Off the Wall

Signs featuring dimensional letters offer increased visibility, dignity and charm.
General Sign Co. (Sheffield, AL), Image360, Cincinnati-Blue Ash (Blue Ash, OH) and FASTSIGNS of Waukesha (WI) discuss dimensional letter signage projects.

The past couple of months have seemed like we’ve entered a different dimension. But one thing that hasn’t changed in the new world we live in is dimensional letters. Dimensional signage has remained a popular choice of signmakers for decades, and with the advancement of backlit letters and LED options, should continue to prosper for years to come.

TWO CLIENTS, ONE SIGN COMPANY

For First Metro Bank and Singing River Dentistry, neighbors located in Muscle Shoals, AL, a vintage aesthetic was the dream. But first, they had to resolve a disagreement: First Metro leaders wanted reverse-lit dimensional letters. After all, that’s what General Sign Co. (Sheffield, AL) had created for them in the past. When decision-makers at Singing River hesitated, General Sign used Adobe Illustrator and Gerber OMEGA to design various samples of fabricated letters. The dentists’ office was convinced to invest in the letters after seeing different locations with the signs illuminated at night.

In addition to reverse-lit letters for their exterior wall, First Metro ordered a set of 30-in.-tall freestanding letters to spell out the bank’s name along the side of the building, adjacent to the drive-through window. From previous projects, General Sign already had the necessary artwork. “It was just a matter of designing and sizing everything appropriately,” said Matt Stansell, vice president of General Sign. “We also worked with both clients to ensure we got their colors just right.”

First Metro also had a set of 30-in.-tall freestanding letters spelling out the bank’s name along the side of the building in addition to reverse-lit letters for their exterior wall.
First Metro also had a set of 30-in.-tall freestanding letters spelling out the bank’s name along the side of the building in addition to reverse-lit letters for their exterior wall.

To fabricate the channel letters and dimensional letters, General Sign reached out to Sign Builders (Birmingham, AL), a longtime partner. While smaller in size, the letters for the side of the building had to be fabricated to withstand someone leaning on them. These letters were a collaboration with Eric Watson at Sign Builders. To make sure the internal support of each letter would be sufficiently sturdy, they were fabricated with internal framing. The fronts and backs were constructed from .125-in.-thick aluminum with .063-in. aluminum on the sides, then painted with Matthews Paint in a matte finish.

Among the challenges for mounting the LED signs were limited amounts of space and places to disguise power supplies, especially for the First Metro Bank display. “The bank’s flying ‘F’ logo … was to be installed on an area of the building that would have no access from behind,” Stansell said. “We decided to install the power supplies on-board so that we can service the signage in the future without gaining access behind the sign.” The rest of the project could be completed with off-board power supplies and help from an electrician to route the low-voltage wires. “When we install the power supply ‘on-board,’ that means the LED power supply is inside the sign, so it is self-contained,” he said. “All you have to do is bring in the electrical circuit. ‘Off-board’ signage has the power supplies in a remote location, usually behind the wall on the inside of the building.”

The LED modules and drivers for the letters and logos were provided by HanleyLED. When all was said and done, both clients could show off their new signs and letters, both illuminated and not.

BANK ON IT

The Mercantile Center, located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, is a nightmare site for any construction zone. East Fourth Street, one of the busiest in the city, plays home to the massive 15-story bank and office building. The street itself is usually bustling with business people and tourists; a single fender-bender can close the street for hours. But for Steve Kapuscinski, owner and president of Image360, Cincinnati-Blue Ash (Blue Ash, OH), the Mercantile project was one of the smoothest in his somewhat recent career in signs. Purchased three years ago by Kapuscinski, this Image360 franchise is a full-service marketing and print communication firm. 

“I got into the commercial printing business 15 years ago when I decided to align myself with Alliance Franchise Brands, and purchased a local printing, mailing, and design business, which I converted to the Allegra Marketing/Print/Mail model,” Kapuscinski said. Though somewhat new to the sign side of visual communications, Kapuscinski’s company already boasted successful projects, including dimensional-letter signs.

For years, The Mercantile has had dimensional letters in their facilities. They decided to continue this look when it came to a new sign. Image360 sent mockups, generated with Adobe Creative Suite, of the entrance way with differing sizes of letter combinations until the client selected one. To achieve the desired brass look on the dimensional letters for the Mercantile, Image360 worked closely with Gemini, which sent over several solid-brass materials and finishes to choose from. 

Image360, Cincinnati-Blue Ash (Blue Ash, OH) proceeded with installation after normal business hours due to traffic concerns. The sweeping staircase in the front of the building was also a bit of a challenge.
Image360, Cincinnati-Blue Ash (Blue Ash, OH) proceeded with installation after normal business hours due to traffic concerns. The sweeping staircase in the front of the building was also a bit of a challenge.

Attempting the installation during regular 9-5 business hours was quickly deemed impractical. “We had to schedule after normal work hours because the building is on a main street in downtown Cincinnati,” Kapuscinski said. The outdoor design of the building also complicated matters. The grand, sweeping staircase in the front of the building remained the most complicated piece of the puzzle. “The steps presented a bit of a reach challenge for the boom we had to use, but placing two of the stabilizers on the steps got us close enough to work,” he said. “As I mentioned, I am still trying to get my arms around this whole sign business.”

The larger letters are 14 in. tall, while the smaller letters are 6 in. The material comprises 3/8-in. solid- brass plate, routed to shape, given a brushed finish and are clear-coated for weathering. Once in position, the letters from Gemini were easily installed after drilling into the travertine wall. The installation took the team three hours, after which The Mercantile Center featured the new, brassy dimensional letters for the next morning’s customers.

BACK TO SCHOOL

When Meadowview Elementary in Oconomowoc, WI decided to install new dimensional letters in their school, they knew exactly who to reach out to. Before assuming ownership of a FASTSIGNS franchise in nearby Waukesha, owner Lori Dominiak worked for the school district.

“I just knew that with the space we had to work with, we needed the letters to really stand out and we didn’t want something super heavy,” Dominiak said. Fastsigns’ graphic designer used an Adobe Illustrator file to convert a mock-up the school provided into a CFF file that was used to manufacture the letters.

The need for lighter letters led Fastsigns to Custom Foam Fabricators, which manufactured the 16-in.-tall, 4-in.-deep letters and 41 x 53 x 4-in. logo from sign foam, which weighs considerably less than wood and metal alternatives. Metal letters occasionally require backlighting to really make them stand out. Wood letters can offer a timeless look. Both are fairly easy to cut or carve and are durable; however, they also can be more costly and difficult to shape than sign foam.

FASTSIGNS of Waukesha knew it needed lighter letters for the Meadow View Elementary project. The letters were constructed from sign foam.
FASTSIGNS of Waukesha knew it needed lighter letters for the Meadow View Elementary project. The letters were constructed from sign foam.

After the ease of designing and creating the letters came the difficult part: shipping them without damage. Foam tends to be a very malleable item and these letters were no exception. “Since the letters are made from foam, the shape wanted to bend from the wrapping process,” Dominiak said. The letters were shipped wrapped in layers of plastic to protect them. Thankfully, the letters that did bend could easily snap back into place with a gentle touch.

After the safe arrival of the letters, Fastsigns went straight into installation. Using a standard cherry-picker lift, they attached the letters to the building via studs. “This was a fun project to have. We had a good feeling that it would turn out good, but it was far better than we expected.”

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