What are Channel Letter Signs?
Channel letter signs are 3-D exterior signage, made with a combination of aluminum and acrylic, and generally include LED illumination.
Visit any standard commercial center and above each store, mounted on the building front you will likely find a huge variety of channel letter signs. With unique, brand-matching styles including color, font, and more, these signs are the number one choice for restaurants, bars, hotels, shops, schools, and more.
Channel letter signs origin story begins with the neon sign. With advancing technology and methods, now we can achieve the same glowing and show-stopping impact at a lower price point and with many customization options. With channel letter signs you can choose your own custom illumination option, font, shape, color, and more.
The modern channel letter sign is made of aluminum, acrylic, and energy-efficient LED lighting. With some cutting, welding, and handiwork, these signs come together seamlessly again and again.
Channel Letter Sign Components
There are 5 primary components to know when it comes to channel letter signs:
- The Channel or The Return – This is the bulk and depth of your sign. The return is a heavy-duty, yet lightweight piece of aluminum bent and welded to maintain the shape, design, and structure of your signage. The aluminum material captures and “channels” the light to dictate how your sign will illuminate.
- The Face – Usually acrylic, but can be aluminum for back-lit signs
- Trim Cap – Metal strip attached directly to the facing. It includes a soft acrylic feature designed to hold the face securely to the aluminum channel ( also called return).
- Backing – The back of the channel letter sign can be either aluminum or acrylic depending on your lighting style option. The CC team attaches the backing to the pre-shaped aluminum channel by either welding, stapling, or punching.
- Lighting Source – The bulk of channel letter signs use LED lighting. It’s safer, more energy-efficient, and produces a beautiful, long-lasting glow.
Top Benefits of Our Channel Letter Signs
Channel letter signs are one of the first marketing investments businesses make when planning their exterior signage.
Often, it is a necessary step for businesses located in shopping centers, shopping malls, or business centers. National brands and businesses use channel letters as well as small local shops and restaurants. It’s a trusted stand-by for all marketing endeavors.
Visibility is one of the main attractions channel letter signs offer to businesses or organizations. The 3-D structure means you can easily read the sign from different angles and their illuminated style gives 24-7 projection to customers.
You will be both easier to find and showcase a highly professional profile to potential customers.
Composed of durable aluminum and acrylic ensures that your sign is low-maintenance, easy to install, and can be fully customized according to your design preferences. Choose from your choice of custom font, thickness, size, and overall design.
Channel letter signs primarily use LED lights. Using the highest quality LED lights is a cost-effective solution for maximum glow. Don’t cut corners with low-light or low-quality LED’s, even if you spend a little more up-front, your LED’s will provide an energy-efficient lit-up sign solution for your business.
Our team at Coastal will also provide you full-service installation in San Diego and surrounding areas. We offer site check, design, permit drawings, permit procurement, and professional installation.
Lastly, often these types of signs are easy to install and remove. So, should your business relocate, your sign can go with you.
Winning Features of Channel Letter Signs
- Underwriter Laboratory (UL) certification
- Cost-effective 3-D signs
- The number one choice for exterior signage
- Can also be used for interior signs
- Wide range of customizations
- Designed to be illuminated
- High-quality, energy-efficient LEDs
- Custom cut and welded aluminum
- Contour cut acrylic facing
- Color matching
Illumination Options for Channel Letter Signs
There are a number of things to keep in mind when designing your channel letter sign.
One of the most important factors to consider when it comes to channel letter signs is the type of lighting or illumination you want for your sign.
4 primary styles for channel letter signs:
Front-Lit or Standard Lit Channel Letter Signs
Front-lit channel letter signs are the most common and are the standard style used.
The construction includes aluminum side returns, aluminum backing, and an acrylic facing. The acrylic face can be translucent, white, or colored. LED lights are installed to the back panel and shine light through the front-facing acrylic material.
A unique feature of front-lit channel letter signs is that a digitally printed vinyl can be installed on the acrylic facing for a unique color effect.
Reverse-Lit or Reverse Channel Letter Signs
Reverse-lit channel letter signs allow light to escape from the back of the sign to produce a glowing effect around the edge.
The face of the reverse-lit channel sign must be composed of opaque aluminum so that the light inside doesn’t escape. Opposite of the standard, the backing of the sign will use clear acrylic material which allows the LED light to escape, this, in turn, produces that halo effect around the letter shape.
The lights are mounted on the back and point towards the face. However, since the face is aluminum, the light bounces off and out the clear, acrylic backing. It is necessary for reverse-lit channel letters to stand off the wall at least 1” to allow light to escape in an even pattern.
Note: Since there is more aluminum used and more welding, the cost can be slightly higher.
Simultaneous Glow: Front and Back Lit
Thanks to expert construction, you can have the best of both worlds.
By installing an aluminum divider, we can install LEDs on the front and the back of your sign interior. So, you get front-lit letters with a reverse-lit glow!
The front face and backing must both be composed of acrylic in order to let the light escape. You also can use different colors and play with contrast to get the optimal lighting effect.
Remember: This option will likely require twice as many LED lights.
Open Face Channel Letter Signs or Neon Signs
This classic style is iconic. The revolution of the neon sign began with the Geissler tube in 1898. Scientists discovered that a sealed glass tube with the newly discovered neon gas emitted a lovely, bright luminous light when charged with electricity.
Open face channel letter signs play on this style. Using a clear acrylic facing, these signs provide the appearance of an open face so that onlookers can see the light within the letters. Traditional open-faced signs used neon, however LED’s are now commonly used.
Traditional open face neon uses a carefully bent glass tube that is filled with neon. There are three types of glass- clear, coated, and painted. While called “neon signs” thanks to that initial discovery of the glowing gas, to produce other colors it is necessary to use other types of gases.
Neon = red light
Helium = orange light
Xenon = gray or light blue
Coated glass significantly expands the achievable range of color.
Of course, open-faced signs generally have no face, however clear acrylic faces can be installed to protect the neon from damage or nesting birds.
There is a wide range of possibilities for channel letter signs, just take a look around the next shopping center you visit. Each business stands out from the next with its unique font, color, sizing, illumination, and more.
You can play with the color of the aluminum channel, a vinyl overlay on your acrylic, the depth of your letters, the trim cap color, and more to create a unique and elegant or bold look.
Plus, LEDs offer tons of customization from color-changing to color options.
From typeface options, size, depth, and what type of lighting you prefer, working with a team that knows your goal and budget is the best way to proceed. Feel free to contact the team at Coastal Creative with any questions you may have!
Sizing for Channel Letter Signs
The best size for your letter or sign height will depend on the impact you want to make.
We recommend a minimum size of 10-12” for your letters. This will allow readability from about 300 feet away. Skew accordingly if you want readability at further distances by using the index found here.
Height, capitalization, illumination, color, and font all play a role in the readability or legibility of your sign. It can be complicated to figure it out, so be sure to speak with our team directly for any specific questions you may have.
Mounting and Installation
We do not recommend installing channel letter signs alone.
Our team is available to deliver and install our custom backlit signs anywhere in Southern California, including San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles. Or, you can hire a local area installer.
Mounting options for channel letters include:
- Raceway Mount – Each channel letter is pre-installed on a raceway box. The raceway is a strip of metal in the form of a box that houses all the circuitry for illuminating the channel letter signs.
- Direct Mount – Each letter is attached directly to the wall. The wiring on the building facade powers each of the letters.
- Flat Backer Mount – Similar to the raceway mount, this type of installation consists of a large flat backer plate onto which the letters are mounted. This can help create a contrast between the letters and their background or help hide an ugly facade.
Lifespan of Channel Letter Signs
They should last for 10+ years in mild, temperate climates with no serious maintenance required.
All of our lighted signs are UL listed and are backed by a 5-year warranty on the sign finish and hardware.
Caring for Your Channel Letter Signs
Given the large impact, taking extra time to care for them plays a huge role in their effect.
Regular cleanings are the first step. Since some of the material in channel letter signs is acrylic, using gentle products to prevent scratching is important. While acrylic is long-lasting and durable, it is prone to scratches which can make letters look dull. So, do not use tough scrubbing pads or sponges that might scratch. It is also important to avoid abrasive cleaners that can harm the acrylic.
When cleaning your sign, first remove large debris or dirt. You can use a gentle leaf blower, but do not use a power washer. This can ruin your sign. Next, simply use warm water, mild soap or cleanser, and a gentle cloth to wipe away dirt and grime.
For optimal visual effect, keeping these signs clean is important! Dirt and debris will impact the ability of the light to shine through the material and negatively affect the overall look.
Local Delivery and Installation
We are happy to deliver and install our channel letter signs anywhere in Southern California.
Coastal Creative offers full-service installation that includes an initial complimentary site check, design, permit drawings, permit procurement, and a professional installation. We have both our C-45 sign contractors license as well as our B-General building contractors license, so all projects big or small are possible with our expert staff. Give us a call at 858-866-6560 today to get your project started!
For certain corporate and enterprise projects we are happy to discuss additional options with you. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Once we’ve completed your channel letter sign, we’ll ship it to you anywhere within the United States. Depending on your order size we may offer free or expedited shipping. Please contact us using the form to get the exact details, and we’ll ensure your experience is amazing!
Channel Letter Signs Questions and Answers
Your top questions about custom channel letters
How much do channel letter signs cost?
Channel letter signs are custom-built, so their price will depend on a number of variables. The cost is largely reflected in the size, depth, font selection, illumination style, color options, and more.
A good rule of thumb is to assume about $100 for a minimum, basic, completely standard single letter at about 10-12”. For each added customization option, there will be an increase in price. This includes the addition of lights, a raceway mount, and can be influenced by the illumination option you choose.
What is a unistrut for channel letter signs?
If you have additional questions about the type of mounting process or systems we use, feel free to contact us directly for specific questions.
What is the average lifespan for channel letter signs?
Built of aluminum and acrylic, channel letter signs are durable, non-corrosive, and high-quality signage. They should last for 10+ years in mild, temperate climates with no serious maintenance required.
Sometimes you may need to replace or update the lighting components. Alternatively, inclement weather can impact the overall quality of the sign.
We have a 5-year warranty on our channel letter signs.
How to keep birds from nesting in channel letter signs?
We can’t offer any foolproof solutions for customers hoping to deter birds, but there are a number of deterrents that often work:
- Motion censored objects: Ideally a device that will spin or move occasionally (and might look like an owl)
- Bird gel: A sticky, clear substance that birds find aversive. However, this can cause your sign to look dirty and collect dirt.
- Sound machines: A machine that will occasionally emit sounds such as a dog barking or caw of a predatory bird. There are also ultrasonic options that go off only when a movement from a bird is detected.
- Bird spikes: A popular option to make it impossible for birds to land. It is not dangerous as the spikes are dull (so the birds stay safe!)
- Bird coil: Like the fun toy slinkys we grew up with, this spiral coil is stretched across surfaces where birds might roost and prevents them from doing so.
- Manual removal: If you are diligent and spot a nest being built, simply remove it. NOTE: It is illegal to remove a nest while there are eggs inside.
What are the font, color, and sizing options for channel letters?
The point of custom channel letter signs is to provide your business exterior signage that attracts customers and lets them know where you are. So, we are happy to work with you to recreate any font style, color matching, and perfectly sized sign according to your design to match your brand.
Contact us directly with any design specifications you have so we can be sure to deliver you your sign exactly as you imagine it. We have a full team of designers who have the expertise to help you through the process.
There may be certain styles or designs that pose a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Since each letter is custom cut individually to match your needs, there is lots of flexibility in the process.
Do you use neon or LED illumination?
As much as we love the traditional aesthetic for the neons, LED has become the standard for a reason and it’s what most of our customers choose to use.
We opt to use high-quality LED for lighting that shines bright and long, while remaining incredibly energy efficient. They are super cost-effective at both the onset and in the long run. Plus, they are more environmentally-friendly compared to past neon lighting technology.
If there’s a certain glow or vibe you’re looking for, there are some tweaks we can make to the coloring and placement to get it just right for you!
Of course, neon lighting is always an option! So if it’s what YOU want, just let just know.
What types of companies use channel letters?
We invite you to simply take a drive as the day shifts into dusk. You will see shopping centers, grocery stores, restaurants, malls, hair salons, banks, government buildings, schools, and more turn on their own channel letter signage.
These signs are perfect for catching customers who might be walking along the street or driving on the highway. For brands to be easily recognizable and catch the attention of passersby, channel letter signs are clearly the number 1 choice.
Another trick for catching the eye of passersby are perfectly placed custom floor decals.