What is a Channel Letter Sign?

You’ve seen them just about everywhere. They are usually about 3” to 8” deep.  (It all depends on the width of the aluminum roll that the manufacturer uses in their process.)  Some companies make them by hand, while others use a channel letter bending machine. Channel letters have evolved in most recent years, and new manufacturing techniques have emerged.  But your typical channel letter is comprised of 5 parts; face, trim cap, return, back and the light source.

The face is made of acrylic or polycarbonate and is covered with a translucent vinyl. The vinyl comes in a wide variety of colors from manufactures such as 3M, Avery and Oracal.  If a specific PMS color is needed, we can print that color on a white translucent vinyl – but – it won’t last as long as a pure color saturated vinyl. The face of a channel letter is usually cut from a CNC router machine and attaches to the channel letter “can” through the use of “trim cap.”

The trim cap also comes in a variety of colors. It’s made of a very durable plastic and can bend around the shape of the face. The trim cap attaches to the acrylic channel letter face using a liquid adhesive to the channel letter face.

The side of a channel letter, also known as the “return” is shaped to form the appropriate letter or symbol by hand or with a channel letter bending machine. The aluminum sheeting used in the manufacturing of channel letters is also available in a variety of standard colors or they can be custom-painted with a PMS color or other color-match painting system such as Sherwin-Williams, Hirshfields or Benjamin Moore. Typically, we prefer to use an automotive grade paint such as Matthews.

The back is just that, the back side of the channel letter. It’s made from aluminum and cut out using a CNC Router table, just like the face. Some holes are made for the wires to poke through.

Lastly is the light source…  Back in the day we used to use neon lights (although that retro look is now sought after for some signs), fluorescent and incandescent lights. Today it’s LED all the way. They last 3 – 5 times longer and are now less expensive. They come in a variety of sizes, brightness’s and colors. There are computer programs that will tell the manufacturer exactly where to place each LED for the most efficient and effective look.

Some cities will dictate how the channel letter sign should be affixed to the building. Usually they’re mounted to a raceway or each letter is directly attached to the facia. What’s a raceway? A raceway is basically a big long box that houses all the wires for the LED lights. It will also house the power supply.  In this method, only one hole needs to be drilled through the wall to the power source in the building. Conversely, for direct mounting of each letter and graphic shape (i.e. logo), a hole must be drilled through the wall. As you can imagine, it’s more time consuming and more expensive for direct mounting each piece separately.  Plus, you have to find a spot inside the building for the power supply.

KORT Sign Design is a custom sign company serving all the Twin Cities, located conveniently in Golden Valley, near Plymouth, St. Louis Park, New Hope and Minneapolis. We can help you work with your landlord and the city and come up with a channel letter solution for your company.

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