The Ultimate Guide To Channel Letter Signs

The Ultimate Guide To Channel Letter Signs

You need a sign that is going to spread the word and attract individuals to your services.

How do you make an impact without putting in much of an effort? No, it’s not with commercials and cold calls. If you are looking for a sign, this is it. In other words, you need a sign that is going to spread the word and attract individuals to your services. Signs are important! A FedEx Office study found that 76% of their customers said they would enter a store that they never went to before if it had an interesting sign. Another 68% stated they had purchased a product merely because the company’s sign caught their attention. Furthermore, signs are excellent marketing tools. 75% of the people from the study stated they had told someone about a business based solely on the signage.

Nothing is going to make your storefront stand out from the competition like a unique channel letter sign. Regardless of the time of day, the weather, or location, channel letter signs are a beautiful way to illuminate your business and make potential customers aware of your existence. Moreover, you can look professional, reputable, and trustworthy.

If you have questions about channel letter signs and how this type of sign can work for you, keep on reading. We have compiled the answers to frequently asked questions to make this ultimate guide to channel letter signs for you! This guide aims to show you the different options you have, the pros and cons of channel letter signs, and even tools to estimate how much channel letter signs will cost you.

Here is everything you need to know about channel letter signage:

What Are Channel Letter Signs?

Ultimate Guide To Channel Letter Signs

Before getting into the finer details of what these signs are and how they function, let’s answer the most pertinent question first. A channel letter is an individual shape, or letter, that serves as a sign. Usually, you don’t have a single channel letter but multiple channel letters to form a word or message, such as the name of a business. The letters are three-dimensional, lit or unlit, and made of acrylic and metal.

Channel letter signs are known for being bold, attention-grabbing, and unique in their design. Most of the time, you will see channel letter signage fixed to storefronts outside, but it is growing more common to have these signs indoors as well.

Channel letter signs are a common sight for (but not limited to) the following business types:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars and pubs
  • Retail stores
  • Specialty stores
  • Clothing boutiques
  • Gyms
  • Shopping plazas and malls

and more!

How Are Channel Letters Fabricated?

There are four main pieces to channel letters: The return, the face, the backing, and the lighting element. The return, also known as the side of the channel letter, is usually comprised of sheet metal, with aluminum being the best and most favored. The face, or front, of channel letters, is typically acrylic, but if it is a halo-lit type, the face may be aluminum or something else. The same rules apply to the back of the channel letter. In modern designs, LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs have replaced neon tubing for illumination, because LED is much more energy-efficient.

However, you are free to choose channel letters with or without lighting, as well as which kind of lighting element you want. The level of customization you decide upon will alter the fabrication process slightly. Without getting too much into the technical side of manufacturing, there are some things you should know.

Some groups will use computerized equipment, called computer numerical control (CNC) manufacturing, while others have hand-operated tools. CNC manufacturing is often considered higher quality since the chance of error is reduced. The chance of imperfections with hand tools is slightly higher than with CNC, increasing the risk of water getting inside the channel letter and damaging the light bulb.

Standard Channel Letter Fabrication

A standard variety of channel letter signs includes an aluminum return and back, a translucent acrylic face that is about 3/16” thick, a raceway mounting clip (if necessary), a racing servicing lid (if needed), a transformer, LED or neon lighting, and trim caps. The acrylic is available in a range of colors or can be customized with a broader range of shades if you use a higher quality of vinyl from manufacturers like 3M, Oracle, and Avery.

One thing to consider is that some colors are better at transmitting illumination than others, including variations of white. Acrylic has more color options than polycarbonate sheets. Sometimes, vinyl is also an option for customers who want a color that is unavailable in both polycarbonate and acrylic.

The trim caps, where the acrylic attaches to the body of the letter, are made from a UV-resistant, durable plastic that is extruded with aluminum foil.

The backing of a channel letter is router-cut and comes in a number of thicknesses, so you can choose which is best for you. These thicknesses generally include 0.040, 0.063, and 0.090 inches.

Some channel letters, such as reverse-lit types, will have an aluminum face and a polycarbonate or acrylic backing. The aluminum face is usually paired with a 2-inch deep return that can be painted a rainbow of colors.

What Types of Channel Letter Signs Are Available?

Ultimate Guide To Channel Letter Signs

Front-Lit Channel Letter Sign

The most common channel letter sign design is called “front-lit.” You may also hear these referred to as “standard channel letters.” The main advantage of front-lit channel letter signs is day and night visibility. The lights are found in the front of the letters, as well as other sections of the sign, like a logo. This lighting keeps the sign lit throughout the day, so the message can be visible throughout the day, regardless of how bright the sun shines or if there is limited visibility from the road. Another benefit to front-lit types is that they are highly customizable.

With the front-lit design, every letter is fabricated from a durable aluminum composite panel (ACP) back and sides that use pre-finished aluminum. The metal is usually painted white, but you can get whatever color you desire. Each letter is lit with either an LED module or neon tubing.

Some of the materials often used in front-lit channel letter signs include a 0.125” aluminum composite panel backing, a 5” by 0.040” aluminum return on the side, 3/16” acrylic or polycarbonate face, and a 1” trim cap.

Halo Lit/Reverse Lit Channel Letters

The reason reverse-lit channel letters are also referred to as “halo lit” is because of the halo of light that forms around each letter. The back of the sign is made with a clear acrylic that stands about 1.5 inches apart from the mounting surface. When the light shines, it comes from the back, illuminates the mounted surface, and then diffuses. Unlike the standard set up, a reverse channel letter will use a 0.090-inch metal face and a 0.063-inch return. The polycarbonate backing will be either 1/8” or 3/16” thick.

Since the front of the letter is crafted from aluminum, it does not illuminate like a front-lit channel letter. Halo lit/reverse lit is very sophisticated and unique, ideal for corporations or other professional businesses.

Open Face Channel Letter Sign

An open face channel letter design is similar to halo-lit, except the entire sign is made from clear acrylic. This difference means that the lighting element inside the letter is visible, so people who pass by can see the light inside the letters. In the past, open face channel letter signs were made using neon inside the letters, but nowadays either neon or LED bulbs can be used.

Combination Front/Reverse Lit Channel Letters

As you may have guessed, a combination blends both front-lit and reverse-lit elements to create a truly unique feel. The sides of the combination front/reverse-lit channel letters are aluminum, the face is acrylic, and the internal illumination comes from LED bulbs. The backs of the letters near the mounting surface are also transparent, so some of the light can create the background halo.

There is also an aluminum spacer separating the front and back of the letters, so the light doesn’t get overpowering. Furthermore, you can have the front and reverse lights in different colors. Because of this unique construction, combination channel letters are the most expensive out of the four types.

Specialty Channel Letters

While anything labeled as a “specialty” is not a type of channel letter in and of itself, the various ways you can customize your channel letter signs is worth mentioning. Whatever style you decided upon, it can be tailored to your needs. The numbers and letters and logo that you incorporate into the design can differ in size, can have a blend of color-changing elements, different colored acrylics, and so on.

How To Choose The Correct Letter Height?

According to the California Institute of Technology, the letter and color variation of the lights will affect the visibility of channel letter signs. For example, if the letter height is about 10-12 inches, you can expect an impact of 100-120 feet, with the maximum readable distance being between 450-525 feet. Additionally, if you have letters around 30-36 inches, you can expect maximum impact at 300-360 feet, with the maximum readable distance being anywhere from 1250-1500 feet away.

Letter Visibility Chart

The Ultimate Guide To Channel Letter Signs

In short, the bigger the channel letter signs, the more of an impact they will have at greater distances. If you want to maximize the distance at which the signs can be seen, we recommend red or black on a white background. If that doesn’t suit your business, we’re happy to discuss more options with you.

However, you need to keep in mind the amount of space available as a mounting surface, signage restrictions, and where the majority of passerby will be. You don’t want the sign to be too big or too small but just right. The general rule of thumb for choosing the correct channel letter height is that for every 1 inch the letter provides, you get 10 feet of readability. Therefore, you think about where the reader is going to be and the purpose of the sign.

If you want to advertise your business, you will want to make an impact. If you want people inside the building or on-site to see, then smaller letters are fine.

One last thing to consider when choosing the correct letter height is the font you plan on using. Thin font types or scripts will decrease visibility, so you may need to increase the size of such signs. If you want an easily readable sign, choose a bolder font, and have space put between the letters (also known as kerning). You can test out different types of font and letter spacing by printing out different pairings and holding them at a distance.

How Are Channel Letter Signs Mounted?

The Ultimate Guide To Channel Letter Signs

There are two kinds of mounting methods of channel letter signs:

The Raceway Method

The easiest method for mounting channel letter signs is called the “raceway” method. You have already seen this word mentioned a few times. The reason the raceway method is common is that you can offset the cost of installation. The letters of the sign are applied to a narrow box—the raceway—that also holds the wiring for the letters. This means that you require less drilling and will leave fewer holes in the wall or facade should the sign be removed.

Raceways are often painted the same color as the building where the signage is mounted. Painting them the same color allows for the letters to stand out against the original color of the building, making them more legible.

Another option that is very similar to the raceway method is called “backer mount.” The difference is that, instead of using a metal box, the channel letters are attached to a backer panel, a metal cabinet. This cabinet is larger in both width and height than the letter configuration. Everything needed to illuminate the sign, including the wiring and power supply, is housed inside the cabinet or behind the facade or bulkhead.

You will find that most raceway mounted channel letter signs follow a similar manufacturing specification. For instance, the letter depth is usually 5”; the raceway depth is 7”; the standard height options are 18”, 21”, or 24”; and the wiring includes a 3-wire pigtail, the power supply box, the transformer, and a switch. All of the electrical components should be UL listed and will have a manufacturer’s warranty.

The Individual Letter Method

You might also see this mounting method called “direct mount” or “flush mount.” If you are looking for visual appeal and are not required to use a raceway, the flush mount style might be ideal for you. Each letter of the sign is mounted individually to the face or wall of the building. Since more work is required, you can anticipate that the cost of installation will be higher than with raceway and backer mounts. The fact that all the wiring must be done individually for each letter also impacts costs. For this reason, direct mounts can be complicated and time-consuming.

How Long Will Illuminated Channel Letter Signs Last?

Illumination is not necessary, but how can you deny having signage that is powerful and effective 24 hours a day, every single day? Channel letter signs can last for over 15 years if you keep them maintained and do repairs whenever there is minimal damage.

LED lights of good quality will last anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 hours. Some lights will last even longer than that. To estimate how long an illuminated channel letter sign is going to last, consider the lumen maintenance of the LED bulbs. Anything between L50 and L70, meaning that 50-70 percent of the lamp’s total light output will remain, is decent. If you are running your LED-lit channel letter signage for about 10-12 hours a day, you can expect the bulbs to burn out just shy of 10 years.

Of course, replacing the bulbs in your channel letter signs is easy!

Be sure to check the warranty for parts and labor with your signage company. This will save you from having to worry about costly repairs or needing to purchase bulbs that burn out sooner than expected.

What Are The Advantages Of Channel Letter Signs?

Did you know that most shopping plazas in America require channel letter signage mounted to a raceway for the front of businesses? One reason channel letters are required is the ease of uninstalling them should a business move out of the plaza. Even if you aren’t located in a shopping plaza or strip mall, channel letter signs are consistent, clean, classy, and professional.

Aside from some businesses being required to use channel letter signs, there are benefits to choosing this kind of signage for your business, no matter where you are.


Channel letter signs are incredibly versatile, so even if every other building around you is using them, you can still stick out of the crowd. After all, you don’t just have to use letters. You can include your business logo for added class and brand recognition.

You can even make channel letters of varying sizes. This is beneficial for businesses that want matching signs for their indoor space. For example, if you want easy to read directional signs, such as markers for a restroom, channel letter signs are ideal. Plus, you develop a uniform vibe without sacrificing the image of your business.

Lastly, since the signs are composed of aluminum and acrylic, you know they are going to be extremely durable when compared to other signs. Aluminum will not rust, after all.


Another great benefit of channel letters is that every letter and logo will stand alone and together. The texture and visibility heighten the readability. Since the letters are not flat, they can be read from multiple angles. Plus, the channel letters don’t have to be mounted to a box or screen, either—unless you want a raceway.

Low Maintenance

The cost of maintaining channel letters once they have been installed is very low, especially when you use LED lights. This cost-efficiency is ideal if you are a business aiming for LEED certifications.

Recycles and Upgrades

If you have another sign already, you can use channel letters for upgrading anything that previously used wood, LED screens, PVC, sheet metal, and more. You can even have your old signage upgraded.

Mounting Options

We will keep mentioning how customizable channel letters can be. Aside from textures, design, color, and lighting, you can choose how you want the letters mounted to the storefront of any other surface. You don’t have to worry about building structure limitations, meaning you can mount the sign wherever you want it.

Things To Consider When Buying Channel Letter Signs

The Ultimate Guide To Channel Letter Signs

Now that you have had a glimpse at the numerous benefits of channel letter signs, there are some things to consider. Small business owners and major enterprises alike should know the building codes and what permits may be required to install channel letter signage. Furthermore, you will want a guarantee from the company that is installing the letters that they will be UL certified. By complying with international standards, you know that the signage will be top quality and durable.

When channel letter signage is UL certified, it means that it is properly grounded, has no weaknesses, and will adequately drain if exposed to the elements. The sign’s electrical components also need to be properly insulated. Depending on the mounting you get, the specifications for insulation and layout might change. Be sure to follow up with the sign company you are using.

Aside from being up to code, you want to make sure the channel letters you have ordered are going to come with a warranty. That will protect you from any mounting issues or electrical problems that could happen unexpectedly. However, you will need to do routine maintenance on your sign. Otherwise, you might miss an issue and end up needing a high-cost repair.

Overall, channel letter signs do have a higher outright cost compared to other signage options. However, they have an excellent return on investment (ROI), which will be discussed in the following section.

How Much Do Channel Letter Signs Cost?

One of the questions we often receive is “how much are channel letter signs?” You might think that purchasing the individual letters would be more costly than some other signs, but that’s not necessarily true. Depending on the letter height, font, stroke thickness, return thickness, return color, depth, type of mounting, face and trim cap colors, and other elements, the price of the signage is going to differ.

Once the channel letters have been installed, the average cost of channel letter signs is fairly economical. Part of this is due to the extended life of LED lights. In fact, LED channel letters used 40-percent less energy than those that use neon. LED channel letters are also easier to install and repair. That means less downtime and less money spent on maintenance. Overall, it has been estimated that running a channel letter sign costs anywhere between $15-$500 a year.

Compare that to the cost of running local advertisements in newspapers on a daily or weekly scale, which, according to numbers from Sign Business Magazine, ranges anywhere between $3,000 to $40,000 a year! National publications, TV commercials, and even mailing potential customers can cost exorbitant amounts compared to the outright cost and upkeep of signage.

So, what would you rather have? Attention-grabbing, beautiful channel letter signs on the edifice of your building for the world to see, or a newspaper coupon that will get overlooked?

If you still can’t decide, below is a breakdown of the estimated costs to help you figure out which kind of channel letter sign is perfect for your business:

Using Letters & Logos

The typical size of a channel letter equals an average of twenty LED bulbs, which means an average cost of about $150-$300 per letter. The bigger the letter, the more bulbs, and materials are required, leading to a higher cost. If you choose to have a logo incorporated into the channel letter sign, you can anticipate a slightly higher cost, as well. It is difficult to estimate how many light bulbs are required for a logo since the size can differ.

Using a Raceway

Are you planning on using a raceway channel letter sign? Keep in mind that you will pay based on the number of LED lights and the total length of the sign. On average, when you pay by the foot, it costs around $30 per foot. However, some companies might charge more or less for the sign. You also need to factor in the cost of the transformer, which can be anywhere between $100-$300. Larger signs may need multiple transformers to function properly.

Materials & Design Used

The last component to the price of channel letter signs would be the materials that are used to construct the sign. As we mentioned earlier, some sign types cost more than others, like front lit being cheaper than combination lit channel letter signs. You will want to discuss your budget with the sign company so you can balance the quality and durability of the sign with the amount of money you are willing to pay.

Why Choose Tupp Signs?

If you are wondering, “Is there somewhere to buy channel letter signs near me?” you don’t have to search any longer. Tupp Signs has been in business since 1928 and has provided multiple companies in hundreds of industries with eye-catching signs. Since then, we have expanded our business to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, corporations, and organizations.

Our signs are made with the highest quality of materials. No matter what your needs may be, Tupp Signs has the experience, skills, and technology to exceed your expectations. Not only will we use precision equipment to create the design exactly as you have dreamed it, but we also have a team of professionals who will install and maintain your channel letter signs.

Most importantly, we understand how important exquisite signage is to the success of your business. Tupp Signs guarantees channel lettering signs and other types of signage that will immediately attract attention to your business, helping your brand gain recognition near and far.

We invite you to learn more about our design process today!

Wrapping It Up

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what channel letter signs are, what they cost on average, and how channel letter signs can benefit your business. Now, you should get in contact with a signage expert like Tupp Signs to get the job done!

Are you ready to get more information about channel letter signs or receive a quote for your project? Fill out the contact form. We will send you info directly to your inbox!