signs, the issue of Channel Letters just has to come up. Channel Letters are by far the most common form of wall sign for several reasons: (1) they illuminate, making them just as effective at night as in the day, (2) they are versatile and can be made to replicate a wide range of custom logo styles, fonts and have many color and type variations, (3) and they are often specified as the only option in many shopping center Sign Programs and even by some city codes.
What they are
Channel letters are called that because the letters are formed with a metal back or face in the shape of the letter or logo. Then an thin metal edge is welded around that piece from 2″ – 5″ wide (called a “return”), forming a c-shaped or u-shaped channel. That is the basic piece of a channel letter.
From that point, in times past a neon piece, very similar to the ones you see in lighted window signs, was formed in a shape that made it fit right down the middle of the channel. It was fixed in place with glass or plastic “standoffs” that kept it centered and distant enough from the channel to keep it’s electrical charge from “arcing” to the metal where it would build up heat and cause damage. These days, flexible strips of LED (light emitting diodes) are placed inside instead which only require 12 volts of electricity rather than the up to 15,000 volts that neon sometimes required. LED channel letters are therefore much less dangerous and much more cost efficient as far as electrical usage is considered.
Now you have the metal channel formed into the shape of a letter or logo and a lighting element that is flexible enough to fit right down the middle of the channel. Next you will have a “face” or a plastic cover that is typically added to the front of the channel. This is held on to the channel by means of a plastic trim glued around the edge of the face in which a screw is placed, holding the trim to the metal channel. The plastic face being translucent allows the light of the neon or LED modules to pass through, giving that distinct and clear night time image we all have seen.
This the basic construction of a Channel Letter but there are many variations we will now discuss.
The Standard Channel Letter
A standard Channel Letter is what I just described. During the day it looks nice on a wall being very individual and dimensional, with the face color very often being a pleasantly contrasting color to the exposed metal returns. At night the letter glows out very crisply (if done properly) and is easy to read. A simple, not too decorative or complicated standard channel letter is the least expensive of all the possible channel letter alternatives. So why would you want anything else?
The first answer is, everybody’s got them. Being the least costly and simplest to produce, they are everywhere. And if you are in a line of shops that all have the same basic thing, how are you to stand out? That’s why some savvy retailers and restaurants such as Rubio’s and Verizon are using more sophisticated and colorful types of channel letters, with rear (halo) lighting and front (direct) lighting at the same time, placed upon some creative backgrounds. If you want your business to stand out from all the rest, you should definitely consider paying the extra cost for all these “bells and whistles” because the letters will last a many, many years. Determined over time your sign will be the single most effective and least costly form of advertising you can do even if you spend a lot more than usual.
Secondly, they are a little too bold and unabashedly commercial – meaning they can cheapen the appearance of your business by begging too brightly for people’s attention. If you have a professional office or a business that caters to an upper class clientele, you may want to consider more conservative and less blaring types of channel letters such as the halo (back or rear) lighted letter.
The Halo Channel Letter
In construction, the halo channel letter is very much like the standard, front illuminated letter, except that it is turned around. In other words, the solid metal that forms the back of a channel letter is now facing forward, with the channel and it’s lighting elements facing the wall. There is a plastic piece, but it’s now hidden from view and only acts as a seal to keep dust and water out of the letter. This letter is now installed with a space (generally about 1″) between itself and the wall. When the lights go on, you see a halo glow of light on the wall, putting the letters themselves in a dark silhouette.
What’s great about these is their understated, classic appearance. The metal faces and returns can be made of brushed aluminum or stainless steel for that extra classy daytime look, or use any nice color. At night they don’t blare as if to say “Look at me!” but they give your business that very professional and impressive understated appearance that says “I really am awesome and I don’t need to prove it to you.” High end clientele want to think they are dealing with businesses that are exclusive and don’t need to beg for clients because they are better than all the rest. And if you show confidence in your abilities as indicated by your sign advertising, you give people a sense of security which is especially important for the legal or medical professionals.
Halo Channel Letters are fractionally but not exceptionally more costly than standard ones.
Exposed Neon Channel Letters
On the other hand, if you want to make your sign a “star” so that it looks different than all the rest, you can use an exposed neon letter. This is made just like a standard channel letter but with either a clear plastic face or none at all, so that the colorful neon piece is entirely visible on purpose. You do this when you really want to stand out – but be careful – it’s the opposite of a halo channel letter because it can scream rather than quietly state your message.
As mentioned, the main benefits are it’s uniqueness and brightness. It also has a very “old fashioned” appearance that is great with businesses that rely on nostalgia. So it can be used for theme restaurants and theaters, etc., where that idea is desirable. But it has also become dated so that you should avoid it if you want to appear contemporary. Like halo letters, they are somewhat more costly than standard channel letters.
Mixed Lighting or Direct / Indirect Channel Letters
The most expensive (often twice the cost of standard letters) are those of mixed lighting effects. Often called “Direct / Indirect”, they both light through the face and on the wall. And it doesn’t to stop there. These types of channel letters can use every one of the above lighting effects and more, include exposed, halo or standard (front lighted). Yes they are a lot more costly, but if any type of channel letter sign can be called “sexy”, this is it.
If you have a restaurant or any business that wants to really stand out and look impressive, you may want to use mixed lighting effects in your channel letters. Though they are usually very bright, the fact that they obviously do things everyone else’s sign doesn’t adds a touch of class. They say you can afford to do better than everyone else, possibly care more, and are very likely to be successful since you probably paid more. And people like to do business with a successful companies.
What people often get confused about when buying signs is the initial cost. Signs typically cost many thousands of dollars. But here’s the rub: the on premise sign is proven to be the most effective and least costly form of advertising you can do (click here for a good study on this). It advertises only to people that are in your neighborhood or passing by so you aren’t paying for advertising that is sent by means of print, radio or video to a lot of people that will never do business with you. It’s typically a one-time cost that over the time is very inexpensive as compared to the over and over, month after month hundreds of dollars other advertising that adds up to tens of thousands of dollars over the same period.
So, if you are spending less over time, getting a better share of attention, and only pay for it one time (with some maintenance along the way) why not make the best of it and get something that really works? It’ll still cost a lot less over time and will be a permanent, standing and obvious “sales person” that will over and over again tell people your business matters. What can be better than that?
The Bottom Line
Whether you purchase any of the several types of Channel Letter signs, you need a professional, knowledgeable sign company. Your sign is an extremely beneficial and important part of your business success. Channel Letters make a great wall sign but if they are done just as an afterthought, you will lose the opportunity to really represent your company well with an appearance that can enhance your business and even set the tone for it. If you are in need of a great wall sign, whether using channel letters or not, give us a call at 714-637-9900 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Next time in “The Sign Expert Says: Wall Signs – What You Need to Know, Blog Four” we will wrap up and talk about all of the options and what you will need to take into consideration in purchasing your wall sign.
John Myres, The Sign Expert