Channel Letter Signs are Popular

The most popular on-premise advertising signs are, without doubt, channel letter signs.

Buyers will have no shortage of options available to them for design, fabrication, and installation of this product type.  Any supplier that has been around for a while will have a gallery of completed projects and many success stories.

It is difficult for any manufacturer to support a claim of ‘we’re the best channel letter manufacturer’.  However, in our effort to establish good value for our clients, we have elected to partner with Channel Letter Depot, a Canadian manufacturer who has developed a lengthy list of satisfied clients.  That is a significant accomplishment since they only sell to sign companies.


When it comes to channel letter signs, it is important to know your lights.  Most channel letter displays are face lit by LEDs. Not all LED lights are created equally and not all sign manufacturers use LEDs properly.  Don’t be afraid to ask what brand of LED light is being used and what the warranty is on them, as well as on the power supplies.  Ask for the manufacturer’s spec sheet if you are comparing products from different suppliers.


Most channel letters are 5″ deep.  You can have 3″ deep letters but you need to make sure that the LEDs are designed for the narrow channel.  Embedded LED letters are available which provide extremely thin profile letters, but you should expect to pay more.

Other letter types are reverse channel (halo lit) and front and back lit combinations.  See the glossary for clarification.


Letters and faces can be any combination of clear or coloured acrylic or polycarbonate with or without translucent coloured vinyl or digitally-printed vinyl.  You are only limited by your imagination.  Envision what the sign will look like at night and during the day so that you avoid disappointment.

Illuminated channel letter signs will usually be priced with remote transformers.  This is the most cost effective way.   If the wall is unsuitable, you will need a raceway or backer to house the electrical components.  These can be done quite neatly and painted to match the wall or they can be made intentionally larger to provide the best contrast for the sign while performing as a raceway or wireway.


Property owners typically want illuminated channel letter signs in commercial developments. Architects prefer them as well. Check with your landlord for a signage criteria before spending time on design.


Contact National Sign Link for a quote or with your questions about channel letter signs. National Sign Link will go the extra mile to establish a source in your area to ensure that you are getting the product that you need, when you need it and at the best price.  Our extensive network of connections and partnerships in the sign industry provides our clients with choice and flexibility.


Glossary of Terms for channel lettering

ACRYLIC:  A resilient and weather-resistant plastic, similar to glass, used to make illuminated signs.

ANIMATED SIGN:  A sign used to depict motion.  Channel letters can be made to flash, scintillate or change colour, if that appeals to you.

BACKLIT LETTER:  An illuminated reverse channel letter.  Light from the letter is directed against the surface behind the letter producing a halo lighting effect around the letter.  Also referred to as halo lit.

BUILDING CODE:  Provincial and/or local regulations governing public health, welfare and safety of construction and maintenance.  Be familiar with code before ordering a sign.  National Sign Link  offers code review, permitting and installation services, as well as product.

CABINET SIGN:  A sign structure consisting of the frame and face(s), not including the internal components, embellishments or support structure.

CHANNEL LETTER:  A manufactured three-dimensional letter that may accommodate a light source.

CMYK:  The CMYK colour model (process colour, four colour) is a subtractive colour model, used in colour printing, and is also used to describe the printing process itself.  CMYK refers to the four inks used in some colour printing:  cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black).  Sign shops require a PMS colour in order to match your colour.

COLD CATHODE:  (1.) Electric discharge lighting, which uses an electrode with a large metal mass to emit electrons.  Neon tubing is a cold cathode type.  (2.) Generic term employed to specify custom interior lighting produced through the use of larger diameter cold cathode tubing.

CONSPICUITY:  The characteristics of the sign that enable an observer to differentiate the sign from its surrounding environment.

CONTRAST:  The difference or degree of difference between things having similar or comparable natures, such as light and dark areas, colours, or typefaces.

DIMENSIONAL LETTER:  A letter, logo or symbol, either cut out, cast, moulded or fabricated in material such as metal or plastic to create a raised condition.

DUAL COLOUR VINYL:  A perforated vinyl that can be utilized to create a different daytime and nighttime sign effect where contrast issues exist thereby allowing maximum visibility of the sign at all times.

FACE:  The surface area on a sign where advertising copy is distributed.

FASCIA SIGN:  A building mounted sign, often referred to as a wall sign.

FLASHING SIGN:  A sign with an intermittent or flashing lights.  Typically, the sign’s message is repeated to attract attention.  LEDs are great for designers who want flashing or even colour changes that can be programmed.

FLAT CUTOUT LETTER:  A dimensional letter cut from sheet or plate stock acrylic, metal or high density foam of various thickness depending on the desired effect.  The industry often defaults to 1/8″ material but National Sign Link defaults to 1/4″ material.  See our Partner link to Gemini for a listing of various substrates, thicknesses and finishes.

FREESTANDING SIGNA sign that is not attached to a building.  Channel letters are commonly used on freestanding signs for identification or individual branding.  Tenant signage on freestanding signs is typically vinyl.

FRONT LIT LETTER:  An illuminated channel letter with translucent face.  Typically, white plastic is used and it can be further processed to add colour by using translucent vinyl or to add character by using digitally printed translucent graphics.  Be aware of the fact that the daytime and nighttime appearance may be quite different and this is worth consideration.

FULL SERVICE SIGN COMPANIES:  Sign companies that complete the entire signage project, including surveying, designing, engineering, permitting, manufacturing, installing, and maintaining signs.  National Sign Link allows clients to choose products independently of our other services.

HALO LIT LETTERS:  An illuminated reverse channel letter.  Light from the letter is directed against the surface behind the letter producing a halo lighting effect around the letter.  Also referred to as back lit.

INTERNALLY ILLUMINATED SIGN:  A sign that is illuminated by a light source that is contained inside the sign. National Sign Link endorses a variety of brand name LEDs.

JEWELITE:  Manufacturer of trim cap for channel letters.

LEDs:  A semiconductor diode that emits light when a voltage is applied to it and that is utilized in the sign industry now, more often than neon or fluorescent lights.

LEXAN:  Brand of Polycarbonate.

LOGO:  An identifying symbol (as for use in advertising).

MESSAGE AREA:  The area within the sign panel describing the limits of the message.

NEON: See cold cathode.  National Sign Link does have the resources to deal with the supply and installation of neon signs.

OFF-PREMISE SIGN:  An off-premise sign is a sign displaying advertising copy that pertains to a business, person, organization, activity, event, place, service or product not principally located or primarily manufactured or sold on the premises on which the sign is located. Commonly referred to as Outdoor or third party displays and usually associated with billboards.

ON-PREMISE SIGN:  A device whose message and design relates to a business, event, goods, profession or service being conducted, sold or offered on the same property as where the sign is erected.

OPEN CHANNEL LETTER:  A dimensional letter that has no face and if illuminated, the light source is visible.  A clear face for physical protection of internal components may be used.  This product type used to be seen occasionally when letters were illuminated with neon.

PAN FACE:  A plastic sign face moulded into a three dimensional shape.  Also called moulded face and may be embossed or debossed as well.

PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM:  A popular colour matching system used by the printing industry and the sign industry to print spot colours or to match colours.  Most applications that support colour printing allow you to specify colours by indicating the Pantone name or number.  This insures that you get the right colour when the file is printed, even though the colour may not look right when displayed on your computer monitor.  PMS works well for spot colours but not for process colours, which are generally specified using the CMYK colour model. National Sign Link uses the Pantone Matching System to match your colour needs, rather than CMYK colour codes.

PERMIT:  A document attesting to municipal approval of the installation and secured by formal submission of an application and fees.  Engineering may be required in some jurisdictions. 

POINT-OF-PURCHASE SIGN:  Signage that advertises a product at its point of sale.

POLYCARBONATE:  Various tough transparent thermoplastics characterized by high impact strength and high softening temperature.  Commonly referred to as ‘Lexan’, which is actually a brand name.

POWER SUPPLY:  Electrical equipment that converts input voltage and current to a different output voltage and current.  Ballasts and transformers fit into this category.

RACEWAY:  An electrical enclosure that may also serve as a mounting structure for the sign.  This is a very important signage element for purchasers to be aware of.  Raceways can be relatively small and be painted to match the mounting surface or they can be made over-sized to serve as a contrasting backer and improve the impact of the sign.  Raceways can be used to conceal wireways inside the building as well.

READABILITY:  The quality that enables the observer to correctly perceive the message.  Visibility as in being noticed.  In transportation engineering, this word is being replaced by conspicuity.  When planning your identification needs, always ensure that you take viewing distance into consideration.

RETAINER:  A framing member mounted around the perimeter of a sign face, and attached to the sign cabinet structure.  It is designed to attach the face to the cabinet and/or intended to provide a decorating trim piece.  Trim Cap or Jewelite are commonly used as retainers on channel letters.  A channel letter that does not have a trim cap may be made utilizing Let-R-Edge or Chanellume.  National Sign Link defaults to letter fabrication utilizing an Accubend process so our letters will have a Trim Cap.  Let-R-Edge is available upon request.

RETURN:  The sides of a channel letter.  Standard colours are available or the returns and trim caps can be painted any colour based on the PMS (Pantone Matching System).  Corporations often want a specific colour and we can provide it if we have the PMS number or a colour sample.  Standard colours are less costly because the channel material is pre-finished (baked enamel) by the supplier.

REVERSE CHANNEL LETTER:  A fabricated dimensional letter with a metal face seamlessly attached to side returns.  Also referred to as backlit or halo lit.  Reverse channel letters are often made more economically by simply opaquing the face of a conventional front lit Let-R-Edge or Accubend letter type.

SIGN:  Any visual display with words or symbols designed to convey information or attract attention.

SIGN BAND:  Generally, a horizontal area above a tenants’ entrances, architecturally designed to accommodate signage in a sign-centric manner.

SIGN FACE:  The area of a sign on which copy is intended to be placed.

TIMER:  Signs should be turned off when there is no traffic or minimal traffic to view them.  Have your electrician put the power supply on a timer or on a photocell.  Photocells are not included with product.

TRIM CAP:  One inch plastic trim that is added to cut-out plastic letters, which adds dimension, and enables attachment to a channel letter.

VOLTAGE:  LEDs operate on 110-120 volt service ONLY.  Check that the power supply is the correct voltage.  Signs should be connected to power by a qualified electrician ONLY.

VARIANCE:  Special administrative procedure by which one may obtain an exception to zoning rules such as height, setback and type of use.

VISIBILITY:  The quality of a letter, number, graphic or symbol, which enables the observer to distinguish it from its surroundings or background.  Always pay attention to the wall colour when planning your display.  Corporations often have flexibility built into their branding so that alternates are acceptable.  Dual colour vinyl is a great help where this issue cannot be addressed any other way.

WALL SIGN:  A building mounted sign, also referred to in the industry as a fascia sign.  Most often, a fascia sign is a cabinet type display.


ZONINGMunicipal planning system to standardize developments in a particular area.  Signage is usually regulated under a zoning bylaw pertaining to land use.  We can help you ensure that a design will be approved.