4 Types of Channel Letters to Consider For Your Storefront Sign

An Introduction to Channel Letters

Thinking about a new sign for your storefront or commercial space? Not sure of your options or even the correct terminology? Then this is the blog for you.

One of the first things you should know is the term channel letters. Channel letters, or pan channel letters, are essentially large individual letters that are commonly used as exterior signage for businesses and retail centers. 

There are four basic types of channel letters you need to know as a business owner or decision maker, and that the key differentiator among each one is in how it’s illuminated. Another important factor to be consider is landlord criteria and local zoning regulations pertaining to signs as per size, projection, and illumination. Let’s dissect the specifics.

1. Standard Front-Lit Channel Letter

The most common type of channel letter is the front-lit or standard channel letter. This letter is aluminum on the back and sides. The sides of a channel letter are also known as “returns.” The standard front-lit channel letter are illuminated internally with either LEDs or neon lights, lighting the “face” of each letter. The trim caps screwed to hold on the sign face, can be made out of plastic or aluminum, while the the sign face itself is constructed out of one of two types of plastic: polycarbonate or acrylic. Acrylic is shinier while polycarbonate is stronger. Usually, the color elements of the the logo are done with cut-out translucent vinyl or, if the color of the face is solid, the acrylic itself can be in its specific color, as long as the color matches the standard colors available. Because of the materials used, standard front-lit channel letters are highly customizable. 

2. Halo-Lit Letter

Halo-lit letters are also referred to as reverse channel-lit letters. They consist of aluminum faces and returns, which are lifted off the wall or raceway. This allows the neons or LED lights inside them to shine out the sides and cast a glow around each letter, and thus creating a halo effect. Standard channel letters, on the other hand, solely light the face of each letter. Halo-lit letters are often used for sign projects that require a unique, classy, or distinguished look or brand image. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering what a raceway was, keep reading!

3. Front/Back-Lit Channel Letters

Want to get really fancy? Maybe you’re considering a sign with yellow illuminated faces and a blue halo effect? That’s where a front/back-lit channel letter shines. (Yes, pun intended.) This type of channel letter combines the standard front-lit letter with the halo-lit letter. The sides of the letter are aluminum, the faces are polycarbonate, and the back of the sign is open to reflect the LED or neon illumination off of the wall.

4. Open Face Lit Channel Letter

The back and sides of the open-lit channel letter are both aluminum, just like the standard front-lit channel letter; however, in this scenario, the sign is usually lit with neon lights rather than LEDs. The only other major deviation from the standard front-lit channel letter here is that the sign face is either clear or has no sign face at all so that the internal exposed neon can be viewed. 

How Can Channel Letters Be Mounted?

There are a few different ways to mount your channel letter signs. Here, we will review the most popular mounting options so you can better understand how and why we do things.

Raceway Mount

Many property management companies and landlords generally require channel letter signs be installed on a raceway, a metal box that houses all the electrical wiring and power supply for the individual letters themselves. This cuts down on the number of wall penetrations required to complete the installation, something landlords appreciate. Raceways are also typically painted to match the color of the building façade or sign band, ensuring that it blends with the architecture and brand guidelines.

Direct Mount

A direct mount flush or standoff mount. If appearance is the top priority, the direct mount is favored. Here, the letters are attached directly to the building façade using a pattern with non-corrosive fasteners. For reverse channel letters, a direct mount with standoff spacers is common. With direct mount channel letters, the power source and electrical wiring is housed behind the bulkhead wall or façade.

Backer Mount

The backer mount is similar to raceway mount; but, instead of a metal box, the channel letters are attached to a metal cabinet or backer panel that is typically larger in height and width than the channel letter configuration. The power supply and wiring can either be housed inside the backer cabinet or behind the bulkhead wall or façade.

I’ve Selected My Channel Letters & Mounting, Now What?

Now that you know all  types of channel letters for your custom sign and ways of mounting, we recommend a few additional steps to ensure smooth sailing and results you’ll be happy with long term. First, consult a custom sign designer and installer. Get his or her opinion. While you may really want one option, it may make more sense to go in another direction. A custom sign professional has many years of experience, so trust his or her suggestions.

At the same time, consult your lease for sign criteria and limitations, double-check with the property manager, and call up your local zoning board secretary to ask about zoning ordinances and classification—make sure your plans fit within municipal plans and requirements. For example, if your business is zoned as a historic district, you may be limited with what type of modern channel letter sign you hoped for and you may need to go before the zoning board for a variance. 

Finally, we highly recommend thinking long term. Don’t cut corners. Remember that a good sign will have a higher cost upfront, but minimal costs down the road. It’s definitely cheaper to buy a good sign once than multiple cheaper signs that need frequent replacement and upkeep. Don’t use low quality LEDs which are unreliable and produce a lackluster effect with its unimpressive, dim lighting. Don’t skim on cheaper trim caps that will crack in time or low quality acrylic faces, which will fade quickly—all tarnishing your brand. It’s always less expensive to maintain a well-made sign, and it is more visually attractive and impressive, ta-boot!

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