Why Can’t I Read My Sign?

May 2015-General Signage-Why Can't I Read My Sign headerWHY CAN’T I READ MY SIGN?


May 2015-General Signage-Why Can't I Read My Sign pic 1

Sign nearing “stealth” condition. Letters are small plus the contrast of the yellow and brown gets worse as the sign ages.


   I recall an earlier time in my signage career when I made a custom sign for some residential property at Wintergreen Resort here in Central Virginia that earned the nick-name of “the stealth sign” because you just couldn’t read it. I think the background was a medium gray and the graphics were light gray. In the shop it looked great, but once it was installed out on the roadway in the sunlight, it all faded into a big gray square at a short distance.

  You only make mistakes like that once if you want to hold on to your reputation as a signage professional in these parts! The Wintergreen Resort is very conscious about environmental design, but they also want signs that people can see and read. Since that time I learned to be more proactive in choosing good contrasting colors for signs. I also learned that color is only one important aspect of sign readability.

May 2015-General Signage-Why Can't I Read My Sign text box


  Here are 5 sign design factors that, if considered early on, will produce readable signs every time:

1) Overall Size and Letter Height

  Make sure the size is right for the viewing distance and speed of traffic. If the sign’s too small, you’ll have readability problems. Calculate letter heights with your sign project manager and beef them up above and beyond the minimums for greatest awareness. Utilize things like brick or stone or stucco bases and columns to add size and bulk to the sign monument. Add a decorative top to gain more attention. Typically these types of sign embellishments do not add to the sign area used for permitting.

  If you’re not sure if the design on paper will do its job in the field, have your project manager produce a simple scaled prototype of the proposed sign shape, and even add scaled graphics, to temporarily set in place and get a good look from all directions prior to final construction.

May 2015-General Signage-Why Can't I Read My Sign elmore

Big Improvements to Gain Attention! The client had a simple pole sign to start with, but added a brick base and edging to beef up attention. Adding a colorful electronic message center helps draw eyeballs while interacting with prospects 24/7 (sorry I could not capture the LED-lit sign well in the photo). A decorative top also gives passers-by a reason to look.


2) Height


The ground elevation where this sign is installed falls way below the roadway elevation. Although not shown in full in the photo, tall brick columns lift the sign into the normal viewing range of passing traffic.

  Consider the landscape around the sign, rate of traffic speed, and sign codes to judge how high in the air the sign should be. If terrain elevations dip below road level at the sign location, you probably need to have a high base structure to get the sign up within the prime viewing zone. Likewise if speed limits are high, elevating the sign will allow for greater visibility distances.

3) Contrast

  Avoid erecting a stealth sign by making sure the background color contrasts well with the graphics. Also be cognizant of the way shadows from sunlight or spotlighting will fall on the sign, especially if you’re using dimensional letters. Shadows will make signs difficult to read if you don’t do your homework in choosing the right color contrast in the sign design phase.

4) Overall Design


This three-dimensional fish adds a creative touch to the entrance of a retail complex in Ashland. Making your sign an icon always beats “stealth” advertising!

   Be creative! Wearing a boring outfit to the big party isn’t as effective as something snazzier, if you want to draw attention. Same thing with signs: eye-catching designs are what you need out on the street to gather the attention of prospective customers. Think outside the box sign!

5) Lighting/ Electronic Message Component

  Remember that signs get just as much attention at night, and you can ask your sign designer to provide an extra sketch of how the sign will appear when lit if you have night-time visibility concerns. Sometimes face lighting and internal lighting can be combined for the best effect. Many times special sign materials can be used that are one color in daylight, and another at night. Adding an electronic message center to your sign can buy more attention both day and night due to the motion of changeable messages and interesting, eye-catching colors and designs.


Adding digital signage to your Main ID sign, as Puritan Cleaners of Richmond did at their store sites, helps communicate your message plus gives people a reason to look at your sign and brand!


Other articles about SIGN DESIGN:

Custom Electric Sign Guides and Case Studies

Corporate Headquarters Sign Design

Our Approach to Selling Signs, Part 1: Deciding What’s Right

Our Approach to Selling Signs, Part 2: Budgeting

Our Approach to Selling Signs, Part 3: Environment

Our Approach to Selling Signs, Part 4: Viewing Distance & Sight Lines

Our Approach to Selling Signs, Part 5: Demos and Prototypes

Cost of Sign Design


Sign Project Testimonials


May 2015-General Signage-Why Can't I Read My Sign footer





Why Can’t I Read My Sign? Article by Mark Hackley, Holiday Signs

Obtaining Sign Permits in Historic Districts

www.holidaysigns.com-vba-bank-signs-richmond-va-ruckersville-charlottesville-pioneerOBTAINING SIGN PERMITS IN HISTORIC DISTRICTS

Historic Sign Restoration Projects-Virginia

  Obtaining sign permits in historic districts is generally doable if the intent of historic preservation is in mind. Holiday Signs, a quality custom electric sign company located near Richmond, Virginia, has been involved with many high-profile historic restoration projects: The Hotel John Marshall, The Virginia Repertory Theater, and the Altria Theater, to name several. How one obtains sign permits for signage projects in historic areas varies by location, and contacting Holiday Signs can help you understand the options for permitting these types of sign projects within our service area.

March 2014-Technically Challenging- Altria Theater Project-Sales pic6

  The following information is an excerpt from an article by Michael J. Auer, The Preservation of Historic Signs, a brief published by the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, Cultural Resources Section. According to the article, historic signs contribute to the character of buildings and districts and have value in themselves apart from the buildings to which they may be attached. However, any program to preserve historic signs must recognize challenges. Sign preservation involves aesthetic concerns and generates community debate. Community goals often conflict: retaining diverse elements from the past, encouraging artistic expression in new signs, zoning for aesthetic concerns, and reconciling business requirements with preservation.

  That’s why preserving historic signs is not always easy; but the intrinsic merit of many signs, as well as their contribution to the overall character of a place, makes the effort worthwhile. Observing the guidelines given below can help preserve both business and history.

Retaining Historic Signs

Retain historic signs whenever possible, particularly when they are:

  • associated with historic figures, events or places.
  • significant as evidence of the history of the product, business or service advertised.
  • significant as reflecting the history of the building or the development of the historic district. A sign may be the only indicator of a building’s historic use.

October 2013- Technically Challenging- VA Rep Theater1

  • characteristic of a specific historic period, such as gold leaf on glass, neon, or stainless steel lettering.
  • integral to the building’s design or physical fabric, as when a sign is part of a storefront made of Carrara glass or enamel panels, or when the name of the historic firm or the date are rendered in stone, metal or tile. In such cases, removal can harm the integrity of a historic property’s design, or cause significant damage to its materials.
  • outstanding examples of the signmaker’s art, whether because of their excellent craftsmanship, use of materials, or design.
  • local landmarks, that is, signs recognized as popular focal points in a community.
  • elements important in defining the character of a district, such as marquees in a theater district.

October 2013- Technically Challenging- VA Rep Theater2

Maintaining and Repairing Historic Signs

  Maintenance of historic signs is essential for their long-term preservation. Sign maintenance involves periodic inspections for evidence of damage and deterioration. Light bulbs may need replacement. Screws and bolts may be weakened, or missing altogether. Dirt and other debris may be accumulating, introduced by birds or insects, and should be cleaned out. Water may be collecting in or on sign cabinets, threatening electrical connections. The source of water penetration should be identified and sealed.

November 2013-Technically Challenging-Hotel John Marshall 2 pic 2

  Extensive repairs should be undertaken by professionals. The sign industry is a large and active one. Sign designers, fabricators and skilled craftsmen are located throughout the country and finding help from qualified sources should not be difficult. Before contracting for work on historic signs, however, owners should check references, and view other projects completed by the same company.

  Major repairs may require removal of the sign to a workshop. Since signs are sometimes damaged while the building is undergoing repair, work on the building should be scheduled while the sign is in the shop. (If the sign remains in place while work on the building is in progress, the sign should be protected.)

November 2013-Technically Challenging-Hotel John Marshall 2 pic 3

Reusing Historic Signs

If a building or business has changed hands, historic signs associated with former enterprises in the building should be reused if possible by:

  • keeping the historic sign—unaltered. This is often possible even when the new business is of a different nature from the old. Preferably, the old sign can be left in its historic location; sometimes, however, it may be necessary to move the sign elsewhere on the building to accommodate a new one. Conversely, it may be necessary to relocate new signs to avoid hiding or overwhelming historic ones, or to redesign proposed new signs so that the old ones may remain. (The legitimate advertising needs of current tenants, however, must be recognized.) Keeping the old sign is often a good marketing strategy. It can exploit the recognition value of the old name and play upon the public’s fondness for the old sign. The advertising value of an old sign can be immense. This is especially true when the sign is a community landmark.
  • relocating the sign to the interior, such as in the lobby or above the bar in a restaurant. This option is less preferable than keeping the sign outside the building, but it does preserve the sign, and leaves open the possibility of putting it back in its historic location.


  • modifying the sign for use with the new business. This may not be possible without destroying essential features, but in some cases it can be done by changing details only. In other respects, the sign may be perfectly serviceable as is.


If none of these options is possible, the sign could be donated to a local museum, preservation organization or other group.


Contact a Holiday Signs Project Manager


Other Interesting Articles You May Like:





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Historic Preservation – Downtown Development –  Main Street Restoration – VA – MD – DC – NC – Signage


What are Common Lighting Issues with Electric Signs?

November 2013-General Signage-Permitting-Pioneer Bank headerWhat Are Common Lighting Issues with Electric Signs?


Example of a FLUORESCENT-LIT SIGN. These common signs utilize a series of high-output fluorescent tubes mounted either horizontally or vertically within the sign cabinet. Lamps and fixtures can be regularly serviced by sliding the faces aside in cabinet tracking.

3 Sign Lighting Types:





Problems with Fluorescent Lit Signage:


Until recent advances in LED technology, most cabinet type signs were populated with fluorescent lighting. Finding an electric sign contractor who understands sign lighting design is important to avoid visual problems down the road. Kind of like the Goldilocks story, you don’t want your sign to be too hot, or too cold, but just right. Sign lamps placed too close together or too close to the face will make hot spots and produce uneven sign lighting.

Conversely, lamps spaced too far apart (over 12”) or too far away from the surface will produce cool spots and make the sign uneven or too dim to read. Fluorescent lamps should always be at least 4” from the sign faces. That’s why flat sign faces need deeper cabinets than signs with pan-formed faces. If your existing sign was poorly designed, retrofitting the faces or lamp configuration can cure the problem.


Holiday Signs holds weekly production meetings where customer service needs are discussed and planned. I glanced over some recent reports and noticed a few common reasons for fluorescent service calls:


Eventually a fluorescent lamp will burn out, but the average rated life is 12,000 hours, or about 2.75 years of night-time use for the T-12 HO type lamps typically used in exterior sign applications. Lamp sockets and ballasts, and eventually the wiring, will also wear out over time so remember regular maintenance will be required after you purchase the sign. Project managers from your trusted, local sign contractor can assist you in coming up with a good annual budget for typical sign maintenance issues.

Problems with Neon Lit Signage:

May 2105- things that go wrong with sign lighting bruces

Example of a Neon-Lit Sign for a customer in Central Virginia. Neon can be used as shown in an open-tube configuration, or it can be installed inside channel letters and logos to light up the faces or produce halo-effects on the wall behind them.

Neon sign lighting systems were first introduced in the 1920’s, but have recently been trumped by more reliable and energy-efficient LED systems. Neon is a high-voltage system and due to safety concerns, only professional sign technicians or electricians should handle neon installation and repair. Here are some typical reasons for neon service calls:


Both neon lighting and incandescent lighting are good candidates for retrofitting to LED, but neon is the best candidate for quick operating and repair cost savings. Holiday Signs frequently upgrades channel letters from neon to LED, and here is a link to a recent case study and also a good article on the topic.

Problems with LED:

Virginia Diner 013

Example of LED Lighting used in Channel Letters at Virginia Diner. The Virginia Diner has probably been around as long as neon technology, but owners decided it was time to switch the old, unreliable neon to a more economical sign lighting source-LED.

LED lighting, with an average rating of 100,000 hours (or over 11 years of 24-hour usage), has the longest life of all sign lighting technologies. Rarely will an individual or string of LED’s go out, but sometimes a power supply will fail. When comparing the maintenance and operating costs of other options, there’s no question that LED is the most economical over time and will cause the least problems down the road.

Your brand is important and you should guard against inclinations to go for the cheapest LED products when constructing your signage. To avoid negative appearance issues, its best to use top brand systems like GE or Sloan to name a few. Although they may save some cost, sometimes opting for offshore brands can lead to whites and colors that produce less than expected results when you flick the switch for your signs at night.

Written by Mark Hackley, Account Executive

Holiday Signs, 11930 Old Stage Rd, Chester, VA 23836
(804) 796-9443 www.holidaysigns.com

mhackley@holidaysigns.com  cell:(540) 416-3154


Interested in Answers to Other Sign Questions? Try These:

What are Common Problems with Building-Mounted Letters?

What Can Go Wrong on Sign Projects?

What are the Leading Maintenance Issues with High-Rise Signs?

What are the Problems with Digital Signs?

How Much Does Sign Replacement Cost?

What’s the Cost of Signage Design?

What’s the Cost of Electric Signs?

What’s the Typical Cost of Shopping Center Sign Renovations?

What’s the Average Sign Project Lead Time?

How Much Does a Digital Sign Cost?






What Are the Problems with Building Mounted Letters and Signs?

May 2015- General Signage- Problems with Building Mounted Letters headerProblems with Building Mounted Letters and Signs

May 2015- General Signage- Problems with Building Mounted Letters main pic


  Of any possible problems with building mounted letters and signs, I think readability should be the first concern. When you pass a retail store or medical office and have to squint or slow down to read the sign — or worse, you can’t read it at all from the road — that indicates there’s a visibility problem.

  Other than adequate sizing based on viewing distance, there are 4 big concerns affecting building mounted letters and visibility:

  • Cast Shadows
  • Viewing Angle
  • Color Contrast
  • Text Design


  Many times a client will say, “I don’t like my current sign, but I can’t tell you why.” But our skilled sign designers immediately see the problem. Such is the case when channel letters are not designed with cast shadows in mind.

  “Channel letters” is the term for three-dimensional fabricated letters and logos that light up internally. They are mounted directly to the wall surface, or sometimes on a raceway that is mounted to the wall. The “faces” of the letters are the flat part of the fronts that light up at night, and the “returns” are the edges that go back to the raceway or wall. Channel letters are commonly used for retail store identification at strip centers, malls and stand-alone stores. They are excellent ways to brand a building, whether a specialty retail store, bank, hotel, restaurant or grocery store. They are also used by hospitals to identify emergency rooms, and by colleges to identify buildings on campus. When designed right, the three dimensional quality of channel letters makes them eye-catching and appealing to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Channel letters aren’t limited to storefront walls and can be added to free-standing monument and pylon signs.

May 2015- General Signage- Problems with Building Mounted Letters pic shadows 1

Example 1

  As with any sign, establishing the best contrast between the sign graphics and the background is the key to readability. During the morning hours on clear days, just as customers are beginning to make their way to various retailers, the sun is casting long and dark shadows on the channel letters of the world. Depending on their design, this can either create negative or positive readability. If the letter faces are white, the shadows usually help the letters pop out from a light or dark colored wall. If, however, the background walls are light color and the letters are dark without an outline, the effect of the shadows can make it nearly impossible to read because the letters and the shadows will all blend together (see example 1). The shadow challenge can be overcome by incorporating light color faces with outlines and dark returns.

May 2015- General Signage- Problems with Building Mounted Letters shadows pic 2

Example 2

  Another design strategy of a good channel letter design is to keep the widths of letter strokes wider than the shadow it will cast to help with legibility in bright light and shadows (see example 2). From an engineering standpoint, wide strokes are usually necessary to economically build channel letters and install lighting evenly within them. Also, the width of the lettering affects the viewing angle at which the lettering can be read. The wider the stroke of a letter, the wider the horizontal viewing angle. Viewing angle is important for the visibility of your sign by potential customers passing at close proximity of your storefront.




  “Wide letter strokes” and “getting to the point” are part of the formula for good, readable building letters, but proper viewing angle allows a customer to understand your brand as he turns in off the street and heads your way. Unfortunately, many times a store sign becomes unreadable at wide angles, and if a store is located within a row of stores on the far edge of an internal parking lot off the main road, then considering proper viewing angles early on is critical.

  The term “viewing angle” in sign design these days has different meanings depending on the sign media you’re talking about. When talking about channel letters, we can define viewing angle as the area where people can effectively read a set of letters. Illuminated letters may have a different viewing angle in the day from the viewing angle at night, and it is always a good idea to take a look at other signs in your commercial neighborhood prior to ordering one for your organization to see what works best and what doesn’t.

May 2015-Technically Challenging-Dominion Highrise 600

  Vertical viewing angle measures readability of signs high off the ground. This is a necessary consideration for letters on high-rise buildings, but most retailers with one story buildings need to focus on horizontal visibility. Horizontal viewing angle is the area of view in which a sign can be easily read from points left to right of the sign. Horizontal viewing angle gets wider the farther you move away from the sign, therefore vehicular traffic passing on a main roadway parallel to the sign will have a greater viewing distance than pedestrians or vehicles in the parking area passing right by the front of the store. This is important to remember because while your sign may be legible from the road to lure traffic in, when they get to the row of stores where they thought you were, they may have a difficult time picking up your sign because of the narrowed angle of readability.

  The two examples below demonstrate designs that have adequate horizontal viewing angles from the main road, but only one May 2015- General Signage- Problems with Building Mounted Letters viewing angle piscontinues to be readable from close quarters. The reason for the difference is design. The one with the widest viewing angle uses a font with a wide stroke and minimum words. The other uses a narrow stroke font and crowds too many words together on one line. As you approach this sign from angles other than straight-on, the letters eventually run together the closer you get to the store, making it illegible.



  The top 3 reasons people purchase electric signs are to: 

  • Attract Customers
  • Stand Out Over Local Competitors
  • Help People Remember Their Brand

  Since many signs are individually mounted channel letters and logos on buildings or monument walls made of brick, stone, or tinted stucco materials, you need to pay close attention to color combinations to achieve the best results. If you’re branding a regional chain of stores, the same sign design will not necessarily fit every building application. Other things to consider in initial design are:

  • Degree of cast shadows that can either help or hurt the color combination;
  • Potential of using outline colors or “clouds” around the letters to improve contrast;
  • Night-time conditions and lighting where background and/or graphics colors change;
  • Adjusting shades and tones of the colors to make them work.

Do’s & Don’ts of Color Contrast

  • Do choose lighter tone backgrounds for darker tone logos and vice versa.
  • Don’t choose background/graphics colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel unless they are outlined or backed up with a better contrasting “cloud” color.

May 2015- General Signage- Problems with Building Mounted Letters contrast exs


  Effective sign design utilizes contrasting text colors, sizes, shapes, locations, or relationships for specific reasons.

  • Creates Interest vs Monotony
  • Captures Attention of Target Market
  • Establishes Brand Value Perception (Bargain, Expensive, or Neutral Brand)

  Contrast in type style is achieved by mixing serif and sans-serif letter styles, and by using graphics in creative and unique ways.The designing of exterior branding signage should take into account design factors not considered in print design:

  • Day/night viewing
  • Architectural wall materials (brick, stucco, glass, etc.)
  • Site background elements (greenery, urban landscape, sky, etc.)

  Creating good contrast while staying in line with environmental aesthetics can get tricky. The design team at Holiday Signs regularly helps organizations design attractive signage with text that gets 24-hour attention while staying in synch with all this and more. Below are three examples of how we have successfully used contrast in type:

 www.holidaysigns.com-richmond-va-problems-with-building-mounted-signsMay 2015- General Signage- Problems with Building Mounted Letters pic bwww.holidaysigns.com-richmond-va-pictures-of-interesting-outdoor-signs



Technically Challenging Sign Projects:


Branding & Wayfinding Signs:


Digital Messaging Signs:




General Signage:



Mark Hackley

Account Executive





What Can Go Wrong on Sign Projects?

May 2015-General Signage-What Can Go Wrong on Sign Projects headerWhat Can Go Wrong on Sign Projects?

    Custom-manufacturing a product for a client takes on many facets, and signage projects can sometimes have their share of challenges. Over the years I found most difficulties, especially those encountered in the more challenging sign projects, stem from inadequate communications.

Here are some tips to avoid problems:

May 2015-General Signage-What Can Go Wrong on Sign Projects pic 1ALLOW TIME & COST TO THOROUGHLY CHECK CODE
    If it’s an exterior sign project, check the zoning ordinances in the jurisdiction where the signs are to be installed to verify maximum sign area, overall height restrictions, quantity of signs per site, set-back, allowances for certain types of signs, etc. On interior jobs, make sure your signs are ADA compliant. Holiday Signs utilizes a knowledgeable full-time permits manager to help with sign regulations and permits. Sign buyers sometime under-estimate the timing needed for code research prior to design and the permitting process prior to manufacture and installation.  

  Across our service area of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Washington, DC, we generally allow 1-2 weeks for localities to approve permits, varying slightly by locality, and the median permit secural fee is around $400, more or less according to the area and what is required for permits.  In rare instances we find out that an Overlay District or some other special circumstance overrides the sign ordinance that we weren’t informed about when we initially called for code research. This requires us to go back to the customer with new drawings for approval and then back to the locality for approval. Just make sure to allow enough time and cost up front for permitting.

    Most custom electric sign projects can take at least 6-8 weeks or more to complete, but if we know of a special deadline, we try to May 2015-General Signage-What Can Go Wrong on Sign Projects pic 2work with clients to make special sign project turn-around times. It’s best to be up front with the sign company with a drop-dead date, and it’s best for the sign company to be up front on whether or not it’s possible to make the deadline, and to offer acceptable back-up plans if unusual things like weather, power outages, site access delays, epidemics affecting employees, material shortages or damages, etc., crop up.

    The question often asked after a divorce is, “Why did this happen?” The question you never want to ask after making a significant sign investment is, “Why can’t I read my sign?”

    Both questions usually arise from problems in the 2-way communication process. All parties should never assume things are going smoothly on a project; verify they are with approved sketches and contracts. If you or your sign consultant believes there may be an issue with visibility, or contrast, or color, go a step further and pay a little extra for special samples, prototypes or demonstrations that prove design effectiveness without a doubt before final production.
May 2015-General Signage-What Can Go Wrong on Sign Projects pic 3    Everyone should understand their responsibilities in completing the sign project. Sometimes the customer will pull their own sign permits; take care of masonry work; remove existing signs; and so on. It’s best to make it clear up front who will be doing what on a complex sign project. 

    Addressing questions about small details like: “Do you know there may be an extra engineering fee required by the jurisdiction for sealed drawings?” to “Who will dispose of the old signs after the new signs are installed?” to “How are change orders handled?” are all important types of up-front questions to ask early on.  



Do You Have a Project Need Like any of These?


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What are the Leading Maintenance Issues with High Rise Signs

May-2015-Dominion-High-Rise-Building-Signs-Norfolk-VADominion Enterprises: Limiting the Cost of Maintenance Issues with High-Rise Signs

May 2015-Technically Challenging-Dominion Highrise russell manning

Photo by Russell Manning


  Maintenance issues with high rise signs are the same as any other electric signs: electrical problems in the power supply or wiring, lighting failures, bad sensors, or some type of sign damage stemming from accidents or the elements are the most common. However, making repairs for these issues at closer-to-ground levels versus roof-top levels makes a big difference when it comes to cost.

  Dominion Enterprises, based in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, moved into a new high rise building in downtown Norfolk and needed to brand it and make a 24/7 statement for the corporate headquarters. Holiday Signs was selected as the contractor for the project because of our technical expertise with signage for high rise applications.


   One critical and overlooked aspect of a high rise sign project is the impact of design on the future costs of sign maintenance and repair. The design and manufacture of signs installed at high elevations is significantly different than signs installed at ground level. Issues of strength, structural integrity, illumination, visibility, reliability, and serviceability are all magnified due to higher wind loads, tougher service environment, much greater viewing distance, and limited or significantly more difficult access to both the front and rear of the sign. Even more importantly, signs installed at a company’s headquarters become a symbol of the company itself and require the boldest designs, best construction and reliable performance to make the appropriate statement high above the city. 

May 2015-Technically Challenging-Dominion Highrise text box 600HI-RISE SOLUTIONS

May 2015-Technically Challenging-Dominion Highrise twilight 2

Photo of building at twilight by Russell Manning

  Considering all this, Holiday Signs proposed a solution for effective corporate identity signs at this location that included provisions for efficient maintenance. When the architect and general contractor considered our proposal, they liked that our approach used LED lighting and accessible power supplies while a competing sign manufacturer recommended a neon lighting system with transformers installed inside the letters. Neon is a poor choice from a basic electrical cost standpoint, but reliability and maintenance cost concerns from using a neon system for this application far exceeded the concerns about excessive power costs.

  Another important element of our solution that set us apart involved our recommendation of gray and red as the daytime colors of choice, considering the building color and achievement of the best possible contrast. We suggested 3M Dual Color Film for the face material so the logo would shine white during the night. The competing firm proposed all white graphics for both day and night setting up poor contrast for the letters during the day against the light-colored cast stone walls which would lead to a pale projection of the company’s corporate brand.


  To ensure the finished product did its job, we prepared prototype models of the lettering prior to final production with three levels of lighting: one was as specified in the design drawings engineered by others; another was what we recommended for lighting; and a third was a sample halfway in between one and two. By presenting actual lighted samples at nighttime on the wall 32 stories high to the CEO, CFO, and other Dominion executives, we showed them without a doubt how to best illuminate their image and successfully brand their new building to the City of Norfolk.

FEB 2015- We Work in Your Town- Norfolk pic

Big scale project! This photo begins to explain the costs involved with high-rise sign installation and maintenance work. The more you can do up front in engineering and design to lower future maintenance costs, the better. (Pictured: Holiday Signs employee working under the big “D”.)

May 2015-Technically Challenging-Dominion Highrise pic 800 4 squares


  Holiday Signs was founded in 1973 by Henry Moore and makes some of the most breathtaking custom electric signage in Virginia. Since purchasing the company in 2001, Robert Morin has continued the company’s mission of being the leading custom electric sign company in Central Virginia and regularly serves clients in Richmond, plus the close by areas of Tidewater, and Northern Virginia.

  From historic renovations like the iconic Hotel John Marshall sign to the breathtakingly modern VCU Siegel Center’s digital displays just a few blocks away, Holiday Signs has the skills and experience to take your brand to new heights!  Below is a montage of some more high-rise sign projects we’ve tackled over the past several years:


May 2015-Technically Challenging-Dominion Highrise pic montage

 HJM photo by Jim Smith

Another interesting article about a  High-Rise Electric Sign Project in Virginia:


Article about interior high-rise scoreboard installation and its challenges:


Article about restoring a historic high-rise sign:





 May 2015-Technically Challenging-Dominion Highrise


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What Are The Problems With Digital Signs?

APR 2015-What are the Problems with Digital Signs headerWhat Are The Problems With Digital Signs?

APR 2015-What are the Problems with Digital Signs pic1NOT USING THEM
  The biggest problem involving digital signs is not utilizing them for your business or organization. If zoning allows them and traffic counts indicate digital displays would work in attracting more business to your location than cost, then there’s a problem if you don’t consider their many possibilities.

  For those wise people already using digital signs, a common problem is under-utilizing the technology. LED’s overtook incandescent bulb technology years ago, yet there are still companies operating the old bulb-type units at great cost. Another problem is not utilizing full-color technology. Now that prices of full-color displays have dropped to former one-color price ranges, many people limit their potential for impact of sign communications by continuing to broadcast their messages in the monochrome world.

APR 2015-What are the Problems with Digital Signs text boxDESIGN    
  I see so many examples of digital signs that you just can’t read. It takes a knowledgeable project manager to guide the sign buyer through the process of selecting just the right sign for his unique purpose and environment. In many cases pixel pitch, or spacing between LED’s, is too wide for the viewing zone. There is a church in my town that purchased a board with 26 MM pixel spacing when it needed at least 16MM or less spacing to be readable from where it sits just off the road with a 30MPH speed limit. A 26MM unit may work fine high in the air, off the road with a 55MPH speed limit, but not where it sits.
  Another element of design is overall aesthetics. Framing or lack of framing can make a difference in looks. Problems in aesthetics, in my opinion, arise when shapes, sizes, colors and designs of all components just don’t mesh with each other or your building’s architecture. Usually message displays are only one component of a free-standing sign. The way the message board relates to the branding signage is very important, and something both you, your customers, and the community have to live with after it’s installed. (SEE: Our Approach to Selling Signs-ENVIRONMENT)  


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How a digital sign looks when part of a row of LED modules is out.

    Overheating kills cars, trucks, people, and signs…if left unmanaged. Fortunately, all top brands of digital signs are engineered to manage heat generated by the sign and the elements. Hot weather and direct sunlight can challenge the engineered heat resistance of any type of outdoor electric equipment, but there are several ways to deal with it.
  If a message center is equipped with ventilation fans, inspect them before a hot spell sets in. The leading manufacturers of electronic sign equipment typically post instructions about this on their website, or check with the local sign company who sold you the unit for advice.
  If the display is equipped with air filters, most digital sign brands recommend you check on those while inspecting the ventilation fans. Filters may need to be cleaned or replaced. Dirt and dust can clog them in the same fashion as air filters on your car or lawn equipment, so frequent inspections are suggested if your sign’s operation area is overly dusty.
  Make sure all of the display ventilation openings are unobstructed and allow free movement of air in and out of the display, and in areas surrounding the display. If you’re contemplating a purchase, ask about whether your digital sign unit is designed to have special spacing between structural poles and other adjoining sign cabinets. All reputable brands typically offer a 5-year parts warranty and some include labor, but if not installed to the manufacturer’s specs, heat issue repairs may not be covered.
  See https://holidaysigns.com/maintenance-cost-of-digital-signs-2/ for 5 THINGS THAT CAN GO WRONG DURING ROUTINE OPERATION


Case Study: Digital Entrance Signs for the City of Manassas

Case Study: Green Top Sporting Goods

Case Study: Altria Theater Marquee

Case Study: Puritan Cleaners


For further study (click on Newsletter for Link):

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How Much Does Sign Replacement Cost?

April 2015- General Signage- Cost of Electric Signs headerHow Much Does Sign Replacement Cost?


  There are some electric signs around Virginia you just can’t replace: like Richmond’s pre-Depression era Hotel John Marshall’s historic rooftop sign, or the historic marquee at the Virginia Repertory Theater. In cases of historic signage, restoration is always the first option to consider versus total replacement.


  But most signs don’t reach antique status before they need to be replaced or retrofitted. Such is the case with signage for most of our commercial customers: Among our wide-range of retail customers utilizing electric signage, we help banks and credit unions replace signs in single or multi-location image upgrades and acquisitions; lend a hand to healthcare customers re-imaging former retail and industrial spaces to new clinics; serve shopping center developers by upgrading their center’s street-appeal.

  In lieu of complete sign replacements, we sometimes replace only certain components, such as changing out neon or replacing old manual or bulb-type electronic message boards with new LED technology.

rockwell square signs

Five big triggers for sign replacement:

1-Wear and Tear: Signs, like any exterior structure, fade and deteriorate given enough time and eventually need repair or replacement. You can compare an outdoor sign to your car. Since Holiday Signs uses quality acrylic polyurethanes like the auto industry, the time it takes your car’s finish to lose its luster is the same timeframe your sign starts going downhill.

2-Damage: Replacement may become necessary after a delivery truck hits a sign, or a severe windstorm blows out a face or knocks over a structure. Since most custom electric sign fabrication takes weeks or months to complete, don’t forget to ask the sign company to provide a temporary banner while the new signage is being fabricated. That way your customers won’t forget who and where you are.

3-Technology Changes: Older sign technologies like incandescent-bulb electronic signs, manual message boards, or neon signs are commonly replaced with newer, more economical technologies, like LED message centers and LED lighting.   

4-Identity Changes: New logos, slogans, color schemes or building upgrades can spark the need for new signs at one location or multiple sites across a region in our service area. (See Pearson Auto Re-imaging Case Study.)

5-Entity Changes: When new companies move into spaces of previous businesses, all the signage needs to be changed out usually quickly and smoothly.

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Levels of sign replacement:

1-FACE CHANGES: Depending on the condition and color of sign cabinets and structures, sometimes the only things needing replacement are the removable sign faces. Often, it’s a good idea to invest in re-designing or at least re-painting the cabinets and sign structures along with face changes to make the greatest impact. Professional sign companies will typically conduct a field survey to get the exact dimensions for new faces and measurements for any desired upgrades for the cabinets and pole covers. At the same time, they can check for any needed sign repair work such as lamps, ballasts, sockets, wiring, and light sensors. The average Richmond sign-service labor rates vary by company, level of equipment and workmen needed, but normally range from $100-220 an hour. Material and labor cost to make new sign faces depends on design level, size and height of sign, number of faces and type of face material. Updating cabinet or structure colors adds cost, and changing the design of the structure requires more investment. To get a feel of pure face-replacement cost, we recently replaced the faces for a Virginia retailer’s 2-sided average size pole-type electric sign with embossed polycarbonate graphics and pan-formed edges for $4,000 plus an extra $600 to straighten the existing poles and repair part of a concrete foundation damaged in a windstorm.

2-Technology Upgrades: SEE: “How Much Does a Digital Sign Cost?” and “What’s the Cost to Upgrade Message Boards?” and “LED vs NEON”.

3-Complete Sign Removal and Replacement: We recently re-branded a former video store into a retail health clinic. We removed a fairly large pole sign, leaving the concrete footer below grade, for about $1,200, and then designed, fabricated and installed a comprehensive building-mounted sign package of channel letters and awnings, swapping out channel letters and recovering old awnings for an additional $23,000. Every building is different, and signage that fits one application won’t fit the next, so it’s hard to nail down an average range for such customized sign projects. Sign replacement projects range in the thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost, depending on the scope of work. Contact a project manager for a more detailed quote to fit your exact application. (See Great Examples/Costs of Shopping Center Sign Upgrades and Replacements.)

What’s the Cost of Signage Design?

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What’s the Cost of Sign Design?

cost of sign design va chris murphey

Holiday Signs designer, Chris Murphey, at work on a sign detail.


  When I first started my career in construction and signs, I was a civil engineering technician in Bethesda, Maryland; then an architectural draftsman in Charlottesville; then the primary design and sales person at my own custom sign company in Waynesboro, Virginia. I understand sign design, and it is such a unique field, blending so many trades into one project. Just like commercial buildings, signs need foundations, electric power, steel, framing, exterior finishes. I guess the only things different are HVAC and plumbing, although we have designed and built signs with waterfalls! And if you consider cooling fan systems in certain brands of electronic message centers, signs kind of have HVAC components as well!
  These days I’m involved with the marketing and sales of custom electric signs all across Virginia, Maryland, DC, and eastern North Carolina at Holiday Signs, located in Chester, Virginia, just several miles south of Richmond. Many times customers ask, “What’s the cost of sign design?” The answer depends on the size and scope of the job and varying levels of design drawings are required for different sign projects. But there are three main design phases involved in a typical sign design:


Signage design specialist, Darin Bramwell of Holiday Signs, sizing up a new project.


Phase 1-Engineering  
o    Site Survey and Photos
o    Details of sight lines
o    Construction options

Phase 2-Preliminary Sketches
o    Selling an overall concept
o    Showing various options

Phase 3-Finalized Drawings
o    Final Presentation Drawings
o    Permit Drawings
o    Shop Fabrication Drawings



  Determining sign design fees depends on the sign company or sign consultant you use. Most electric sign companies charge for their design services on an hourly basis, but some sign design consulting firms determine their fees as a percentage of total construction cost, the way many A&E firms often do. (Read about average costs of custom electric signs at this link.)
  Around the Raleigh-Richmond-Washington,DC areas of the southeast, where our sign company is located, the average rate for sign design by in-house electric sign company designers is about $60-$125 per hour depending on the sign designer doing the work. The more seasoned and experienced the designer, the better quality of work and costlier the designer. We utilize a team of skilled designers that work from our office and manufacturing plant in Chester. Our in-house prices are less than many alternatives and we have one of the most well-rounded sign design teams in the Central Virginia region.  
  As a rule of thumb, sign design generally ends up being about 7% to 13% of the overall sign construction cost on large projects, although this may vary by firm and project. (Sign construction costs include any scope of the project where project management is required from initial meetings and surveys to final installation.)

cost of design drawing
  The most important element of customized sign design/build projects is being able to effectively coordinate ideas between the owner, the architect, the city or county, and other parties involved. Good, effective design is one thing, but the end product has to convey what the original design concept was all about. You should work with a sign company who is able to look at all the parts and pieces in advance to make sure they will all go together as planned. If you miss one part, you have to do a lot of manipulation to make it all come together. The value in utilizing an experienced sign company is an important aspect for consideration when considering a custom sign designed specifically for your site.


The Holiday Signs Project Management Team with questions!


Any of these signage designs look familiar?

(Click on pictures for individual case study articles.)

mwv nightfishwww.holidaysigns.com-pioneer-custom-electric-signs-richmond-virginia Augusta Health EMC Picturewww.holidaysigns.com-richmond-virginia-complex-signageAltria Theater 2-21-14 041Floor & Decor RichmondJanuary 2015-Technically Challenging- VCU GYM pic specialwww.holidaysigns.com-richmond-va-city-entrance-signs-entry-monuments-municipal-communication-digital-signage-systems-VA-MD-NC-DCwww.holidaysigns.com-northern-virginia-church-sign-companiesRoanoke Airport Wayfinding Photo4







(Click on a city below to see some of our work in your area!)

Charlottesville       Chesapeake       Fredericksburg        Harrisonburg      

Leesburg         Lynchburg       Newport News       Roanoke     

South Boston/Halifax      Staunton/Waynesboro      VA Beach    Yorktown     


What is the Cocooning Effect?

Shopping Center Repositioning

Re-Branding a Retirement Community

Turning Eyeballs into Smiles

Green Marketing

Site Lighting and Your Brand

Flexible LED Case Study

Custom Awnings

Richmond Executive Airport

Branding Grace Church

Shopping Center Makeovers Boosting Economic Development

Branding an Anniversary at Kings Dominion


Holiday Signs – 11930 Old Stage Rd. – Chester, Virginia 23836 – (804) 796-9443


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cost of signage design