August 12, 2020
Channel letter diagram Gemini-wChannel letters or pan channel letters are large individual letters. They are commonly used as exterior signage on businesses, churches, and in shopping centers. There are three basic types of channel letters with a fourth type a combination of two types. The major point of differentiation between types of channel letters is in how they are illuminated.
Channel letters are aluminum or plastic “cans” or “pans” shaped into letter forms. The term “return” refers to the sides of the can and “face” means the surface seen by the viewer. The cans are most commonly made from aluminum but Gemini Incorporated, one of the largest dimensional letter manufacturers in the world, makes a molded polymer (plastic) can that is recyclable, flame-retardant, and resistant to salts, acids, and oils – they guarantee them for the life of the business. Channel letters are mounted either individually on the wall or are mounted to a “raceway” which is mounted to the wall.
Open-face channel letters used to be very common. They are quite simply an aluminum can shaped as a letter with the open side of the can the face of the sign with neon tubing exposed. However, sign ordinances are moving towards controlling “light pollution” by requiring a more diffused type of illumination so new open-face channel letters are becoming less common.
Internally lit channel letters are sometimes called front liInternally lit channel letter sample-wt channel letters. The cans have the open side facing the viewer as does the open-face channel letter but the face has a colored acrylic face so none of the electrical workings show. The lighting inside the can is diffused and lights up the face of each letter evenly.
Reverse lit channel letters, reverse pan channel letters, back lit and halo lit channel letters are all the same thing. The “reverse pan” refers to the fact that the open side of the can faces the Channel letters unlitwall. The viewer sees a solid face which can be any color. Reverse channels can be used without any illumination. Reverse lit, back lit, and halo lit refer to the illumination coming from behind the letter rather than from the face of the letter. The channel letters are mounted off the wall with studs or a raceway so the lights inside the can cast a glow around each letter from the back.
Front / back lit channel letters combine internally lit with back lit illumination. They create a very striking illuminated sign.
It will help to drive around at night and look at the different types of channel letters. Seeing pictures online is helpful but not as good as seeing illuminated signs in real life. Consider whether or not you need an illuminated sign. A restaurant or bar might go for the extra expense of a front/lit sign because much of their business is done during dark hours. A retail store that may only need a few hours of illumination in the winter would go with something simpler. A manufacturer who is not drawing in passersby may opt for no illumination.
Halo-lit or backlit channel letters can be stunning at night.
Whatever style works best for your business you’ll need a professional to design, build and install channel letters. Depending on local sign codes, the letters may require UL Listing and, more than likely a licensed contractor to install them. Be wary of low-ball estimates for manufacture or installation of channel letters.
What Is A Channel Letter Sign?
With the wide variety of sign types we offer, we often have some confusion with our customers about what to ask for or what type of sign it is that they really want. In many cases, a customer calls requesting a Channel Letter sign when what they want is really a Light Box or Non-illuminated Dimensional Letters which can be fabricated in from metal, acrylic, PVC or HDU. Outdoor lighted signs are a great way to advertise your business and offer a great ROI on your advertising dollars.
I thought it might be helpful to write an article about Channel Letters and how they are fabricated so that our customers feel better educated when making their sign purchase. Signs are a big investment for your business and often can make a big difference in the success of a business so it’s important to understand what you are buying and the advantages of different type of signs.
Channel letter signs are also sometimes referred to as LED Letters, Halo Lighted letters, or Back Lit Channel letters.
Why Chose Channel Letters over other sign types?
Channel letters are defined as three dimensional sign or letter fabricated from aluminum, acrylic and LED or Neon lighting. These signs are are commonly used on building exteriors, particularly in malls, strip malls, on large buildings. Many malls also have channel letter signs inside the building for each store. This type of sign offer great visibility as the letters are often 12″ or taller per letter and internally illuminated which increases night visibility. It is easy to make a very large sign out of channel letters as each letter is generally an individual unit. For example, these channel letters used on the new Converse headquarters in Boston are several feet tall and illuminate from within make a real statement for the new headquarters.
As shown by this example, it is also easy to replicate many logos using channel letters. Using a combination of lighting color, face color, shape and sometimes full color graphics, you can easily create illuminated signs with channel letters.
How are Standard Channel Letters made?
Channel letters are fabricating by the following method:
1) Routing the shape of the logo or letters out of aluminum (back of the letter) from a Vector file (i.e. .EPS, .AI file)
2) Creating the shape of the can from 3-6″ wide strips of aluminum wrapped around the aluminum shape. This will house the electrical components and lighting, most commonly LED’s. The can can be welded or flanged to attached to the back section. The interior of the part is then painted to help with the reflectivity of the light.
3) Lighting and electrical components are then installed in the sign. A software program helps the manufacturer determine the appropriate number of lights per inch and rows per letter to correctly light the sign. In some cases, the number of lights are adjusted to meet local bylaws that require lower lighting. LED’s are available in a number of different colors to create the finish color of the letter needed.
4) Routing the shape of the logo or letter out of acrylic to create the face of the letter. This is commonly 3/16″ thick acrylic which is available in a number of stock colors.
5) Applying the face of the letter to the can using trim cap which again is available in a number of standard colors.
How are Channel Letters attached to a building or facade?
The most common installation method for channel letters is what is called flush mounted. This is where the letters are individually mounted to the building. Each letter has a whip which is inserted into the building and then gathered behind the wall to a single or multiple transformers, these transformers are then wired to the electrical box.
Another method for installation of channel letters is using raceway or wireway. This is commonly used when landlords or building owners want to reduce or limit the holes in the wall made by the sign. In this case, the letters are mounted to a fabricated aluminum box which is generally 6-8″ tall and deep enough to house the wiring. The wireway or raceway may have clips welded to the top for mounting to the building, making installation easier. As in the Go Spa example above, the raceway is color match to the building to reduce it’s visibility.
What are some other options for Channel Letter Fabrication?
In addition to the standard method of fabrication, channel letters offer other options. Letters can be reverse or halo illuminated as in the Aircuity example. Logos can also be fabricated using a contour or bubble style in order to include smaller details as shown in the Premium Meats logo below. Letters can have vinyl applied to the faces to create a specific color combination, or even have digitally printed graphics applied as in the logo below when you need to Pantone match a color.
There are also specialty films that can be applied to the faces such as perforated day/night vinyl. These appear black in the daytime, and white when illuminated at night.
In some cases, when the amount of light coming out of a letter is required to be reduced to lower lumens by the town or city, diffuser films can also be applied to the face. This was required by the Town of Chelmsford for the Java Room letters as it was facing a historical cemetary.