Workhorse Signage

A channel-letter overview with case studies
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ST recently covered the Holiday Inn brand signage relaunch (see ST, June 2010, page 76). In his report, Sign Management Consultants’ Chris Fitzgerald said the Holiday Inn brand and hotel chain was undergoing a $1 billion global campaign that included both a logo and signage redesign. Once completed, he said, the project will have required 9,300 channel letter and box signs for 3,200 hotel locations, to be built by 20 different sign companies.
Miratec Systems (St. Paul, MN) produced the majority of Holiday Inn’s changeover faces with its EFI Vutek 3360 digital presses and 3M inks. Bert Guinee, Miratec’s president, said his firm also produced the prototype work that demonstrated the flexible sign faces’ feasibility.
Earlier, Susan Conner, ST’s senior editor, covered the changeover’s initial announcement (see ST, November, 2009, page 46). She said Holiday Inn predicts the new signage will save an estimated $4.4 million annually – $3 million in annual maintenance and $1.4 million in energy savings – compared to its previous signage system.
Altogether, the new signs will contain more than 1 million ft. of LEDs from GE Tetra® LED lighting systems from GE Lumination (East Cleveland, OH). All the “H” logo sign cabinets and channel letters are lit with LEDs.
LEDs not always tops
Loren Hudson, president of Hudson & Hudson Inc. (Houston), recently wrote of a LED-lamped Lexus dealership (see ST, August 2010, page 56) channel-letter sign that was refurbished by Houston-based ESD Sign Services. Loren is also The Neon Group president, an organization that provides neon technical support and, as well, promotes the use of neon.
Loren’s article noted the sign’s white, polycarbonate faces had been overlaid with gold-colored Mylar (polyethylene-terephthalate [PET] film) – an unusual choice for an internally lit signface. ESD reported the Mylar had, in part, separated from the polycarbonate.
The firm also detailed failure in 10% of the power supplies and 20% of the LEDs.
Subsequently, ESD ran a comparative cost analysis – LEDs vs. neon – through sign-estimating software and determined that neon was the less expensive refurbishing option. It offered cheaper upfront costs and lower operating expenses, Loren said.

Workhorse signage

Channel letters are, indeed, workhorse signs, and, other than font choices, they don’t require much artistry. However, in their classic form, channel letter have faithfully identified business sites worldwide for close to 100 years.
Early channel-letter makers focused more on craftsmanship and creating a durable, long-life sign than today’s builder. Conversely, modern metallurgy, technology and business philosophies have transformed the incentives. For example, 100% recyclable aluminum, which is now commonly applied for channel-letter returns, was once considered a precious metal. Today, it sells for $1.38 per lb., the same price as Boston lettuce.
Further, modern, computer-controlled bending machines can shape channel letters in minutes, and programmable face-cutting routers, plus innovative lighting and various plastic choices, have simplified manufacturing processes to where fabricating channel letters emulates assembly-line production.
More influential, however, than technology is the modern sign buyer’s outlook. Contemporary corporations routinely switch ownership or plan signage changes, so, more than long-life structures, purchasing agents want low prices and adaptable systems.
Holiday Inn’s recent resigning clearly reflects this trend: the square, digitally printed, (“H” logo) cans are faced with 3M’s™ Panagraphics™ III, flexible, translucent substrate.
3M’s (St. Paul, MN) product warranty on this substrate runs from two to six years, depending upon applications and geographical areas.
Holiday Inn’s new slogan? “Stay Real.”
ST’s Electric SOI report (see ST, July 2010, page 66) said 96.7% of electric signmakers fabricate channel letters. It also revealed that 75.5% of surveyed signmakers use digital imaging to make signs.
How to Make Or Buy Channel Letters
An Ohio used-car dealer maintains a website where he sells used channel letters. There, he wrote, “It all started when I found a neon, channel-letter sign for sale on eBay©. The sign read 'Baseball Cards.' I immediately noticed I could use most of the letters to spell out ‘Car Sales.'”
The auto seller bid and won the auction, then drove to Chicago, to obtain the letters. He said, also, that he soon bought other secondhand channel letters, to complete his car-sales sign.
Surely, a photo of his business appeared somewhere in ST’s Ugly Sign Contest.
If you’re not a letter builder, skip eBay and order your channel letters from such makers as Esco (Watertown, SD); World Wide Sign Systems (Shawano, WI); Sign America (Richmond, OH); Sign Builders (Birmingham, AL); All Around Sign Co. (Albuquerque, NM); Letter Fab (Crested Butte, CO) or Superior Wholesale Signage (Daytona Beach, FL).
If you build them, but want to expand your operation with automated equipment, check out such companies as Computerized Cutters (Plano, TX); Arete Corp., (Denver); CLN of South Florida (Belle Glade, FL); Fastac™ (Austin, TX); Easy Channel Letters, LLC, (Denver); SDS (Anyang City, South Korea); and iBend (Riverside, MO). Such manufacturers may also offer automated trimcap and face-forming devices.
Also, Aries Graphics’ (San Marcos, CA) Neon Wizard software now includes a return plot module for channel letters.
For LED-based, channel-letter lighting systems, check out USLED (Houston); Tetra (East Cleveland, OH); and International Light Technologies (Peabody, MA).