A Look at Sign Illumination Choices

Red, Hot & Blue uses open neon tubing to attract hungry passers-by.

Red, Hot & Blue uses open neon tubing to attract hungry passers-by.

“Signage communicates through both conscious and non-conscious processes. Indeed signage may not only convey information and impressions – it may even persuade through non-conscious processing of design attributes,” says a recent University of Cincinnati study by Dr. James J. Kellaris and James S. Womack. This means the color, shape, size, and overall “personality” of your signs become major influences on people’s perception and recognition of your brand.

It is important to remember your signage is a 24-hour marketing tool that acts as your company’s personal sales representative as it makes first and hopefully lasting impressions on those who interact with it visually. Considering their high-profile street locations across Virginia and North Carolina, many of our clients realize this fact and have made investments in enhanced sign lighting effects netting positive results.

According to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, the first known illuminated sign dates back to 1840 when P.T. Barnum’s Museum was advertised by a gas-lit display. Gas lighting continued to be used by theaters, drug stores and other retailers until the electric lamp was introduced in 1881. The first electric signs used incandescent bulbs to make graphics similar to the way electronic LED signs do today. In 1910, the Great Chariot Race Sign in New York City was one of the most famous electrical displays in the world featuring a Roman chariot race simulating the movement of horses, drivers and whips at 2,500 flashes per minute and attracting crowds every night for years.

The bright Open-Face Neon letters in Bruce’s Body Shop are perfect for service shops


Neon lighting was developed in 1902 by a French scientist named Georges Claude. It was a popular choice for illuminated signs in the twentieth century and still is today. Although LED lighting has replaced many previous neon applications in signs due to costs of power and maintenance, there are still applications where neon is the best choice, making aesthetic statements that LED cannot achieve. Many restaurants choose open-faced neon channel letters and logos for their on-premise signage because neon lighting is bright, rich in color and creates a clean, crisp and inviting image. Neon or LED striping can also be implemented as borders on buildings and around traditional box signs for attention-grabbing effects.

Today there are many choices for electric sign lighting and special effects. To portray a sense of quality, distinction and high value, some clients choose backlighting for their signs. This is where channel letter faces are constructed of a solid material and the lighting installed within the lettering bounces off the wall producing a halo effect. Fink’s Jewelers, a regionally-focused, multi-location retailer based in Roanoke, Virginia, chose LED backlighting for wall mounted channel letters in the example below.

Fluorescent lighting comes in both warm and cold tones and is traditionally used in sign cabinets with translucent faces. For special effects, the backgrounds can be opaque where only the lettering lights up at night. Similarly, the lettering can be raised from the background to create edge-lit push-thru graphics.

Back-lit Channel letters in Fink’s Jewelers produce a sense of quality, distinction, and high value

There are many ways to stand out among the crowd. One way is to influence buyers through special lighting effects. Holiday Signs has an experienced staff of designers, fabricators and installers who can produce effective custom lighting for your particular marketing application. For over 30 years our project managers have been involved with helping clients create just the right image to turn traffic into customers who understand your products and services before they walk through the door based on successful sign communications!

Contact: Mark Hackley, Account Executive (540)416-3154


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