Channel Letters

In this second part of our ‘Sign Language’ series, in which we explore the terminology of the sign industry, we are going to talk about one of the most popular types of signs; the channel letter.

A channel letter is an individual sign that, used in conjunction with other channel letters, creates an overall message, word, or picture that usually conveys the name or business logo in a clean and eye-catching way.

The way that channel letters are constructed varies, based on the effect that the designer envisions. Most of the time, when channel letters are used, they are intended to house some type of lighting for an alluring appearance at night.That lighting can be utilized in a variety of ways to enhance the letter.

When it comes to the channel letter; here are some terms to familiarize yourself with:
· Front Lit

· Back/Halo Lit

· Reverse Channel Letter

· Aluminum Can/Channel

· Returns

· Backs

· Trimcap

· Face

· Raceway

· Backer Mount

· LED modules

· Power supply

· Cloud Sign

The most common is called, ‘Front Lit’. This is a letter constructed with some type of plastic face such as lexan or polycarbonate. This is a translucent material that allows the light to spread across the face and illuminate the front of the letter. These faces can be painted or have translucent vinyl applied for a variation of color. The most common LED module used within the letter for this is a typical non-colored light module.

The next type of channel letter lighting is called ‘Backlit’ or ‘Halo’ because of the outlined effect it brings. These are typically used when a channel letter is mounted to a wall with stand-offs or if a backsplash is used. Typically, these channel letters are mounted in reverse, so the aluminum back becomes the face. These are called Reverse Channel Letters. The modules for these effects can be adjusted to give off a different color so that they could ‘Halo’ light the channel letter with say, blue perhaps.

Some businesses have used a combination of front-lit and halo-lit within the same letters. The face and the back are lit using a variety of color and a nice effect is to have a plain white halo light surrounding the letter. But any combination of color can add a style to make them stand out.

One more to consider is an open face channel letter where larger LED bulbs are used to present a retro-style look. The inside of the channel letter can be made to house the bulbs and the inner channel of the letter could even be painted in a variety of colors.

The ‘Channel’ of the channel letter is The Aluminum Can or body. It is made up of the Returns and the backs. The Returns are simply the sides of the channel letter. These sides can be painted so that they match a design preference. They are what holds the lighting. They are typically 3”, 5” or 8” in depth. The backs are just the aluminum back of the letter and usually where the LED modules are installed. They are made from aluminum in a variety of thickness, including .040, .063 and .090.

The Trimcap is a plastic piece on the edge of the face that attaches the face to the channel letter and holds it in place. This edge piece can be a different color as well, but these colors are limited. There are various sizes including ¾”, 1” and even some are now available in 2” widths.

Faces are the actual front of the channel letter. These faces are generally made from acrylic or some type of polycarbonate plastic. They are cut to shape on a CNC router to fit each letter. There are a few options on colors that come standard such as White, Ivory, a variety of reds, yellows, Green, Blue, orange, etc. But to get an exact color match, the best way is to pick out a translucent vinyl overlay that can be applied to the faces.

As far as installing channel letters onto a building, there are various requirements depending on location. Many landlords or communities may require a raceway to be used. A Raceway is a metal piece that looks like a long rectangular box that mounts to the building and on which the letters are mounted. This raceway box can house the power supplies that would otherwise need to be hidden behind the walls inside the building. It also houses the wiring for bringing power to each letter and makes it easy to install the power connection at one point to the sign. When channel letters are individually installed onto a wall, they each need their own drilled pass through to run wires into the building. With a raceway, there is only one pass through required. The raceway is usually painted to match the exterior of whatever building it is being installed on. In that way, it is camouflaged behind the channel letters.

The channel letter can also be mounted to a ‘backer mount’ sign cabinet or panel that is typically larger than the channel letters and made to be part of the signage. It is not camouflaged and serves the same purpose as a raceway to house the power supplies and wiring.

LED light modules are small components connected by wire that emit powerful light that spreads within the channel of the letter and either light the front-lit face or in the case of a reverse letter, it splashes onto the wall behind to give a Halo effect. There are a variety of types and colors available. To light the face of a sign evenly, the lights must usually be between 3 – 6 inches away from the face. That is the main reason for the depth of a channel letter. Thinner letters may not light correctly.

The power supply regulates the amount of power being supplied to the sign. All power supplies used should be approved and UL certified for use with the channel letters.

Another term for a smaller sign that resembles a channel letter but may not be just one letter is Cloud Sign. This is a single faced wall sign cabinet that works like a channel letter but may have a different shape and even digitally printed translucent graphics on the face. This is used sometimes for a company’s logo or some other picture to be incorporated into the signage that may include other channel letters.

There are many applications and styles for channel letters available. Now that you have a grasp on the language of channel letters, you can better communicate your design preferences. For a more insightful discussion on all your options, contact us at Akers Signs.

One Reply to “Sign Language – Part Two: Opening up Channel Letters of Communication”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *