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Mars Bravo

Use Light to Make Your Sign Design Stand Out

Because signs should be seen as well as heard (about).




ACCORDING TO SIGNAGE statistics compiled by the Economics Center, University of Cincinnati back in 2012, a visible sign has a significant, positive and most importantly, measurable impact on a business’s sales and profits: “Roughly 60% of businesses reported that changing the design or enhancing the visibility of their signage had a positive impact on sales, number of transactions and profits, with an average increase of about 10%.” That’s good news! Also, it stands to reason that illuminated signs are more visible for more of the time than non-illuminated signs. So, does that mean a sign should be illuminated for it to be visible? The obvious answer would be yes but this is real life; nothing is ever that easy.

However, knowing some of the benefits of illuminated signs can make that decision much easier. Ready? Signs with light components increase visibility at night. Duuhhh, Mars… well, I’m always surprised by the number of people who actually think just because their business doesn’t operate at night, the visibility of their sign shouldn’t matter. To that I say: Illuminated signs are your business’s salesperson 24/7. With a noticeable sign, people passing by after hours will see that business and know where to find them when needed.

In addition, illuminated signs extend visibility to greater distances and through various weather conditions such as rain and fog. Lastly, vibes. (Yes, I said vibes. Give me a break, I’m from Los Angeles!) Light creates an atmosphere. The lighting components of a sign contribute to moods from calm professionalism or luxury to strobe-lit excitement. Of course, the atmosphere works in reverse if an illuminated sign fails in part or entirely. Don’t tell me you don’t think twice before stopping at a gas station with flickering lamps or half-lit letters.

Thankfully, visibility and illumination are not the same thing. There will be times when even if the budget for an illuminated sign is on the table, the building location, placement of the sign or sign permits aren’t compatible with the electrical components necessary for the sign to be properly connected. In those cases, ensure your non-illuminated sign has enough contrast against the wall color/style and refer to simple, legible font choices. Be mindful of a proper sign size in relation to its overall surrounding space.

Illuminating a sign is more than shining a light on it. Understanding how light plays into a sign’s design can elevate its visibility too; not only because it’s obviously illuminated but because it actually stands out as a unique, cool piece among other signs. I have had situations where I designed signs around obstructing objects like trees, windows and non-removable parts of a building’s structure to salvage visibility. I try to learn from the most iconic, successful signs and how they complement the building or their environment. (For five examples of architectural signs, see here.)

Ideally, a sign should be equally as visible and clear during the day as at night. While internal illumination helps, it’s not always possible or practical. In those instances, spotlighting and simple contrast will have to suffice. Whether it’s neon or LED… just as long as the EMERGENCY ROOM and “HOT NOW” Krispy Kreme Donuts signs are always bright and clear for me to see — hopefully not one because of the other, though!


Mars Bravo is a sign designer and owner of Signs from Mars (Los Angeles), which designs and produces illuminated and non-illuminated custom signage. Contact Mars at



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