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N u m ber 263

The How-To Magazine

M AY 2017 | s i g n s h o m


illustrated S ign B uilder I llust r at ed


Illumination HOW TO Sign Design: Convincing the Brain to Buy COV ER STORY

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Contents May 2017

Vol. 31


No. 263

How-To Columns

14 18


By Jim Hingst Troubleshooting and preventing paint problems.


By Brooke Albring How sign designers can convince the brain to buy.


8 12 55 56


Editor Jeff Wooten surveys how the industry is reacting to a landmark court ruling two years later.


Lighting gives a new building color and flair; USSC to present a seminar at APA Conference, and a billboard celebrates L.A.’s tattoo culture.

Sign Show

The newest products and services from sign manufacturers.

SBI Marketplace

Advertisements and announcements from the sign trade.


Shop Talk


Ashley Bray discusses what shops need to know about securing permits.


26 32 39 44 48


Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017


By Mike Antoniak Things to keep in mind when putting up LED channel letters and lighting.


By Lori Shridhare Sculpting light with flexible LED.

LED-ing by example

By Heath Martin How LED lighting is transforming the signage landscape.


By Jeff Wooten How LEDs, Tiki culture, and George Clooney led to a unique sign idea.


By Ashley Bray How manufacturer’s reps can benefit your shop.


By Jeff Wooten A Texas sign shop makes its mark with engraving.

​Cover Photo: Olexandr Taranukhin.


What U.S. city has your favorite illuminated signage?

May 2017, Vol. 31, No. 263 Sign Builder Illustrated (ISSN 0895-0555) print, (ISSN 2161-0709) digital is published by Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation

Subscriptions: 800-895-4389

executive offices President and Chairman Arthur J. McGinnis, Jr. “Miami! I love that Art Deco architectural lighting & illuminated open-face channel letters.”

Publisher Arthur J. Sutley 55 Broad Street, 26th floor New York, NY 10004 212-620-7247 ; Fax: 212-633-1863

editorial Editor Jeff Wooten 323 Clifton Street, Suite #7 Greenville, NC 27858 212-620-7244 “I like all of the chasing incandescent bulbs on the signs in old Vegas. It’s like stepping back in time. ”

“I’ll venture off the beaten path and vote Austin, Texas. A great combination of neon and LED accents the surrounding creative atmosphere.”

Managing Editor Ashley Bray 55 Broad Street, 26th Floor New York, NY 10004 212-620-7220

Contributing Writers Brooke Albring, Mike Antoniak, David Hickey, Jim Hingst, Heath Martin, Mark K. Roberts, Lori Shridhare

art Creative Director Wendy Williams Art Director Nicole Cassano Graphic Designer Aleza Leinwand

production Corporate Production Director Mary Conyers

circulation Circulation Director Maureen Cooney

advertising sales Associate Publisher Jeff Sutley 212-620-7233

“New York, New York...Housing some of the most memorable signage to date—from the neon lights of the old Bond Clothing Store to the more recent 8-story-high, 100-yardlong digital billboard.”

Mid-West & West Coast Sales Manager Heather Bonato 212-620-7225 Sign Builder Illustrated is published monthly. All rights reserved. Nothing herein may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher. To purchase PDF files of cover and layouts or hard copy reprints, please call Art Sutley at 212-620-7247 or e-mail


Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017

Editor’s Column


By Jeff Wooten

May 2017 MAY 7-11:

LIGHTFAIR® International (LFI) 2017 will be in full effect at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (

June 2017 JUNE 8-10:

This year’s SEGD Conference, Experience Miami, will be headquartered at the Loews Miami in Miami, Florida. (

Making Plans

JUNE 8-11:

The Texas Sign Association’s Sixty-Fourth Annual Conference occurs at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. (

How a landmark court ruling shifted ideologies.


Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017

years, but it also meant that practically every town and city in the country has had to revisit its sign codes. In the process, this has become a sign social revolution of sorts. Now signage professionals have been more in helping communities and planners craft sign codes that, in turn, hopefully lead to building stronger businesses. However there is still some issue to how the Reed decision is being applied by the lower courts, and because of this, the United States Sign Council (USSC) Foundation has funded a comprehensive report on the ruling headed by Steven Brody of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP in New York City (a noted authority on constitutional issues and advertising cases). This report is now available and is also being distributed by the USSC at this month’s national APA Conference. If you would like to read even more about how this court case has further affected the sign industry, head over to our Web site,, to read a column by David Hickey, vice president, Government Affairs, at the International Sign Association. His article covers how the Reed decision has helped officials and sign makers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, draft brightness standards for electronic message centers in the city.

Jeff Wooten Editor,

July 2017 July 26-30:

The Mid South Sign Association Annual Meeting and Trade Show takes place at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown in Memphis, Tennessee. (

August 2017 August 11-13:

The Tri-State Sign Expo commences at the Downstream Casino Resort in Joplin, Missouri. (

September 2017 SEPTEMBER 28-29:

Photo: Shutterstock/


n the sign industry, the concept of “planning” has usually involved figuring out production schedules, determining the equipment to use for a job, and setting up logistics at the installation site. But lately, the American Planning Association (APA) has transformed how this terminology is being used in the signage vocabulary, as trade associations (and in turn, sign shops) are finding increased communications when communities on developing or writing better sign ordinances. And it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to help you figure out this turnaround can be traced back to 2015. It’s amazing to consider that it has been two years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a case that clarified when municipalities may impose content-based restriction on signage in public areas. For those still not familiar with this case, the genesis behind this suit involved a church objecting to the town’s sign ordinance that appeared stricter toward religious messages than it did, say, political messages. The decision rendered that sign codes must be “content neutral;” it also stated that cities and towns couldn’t regulate content on sign display, nor could they “create different rules for different messages.” The reverberations from the Supreme Court’s conclusion here were far reaching. Not only was it the court’s first “sign-specific decision” in over forty

The 2017 NSSA Northeast Sign Expo, featuring over seventyfive exhibits, will be held at the Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford. (

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In The Industry

Lighting Gives a New building

Color and Flair F resno, California—With its art décor-inspired architecture and many dining, arts, and entertainment options, the Tower District, just north of downtown Fresno, is a highly desirable area to live. Unfortunately affordable housing can be hard to find — putting the district out of reach for many entry-level renters. A new thirty-one-unit, live/work development called 541 @ South Tower offers an affordable, stylish alternative for young professionals. Located between 8

Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017

the Tower District and downtown Fresno, the development was designed by architect Marvin Armstrong and features the art-deco flair seen on many area buildings: curved ornamental elements and geometric designs outlined in what appears to be colorful neon. “Neon lighting is typical of art deco design, but for practical reasons, we didn’t include it in our original design,” says Armstrong. However, after initial review of the design, the Fresno Housing Authority and

TFS Investments, which co-collaborated on the project, expressed their desire to incorporate the look of neon. That’s when Armstrong and his team began looking into alternatives to actual neon. They chose to use magenta and teal iLight Plexineon LED fixtures that offer all the advantages of neon, without the downsides. “We could get essentially the same look as neon, but from a more durable product that uses less energy,” says Armstrong. With the product selected, the next

ussc seminar

An LED lighting product maintains a building’s art deco design.


ristol, Pennsylvania—The United States Sign Council (USSC) will be presenting the seminar, “A Guide to National Sign Illumination Standards,” at the American Planning Association (APA) National Conference in New York City this month. This session will introduce national sign illumination standards, based on research conducted at the Larson Transportation Institute at Pennsylvania State University. These standards are the first of their kind. The USSC will be publishing these National Sign Illumination guideline standards prior to the APA session in May and will be distributing the standards to planners as a part of the seminar. The guideline standards will be a comprehensive document covering a wide variety of sign lighting topics, including scientifically verifiable sign-illumination standards and how they impact both aesthetics and traffic safety, a legal framework for “time, place, and manner” sign-illumination regulation post-Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, as well as key factors that local communities should be aware of when implementing sign illumination restrictions. The presentation is all based on USSC research and includes a number of speakers.

question was how to get the desired effect. The design team offered three different options for adorning the development with Plexineon. The option that the housing authority and TFS Investments chose called for illuminating the sign for the development, as well as horizontal lines along the tops of the buildings and vertical lines on pilasters at intervals around the façade. This required 1,049 linear feet of lighting. Once the amount of light was determined, Armstrong provided detailed

evation drawings to iLight, which then supplied shop drawings to help ensure smooth installation. The final effect is exactly what the design and development team had imagined, with 541 @ South Tower consistent in character with other surrounding architecture. “The overall effect is really striking. You can see it from the highway,” says Armstrong. “The quality of the light is so strong—the line work is really good, and the brightness and color are just perfect. It doesn’t look overdone; it’s just right.”

Photo: Shutterstock/ S.Borisov.

All Photos: iLight Technologies.

To achieve the look of neon, the project used 1,049 linear feet of magenta and teal iLight plexineon led fixtures.

May 2017

Sign Builder Illustrated


In The Industry textile stories


Billboard Celebrates LA’s

Tattoo Culture


os Angeles, California—The City of Angels will have a little more ink, following the introduction of a new tattoo art installation at 3921 W. Sunset Blvd. & Hyperion Ave. to kick off the Bulleit Frontier Works project. This is the first piece in a series of projects Bulleit will commission to celebrate and unite the thriving creative collaborator community in Los Angeles and beyond. The tattoo, which features Bulleit Frontier Whiskey’s iconic label alongside dozens of L.A.-inspired tattoo designs, was crafted by twenty-four tattoo artists who are locals of the Los Angeles area and have made a serious impact on the local tattoo community, including Kim Saigh, Charles Belñavis, Henry Lewis, Shawn Barber, and Jason Schroder. Each artist was given a section of the installation’s canvas to design, and as a result, every illustration carefully portrays Los Angeles in a way that is unique and personal to each artist. “I was honored when Bulleit approached me to help create this, as tattoos are so relevant in L.A.’s culture,” says tattoo artist Christina Ramos. “Tattoos are typically permanent, lifelong commitments, so when I was asked to be a part of this group I knew we needed 10

Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017

to come together to create something special that really personified and paid homage to the soul of our city that would leave a lasting impression.” The Bulleit Frontier Works sign, located in the Silverlake neighborhood, is a mix of design and artistic ability that took the tattooists more than ninety hours to design and create. Flanking Bulleit’s bourbon logo are more than twenty-four separate etchings that were inspired by the Los Angeles vibe including favorite local food trucks, views of the LA skyline, depictions of the beach scene, and tributes to the Los Angeles movie industry. “Bulleit gave me a lot of creative freedom when designing my piece of leather for the installation,” said Nathan Kostechko, one of the tattoo artists participating in the collaboration. “The group of tattooists brought the project to life beautifully, and I hope it makes people smile when they pass by.” The Bulleit Frontier Works program aims to unite and celebrate the makers, artists, and entrepreneurs who dedicate their lives to pushing the boundaries of the cultural frontier. It will continue with another art installation in Los Angeles this spring before branching out to other cities around the country.

ew York, New York—The third annual Epson Digital Couture Project event ( nyfw) was held on February 7 in advance of Fashion Week in New York City. The event provided a visual representation of how Epson’s digital printing technologies impact the fashion and textile industry. The fashion presentation, built around the theme “Textile Stories,” showcased collections from thirteen design teams from North and Lati n Ame rica cre ated using Epson’s textile printing solutions. “Epson imaging technologies have empowered some of the world’s greatest artists to create spectacular creations—from flawless photo prints to priceless pieces hanging in museums to now driving a new era of digital printing in the te x t i l e i n d u s t r y, ” s a i d Ke i t h Kratzberg, president and CEO. “This year ’s Digital Couture Project pushed the limits of design.” Prior to the event, Epson hosted a Fashion and Technology Forum where Epson’s global president, Minoru Usui, outlined Epson’s continued vision for the role that digital technology will play in fashion. A panel of fashion and apparel industry experts also discussed market trends and technology’s role in fashion.

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ROUTERS/ENGRAVERS Trotec Unveils a High-speed, Class 2 Laser Solution for Large Format Materials The newest member of Trotec’s SP laser cutter series, the SP2000, was designed for efficient processing of large format materials such as acrylics, wood, textiles, and cardboard, to name a few. With a working area of 66-by-98 inches and access from all four sides, the system features a seventy-one-inch-wide loading area at the front and the rear of the machine, allowing for unrestricted unloading and loading (even while the machine is cutting). The setup will also drive productivity with processing speeds up to 6.5 feet per second and laser power up to 400 watts.

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Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017


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Painted in a Corner


utside of the rare instances where the paint product is out of spec, paints fail because the painter takes a shortcut in surface preparation or is careless in application. Selecting the wrong product for a job is another reason, while extreme environments can also cause premature failure. In troubleshooting a paint failure, it is important to thoroughly collect as much background information as possible. If you keep detailed production records for each job, many of the answers to your questions should be at your fingertips. Good photography, careful collection of paint samples, and a detailed written narrative are also critical in documenting problems when you submit a complaint to a manufacturer. A manufacturer has a number of scientific instruments in their lab that can accurately analyze any samples that you provide, so the information that you provide a manufacturer will help them in making recommendations. Most of the causes of paint problems 14

Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017

that you might encounter fall into these five categories: (1.) Substrate Penetration (2.) Paint and Primer Selection (3.) Paint Application (4.) Drying and Curing (5.) Environmental Damage Understanding the primary causes can help you identify the likely reasons for the failure so you can avoid problems in the future. Substrate Preparation The foundation for a durable paint job is surface preparation, which includes the following three areas: (1.) Cleaning contaminants from the surface; (2.) Proper use of chemicals in pretreating a surface; and (3.) Physically roughing up the surface to give it some tooth. Before doing anything else, you must prep the substrate to remove contamination. If you are repainting a painted metal, it is absolutely critical that you remove any grease, oil, or wax before you sand. If you

sand without cleaning, the sanding process will only drive the contaminant into the substrate and cause adhesion failure. In wiping a surface down with cleaners, the right way to do it is to saturate a clean rag with solvent and wipe the substrate. Before the solvent has time to evaporate, use a clean, dry rag or paper towel to wipe the surface dry. If you just wipe the surface with solvent, all you end up doing is moving the contaminant from one place on the substrate to another. (Note: Always use the solvents recommended by the manufacturer.) Failure to properly prep a surface prior to painting causes a very high percentage of problems. Contaminated surfaces, for example, can cause blistering. Silicones or oils on a substrate can result in fish eyes. Contaminants can also lead to adhesion problems. Metal is much more difficult to paint than wood. What causes most of the paint failures on metal is surface prep. Here are the usual suspects when troubles occur: The metal was not cleaned properly, the primer was incompatible with the finish coat, or the primer was not completely dry before the finish coat was applied. Painting aluminum can be especially tricky. Failure to remove the oxidation either mechanically or chemically prior to painting guarantees adhesion failure. Once you have removed any of the oxidation from the surface of the metal, you have a limited amount of time before oxidation occurs again. How much time? Some say about four hours. To avoid paint failures on metal or fiberglass, some painters recommend using a self-etching primer. This coating contains an acid that bites into the surface to promote adhesion. Paint Selection “Adhesion is the number-one challenge for painters nowadays,” says sign maker Butch “Superfrog” Anton. “Sign

Photo: Shutterstock/ Zadorozhnyi Viktor.

Troubleshooting and preventing paint problems.

preparation is not optional. The Matthews Paint substrate preparation guide gives step-by-step guidance for prepping a variety of substrates to ensure your project is a success.

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How To


strates and paint systems have changed so much that sign makers need a better understanding of the chemistry involved. In many cases, substrates require a chemical bond for the paint to stick. “This requires today’s sign painters to educate themselves so that they can select the right product to satisfy the needs of a particular application.” Sign makers work with many different types of substrates. Many times, coatings fail because either the primer and paint were incompatible with the substrate, or the wrong paint was selected for the service environment. As Butch points out, each substrate has its own set of requirements, including surface preparation, primer, and paint system. Matched Components. For the best results (and to avoid problems such as paint crazing or cracking), use a primer, paint, reducer, and clear coat from the same manufacturer. This ensures that the different materials are all matched for compatibility. “Be careful when adding any solvent to the paint to thin it out,” cautions Joe Balabuszko, one of the founding members of Chicago Brushmasters. “Paints are carefully formulated so that all of the ingredients are compatible with each other. It is best not to improvise. “Mixing an incompatible solvent with paint can lead to disastrous results, such as cracking and wrinkling. If you need to thin a paint, it is best to use the manufacturer’s product.” Joe cautions that some solvents flash off too fast, resulting in the outer layer 16

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May 2017

of paint drying before the layer below it is fully cured. By trapping unevaporated solvents beneath the skin of the paint, the coating never fully hardens. You also need to follow the paint manufacturer’s recommendations regarding compatibility of primer, paint, and clear coat. The chemistry of these components is very complex, and each part of the system interacts with the other. By following the manufacturer’s guidelines, you will achieve better looking, more durable results and encounter fewer problems. Plastics. While matching the components of a paint system is critical in avoiding problems, it is also important that the paint is compatible with the substrate, especially when painting a plastic substrate. The surface energy of a material directly affects paint adhesion. Solvents used in surface prep and thinning of the paint can affect the performance of the plastic sheet. Because various plastics are formulated and processed differently, each can have its own unique characteristics, requiring special consideration and treatment prior to painting. For this reason, before spray painting either acrylic or polycarbonate sheet, carefully read the manufacturer’s technical bulletin and follow their recommendations regarding surface preparation, primers, approved solvents and paints, and spraying techniques. In thinning the painting, use the recommended solvents and never substitute with unapproved solvents. Strong solvents in the paint subject the plastic sheet to a chemical stress. That chemical stress, in addition to the mechanical stresses that are subjected upon the sheet during fabrication, can greatly reduce its impact resistance, which can contribute to breakage. Primer Selection Selection of a primer, which is the foundation for a good paint job, is also critical. Contrary to what many say, it is not just a cheap paint. It serves a couple of basic and very important functions.

First when painting a porous substrate, such as drywall or wood, a primer seals the surface. In some cases, it can serve as a barrier coating. For example, a latex primer, such as Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer, is more effective than oil-based primers at blocking tannins in a wood substrate from bleeding through the paint. Applied to a non-porous substrate, such as high-density urethane (HDU), the thick coating can fill in the sandpaper-like surface, transforming it to a smooth, even finish. Primers are also critical in anchoring or bonding the finish coat to the substrate. That is why selecting the right primer has a direct impact on the durability of the paint job. Paint Application Thick coatings of paint often result in problems such as wrinkling or sagging. Heavy applications of paint can also cause mud cracking (where the paint has the cracked appearance of dried mud). Other reasons for cracking are not allowing enough time for a coat of paint to flash off before painting a subsequent coating of paint or failure to sufficiently stir the paint before use. A heavy application of paint is not the only reason that paint can sag or run. Adding too much thinner also can make a paint too runny. That is why it is important to reduce your paint according to the manufacturer’s instructions. High ambient temperatures can also thin the viscosity of the paint, making it watery. Drying and Curing The conditions under which a coating cures or dries can affect the paint’s appearance and performance. In addition to its binder or resin and its pigment, paints contain water or solvent, which evaporates during drying or curing. When water or solvent becomes trapped within the paint or the paint dries too quickly, problems occur: • High temperatures can cause solvents in a paint system to evaporate too

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quickly, which causes pinholes. • If any moisture is trapped in a wood substrate, and it does not breathe out of the wood, then the trapped moisture can cause blisters or peeling paint. To prevent moisture-related problems, only paint when substrates are thoroughly dry. Avoid spraying when the weather is humid. It is usually better to wait until conditions are right. If you are pressed for time and are forced to paint when humidity is high, add a retarder to your paint and allow for some extra flash time. Also be aware that some paints dry so hard that, if you wait too long before painting another coat, you can have problems with inter-coat adhesion. In some cases, if too much time is allowed, components in the paint can bloom to the surface, which can prevent

the subsequent coat of paint from adhering to the primer coat. Top coats of paint should be applied within a couple of weeks after the primer is applied. Avoid applying heavy coats of paints. Instead paint lighter coatings and allow sufficient time between coats for the solvents to evaporate. Environmental Damage Prior to manufacturing, survey the application and make sure that you thoroughly understand the conditions to which the sign will be subjected. This will help you select the right materials for the job. Some of the environmental extremes that cause paint problems are UV light, heat, cold, and moisture. In some regards, we are at the mercy of the weather. Is there anything that we can do other than complain?


The answer is yes! The purpose of a site survey is to identify the potential problems and select the materials that prevent premature deterioration. Temperature extremes, especially high temperatures, can prematurely age both painted and applied graphics. Intercoat peeling can also occur if the undercoat of paint was not properly prepared. Sanding between coats can give the undercoating some tooth, which will promote and ensure good adhesion between layers of paint. Moisture causes countless problems with wood signs. Many of these problems start at the edges of the sign, where moisture can enter. To avoid deterioration at the edges, you should fill any gaps in the wood and use a round-over bit to smooth the sharp edges, which are prone to chipping and splintering.

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May 2017

Sign Builder Illustrated




Signs on the Mind How sign designers can convince the brain to buy.


t’s safe to say that, every single day, you are being persuaded to spend money through strategic design. A few familiar examples might be when you’re enjoying the curves of your favorite sports car, getting sucked into a random ad on social media, or how about just walking through your local grocery store—don’t those brightly colored bags of chips almost seem to call your name? Your brain is on cognitive overload processing your purchases based on colors, shapes, fonts, layout, feel, and a variety of other elements. Sounds a lot like your sign customers doesn’t it? Just as marketing teams have convinced your brain to buy, sign designers can generate sales using similar psychology. Know Your Target Audience Easily the most important part of sign design is knowing your target audience. This is often difficult for sign designers because there is constant pressure to please multiple viewers on every project—the buyer, the project sales reps,


Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017

the occasional middle man between the buyer and said sales reps, sign shop owners, and many others. Hopefully this article can start put-

The most important part of sign design is knowing your target audience, and designers design to please only the buyer. ting this headache to rest and declare that the only way to close a sale is ultimately through the buyer loving the design. Therefore sign designers design to

Typography Fonts are a great way to add personality to a sign, and they can create memorable connections within our buyers. Spend time investigating each of the font classifications and how it’s cognitively interpreted. Below are a few signspecific tips: • Serif fonts on signs are good for horizontal flow and tend to be easier on the eyes to read. However, dependent on font size, they can be difficult to cut or route. • Sans Serif and Modern fonts are generally neutral on the emotional spectrum and a safe bet for most anything sign related. They also work well with a variety of sign styles. • Script and Decorative fonts are fun but can be very difficult to read on signs. They should be used strategically with a lot of consideration regarding their legibility. • Try using no more than two fonts per sign and, for additional variety, incorporate bold or italic versions of your choices. Utilize kerning on every sign. • Letter thickness is vital. The chosen font alone might not be thick enough,

Photo: Dreamstime/ Sergey Khakimullin.

please only the buyer. In order to do this, designers must get to know the buyer and their taste. Sales and design departments should work together to develop a short but powerful list of questions for sales reps to use when meeting with buyers. Additionally, right before designers get started, these departments should have brief meetings to discuss the feel of the buyers. Designers should also study the buyer’s Web site, social media presence, business card, or any other materials available. This process not only helps designers pick up on themes, patterns, and styles, but it also helps familiarize the designer with whom they are designing for.

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By BROOKE ALBRING curately see the hierarchy you created. • Upsell Tactic: Perfect your visual hierarchy in the expensive option. Then tactfully take the alternative options and make all focal elements similar in size. With less of a hierarchy, the mind will be deterred from these options. Additionally our mind reads from left to right top to bottom, so design your cheaper signs subtly reversing these reading habits.

the sign’s location. • Add subtle gradients to all surfaces for a snazzy finished look. • Upsell Tactic: Use a harmonious color palette on the expensive option. Then, on additional options, try slightly adjusting the hue of those colors to make them less appealing.

Color Choices Colors are directly linked to our emotions and, if chosen wisely, will make a sale significantly easier. Sometimes it can be hard to narrow in on the best color combination, but with the world at our fingertips, take the necessary time to research color palettes around your main selected color. Here are some additional tips on how to use color in your favor: • Try using three different colors per sign, and from there, use various shades or tints to add more variety (if desired). • Always provide a concept that is designed using the requested colors but don’t be afraid to include another option with colors that look better with

Visual Hierarchy It is essential with all signs to recognize where the viewer’s eyes are being drawn. Not all information is created equal, and you want to be sure there is no element dominating over the main focus. Here’s some food for thought: •  Logos don’t always have to be the center of attention. Play around with watermarking or enlarging icons off the edge of the sign. • Place secondary information under divider lines, on plaques, or a different layer or try changing the background color towards the lower half of the sign to highlight that information. • Take a break after finishing a design and come back to it with fresh eyes to ac-


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May 2017

Brooke Albring has over ten years of conceptual design experience and is CEO of BA Innovative, a design firm based in St. Petersburg, Florida. For more information, log on to or email

Photos (this page): Designed by Brooke Albring.

and bold might be overwhelming, so find your happy space by manually placing a contour on the characters. • Upsell tactic: Try beautifully kerning and thickening your characters on the expensive option, and kerning and thinning the other options to feel slightly uncomfortable.

Sign Silhouetting Humans have an affinity for curves, and shapes have more influence over our buyers than you might realize. Rectangular cabinets on rectangular bases have their place, but designers should be venturing out of these boundaries more often than not. Consider the following tips to keep your silhouettes sassy: • Use revels and dividers to give your signs a waistline. • Try hand-sketching some of your concepts first. This pushes you outside the provided computerized shapes and makes you more likely to develop an awesome new silhouette. • Upsell Tactic: Add more layers and shape to the expensive option while keeping the alternative options simple and more box-shaped. Designers should do their own research around these key elements.

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CNC ROUTER Lighting By mike Bradantoniak Burnett

Installing An Things to keep in mind when putting up LED channel letters and lighting. 22

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ince the introduction of LEDs, vendors have pointed to their energy efficiency and durability as selling points for use as signage. This may be most visible in the outdoor lighting that’s used to draw attention to and highlight the aesthetics of all types of businesses, buildings, and structures. Once the sole realm of neon and fluorescent lighting, more and more channel letters and border accents are

now undergoing a transition to LEDs. “Right now, our products are being used for a lot of retrofits,” reports Joe Reis, vice president, International Lighting Technology ( “LEDs are being adopted into new construction too, but for retrofits, LEDs are now a cost-effective alternative (to traditional lighting).” According to Alaster Webb, project manager at Everylite (, there are

Photo: Dave Forrest.

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many variables when it comes to LED usage for architectural lighting applications, depending on the environment. “This includes the building owner’s desired effect, the setting, the existing structure, and the project deadlines,” he says. Daryl Foreman, senior vice president of Sales for neon and LED lighting solutions manufacturer Ventex Technology

(, adds, “The only time we see neon as the better choice is when the lighting will be exposed and is to be seen or when they want something like an Art Deco look.” (Note: Foreman estimates that as much as 95 percent of architectural lighting is now being accomplished with LEDs.) However an emphasis on simplified

installation has now broadened the appeal of LED, while giving sign builders new creative options. And keep in mind that installation will prove much easier when you’ve taken everything into account. Determining the number of LED modules and power supplies beforehand can help when discussing the scope of a project with the client. Consultation with suppliers is usually required for precise estimates of the components, time, and costs the project entails. For retrofits, first Reis advises, “You’ve got to know the linear footage of what you’ll be replacing, as well as how you’ll get DC power from the inside to the outside and where the best places to put the transformers are,” he says. “When you’re doing a site survey, you need to see what’s on top of the building and if there are any obstacles to work around on the building.” Webb advises that any potential issue that could impact the design and instal-




Sign Builder Illustrated is the “how-to magazine” of the sign industry. Each issue includes SBI’s signature “how-to” columns and features with detailed, step-by-step instructions covering a wide range of signage.

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Photo: Peter Perszyk.


lation should be identified beforehand so the project can proceed smoothly. These include: • Calculating the incoming voltage; • Researching applicable lighting restrictions in municipal or county codes; • Determining if the lighting might be considered an eyesore or detract from the intended effect; • Ensuring the components can not be easily stolen; • Verifying that they don’t pose any danger to bystanders or pedestrians; and • Choosing what, if any, control component is best for the end user. “Also, it is very important to understand the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in a project,” he adds. “Key documents such as wiring diagrams must be clear for them to understand, and they must address any question as soon as possible.” Nataliya Gadacz, operating manager at G2G Lighting (, says the key considerations when planning

a project include the type of building or letters that are being illuminated; the desired effect; the scale of the project; setting and potential exposure to the elements; whether the lighting will be viewed by pedestrians, motorists, or both; and required brightness. “You also need a good survey of the site and job and what the lighting will be mounted to, like whether it’s a brick wall or marble,” adds Foreman. Foreman does advise sign builders to selectively choose their LED suppliers, as the quality of their components ultimately determines the customer’s perceived quality of the work. He recommends investigating the Dun and Bradstreet report on a supplier’s financial strength, its distribution channels in the sign industry, company history and years in business, clients, and case profiles of projects incorporating its products. “You should also ask if they can provide the results of outside third-party testing to prove the durability and color

retention of their LEDs,” he adds. As far as the installation goes, all manufacturers stress detailed instructions, installation guidelines, and advice on safe procedures are available for every component they sell. “All our product manuals with safety instructions are included in the product box, as well as available online,” reports Gadacz. As far as safety precautions go, Gadacz advises to always follow UL regulations. “That is the Bible for the electric sign industry,” she adds. “With the right UL classification, you can complete a (retrofit) project in the field,” elaborates Reis. “Without it, work on something like channel letters may have to be brought back to the shop.” Ultimately, project approval comes down to compliance with applicable regulations. “In most cases, a licensed electrician is required to make the final electrical connections,” says Foreman. “Everything goes back to local codes and what they require.”


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Feature Name architectural By lori Author shridhare

Signs of



hat technology can marry the classic style of a United States national historic landmark with the efficiency and elegance of twentyfirst century lighting? LED lighting. Flexible LED products are allowing designers to explore fluid, organic


Sign Builder Illustrated

May 2017

shapes and intricate, precise patterns that allow for precise lettering and signage design. When the famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California underwent the first renovation for its main sign at the North entrance in fifty years, LED lighting was chosen.

The retrofit brought the words “Rose Bowl,� along with the design of the rose itself, into a modern, yet traditional look, while allowing significant savings in energy use. The Rose Bowl sign renovation, completed last year, stands 30 feet tall-by-77 feet wide and features Vivid S RGB

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ules and LED Neon Flex offered by boutique LED lighting company Green LED Lighting Solutions (GLLS) of Las Vegas. “With this project, it was very important to have the measurements as accurate as possible,” says Russell Fougere, Web and media developer for GLLS. “We also had to ensure that the color

change was synchronized in certain areas. “When working on a project as important as the Rose Bowl sign—or any project really—it is important to communicate with the client during the entire process regarding any potential issues or challenges that arise or any decisions that must be made prior to

finalizing the project.” Co-owned by Derek Breneol and Michael Burton, GLLS was founded in 2007 and opened a warehouse and headquarters In Las Vegas in 2009. Architectural lighting is the company’s “bread and butter.” Thirty-five percent of its business is directed to signage, 40 percent to exterior lighting (building outlines, landscape lighting, and accent lighting), and 25 percent to interior lighting (backlighting displays and lightboxes, shelf lighting, and cove lighting). Meanwhile a smaller segment of their business is dedicated to art installations. Though relatively small, the company has been privileged to work on several high-profile clients in addition to the Rose Bowl, including Disney, Universal Studios, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Belmont Park oceanfront amusement park in San Diego, and the TopGolf Las Vegas complex at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. For the Rose Bowl project, they incorporated movement through sequencing for a more dynamic display by integrating DMX512 control, which is standard for digital communication networks that are commonly used to control stage lighting and effects. “This allows for chasing sequences, which is an absolute headturner in the sign industry,” says Fougere. Another milestone was matching specific PANTONE colors using the RAL50 chart, which in the early days of LED lighting, was not possible. “This is important for companies to keep the color of their exterior signage consistent with their brand’s color palette,” says Fougere. The Flat Iron Skyline GLLS maintains a balance of supporting large brands and partnering with cutting-edge lighting designers. Recently the company took part in a New York City installation called Flat Iron Skyline with the lighting design firm LOT. At a median in the Flatiron District, a public installation was created to entice the public to enjoy the lighting while using the hammocks that were made available to them. The hammocks were hung May 2017

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One project changed from warmer whites to cooler whites at night.

GLLS provides light panels in Best Buy stores.

Whether you’re using an LED light panel as your sole source of light or to create visual appeal, you’ll want to consider color temperature. from large metal arches that integrated GLLS’s Vivid Wave LED product so they could be illuminated at night. “The fixture selected by the lighting designers has built-in lighting temperature control, which allowed them to change the temperature from warmer whites of 2700K in the early evening to cooler whites of 5000K throughout the night,” says Fougere. “‘Warm’ whites typically means a cozier, subtle effect, while upwards towards 5000K ‘cool’ whites is more akin to daylight.” Choosing a Color Temperature One of the company’s recent projects was to provide light panels for all Best 28

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May 2017

Buy stores to backlight display retail signage for Microsoft. Whether you’re using an LED light panel as your sole source of light or to create visual appeal, you’ll want to consider color temperature. Color temperature refers to where the color falls on the Kelvin spectrum between blue and red. Blue temperatures are cooler with higher Kelvin ratings while red temperatures are warmer. And there’s a right time to use color of a specific range. According to Fougere, who maintains blogs at, when you buy LED light panels, you’ll typically want natural light, if you’re using the

The Flat Iron Skyline installation was created to entice the public to enjoy lighting while using hammocks.

lights indoors where many people will be reading (and especially if there is no source of natural light available). “This is around the 5500K ranges,” he says. If you want to promote a relaxed atmosphere for your staff and clients, even warmer light in the range of 2000K might be preferable. “Restaurants, for example, are among the type of businesses who want to keep customers relaxed,” says Fougere. “The right shade of blue, however, also has a calming effect and might be more appropriate when you’re using LED light panels as decoration rather than the main light source.” According to Fougere, cooler white or blue lights are often better if you’re showcasing a product or want to provide brighter light in cramped spaces. “When you mount LED light panels under cabinets to light up the space between the cabinet and tabletop below, a warm light temperature might not cut it,” he says. Furthermore, according to Fougere, cool lights offer stark contrast, especially when paired with black or white backgrounds. “It can create a contemporary environment in which to display

ucts or even art without distraction,” he says. “On the other hand, the blue glare from a computer screen can cause eye strain and headaches, which is one reason you might consider installing software on your computer to adjust color temperature based on the time of day.” If you plan to take photographs or recording videos in a space with LED panels, then color balance becomes important to recreate the setting accurately. “Photographers have long used physical color gels on the light source to correct color balance issues, while digital image processing enables you to adjust your photos as well,” says Fougere. “Starting with a balanced color temperature enables you to take photos that have fewer shadows and aren’t washed out or orange. “Light in a range between 3000K and 4000K tends to be balanced, without showing either blue or orange hues. Of course, you might use warm colors at one time and cool tones at others to get the right results.”

Restaurants use LED colors that keep customers relaxed.

Conclusion One of the things central to GLLS’s business goals is a commitment to staying ahead of the curve. This means continued partnerships with lighting designers to experiment with new designs and the latest upgrades

in technology. “To this end, we’ve recently joined the International Association of Lighting Designers as we believe in constant innovation,” says Fougere, “and the lighting design community has never shied away from pushing boundaries.”

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Feature Name LED By HEATH Author MARTIN

by Example T

he first light-emitting diode (LED) was invented ninety years ago, but the technology has only recently become a dominant force in outdoor signage. For decades, most lightbox/acrylic signs used the dependable T12HO ballasts and lamps for illumination. But as that sizeable installed base gets retrofitted, LED lighting has become the preferred technology. The U.S. Department of Energy is so 32

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May 2017

excited about the future of LED lighting that it’s funding numerous R&D projects to improve the technology’s already impressive efficiency and performance. According to West Coast research firm ElectroniCast, the market for LED products for traditional lightbox/ acrylic signs is growing at 14.9 percent per year. “That means that most of the new signs use LEDs, and when new light units are required in existing signs, most are ret-

rofitted with LEDs,” says ElectroniCast President Stephen Montgomery. “LEDs are winning the market share leadership position because the lumens have increased and costs have decreased,” adds Montgomery. “LED signs not only save money on the monthly energy bill, they also save money on maintenance costs since LEDs have such a long life cycle. “There are no longer any key negatives about switching to LEDs.”

All Photos: Universal Ligthing Technologies.


How LED lighting is transforming the signage landscape.

major LED retrofitting after conducting pilot programs,” says Montgomery. “We’ve also seen Marriott and Best Western switching to LED signage. In fact, we’re seeing all major restaurant and hotel chains choosing LED not just for outdoor signage but for interior lighting as well.” LED lighting is also rapidly gaining popularity at gas stations, where the technology was first used to light canopy luminaires to give customers better visibility and safety at the pump.

Pilot Programs Accelerate the Switch Outdoor signage is critical to the success of many businesses, especially those in the foodservice, hospitality, and convenience store industries. Many major corporations in these fields did their homework and discovered that fluorescent technology simply couldn’t keep pace with LED innovations. “Both Holiday Inn and Starbucks had

LED’s Impressive Advantages Here are some of the reasons LED lighting is fast replacing fluorescent and neon technology in outdoor signs: •  LED lighting delivers about 60 percent greater operating efficiency. According to ElectroniCast, a typical large format lightbox using fluorescent lighting often requires up to forty-five tubes. Even if it’s operated for just twelve hours a day, the sign will use about 12,000 kilowatts of power each

year and run up an electric bill of more than $1,000. • Advanced LED sign tube technology offers lumen maintenance L70 greater than 140,000 hours compared to the 12,000-hour lamp life of typical T12H0 fluorescent lamps. • LED tubes are direct one-to-one replacements for T12HO lamps and come in single- and double-sided configurations. • LED lighting has excellent color rendering (CRI) and LED binning provides consistent color temperature. •  LED lighting offers low voltage for greater safety. The low “forward” heat from LED lights can reduce fire hazards and even lower insurance costs. •  LED allows more targeted illumination, making it more efficient with less wasted lumens when compared to omnidirectional fluorescent light. •  Eliminates the “half on” look sometimes seen with neon channel letters in colder climates. LED lighting works well in climates • 

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ranging from -22° F up to 140° F. • LED lights can be recycled and contain no toxic mercury. • It’s easy to mount the LED driver to the existing sign raceway. •  LED products are virtually maintenance-free because LEDs don’t flicker like the old magnetic fluorescent lamps, and LED products have a very long life. LEDs fail by gradually dimming over time (after as much as 140,000 hours of operation), which can be a more desirable failure mode than fluorescent lamps that go dark and leave signs partially unlit. Especially for hard-to-maintain signs that are high in the air or situated above retail traffic, the cost savings from reduced maintenance can be huge. A New Era in Outdoor Signage The fluorescent and neon signs that have long dominated Times Square and Las Vegas are steadily getting replaced by LED technology.

LED lighting offers better outdoor temperature performance.

Replacement convenience—and the time savings it offers—has become a key consideration in the sign business. Transient voltage and natural events happen to the best-built and maintained signs. But neon requires special equipment and skill to repair. With LED, an

installer simply removes the old tube and pops the new one in place. Heath Martin is LED sign channel product manager at Universal Lighting Technologies in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information, visit



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By jeff wooten


How LEDs, Tiki culture, and George Clooney led to a unique sign idea.

All Photos: Global Sign & Awning.

Signage T

he owners of Aloha Hair and Nail Spa, Trina Tran and Frank Chan, resided in Hawaii for fifteen years before moving to Bradenton, Florida several years ago to open up their boutique, where the “Aloha Spirit” awaits their clients. To them, this Island philosophy is more than just a greeting—it’s a way of life. The couple has combined a spirit of care and warmth with a healthy dose of

fun and food into their services to make quite a name for themselves. Due to their success (and growing waiting list), they decided to relocate from a cramped strip mall location to a freestanding 3,740-square-foot “state-ofthe-art” spa that took a year-and-a-half to build. The outside is painted two-tone electric yellow and pastel green, and inside, you’ll find “authentic Hawaiian hospitality” being employed through a

custom-built bamboo service desk, earthtone ceramic tile, and bright wall colors. Trina and Frank had been using a small, plain set of confined channel letters surrounded by vinyl banners at their strip mall location. However they knew they were going to need much more dynamic signage at their new building. Shortly before the grand opening, the building contractor called Christopher Wicks II, owner of full-service Global May 2017

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Sign and Awning ( in Clearwater, Florida. The shop boasts a variety of employees to help complete jobs—designers, fabricators, installers, project managers, etc. “We cover all the bases,” says Wicks, who has quite a history providing high-quality signs for shopping centers and their tenants. According to Wicks, the contractor told him about the new spa facility being built in Bradenton and asked if his shop could make a stronger sign that better evoked a Hawaiian experience. “I told him that, yes, we could do this,” says Wicks, “and he responded that he needed a proof by the next day!” After finding out the contractor was serious, Wicks still agreed to do the job, enticed by being given carte blanche at designing a sign from scratch, as long as it featured Exotica-inspired iconography. Wicks was already in a creative frame of mind thanks to having recently watched the Disney movie Tomorrowland starring George Clooney. “I was inspired by the futuristic-retro architecture and signs featured in the movie,” he says, “and those ideas bled over into this.” His idea was to take unique blue letters with a Tiki beach vibe (but with a modern twist) spelling “A-L-O-H-A” and place them over irregular-shaped, alternatingpink-and-purple-pattern diamonds. Wicks designed everything in Adobe Illustrator in twenty-five minutes. The contractor and the spa owners loved the concept and quickly approved it. “They made a few small changes,” says Wicks. “They suggested adding the hibiscus flowers to the diamonds, which I crafted using stock imagery. “They also wanted to include a surfboard with unique, ‘fun’ text below the diamonds.” All the pieces were cut using their CNC router. “We made the surfboard out of an aluminum face with half-inch clear push-through copy,” says Wicks. “Then this copy is backed with 1/8-inch blue acrylic to make it look like water.” Lighting proved to be another avenue of creativity for Global Sign and Awning here. The channel letters are frontand back-lit using white Principal LED Street Fighter modules. “They are Channelume trimless

The shop mounted the letters to the diamond background using standoffs in different lengths.

A blue acrylic face and a blue vinyl outline make for an electric vibe.

channel letters with a blue acrylic face, and we added blue vinyl for the outline,” says Wicks. “Doubling up those blue colors gives it an electric vibe at nighttime, and then in the daytime, you have a blue face with a dark-blue out-

line that makes it ‘pop!’” The diamonds behind the channel letters are reverse-lit with LED modules and feature a .090 aluminum face with a Lexan® back. Global Sign and Awning then wrapped the Lexan back with transMay 2017

Sign Builder Illustrated


Standoffish: The Value of Standoffs

Standoffs can be sized in diameters as small as one-quarterinch to as large as two inches, so always make sure that you are using the properly proportioned size of



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May 2017

standoffs in relation to the size of your media. There are many choices on the market from standard mounting standoffs to edge grip type. Both the size of the signage and the placement will factor into the type of mounting that is used. A promotional sign with complicated graphics might warrant edge grip mounting so that more of the artwork is visible, while ADA signage in a common area will work with standard mounting type standoffs. However there are some common mistakes I’ve noticed that sign makers should avoid when using standoffs for their signage. The most important of these is to make sure that your project is adequately secured to the surface you are mounting it to and to make sure that the quality and appearance of the standoffs you are using match with the media that you are securing. —Paul Bernstein Paul Bernstein is vice-president at Metomic Corporation, a manufacturer of brass and aluminum screw machine parts, including standoffs. For more information, visit

Photo: Metomic Corporation.

There can be a tendency to take standoffs and other mounting hardware for granted, but where would exhibit, identity, and point-ofpurchase signage be without the aid of elegant, refined standoffs? Available in polished chrome or brushed anodized aluminum, standoffs are a very effective and affordable method for sign makers to increase the perceived value of their signs. Requiring only a moderate investment, they yield increased sales to sign makers’ customers. When it comes to sign decoration, standoffs both increase the visibility and effectiveness of signage by drawing increased attention to the signage and by adding a richer, more valuable and dignified look to the presentation.

parent ORAFOL vinyl to those colors. “We tried to find pink and purple LEDs, but those don’t exist,” says Wicks, “so we used white instead. Because the light shines through it, translucent vinyl would hold too much of the light back; the transparent allowed enough light to go through it and give us the pinks and purples that we were looking for.” Wicks challenged his shop’s creativity on this project. He wanted the vinylcovered diamond shapes projecting out to be staggered. “So one diamond stands off the wall six inches, one stands off nine inches, the next six inches, the next nine inches, and so forth,” he says. However while the diamonds are going in and out of the wall, Wicks envisioned the channel letters remaining on the same plane. So they used different length standoffs to accomplish this. Global Sign and Awning was careful not to go too far from the wall that the light would be inconsistent. “So there is only about a three-inch difference between the two so that they still light up consistently,” says Wicks. They shipped the sign in six pieces—the “A,” “L,” “O,” “H,” “A,” and surfboard—to the recently constructed building. They used their Elliott Equipment and Dur-A-Lift trucks to install the illuminated sign onto the exterior wall of the building. (Note: The company also built and installed a 14-by-14-foot, LED-illuminated aluminum cabinet with vinyl copy featuring the new design on pylons painted bright yellow and green using Matthews Paint.) Because of the staggered design of the sign, Global Sign and Awning couldn’t start with the “A” and work their way left to right. “The letters had to be installed in a pattern, so that the diamonds would overlap correctly,” says Wicks. The remote power supplies are located inside the building for several reasons. One was for ease of service in the future. “And because the letters were so specific, if we had a power supply go out in the middle, we would be forced to take off three letters,” says Wicks. The wall sign and the pylon sign were knocked out in two weeks, just in time to greet clients at the grand opening. Aloha indeed!


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May 2017

Sign Builder Illustrated


CNC ROUTER business By ashley Brad Burnett bray

the right representation S ign shops may think they understand the sales model in our industry—manufacturers supply their products through distributors who then provide them to sign shops. However there is a role in our industry that is gaining more and more attention—that of manufacturer’s reps. “A manufacturer’s rep is the outsourcing of a function to an independent firm so [a manufacturer] can focus on their core competencies,” explains Charles Cohon, CEO & president of the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA). The rep provides sales services on a paid-for-performance basis.


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“There’s little risk because your sales cost is in direct proportion to your sales,” says Cohon. “If you have a sales employee, you’re paying salary and expenses. You have all kinds of costs that are fixed whether you sell anything or not.” Manufacturer’s reps are prevalent in other industries like construction, but their growth has been slow in the sign industry. Cohon believes this may be attributed to the issue of control versus efficiency. “The reason that people tend not to adopt reps is they confuse control with efficiency,” he says. “They feel like if they don’t control the situation, then they’re not going to get their money’s worth.

When, in fact, exactly the opposite is true. “If you attempt to control from Chicago the way sales calls are conducted in Pittsburgh, your Chicago-based biases, the way that you’re used to conducting business, and just the physical distance is going to undermine your efficiency.” (Note: MANA recently launched a podcast series on manufacturer’s reps: Another reason that manufacturers may be hesitant to use reps is the perception that they are “sharing” time with the other companies a rep may be working for. Cohon believes this is a problem of perception versus a check in the

All Photos: Yorston & Associates.

How manufacturer’s reps can benefit your shop.

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Reps sell full solutions, which leads to more meaningful conversations with shops.

tive column against reps. “All these different manufacturers who make complementary, noncompeting products get to share sales leads,” he says. This means that if a rep walks into a sign shop to sell LEDs, all of the complementary products they represent that may go with that lighting (power supplies, trays to run the cables, extrusions to build lighted cabinets, etc.), all get a seat at the table with the shop owner. “Because of the longstanding relationships that we have in the industry, if we walk in with the product, it automatically gets a level of credibility with our clientele,” says Joe Lupton, manufacturer’s representative and consultant at Yorston & Associates (Y&A), a firm that was founded in 1985 and now has core product lines in electrical and commercial signage. “All of these products get a rolling, continuous audience with people that they normally wouldn’t have an audience with.” Manufacturers SignComp, a manufacturer of aluminum extrusion systems, has been working with Y&A for the last thirty years. “We were a new, small company, and we immediately saw the advantage to hiring a remote salesperson and sharing that cost with other manufacturers,” says Peter Lamberts, CEO of SignComp. Over the years, SignComp says they have continued to work with Y&A because the firm constantly introduces new products to the market and supports SignComp’s existing customer base. Y&A also allows them to have a presence in all of their market areas. 46

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May 2017

“They are our ‘feet on the ground’ when we cannot be in the area,” says Jeremy Breihof, regional sales manager at SignComp. Reps can provide benefits for both new companies looking to establish a foothold in the sign industry or for existing companies who want to expand or grow. Aside from the sales presence, reps can also provide support at events like open houses, tradeshows, etc. Manufacturer’s reps are in shops all over the country, and because of this, they can provide some unique insights to their manufacturer clients. “We have a very broad view of the industry and can share all kinds of intel with the manufacturers and say, ‘Listen this is the trend we’re seeing, [and] this is how we can adapt and continue to evolve with the industry,’” says Lupton. “A lot of times, it’s a consulting role where our experience and what we’re seeing in the field shapes the next product they build and design.” This results in sign shops having their opinions heard. “It gives me a voice,” says Bob Esser, senior technical designer at CIMA Network. “They’re the people who go back to the manufacturer and say, ‘Hey you’ve got to step up your game,’ or, ‘These are the things all my clients are asking for.’” Distributors As a shop owner, you’re used to getting all of your products from a supplier. How do manufacturer’s reps change that? They don’t—they actually enhance the experience. In fact, Y&A makes sure the manufacturers it represents all have

a distributor so that shops are able to quickly and easily get product when they put in an order. “We are extremely dependent on distributor partners who will go in there and take the sale and deliver the product,” says Lupton. “It’s a circle of support. Because at the end of the day, I don’t have a physical product to sell to somebody. It’s going to go through a distributor partner.” Reps help to educate distributors on the products they represent so they’re better prepared when talking with sign shops. “[A manufacturer’s rep] will help educate you on the product and help you with the pull-through on it to be able to sell it,” says Michael Sonlin, east coast sales manager at Pioneer Supply. Sonlin has a unique perspective on manufacturer’s reps because he was one prior to jumping to the distributor side of things in 2000. He even recommends that his sales force travel with reps. “They can learn about the product from the rep, and the rep will actually help them to present that product better,” he says. “They may [also] be able to help you with a relationship with somebody you may not have a relationship with.” Adam Yorston, manufacturer’s representative and consultant to the sign industry, northeast territory, for Y&A, explains, “Covering multiple products from an expert level allows us to cover more ground together and become more valuable together when visiting sign shops.” Sign Shops Reps may work on behalf of manufacturers, but the biggest benefits lie in what they offer to sign shops. For one, reps aim to go beyond selling products—their goal is to teach and educate sign shops. “We bring technical expertise, and we bring a teaching method to integrate products into what [shops] do,” says Lupton. “We don’t just share a product, we teach them a new and better way to do what they do.” This is key in an industry where there isn’t a centralized place to learn everything you need to know about signage. “There are no legitimate full-on technical classes nor courses you can take at a university to get a degree,” says

ton. “The industry desperately needs someone who’s constantly digging in and saying how do we do this smarter, how do we do it more efficiently, and how do we do it more economically?” And manufacturer’s reps serve that “digging in” role by finding the latest and greatest products for sign shops that result in a more efficient process. That’s just one of the reasons why the CIMA Network works with them. “There’s always new products coming out every day, and I really don’t have the time to scour the Internet to find what I need,” says Esser. “I think, as manufacturers, we get stuck in this role of using the same product over and over again— because it’s worked, because it’s cheaper, etc.—and not thinking that maybe there’s a better product to suit this need. And that’s where the manufacturer’s reps need to come in. I’ve seen some real awesome ideas from them.” What’s key for many sign shops is that manufacturer’s reps come in offering not

L-R: Bill & Adam Yorston, Joe Lupton, & Ellen Dyar of Y&A.

just one or two products but oftentimes an entire solution. “We’re not selling one piece of the puzzle, we sell the entire puzzle,” says Lupton. This results in more meaningful conversations between reps and shops where many topics and projects can be covered. “As sales people, our goal should be providing the customer the best solution we can to earn their everlasting trust. I

get to be nonbiased in a sense and really focus on a solution and really focus on what that customer needs,” says Yorston. “A key part of that is listening.” Esser believes manufacturer’s reps are a relationship sign shops can’t go without in our industry. “It’s a very powerful relationship with some people that really know their stuff and can scratch your back when you need it,” he says.

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11/16/16 12:56 PM

Sign Builder Illustrated




A Texas sign shop makes its mark with engraving.


esar Aragon, owner of Aragon Graphics in Garland, Texas, has been involved in the art of engraving for close to thirty-five years now. In fact, his shop is equipped with the best of both worlds—rotary engravers (which use bits to make deep, measured cuts) and a 39-by-24-inch Speedy 400 Trotec laser engraver (which uses a “non-contact” marking method with48

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out the need for tools or engraving bits). Substrates engraved in-shop include plastics, metals, woods, papers, and acrylics. (Note: Cesar likes engraving Rowmark and Johnson Plastics materials.) In addition to engravers, the shop also has a fifty-four-inch Roland VersaCAMM digital printer, a small Tormach PNC 1100 CNC milling machine, and an RMI Yag laser marker on their floor. They’ve combined this equipment in several pro-

jects. “We can print onto vinyl and apply it to a substrate, then mill it out, and add enhancements to it with either of our engravers,” says Cesar. The Aragon Graphics motto is, “If you can imagine it, we can produce it,” and this philosophy shows in their work. Their expertise allows them to combine laser engraving, mechanical engraving, screen printing, powder coating, and digital graphics to produce unique

All Photos: Aragon Graphics.



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products for their customers. “Our engraving specialties include marking cable connectors, wall plates, electrical identification name plates, switch plates, push buttons, legend plates, overlays, and control panels,” says Cesar. Cesar started Aragon Graphics in 1991 out of his garage, but he found success in the engraving field well before then. “I started out at Artisan Engraving in Carrollton, Texas, working there for three years,” he says. “I then moved on to AMX and set up an engraving department for them, which they still have.” Armed with his years of knowledge, Cesar says both rotary and laser enravers have their own advantages (another

reason he’s found it beneficial to have both types on his shop floor). “A laser engraver produces high-quality work,” he says. “It leaves a very crisp image and is also quick. On restroom signs, for example, you can use the laser engraver to cut the substrate and create the shape of the man/woman on it.” Cesar states you can do beautiful engraving using burnishing tools with rotary engravers. “Depending on the bit you’re using and its angle, you can also achieve an impressive depth,” he says. “For ADA signs featuring Braille, we use the rotary to drill the holes to insert the rasters.” Aragon Graphics uses CorelDRAW software to drive the Trotec Speedy 400

laser directly, while they utilize EngraveLab for their workhorse rotary machines. Production-wise the good news is that you can paint on a substrate immediately after you finish with either engraver. “You put some masking on it to protect the rest,” says Cesar. “If you are going to do color filling, you put application tape on the substrate and engrave through it. “Then apply the color filling, let it dry, and pull the mask off that protects the rest of the surface.” While Cesar finds that laser engraving is must-have in his shop (“I always ask myself why I didn’t get one sooner,” he laments), he does advise that sign makers study their market and see how much business they’re going to have for their laser capabilities. Even if you find this work won’t occur as frequently, Cesar recommends not turning any of these jobs down. “Sub-contract it out whenever it arises,” he says. He finds that laser engravers are easy to learn, which makes them an excellent choice for start-ups. “Desktop models can go anywhere in a shop,” says Cesar. “Then you can order materials and pens that are laser-engraveable from catalogs.” Cesar does acknowledge that rotary engravers are difficult to learn and that the sign makers who are going to gravitate toward these machines are typically older and already familiar with them. “Rotary is also more manual and timeconsuming,” says Cesar. Cesar says that glass and mirror are more difficult to engrave because they require extra caution and additional time for handling. “The chrome that makes the glass is metal, so the laser will not penetrate that. It will only remove the gray color on the glass,” he says. “That’s when you have to do all the processes to remove that.” Due to the fragile nature of glass, Aragon Graphics always tapes it really good on the front before any engraving. They’re also careful to not drop any tools on it. “You don’t want to damage glass,” he says, “because there’s no fixing it. You have to throw it away.” Cesar successfully implements LED illumination into engraved glass projects. “On mirror, we place the LEDs in a box mounted to the back of the mirror to create a reverse-lit effect,” he says, noting that he also hopes to use the laser engraver to create ADA signs featuring

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May 2017

Sign Builder Illustrated


similar LED lighting. Aragon Graphics also brings out their laser engraver to help an artist friend of Cesar’s who creates posters for festivals and events via wood blocks. “We do the big wood block on reverse and laser-engrave the block,” says Cesar. “Then [the artist] takes it back to his studio where he uses hand machines with big rollers to print these posters that he sells in the art district.” On his shop floor, Cesar has his Roland digital printer and Trotec laser engraver set up far from anywhere dust is generated. “We powder coat and screenprint electronic enclosures, and we don’t want dust close to them,” he says. Cesar is also careful that his Trotec laser is set up in an area with temperature control. “We make sure it doesn’t get hotter than 90ºF in our shop,” he says. When it comes to maintenance for the laser engraver, Cesar’s shop makes sure they clean the laser and the mirror each morning using Liquid Lens Cleaner and a specially made paper. “That is the best thing you can do, because there isn’t need for much maintenance,” he says. Cesar offers one trick: “Sometimes when the laser gets too dirty, it’s hard to remove the junk from the lens with just that solution. So we soak the lens with some Naphtha, because it’s oil-based,” he says, “and then apply a special fluid.” He also says to make sure the vents in the back don’t clog up, because the vacuum system sucks in the dust. “You have to brush those vents to get nice airflow every time,” says Cesar.


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May 2017

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May 4/12/17 3:18 PM 2017

Sign Builder Illustrated



By Ashley Bray

The Permitting Process

What shops need to know about securing permits.


epending on the type of sign, location, and sign code, permitting can back up a sign project for weeks or even months. We spoke with Louis Striar, Inc., sign and awning expeditors and consultants in New York City, about how to make the sign permitting process a bit easier. Louis Striar, Inc., has been working on sign permits for over sixty-five years, so there isn’t much they haven’t seen. The permit broker helps in the process of securing permits and aids those companies who have gotten sign and awning violations. The goal, however, is to avoid violations from the start. Vice President of Sales John Puleio recommends getting in touch with a sign permit broker at the very start of the project—before any fabrication on the sign has begun. He says bringing the sign’s address to a broker will help a shop and the client find out what’s allowed and if

there are any restrictions. “The earlier you know, the better,” he says. Puleio says other signs in the area aren’t always indicative of what’s allowed. “Illuminated may not be allowed in a certain area,” he states, “and yet neighbors still have illuminated signs up, but they’re illegal/in violation.” Electric signs often come with their own issues and pushbacks. Puleio says in big cities especially, the rules were often written a long time ago and didn’t take electric or illuminated signs into consideration, which complicates the permitting process. Other issues don’t relate to the size or brightness of the sign but rather to the content—especially with digital signage. For example, third-party advertising for profit is not allowed everywhere. Many permit issuers fear that they will approve a sign with the proper content, but that then the business will change the sign to include third-party advertis-

Sign Builder Illustrated (Print ISSN 895-0555, Digital ISSN 2161-4709) (USPS#0015805) (Canada Post Cust. #7204564; Agreement #40612608; IMEX Po Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2, Canada) is published monthly by Simmons-Boardman Publ. Corp, 55 Broad St. 26th Floor, New York, NY 10004. Printed in the U.S.A. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY and Additional mailing offices.

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Pricing, Qualified individual working in the sign industry may request a free subscription. Non-qualified subscriptions Print version, Digital version, Both Print & Digital versions: 1 year US/Canada/Mexico $50.00; foreign $99.00. Single Copies are $15.00 ea. Subscriptions must be paid for in U.S. funds only.

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COPYRIGHT © Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation 2017. All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced without permission. For reprint information, contact: Arthur Sutley, Publisher (212) 620-7247 or

ers or other content they weren’t permitted for. That hesitancy is amplified when permit issuers realize how easy it is to change a digital sign. “But just like any other sign or awning, if [the business] changes what was approved, they’re in violation,” cautions Puleio. Aside from illuminated signs, content isn’t usually a factor when securing a permit. “The actual design or what’s on the sign doesn’t matter so much,” remarks Puleio. “The manufacturing dimensions will matter for size and height and projection and things like that.” In general, Puleio recommends a sign shop has the paperwork all ready to go to ensure a faster permitting processing. However he cites three instances in New York City where having your paperwork in line won’t speed up the process: historic buildings, landmark buildings, and Loftboard buildings, which deal with the conversion of commercial/manufacturing use to residential use. These types of buildings require dealing with several agencies all with different requirements and restrictions. “That can really end up taking a while, because it’s not about just paperwork and plans and does everything match and comply with zoning,” says Puleio. “Now you’ve got to jump through all those hurdles.” Puleio says landmark buildings are the toughest. “It could be a three- to fourweek process, or it could be a three to four month process,” he says. “They’re also the ones that are the most concerned with the size and even the color and where it’s going. “The big thing is how it’s attached to the building—they don’t want certain things damaged, destroyed, or touched.” But once you get approval from a landmark, it’s easier to get the building permit, because you’ve already collected all the details.

POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Sign Builder Illustrated, PO Box 3135, Northbrook , IL 60062-3135. Instructional information provided in this magazine should only be performed by skilled crafts people with the proper equipment. The publisher and authors of information provided herein advise all readers to exercise care when engaging in any of the how-to-activities published in the magazine. Further, the publisher and authors assume no liability for damages or injuries resulting from projects contained herein.

Photo: Shutterstock/Glynnis Jones.

Shop Talk

May 2017 Sign Builder Illustrated  

This issue features stories on paints, lighting, LEDs, architectural signage, manufacturer's reps, design, engraving, and more!

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