What Types of Signs are Most Commonly Used?

One of the most significant ways to divide the sign industry is into “electric” signs (which have internal illumination) and “commercial” signs, which are non-illuminated. For approximately three decades, a trade journal for the sign industry, Signs of the Times, conducted surveys of sign companies as to how their businesses were faring. These were called State of the Industry (SOI)reports. One of the stock questions was about the types of signs each company sold.

For electric signs, “cabinet” signs (essentially, enclosed plastic shapes with fluorescent or neon illumination inside) and “channel letters” (three-dimensional, individual letters shapes with the open area filled with neon or LEDs, and plastic that covered both the lighting and opening) have been the staples.

For commercial signs, banners and vehicle graphics have dominated.

In Signs of the Times’ most recent Electric SOI report, sign companies said channel letters accounted for 32.3% of their overall business. Cabinet signs were next at 26.3%. Third were “main identification, freestanding signs,” which meant they were set on the ground and weren’t attached to a building or any other structure, at 19.3%. Electronic message centers (EMCs) rated fourth at 10.3%. The full report can be read in the online edition at http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/STMG/sott_201407/index.php#/78

In Signs of the Times’ most recent Commercial SOI report, respondents said vehicle graphics (which includes the recent popularity of “wraps”) account for 26.7% of their business, followed by banners at 18.7. Next came “dimensional signs” (routed, carved, sandblasted, etc.) at 19.1% and window graphics essentially the same at 9.9%. The full report can be read in the online digital edition at the following link.http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/STMG/sott_201408/index.php#/72

What are Some Guidelines for Electronic Message Center Resolution?

A critical aspect of any sign is viewing distance. The appropriate amount of detail varies greatly, depending on the distance from which the sign will be viewed. In digital printing, this “resolution” is determined by “dots per inch,” or DPI. The more closely an image will be viewed, the higher its resolution needs to be, which means the dots produced by the inkjet printer would need to be closer together, and there would be more of them within a defined space.

The same concept applies to electronic message centers. The individual LEDs function the same as the inkjet dots. The more detail you want, the more LEDs you would need with a defined space, and the decision would be based on the anticipated viewing distance. An electronic billboard 600 feet from the highway is different than an electronic message center built into the cabinet of a freestanding pole sign next to a two-lane road.

For electronic signs, this resolution is called “pixel pitch,” and it means the distance between the centers of individual LEDs, which are known as pixels. The distance also varies if the individual pixel is color (comprising different-color LEDs) or monochrome (one color). Here are some general guidelines for pixel pitch and viewing distance.

Pitch Range Viewing Distance
3-6mm up to 50 feet
6-12mm 50-100 feet
12-15mm 100-200 feet
15-20mm 200-400 feet
20-30mm 400-800 feet
30-40mm 800-1500 feet
More than 40mm More than 1500 feet

As for the size of letters and viewing distance, the standards for non-electric signs apply similarly — approximately 1 inch of letter height for every 50 feet of distance from which it would be viewed. This should be coupled with the speed of traffic. Allowing a viewing time of 20 seconds is ideal. Thus, if a car is traveling at 60 mph, the sign should be legible from a distance of 1734 feet. Generally, electric highway signs should be a minimum of 10 x 30 feet.

An article on this topic appeared in the May 2004 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.