Channeling Progression

From purchasing channel letters wholesale, to fabricating them in-house, to wholesaling to others, sign companies are on the move.
Signs Plus (Bellingham, WA) designed, fabricated and installed this channel letter project for Care Medical Group.

The first thing many people do when they go swimming is to “stick a toe in the water.” Check it out; make sure it’s not too cold. Then the whole foot, then up to the knee, etc. The same can be said of channel letter signs. When shops take this business on at first, the tendency is to buy the letters wholesale. Further immersed in the market, some shops make the investment to bring channel letter fabrication in-house. Then a few of those companies take it to the deep end, begin selling letters to shops with just their toes in the water, and so on.

CARE SIGNAGE PACKAGE

Today, medical centers are typically in the news for COVID-19-related reasons. While this is understandably the case, not all news surrounding medical centers is dire. Care Medical Group (CMG) in Bellingham, WA, is a return customer of Signs Plus, also in Bellingham, and provides walk-in, urgent-care and primary-care medical services.

CMG’s ownership was in the design phase of their new building, and reached out to Signs Plus to help with code research and construction planning to best accommodate new exterior signage. “The sign code was fairly restrictive in regards to the total allowable sign square footage, so we had to be creative in order to maximize their impact,” said Jim Sutterfield, president of Signs Plus. “They wanted to continue with their current branding, with some updated colors and value-engineering.”

Signs Plus (Bellingham, WA) designed, fabricated and installed this channel letter project for Care Medical Group.
Signs Plus (Bellingham, WA) designed, fabricated and installed this channel letter project for Care Medical Group.

The Signs Plus design team, led by Senior Designer Tim Parks, decided to update the existing CMG logo using CorelDRAW. Prior to the job, CMG’s printed and digital media logo had been changed to PMS 279 and gray/black. The Signs Plus design team translated the new colors over to stock Avery Dennison translucent film colors. They also worked in polished silver returns for the channel letters, an idea first tried on the company’s own pylon sign (installed in 2018.) Two preliminary design options were offered to CMG, and Signs Plus then provided three revisions to the selected artwork.

With the design ready, the company’s Colex router table was put into action. The shop used Brite Clear Anodized channel letter coil from Robert & Sons Aluminum Inc., and the returns were bent on a Computerized Cuttters Accu-Bend. From there, the LEDs team installed GOQ 3 LED modules from GOQ LED America. A Signs Plus crew installed the signs using a Ford F550-mounted VersaLift from Stamm Manufacturing. For the channel letters and non-lit dimensional lettering, two team members worked 10 hours on the install. 

Sutterfield has noticed significant changes in channel letter signs, particularly their installation. “With a variety of UL-listed products and components such as the Paige Wall Busters, the installation of remote-mount power supply channel letters onto an ever-changing building envelope has become easier,” Sutterfield said. He also noted that improvements in aerial lifts and bucket trucks have also helped.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

In 2016, Bert Castrejon continued his family legacy in the sign industry when he and three of his brothers started wholesaler 4Cast Sign Co. (North Charleston, SC). Bert is a third-generation signmaker and the oldest of 10 children, all of whom worked for their father’s sign company. “All of us have worked in the sign business our entire lives except for side jobs and temporary work,” said Castrejon, account manager, sales at 4Cast. Seven of his nine siblings still work in the industry, with four working alongside him at 4Cast, which recently finished a portable reverse-channel letter sign for their own promotional use. 

While the sign prominently features 4Cast’s logo, they used CorelDRAW to design the backer and programmable lighting. Taking those production files, 4Cast’s fabrication team fired up their CLN of South Florida 6 x 12-ft. router, driven by SAi’s EnRoute soft-ware, to cut the backs and faces. These were then stapled while the returns were routed. The company bends its letters with their SDS Automation EasyBender.

From there, the assembled letters were sent to the LED station for silicone sealing, drain holes/baffles, and LED module installation and wiring. After that, the letters moved to the trim cap station – three 5 x 10-ft. steel trim cap tables with magnets to hold the trim to the piece before gluing. Currently, 4Cast does the whole trim cap process by hand: measuring, marking, notching, bending and applying. The company hopes to add an SDS Automation EasyTrimmer in the future, which produces the trim pieces cut to length, marked, notched and ready to apply. This would significantly reduce labor, according to Castrejon.

Wholesaler 4Cast Sign Co. (North Charleston, SC) produced a portable reverse-channel letter sign for promotional use.
Wholesaler 4Cast Sign Co. (North Charleston, SC) produced a portable reverse-channel letter sign for promotional use.

The reverse-channel letter sign features a backer panel with a wave design to create an interesting surface for the lighting to reflect, which was fabricated by hand with a flap disk and then clear coated. The backer is fully enclosed, and the back and returns are painted silver. The sign features Hanley RGB LED modules, power supplies and two separate controllers so the “4” and “Cast” can be controlled separately, with a remote for each. 

There are two pick points on top and two tagline attachment points near the bottom since the sign was made to hang from the company’s M43 Elliott HiReach boom truck as a mobile display. “We plan to have our own standard effects, custom effects made for the specific sign and its RGB lighting features, as well as a scheduling feature where the lighting color will change for special events, or for longer periods of time, for instance blue for Autism Awareness Month or pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Castrejon said.

As for what lies ahead for this relatively new, though highly experienced wholesaler, 4Cast is currently developing a proprietary app for Android and iOS that will control the special effects for the RGB signs they build, Castrejon said.

A REFRESHED DESIGN

The pandemic has been a busy time for banks as millions of Americans and companies struggle to manage finances. While trying to keep up with the financial demands of the moment, American National Bank recently acquired a new channel letter main ID sign for a branch in Nisswa, MN, part of a project of signage for the bank ordered from Ross Lewis Sign Co. (RLS; Bemidji, MN). The eagle and typestyle featured in the sign were part of American National Bank’s corporate logo, so RLS took the client files and sized them using CADlink SignLab to create EPS files. 

Like many sign companies that take on a certain level of channel-letter work, owner Ross Lewis prefers that his shop handle the sales and installations, and sends the production files for fabrication to ESCO Manufacturing (Watertown, SD). While providing the manufacturing of the sign for RLS, ESCO also installed the LEDs in the lettering and logo using Principal LED Qwik Mod 2 LED modules and drivers.

“We used ESCO on this project because of the quality workmanship and timely delivery,” Lewis said. ESCO manufactured the eagle, channel letters and the raceway using RLS’s artwork. Delivery of the sign took around three weeks, according to Lewis.

Ross Lewis Sign Co. (Bemidji, MN) combined with ESCO Manufacturing (Watertown, SD) on a sign for American National Bank.
Ross Lewis Sign Co. (Bemidji, MN) combined with ESCO Manufacturing (Watertown, SD) on a sign for American National Bank.

The sign was designed to be mounted on one of many natural-colored dark wood beams across the front of the bank. RLS created a 3M IJ180Cv3 vinyl wrap for the raceway, so they could get an exact match to the wood beam. Using the shop’s Roland VersaCAMM VS-540, the team printed the vinyl wrap and applied 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8519 by way of their Seal laminator. RLS completed the printing in-house to assure a correct color match. “We’ve had issues with print files that were emailed [for] matching, so this eliminates that possibility,” Lewis said. 

To install the sign, RLS used its 85-ft. Elliott boom truck and a 65-ft. Phoenix crane/basket. The installation was smooth and took about three hours. “The eagle is remote-wired, so that added to the install time,” Lewis said.

One trend Lewis has noticed is that with the LED costs coming down, channel letters are more affordable than ever. And working with a wholesaler such as ESCO assures his company a fixed cost, he said.

So, whether your shop just has its toe in the water or you’ve decided to take the plunge, come on in to the channel letter pool. The water’s fine.

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