Channel letters are fun, even beautiful, and I don’t just mean to the industry. On December 4, signage veterans Terry McGowan, president of Lighting Ideas (Cleveland), Adam Brown, president of Sign Effectz (Milwaukee), Rick Pace, fabrication director of bluemedia (Tempe, AZ) and I joined Signs of the Times Editor-in-Chief Robin Donovan for “Lighting Channel Letters: LED Tips and Tricks.” Lighting specs, LED vendors, failures and warranties were just some of the things discussed. But let’s do the industry proud, shall we?
LEDs, as solid-state devices, deliver on signage. You see them in signage in towns big and small. McGowan explained that white LED light is characterized by its color temperature (cool to warm in Kelvin), color rendering index (color fidelity) and efficiency, allowing one-to-one LED comparisons. But how do you select among a growing list of vendors? The veterans stick with the vendor they have known and trusted for years. McGowan emphasized the importance of replacement parts, as “LED design cycles are getting to six months.”
Brown said a common error he sees with channel letters concerns imbalance of illumination across the face. “There is a direct relationship between the viewing angle, stroke width and depth of return of the channel letter. If this is not included early in the design process, the letters are likely to wind up with shadows or hot spots.” Pace said that many LED vendors provide free layout services. “I use this all the time, take a sign or set of letters, send it to the manufacturer, and they call up the LEDs, the power supplies and give you the correct spacing.” He added that some LED vendors will do an on-site lunch-and-learn for signage manufacturers and installers. This prevents problems like overloading the power supply or not having the right distance between letters and power supply in the field. Other practical tips include the avoidance of crimp connectors. “We’ve found many failures here, and a well-sized wired nut installed correctly has a far lower percentage rate,” Brown said.
I talked about reliability and the data behind a 50,000 hour lifetime (12 years at 12 hours/day, for instance). Rated lumen maintenance life reflects the time during which LEDs will retain 70% of their original output (i.e., an LED’s practical life). But signage lifetime can be limited by the power supply or other components. Five-year warranties were recommended by all veterans. Brown went further to advocate for warranties covering complete signage installation, all components and labor for repairs, if they can be found.
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