Designing Custom Metal Signs - Material Choices (Part 2)


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There are numerous choices when it comes to selecting material for your customizable signs. Did you know all? Find out more at

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  • This is Part II of the presentation on making great Custom Metal Signs. Part II covers metal sign materials and gives six tips on how to choose the right sign material.
  • We’ll cover size topics:Size matters – a larger sign means your sign will be seen from a greater distance and more legible text.Durability matters – give the cost of installing a sign (vs the sign itself), it only makes sense to order the most durable sign possible.Add reflectivity.Don’t blindly choose a rectangular shape. There are other shapes, too!Repeat your message (again and again and…).And, don’t forget about signinstallation. But, before we go through steps to take when choosing effective sign materials, let’s look at three things to avoid: stick on letters, sharp edges, ink jet. As a sign manufacturer
  • Rarely is a sign too big. Yes, the costs increase with size. But, larger signs are more legible. This is especially true:When you are in a car looking at the sign.You approach the sign from an angle (and not “head on”).It is at night or in poor weather.Each inch of letter height adds 25’ to 50’ of viewing distance (when seen “head on”).We make signs up to six feet wide.
  • Here is an important topic: Sign Durability.In the next couple of slides, we’ll show you why the economics are clear. For most property owners, a durable sign has compelling cost advantages. And this is where metal signs, especially those using matched and approved components from 3M make such a difference.But, before we get to sign durability comparisons, let’s explain what this means, the 3M system.3M – the largest source of materials in the US (and probably the world) for signs. They know durability and they test obsessively. They have dominated the sign industry since the 60’s. They sell a system of inks (screen printing and other types) that are made and tested to be compatible with their films and other approved sign substrates. It’s a proven system.In comparison, many new sign companies are using digital ink jet printers that are designed for banners, vehicle wraps, posters, billboards. The typical ink jet printers used for signs include, at the high end: Mimaki’s, Jetrons. Inca’s, Xeikon. At the low end, many sign franchise operation may have HP or even Mimaki printers. Even if you laminate these signs, you are still lucky to get more than 5 years. Curing is tricky, too. But, they can print quickly and print in full color.
  • Let’s look at the total cost for a typical custom metal sign.Study after study have shown that for every $1.00 of actual sign costs, there is between $2.00 and $4.00 of additional costs. The additional costs includes the labor to install the sign, the sign post and hardware and the overhead costs to order, receive and pay for the sign.This has important implications for Sign Life-Cycle Costs.
  • The primary advantage of 3M MCS signs over ink jet is durability.Our 3Msigns show a cost per yearof about $7.08 vs a cost for a UV ink jet printed metal sign of $21.25. This is almost triple the cost! Life-cycle costs are based on an estimate of the practical outdoor life for the 3M sign of 15 years and, frankly, a very optimistic estimate of the outdoor durability of an ink jet printed sign of 5 years. The total “all-in” costs (which includes installation, overhead and actual sign costs) are amortized over the expected useful life of that sign material. This is the calculation that professional sign buyers use – how much will a sign cost per year.The results are clear: 3M matched component signs provide, by far, the best deal.But, the irony is that our custom metal signs, even before you take into consideration their longer life, are priced equal to most others – which include the inferior ink jet printing used by most online competitors.
  • Metal signs are used outdoors. That means that they need to be seen at night, too.Reflective signs are best at night. There is a great deal of visual clutter in the typical landscape behind a sign. A sign must compete with other advertising, traffic signs and lights.Here is where the high end reflective signs stand out, literally, as shown on these photos.
  • These are the same materials used by Traffic, Parking and Street Signs in the US.There are three [main] grades of reflective sign material:Engineer Grade (traditional choice)High Intensity Grade (increasingly popular)Diamond Grade (for urban environments)
  • Die cut metal sign shapes get noticed!Any sign can be rectangular. A special shape can make your sign’s message special too.There are distinct connotations for each sign shape. Choose the shape that matches your message.
  • Custom metal signs come in other forms, too. Deep engraved brass is ideal for awards, high end offices and country clubs. It’s expensive, though!You can customize 3D metal signs. Projecting signs and clip-on drop ceiling signs can be seen from both directions.For superior outdoor durability for smaller signs, consider anodized aluminum signs that feature embedded print.
  • An advertising truism – “repetition reinforces your message”. This is true for your custom metal signs, as well.And, for signs, it is often hard to fully predict where your sign’s message will be seen.Given the economics of custom signs, it is easy (and affordable) to order custom signs in multiples. Place the signs everyone will see them and, maybe even see them several times!
  • Signs are often seen in a series. By changing, sometimes subtly, the message, from sign to sign in a series you gain leverage. Each sign is read more carefully – as you try to decipher the differences.
  • Ordering a sign is only part of the project. Proper installation can make or break your custom sign project. Notice, here, many examples of installing a sign on a chain link fence. Fence clips are great – in that you can install the sign yourself (without having to rely upon a partner).
  • Don’t hide your sign behind a chain link fence. If you need tamper resistance, consider one way bolts.
  • Here are some more installation hints:Use a cast iron base – so you can put your sign just where it is needed.When mounting onto a U-Channel post, fasten the sign the wider / flat portion.For signs to be seen from two directions, use brackets and 2-sided signs.
  • We started selling to some awfully smart customers – some of the largest distributors in the US and big cities. These are the kinds of customers that knew signs, knew the competition and knew what the wanted: Durability, Delivery and Real Warranties.Building our on success with these customers, we have broaden our reach and now sell directly to end users. I hope these tips on custom metal signs are helpful. We’d love to help you out on your next custom sign project.
  • Designing Custom Metal Signs - Material Choices (Part 2)

    1. 1.
    2. 2. Tips on Materials for Great Custom Signs1. A Larger Sign is Better!2. Make Sure Your Custom Sign is Durable.3. Reflectivity for Nighttime Viewing.4. Try Another Shape.5. Repeat Your Message (again and again and…)6. Don’t Forget about Installation.Avoid these mistakes! Stick-on Vinyl Metal Signs Sharp square corners. Ink jet printing.Stick on letters and borders can be pulled off. Sharp corners, while cheaper, are dangerous. Ink jet printing fades outside.
    3. 3. 1. A Larger Sign is Better How much time do you need• Is your sign going to be seen while you are moving? to react? A bigger sign is needed to compensate for compressed viewing time for people in a car.• Is your sign going to be seen from an angle?• Legibility “Rule of Thumb” o 25 to 50 feet of viewing distance per inch of text height. o Poor weather, low light reduces legibility. For viewers in cars, a larger sign is Signs up to needed. 6’ Wide.
    4. 4. Pressure2. Make Sure Your Sign is Durable point causes delamination.Choose the right material  3M MCS – proven, credible durability.  Examine sign life-cycle costs, too!Avoid Ink Jet• Limited outdoor life.• Ink jet and banner presses are everywhere (sign shops at the mall, One of our signs – 20 years small web-based printers, many online later! sign sites).• Laminate helps, but problems here, too. Ink jet print can often be simply Ink jet print gives scratched off – when improperly only a thin laydown cured. This occurs too often! of pigment.
    5. 5. All-In Costs for a Custom SignHow much does a custom sign truly cost? Installation Costs 22% Sign Purchase Cost 19% Sign Receiving Costs 6% Sign Ordering Costs 13% Sign Post Cost 40% This study surveyed a number of facilities managers and used their estimates for sign costs including the sign purchase and attendant labor costs.
    6. 6. Sign Life-Cycle CostsCost Per Year for a Custom Metal or Custom Plastic Sign $25.00 $20.00 $15.00 $10.00 $5.00 $0.00 Premium Aluminum Sign Item Cost Metal Sign Plastic Sign 3M Matched Component System UV Ink Jet Screen Printed This study surveyed a number of facilities managers and used their estimates for sign costs including the sign purchase and attendant labor costs.
    7. 7. 3. Reflective for Night Viewing Signs must be seen, even at night! • Reflective signs stand out against the typical landscape. • Compare three grades of reflective sign material (EG, HIP, DG). Which signs stand out?
    8. 8. Different Grades of Reflective Signs• Three Reflective Grades  Engineer Grade.  High Intensity Grade.  Diamond Grade.• Differences  Nighttime brightness.  Reflective angularity.  In practice, similar outdoor durability. Outdoor signs should be reflective. There are several grades. Higher reflective grades are brighter, especially when seen from an angle.
    9. 9. 4. Try Another ShapeGet away from the boring rectangle!• Any ol’ sign can be rectangular.• Die-cut shapes make your custom sign special. Rectangular Sign Circular Sign• What do the different shapes mean? • Familiar and Traditional • Community • “Just the facts” • Security Oval Sign Signs with Notched Top • Friendly • Stand Out from the Crowd • Polite Notices • Upscale Octagon Signs Diamond & Triangular Signs • Stop! “Don’t do this!” • Warnings (e.g. Crossing) • Security notices • Unstable shape gets attention Metal signs should have round corners. Reduce the hazard of a sharp edge.
    10. 10. Some Other Metal Sign MaterialsCustomize them all: Deep Engraved Brass. Projecting Metal Signs. Anodized Aluminum Signs. Brass is great for AlumiGuard® Anodized Metal Z-Signs lock into drop ceiling frames. “upscale look” Signs feature embedded print. Metal projecting signs can be glow, too.
    11. 11. 5. Repeat Your Message (again and again…)Marketing 101: Repetition Works• Repetition = Learning• Repetition = Credibility of MessageThe first time you notice the sign. By the third time, you might read it. But the fifthtime you might head the warning!
    12. 12. More Examples of Repeating SignsA family of signs reinforce each other. A sign series builds momentum.
    13. 13. 6. Don’t Forget InstallationYour Custom Sign Must be Installed, Too!• Designing a sign is just one step.• Where [and who] will install the sign?• Do you have a fence or post?• Would a portable base work best? You can use 2 or 4 clips Fence clips or Fence Brackets make it easy to attach a sign to a chain link fence
    14. 14. Installation on a Fence Don’t hide your message behind a fence. Signs should be mounted on the outside! For theft-prone areas, use a tamper-proof bolt.
    15. 15. Sign can be placed where and when Mount a sign onto the Use brackets to mount a signit is needed – with a portable base. flat part of a post. perpendicular to a wall.
    16. 16. About UsExtensive We’ve seen it all! testing • Ship 500+ custom sign orders per day. • History started with manufacturing traffic signs for the toughest & most discerning customers: cities, utilities and large industrial distributors. Now, sell direct to end users. • Customer Service – a Passion! State-of-the-art equipment. Smile for our CSR team.