Guide to Channel Letters

Introduced in the early 1970’s, Channel Letters quickly gained popularity and continue to be a standard in the signage industry. Channel Letters are typically illuminated, fabricated from metal with translucent acrylic and installed on the exterior of a building.

Originally, Channel Letters were hand-made with color and font limitations. A myriad of industry innovations now allow fabrication to be extremely customizable, efficient and precise. Today, design of Channel Letters has become increasingly imaginative – limited only by building regulations or budget.

There are various factors to consider for Channel Letters such as: type of illumination, mounting method and location of installation on building.

Illuminated Channel Letters

Front-Lit, Standard or Face-Lit: Face of each letter is translucent, so light shines out through the front.

Back-Lit, Reverse or Halo-Lit: Face of each letter is nontransparent, while the Back is translucent– allowing the light to diffuse through the back of the letters instead of the front. Effect looks most pronounced on buildings that are painted a light color.

Combination-Lit: Combined features of Front-Lit and Back-Lit, allowing light to shine both one color from the Face and a different color from the Back of each letter.

Open Face: Face of each letter is left open, so light shines out through the front and the dimension of the inside of each letter is visible along with any light source.

Roof Sign: Mounts to the building’s roof.

Wall Sign: Attached to the exterior wall of the building.


Creating Channel Letters

Back: Building-mounted side of Channel Letter. For Front-Lit: A flat sheet of metal is typically cut by router, laser or waterjet. For Back-Lit or Combination-Lit: Typically a translucent acrylic or polycarbonate Back so that the illumination radiates out against the building from behind the letter Face, creating a halo effect.

Returns: Sides of the Channel Letter. Typically formed by a metal strip that fits the Back and Face.

Seam: Returns are welded, flanged and riveted or fastened with wire to the metal Back if Front-Lit or metal Face if Back-Lit to create a solid Channel Letter. At this stage, the letter is ready to be painted.

Light Source: LED is the most common and efficient Light Source, allowing Channel Letters to be thinner. For the best effect, utilize LED colors that match the color of the Face if Front-Lit or compliment your brand if Back-Lit.

Face: Public-facing side of Channel Letter. For Front-Lit: Typically a translucent acrylic or polycarbonate Face so that light radiates outward. Applying black perforated vinyl causes the Face to appear black in the daytime and white when illuminated at night. For Back-Lit: Typically a flat sheet of metal is cut by a router, laser or waterjet.

Trim Cap: Border attaching the edges of acrylic or polycarbonate Face to the Returns for Face-Lit or Combination-Lit Channel Letters. Provides a clean, finished look.

Backer Panel: Potential addition to add a contrasting background color for the Channel Letters while hiding blemishes on the building. Able to contain power supply.


Mounting Methods

Direct or Flush Mount: Most Common. Channel Letters are attached directly to the building. For Back-Lit, Channel Letters are generally given some separation from the building using standoffs.  Power Supply is housed behind the bulkhead wall.

Raceway Mount: Landlords may require a Raceway, a metal rectangular box that holds the Power Supply, since it reduces the number of wall penetrations. Raceways are typically painted to match the color of the building.

Wireway Mount: Landlords may require a Wireway – thinner and broader than a Raceway, like a Backer Panel. Wireways require more wall penetrations than a Raceway, but less than Direct Mount. Power Supply is normally housed behind the bulkhead wall.


Exterior Installation Locations

Canopy or Marquee Sign: Extends over the building’s entrance from the exterior wall.

Parapet Sign: Mounts to the edge of the building’s roof on a wall or railing.

Projecting Sign: Mounts to the building, extending down at a perpendicular angle.

Roof Sign: Mounts to the building’s roof.

Wall Sign: Attached to the exterior wall of the building.