Here's How Those Big Store Signs Are Made

Here’s how channel signs—basically those big signs that hang above stores and restaurants across the world—are made. The Science Channel gives us a sneak of the way things are done and it’s surprising that so much of it still requires the help of a human. It’s not all robots! And it’s actually a lot more work to shape vinyl and aluminum into letters and logos than you’d think.

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Doctor Fan

Having done this for many years, I can tell you not all sign shops have the fancy routing tables and letter benders. I’ve seen them at sign shows, but they are too expensive for your standard low volume custom sign shop. When doing this by hand it gets done in somewhat of a reverse order than what’s portrayed in the video.

First you get a paper template and rubber cement that to a sheet of aluminum. Then you cut out the letters with a jigsaw.

Then you block the letters sort of how the machine does it. Next you lay the letters on a sheet of plastic, trace them and cut the plastic.

You’ll run Jewelite around the plastic same as the guy did with nails and glue, while someone else can fit the LEDS.

Also there’s no painting. You order the plastic and metal in the color the customer wants, but 9 times out of 10 it’s bronze colored aluminum and red plastic faces.

There’s also the raceway. that’s the bit the letters get mounted to. When we use neon it will hold the transformers, but with LEDS you can simply ‘remote mount’ or use an empty raceway depending on the laws and rules for the installation site.

I’ll tell you there was an art to getting the most of the letters out of a sheet of aluminum, turning them and fitting them, to keep scrap down. Also laying out of the neon was a bit of a trick, to make sure you did double back too often, or that lighting was even. I still prefer neon to LED. LED tends to give hotspots while neon is more even.