Creative Compliance

Innovative ADA signage within the rules and regulations
North Carolina Signs, Architectural Sign Designs & Guerrilla Graphix craft innovative ADA signage.

With strict guidelines for height, readability and lettering, it would seem that in the of category ADA signs, a sign is a sign is a sign. However, within the rules lie ample design opportunities, and we found three sign companies that fulfilled the challenge to be original.


When Gary Nunn, owner of North Carolina Signs (NCS; Siler City, NC) was asked to produce signage for a renovated floor of a medical office building in nearby Chatham Medical Park, he didn’t hesitate. NCS had already been working for the building’s owner for several years, and had initially created the signage for the office when it was new. At that time, they did all of the design work for the project, which amounted to 235 signs, 182 of which were ADA-specific, Nunn said. 

Then, in 2018, when the same client needed to remodel half of one of the floors, they again requested NCS’s services – another 67 ADA signs, in addition to 25 informational and wayfinding signs. The client had become part of a new hospital network, resulting in a new name, logo and colors for the existing signage, which in turn required the removal and cleaning of the frames. NCS was supplied with working drawings of the floor plans and tasked with determining where all signage was required to go, both ADA and wayfinding. The client also asked NCS to devise room numbers and names for each sign.

NCS designed the signs using VinylMaster Xpt by Future Corp., then transferred the design files into EngraveLab by CADlink. NCS specified ADA substrates by Rowmark which they engraved using a Roland EGX-350 Desktop Engraver, and black curved frames from Vista System. They attached the signs to the walls using 3M VHB tape.

Nunn knows it’s largely up to individual sign companies to keep up with changes to ADA regulations, but that doesn’t mean these signs have to be identical. “ADA signs offer more interest than printed signs or cut-vinyl work,” Nunn said. “Customers rarely know the requirements for ADA [and] how the proper signage can enhance the look of their building.” 


Thanks to Architectural Sign Designs, the congregation of St. Francis Xavier church in Stillwater, OK, can navigate the church’s campus.
Thanks to Architectural Sign Designs, the congregation of St. Francis Xavier church in Stillwater, OK, can navigate the church’s campus.

The newly constructed St. Francis Xavier, a Catholic church in Stillwater, OK, was in need of room identification and wayfinding signage. The pastor, a returning customer, asked Architectural Sign Designs (ASD; Owasso, OK) to create ADA-compliant signs that would easily lead the congregation and other visitors around the church’s campus and make them feel welcome. The church also needed signs that would complement the architectural features and design elements of the buildings. Since ASD specializes in custom ADA and wayfinding signage, this project was a perfect fit, owner Ryan Neurohr said.

Responsible for all aspects of the project, ASD crafted ADA room ID signage, office ID signs with inserts, directional and flag-mounted room ID signs on the inside of the buildings, including the client-supplied logo on the room and office ID signage. For the rest of the design, ASD generated different concept drawings in CorelDRAW. Outside, they used cast aluminum prismatic dimensional letters as well as custom vehicular wayfinding. 

ASD chose Rowmark substrates in dark brown and smooth gold, as well as cast prismatic letters from Gemini. For fabrication, they employed two Universal Laser Systems machines to cut out substrates and tactile copy and a Vision Engraving & Routing Systems 2550 CNC router for drilling and inserting the braille spheres. With proper care, the church signs should last a lifetime. To keep them clean, Neurohr recommended mild cleansing products, like warm water and dish soap, or Novus Plastic Clean & Shine and a microfiber towel. 

Neurohr noted that even though churches are technically exempt from ADA signage regulations, most still go along with the rules to make all guests feel welcome. And, although ASD strives to educate their clients on what it means to be ADA-compliant (including a thorough review of floor plans and properly identifying rooms), Neurohr pointed out that there is always room for ingenuity. “ADA signage does not have to be boring. We love custom designs and most clients do, too,” he said. “[This] customer was a pleasure to work with, and we had the freedom to design signage to complement the beautiful architecture of the church.”


Just as signs are helpful for leading you to your destination, sometimes clients help lead you to your next job. This was the case for Guerrilla Graphix (Chapin, SC), which was contracted in 2017 by Sherman Construction to create signage for a medical building. It just so happened that the construction company also worked for Clemson University, and when they were building the school’s Duckworth Family Tennis Facility last year, Sherman Construction asked Guerrilla Graphix to handle the indoor and outdoor signage. 

And handle it, they did, creating a number of room- and office-label signs; restroom, elevator and safety signs; fire evacuation plans; and other miscellaneous signage. Achieving this vision wasn’t too difficult, as many universities provide exact specifications to match pre-existing signage used in other buildings on campus, owner Caleb Chastain said. “It was clear that they were looking for the signage to provide a clean, professional, branded touch to the interior design.” 

Although the university had exact specs for most of the work, the job wasn’t without complications. “The biggest issue that we have run into with Clemson is the matching of the orange color,” Chastain said. “The university does not have a specific paint color that perfectly matches their branding. Though there is a specified Pantone, through samples we found that the PMS color doesn’t always translate well in process printing or to paint mixing.” After a little trial and error, Guerilla Graphix located a perfect match. “Since I have been a fan of Clemson athletics my whole life, I had a coffee mug in my office that was considered the perfect shade of ‘Clemson orange,’” Chastain said. “We were able to ship the mug to our paint professionals and have them make a custom mix to match the color.”

An additional obstacle arose during the design phase, when some of the room labels ran a little long for the specified size of the signs. For example, “HYDROTHERAPY” had to be abbreviated to “HYDRO.” “We were able to work with the end-users to compromise on these labels to names that would fit while maintaining the required lettering size in compliance with ADA regulations,” he said.

There was lots of signage love given by Guerrilla Graphix for the new indoor tennis facility at Clemson University.
There was lots of signage love given by Guerrilla Graphix for the new indoor tennis facility at Clemson University.

Guerrilla Graphix was responsible for the design, installation and maintenance of the signage, while Graphic Components (Greensboro, NC) facilitated the fabrication. The project architect provided a schedule with a design example for each different type of layout, and Guerrilla Graphix recreated the designs to scale in vector format and provided proofs of each individual sign for university approval. They then collected the official Clemson tiger paw logo from the university and checked the pictograms against ADA regulations, Chastain said. A random vector braille pattern was used in proofing to show sizing and placement, but the actual braille translation was done using CADlink’s EngraveLab during the production phase. 

For substrates, Guerrilla Graphix used OPTIX NG (Non-Glare) Acrylic Heavy Matte for the sign faces and white Chemcast Acrylic Sheets for the back plates, which they coated with a custom mix of Matthews Paint. For the raised applique, they chose Duets by Gemini and standard raster braille beads. The logo panels were printed with a JFX200 Mimaki printer and ink. They then satin clear-coated the logo panels to protect them. During fabrication, Guerrilla Graphix cut their applique and acrylic on a Universal Laser Systems machine. To engrave the braille, they used a Vision engraver and then sprayed the signs with a Matthews Paint system. 

For these three sign companies, creating ADA-compatible signage was no different than any other assignment. Chastain agreed: “We apply the same mindset to ADA signage that we do [to] all of our projects,” he said. “We start by asking, ‘How can we make this special?’ We try to get our clients the most ‘bang for their buck’ by finding budget-friendly ways to make their signage extraordinary.”


Signs of the Times September 2020

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