May 27, 2019

Everybody’s seen channel letters. Most of us see them often as we move through our daily routines. Businesses favor channel letters for signage they intend to grab the public’s attention. The public, though, is generally unfamiliar with the term. South Florida signage professionals, of course, know it well. There’s a bit of detail behind the words, which we’ll explore here.


A channel letter is a 3-D text sign element. The other feature of channel letters is the lighting. The mode of illumination is what sets apart the various types of channel letters. As we’ll see, the lighting determines the structure of the letters themselves.


Neon tubes were the light sources for channel letters before the LED revolution. There are still neon-based designs out there, and some are still going up. However, jurisdictions are increasingly using codes to steer designers into LEDs for environmental and safety reasons. With each passing year LED technology becomes better and more versatile. Before long there will be no reason to prefer neon tubing. LEDs will be able to mimic neon perfectly, for anyone who prefers that look.



Internal vs. external lighting is the main division in channel lighting design. The letters themselves, then, are designed in accordance with the lighting strategy. Internally lit channel letters have light sources and wiring inside them. Hence, they also have closed faces. That is, the faces of the letters are a translucent material such as acrylic or polycarbonate. This material conceals the electrical components inside the letter. A variant of this design uses a clear plastic material. This makes the light source visible, but also adds visual depth to the letters.


Another type of internal lighting strategy is called halo (or reverse) lighting. In these designs, the face of the letter is an opaque material. The light sources, attached to the inside of the letter faces, shine backward. The letters are transparent in the back, so light floods the wall behind them. The backs of the letters obviously must not be flush with the wall. Hence, installers use standoff screws to place the letters an inch or two off the wall. Raceway mounting is another way to allow internal light to flood out and create a halo effect. In either case, the mounting surface’s color and texture become a key element in the sign’s appearance.



Channel lettered exterior signage is particularly attractive to businesses seeking to pull customers in day night. The signs pop out of the wall during the day. The illumination and 3D design are powerful attractors by after sundown. The cost may be greater than for simpler design types, yes. But now that you know what channel letters are, see for yourself.  A drive through any commercial district proves that businesses know channel letters are cost –effective.






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