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Channel Letters

Signshop Writing the Future of Channel Letter Design

Its recent design modification became the shop’s standard after client feedback.

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Designed by TCA Architects (Los Angeles), these halo letters were made even more interesting by recessing the face 1.5 in. on a 4-in. letter body, which creates added dimension and richer feeling during the day and is further highlighted at sunset when the lighting accentuates the recessed layer. Designed by TCA Architects (Los Angeles), these halo letters were made even more interesting by recessing the face 1.5 in. on a 4-in. letter body, which creates added dimension and richer feeling during the day and is further highlighted at sunset when the lighting accentuates the recessed layer.

LOOKING BACK OVER the last 15-plus years I have been in this industry, my team has produced countless sets of (what you might call) “standard” channel letters for a wide variety of clients. Don’t get me wrong; precoated coil letters with flexible trim cap serve an important role and bring value to many of our best customers on a daily basis. But for some, the oversaturation of this branding staple has given the term “channel letter” a negative stigma. As I’m sure you can probably attest and our experience in service work confirms, quality of materials and craftsmanship vary greatly. LED hot/dark spots, delaminating trim cap, over/underpowered lighting and rusting cans (just to name a few) have given the innocent channel letter a bad rap, and we are seeing more jurisdictions (such as Berkeley, CA) create design restrictions that prevent what they perceive to be a “cheap look” from taking over.

Our team has been fortunate to work with clients, architects and design firms no longer content with basic or bare-minimum standards, and have helped us side-step mediocrity on dozens of projects ranging from mild to wild in the effort to catch the eye of future clients, and stand out from the sea of trim cap and pre-coated coil.

 Canopy-mounted letter sets always provide mounting and wire-management challenges. While standard face-lit letters would have been easier, Hollis Brand Culture (San Diego) wanted a minimalist backdrop and reflector for the internal lighting to create an elegant daytime view.

Canopy-mounted letter sets always provide mounting and wire-management challenges. While standard face-lit letters would have been easier, Hollis Brand Culture (San Diego) wanted a minimalist backdrop and reflector for the internal lighting to create an elegant daytime view.

Luckily, it doesn’t take much to upgrade from our bread-and-butter industry default. Just the transition to “trim-cap-less” faces, commonly machined from ½ to ¾-in. white or clear acrylic, can make a tremendous improvement in richness and appeal. They can be a bit tricky to get right, but the final product is well worth the learning curve. Based on client feedback, faces without trim cap are now our standard when designing master sign programs for mixed-use buildings and retail centers.

Many of our clients and collaborators also feel that the reverse-can “halo” letter is getting a bit boring. For them, we offer examples of recessing the face to create a more dynamic daytime view. For others, we offer an additional push-through component that converts a welded or machined letter into a creative, dual-lit variant.

Over the years we have continued to evolve our product line to accommodate client requests for thinner profile, edge lighting, dual illumination, faux neon and more. For the team at Clear Sign & Design, we are constantly challenging the standards and searching for new, more creative methods that meet our durability expectations. Our culture of collaboration underpins the process of seeing the art in all that we do. When those forces align, our team can create some pretty amazing things.

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So, the next time your clients ask for something more original, or even if they don’t, show them all the options, so they can stand out from the crowd in their own way. Better yet, challenge your design team — as we do — to create the “next big thing” for the industry to adopt.

Check out signsofthetimes.com/122104 for more of Gabe’s photos and commentary on these and similar projects!

Gabe Griffin is the general manager of Clear Sign & Design (San Marcos, CA), a sign company that sees the art in all that they do. Contact Gabe at [email protected]

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