Whether you are strolling down the streets of New York City or walking down main street of a small town (take Quincy, Illinois for instance, my old hometown), there is probably one thing that catches your eye every time: the lights! In particular, the lighted sign boxes. They are all over, and it always seems like the first store you see is competing with the next store (and so on) to grab your attention and get you into their store.
If you are a storeowner you are probably looking for the same thing, something that will catch a potential customer’s eye and get them into the store. There are a few different types of lighted signs that storeowners may be using but chances are what you are looking at is one of the outdoor lighted sign boxes that businesses use in their storefronts. Here is more information about those types of signs.
Different Parts of Lighted Sign Boxes
Lighted sign boxes seems like they are pretty simple and most of the signs are pretty simply constructed, however, unless you are buying a stock “out of the box” outdoor lighted box sign you will find that most manufacturers will offer nearly unlimited options so the choices you have out there can get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly. We understand this and try to offer the “most common” options on our website to simply your buying experience. We are taking the opportunity in this article to try and explain all the most common options and some other options that you can choose with a cabinet sign box. In general, each outdoor lighted sign box for business are made up of the following parts: the face, lighting source, power source, cabinet, and the back. Here is a brief description of each option.
The face of an outdoor lighted sign box is typically the part of the sign that “lights up” and where all the graphics are installed. Most of the time the face is a white, translucent material. Typically it is made of acrylic on smaller signs and polycarbonate on larger signs – acrylic is made in “sheets” and polycarbonate is made in “rolls” so acrylic typically has a maximum width of 8’ or 10’ depending on who your supplier is. The face must be translucent so all the lights behind the sign can shine through the shine and light everything up. Some light box signs or cabinet signs “block” light coming through from part of the face for a different look but for the most part the entire sign face lights up and then you can choose what to do with it using different types of graphics.
As mentioned above each light box sign has lights that light up the face of the sign from behind. Back in the day the most common types of lights used to be fluorescent lights, starting with T12’s, then T8’s and T5’s (each number designates how many 1/8’s of an inch the diameter is, so a T5 = 5/8” diameter). Nowadays fluorescents are being installed less and less and they are being replaced more often with LED’s. LED lights are fantastic for lighted sign boxes for businesses now for a few reasons:
- LED’s are now bright enough to properly light a sign box so it brings great attention to your storefront.
- LED’s have great durability and last a long time. Their standard “lifetime” is currently 50,000 hours, as compared to about 8,000 hours for a fluorescent lamp. In addition, an LED doesn’t typically “burn out” like a fluorescent lamp, they tend to just “dim” over time to the point where they are noticeably less bright, so that helps to avoid any sudden “burn out” lamps that have to be replaced instantly.
- LED’s use a lot less energy. LED’s become popular over the past 20 years or so because they use a LOT less energy to provide the same amount of light (measured in lumens). So to power on a lighted box sign specifically used a LOT less power for your business and helps to keep the electricity bill down over the long run.
So most new signs come with LED’s, or if you have a choice we typically recommend choosing the LED’s over the older style fluorescent lamps. I would only suggest that you make sure the light you are purchasing has the correct type of LED’s for your sign depth and type and that your sign box supplier is providing enough LED’s to properly light up your sign box.
We use a pretty standard “rule of thumb” for our lighted sign boxes. The number of LED’s that you have to use within a lighted sign box depends very much on how “deep” the sign is. For “slim” boxes like the 4” slim box that we sell the LED lamps are placed on 4” centers. For standard 6.5” deep signs we can use brighter lights but put them on 12” centers so less are needed per square foot. At the end of the day our main goal is making sure that there are no “dead spots” on the sign face because any dead spots will be noticeable and will negatively affect whatever you want your customers to be looking at!
As I mentioned earlier LED lamps are quite easy on power usage, for instance a 60w power supply can power up to 25 separate LED lamps with no problem.
The power supply is the next important piece of every single outdoor lighted box sign box. For every legitimate sign box that puts off a decent amount of light you will need to hook up to electricity. There is not difference between most lighted sign boxes and a typical light fixture, especially for LED fixtures. LED’s typically operate at 12V or 24V direct current, so any LED lighted sign box is going to need a power supply to convert standard 120V or 240V AC electricity to 12V or 24V DC electricity to run it through the LED lamps. The power supply is typically an AC/DC convertor and transformer. If a sign is large enough or there are enough lamps in the sign then multiple power supplies are sometimes used to drive the lamps to make sure that a power supply isn’t reaching its capacity.
All outdoor lighted box signs should have an on/off switch connected to it. When a light box sign needs serviced or the sign face needs to be changed out you need the ability to shut power down to the sign as it enters the lighted sign cabinet so that you have the ability to work within the sign without risking getting an “shock”. It is a requirement of receiving a UL listing as well as a requirement for electrical building code (within the US at least) so you should see these disconnects at each sign.
Photocell or Timer
In addition to the service electrical disconnect most people appreciate having a “secondary” method of shutting off and turning on the electrical to an outdoor lighted sign box sign. Most signs typically turn on at night so we see the majority of the exterior lighted box signs being installed with an integral photocell. The photocell senses when the sun goes down and automatically turns the lighted sign box on at night in front of a business storefront.
We have also installed timers on the signs or if the electrical circuit at your business or storefront already has a circuit with a switch you could choose to just use a simple wall switch to turn the sign on.
The cabinet of an outdoor LED lighted sign box is also known as the “frame”. It is usually what makes a lighted sign box a little different than any of the other signs out there. The cabinet or frame is typically made of either aluminum or steel. If it is made from aluminum it is usually anodized or painted, and if made from steel it is normally painted. Most signs are make of extruded metal as it is a little thicker and a lot stronger than a brake metal that is bend after it is extruded. The “depth” of the cabinet will really effect the look and the light distribution or diffusion. Our standard depth lighted sign box is typically around 6.5” or 7” deep. If you don’t want a depth of that size diysignsupply also offers a “slim” depth sign that is 4” deep. The only issue with a “slim” depth sign is that it can only be made with LED lights or you risk the lamps getting too close to the face and you will need a higher number of lights in order to ensure that the lighted sign box face has no “dead spots”
Every lighted sign box includes some sort of method of removing the face, either to change out the face for a new one or in order to access the sign and maintain either the lamps or the electrical supply. That’s where light box sign retainers come in. Normally a lighted sign cabinet will have some sort of “snap on” or “screwed in” retainer. If you need to remove the sign, you just need to pop off or screw off one, two, or all four side of the retainer to remove the sign face. After the retainer pops off and you remove the sign face then usually you will have full access to everything inside.
On a one-sided lighted sign box the back of the box is really just a solid piece of “something” to ensure that the box is weathertight. 99% of the side an outdoor lighted sign box manufacturer will just use some sort of sheet metal, whether it is smooth or embossed. It is normally attached to the frame similar to the front – either screwed in or installed with a retainer. If your lighted box sign is a “double” sided light box then the “back” of the sign will actually be made out of translucent acrylic or polycarbonate, just like the front face.
How to Install Outdoor Lighted Sign Boxes
Although outdoor lighted sign boxes seem simple at first glance there are actually a number of ways that a lighted box sign can be installed, and every single different method of installation will make the sign structure and construction just a little bit different than just a standard one-sided, wall mounted sign. We will start with the “easy” installation methods and then move on down to the more complicated (and thus more expensive) methods of installation on your business storefront.
Wall Mounted outdoor lighted signs are the easiest and most secure way to mount a box sign. Wall mounting a lighted box sign at your storefront basically means screwing the frame of the lightbox sign to a wall behind it, and using the wall to support the sign. A wall mounted sign is pretty secure because it allows you to attach the frame to a wall as frequently as you would like to ensure that it is tight to the wall. This mounting method assumes that the wall behind the sign is strong enough to handle additional weight against is. In addition, if the wall is a framed wall then you will need to find and fasten the LED lighted sign boxes to the studs behind whatever sheathing is used.
One disadvantage to using a wall mounted installation method for a lighted box sign is that you obviously need a suitable wall to attach to. If your storefront is made of mostly glass, your wall isn’t large enough for the sign that you are trying to hang, or you aren’t confident in the strength of the wall, then a wall mounted lighted box sign may not be the method for you. In addition, a wall mounted box sign is limited because only one face of the sign will be exposed in lieu of both faces. If you don’t have a suitable wall to attach to or you are looking for a doubled sided lighted box sign then maybe another mounting method may be more suitable.
A chain hung mounted lighted box sign is exactly what you would expect. The sign is supported by hanging it from sort of other object. The most stable way to hang a lightbox sign using a chain is to hang it from two different locations to the two top corners of your framed lightbox sign. If your light is small enough it can be hung from one point of connection but make sure that it is not subjected to wind in that place because you would be risking the sign flopping in the wind and potential serious damage to the sign. A chain hung sign is not necessarily the strongest or most stable method of attachment but a big advantage to a chain hung sign is that it can be hung to be viewed “double sided” if you have a solid soffit or pole to hang it from.
A pole mounted lighted box sign is a very common sight when you are driving down the highway. They are known for being installed on a pole (or two) and the pole is installed into the ground. A pole mounted lightbox sign is a very sturdy installation and it allows the sign to be double sided, but it does raise the cost of the sign significantly. Engineering is typically required and a deep foundation (similar to a light pole base) is required for the sign itself. These additional components and effort require extra money but as a result you are able to raise the height of the sign to a desired location and make it double faced.
As mentioned above if your window storefront takes up the entire exposed face of your business or you don’t have enough room to hang your sign on a wall in front of your business then a window mounted lighted box sign may be a good option for you. We see this a lot in bigger cities such as New York or Boston where many retail stores are located on the first floor of a building (ie. “mixed-use”) and they are unable to utilize the outdoor portion of the building for signage. If this is the case then one option is putting a your lighted box sign on your window. Most of the time you can do this by using a chain hung installation method. Window mounting keeps your box sign inside of your store while maximizing exposure for you.
Monument (Floor Mounted)
If you want to install a double-sided sign out in front of your storefront or to create some wayfinding at your location then another option for you is a monument sign. This sign is similar to a pole-mounted sign since it is mounted at the bottom of the sign and allows for double sided lighted box signs to be used. However, it is mounted close to the ground or right at grade level. Less visibility since it is low to the ground but since it is basically sitting on a foundation you are able to increase the size of the sign without having to increase the size of a light pole to hold it up. These are helpful if your storefront is adjacent to a high traffic road or pedestrian area and you are trying to attract passer-byers to your place of business.
Graphics for Business Storefronts
Much of this article has been about the structure of a LED lighted signb box for your business storefront and how to install it, but it is just as important to discuss the graphics that you are trying to show off to your potential or current customers. As previously discussed the visible sign face (or faces) of your lighted box sign are typically made out of translucent material that is made to allow light to shine through the sign face but not completely clear. What you choose to install on the face will influence what your sign looks like and the message that you are trying to send. Here are some common message types:
Just wanted to state a quick note: anything that you want to be “seen” install on a lighted box sign should be transparent. Some people think that you can stick any vinyl lettering to work on a light box sign but you really need to use only lettering that is made to work with lighted box signs. The vinyl needs to be translucent so that light shines through it and so that the color of the lettering can be displayed. With that being said, one of the simplest and most straight forward graphics that you can use on a sign box cabinet is a single color transluent letter. These letters are typically cut out of a special type and color of vinyl and applied to the sign face. The advantage to this type of graphics is that they are simple, clear, and very durable. The limitations to these translucent letters is that they are limited to a single or a few different colors. If you want to increase the number of colors then you would have to go to a printed full color graphic.
Translucent Full Color Graphics
Translucent full color graphics are typically clear film that are printed on top of a clear film or “paper”. This film is then adhered to the sign face. The advantage to using this type of graphic is that “the sky is the limit” in regards to resolution and color matches. You can really print whatever you design so you can really get creative with your sign design. Some limitations to printed full color graphics include the relatively higher costs, sometimes the graphics don’t show up super clearly from a far distance, and the graphics do not last as much as the single color vinyl, especially when the graphics are subjected to direct sunlight.
Routed metal is not necessarily a “main” method of graphics on lighted box sign panels but the use of routed metal on light box signs is so common that it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes, expecially on monument signs or other situations when you don’t just want an exposed square sign face, people choose to cover part of a light box sign with painted metal. The metal serves to “block” light that is coming from the light box sign but it definitely does show up really nice during the day and if you combine the painted routed metal with translucent graphics then the outcome can turn out very unique and “cool” when you look at the sign at night.
Size of Outdoor Sign Boxes
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