Types of Channel Letter Signs - Lighting, Mounting & Material Options

Businesses of every size have used different types of illuminated channel letter signs to drive traffic, add authority, and serve as a beacon that people have arrived at the right place. In this article, we will explain how channel letter signs work, and lay out different lighting, mounting, and material options to consider for your business signage upgrade.

What Are Channel Letter Signs?

When you see those large three-dimensional letters and logos on the front of a building or on a signpost, those are channel letters. Their thickness helps them be seen easily from a variety of angles, and they generally include illumination so they can be seen clearly at night (more on that later).

Channel Letter Components

The channel letter back is usually made of rust-proof aluminum. The mounting equipment will connect on the outside, and lighting sources will attach inside.

The walls on the sides of the letter are called the return. This is also made of aluminum sheet metal, which is fastened to the back and creates the channel for the lighting to fit inside (hence the name channel letters). Returns are often painted the same color as the building or sign post to blend in and make the face stand out.

The face shows the letter, number, or custom design itself. Material options include metal construction for an opaque or back-lit design, and acrylic or polycarbonate for translucent front-lit signage. Plastic faces can be made of different colors to produce your desired lighting effect.

The trim cap secures the face with the return, and offers a sleek, finished look to the final product.

Light sources live in the channel between the face and the back. LED lighting is the most common because it is less expensive and much more energy efficient. Another benefit is being able to choose nearly any color you want. The other option is to use neon (or simulated neon) lighting, which certainly has its own unique aesthetic, but is only recommended if you want to incorporate that specific style. For neon lighting, consider using a clear face so people can see the tubes themselves.


M&T Bank Channel Letter Sign

Now that we have the anatomy covered, let’s explore our illumination options.


Illuminated Channel Letter Sign Options

Front Lit Channel Letter Signs

Also known as face-lit channel letters, this is the most common design. Light shines directly through the translucent face, offering direct illumination of the sign’s letters and shapes.

Hard Rock Cafe Illuminated Sign

Backlit Channel Letter Signs

This design puts an opaque face in front, and shines the light through the back. These are sometimes called reverse channel letters for that reason. The benefit of backlighting is accenting the negative space of the lettering. This method is also known as halo channel lettering due to the halo effect that the lighting produces. These signs work better on lighter-colored buildings.

Front/Back Lit Channel Letter Signs

To get the best of both worlds, some businesses opt for combination channel letters. These have transparent faces and backs, giving both the halo effect and direct illumination. One of the major benefits is being able to use two different colors for the letter faces and for the background lighting.

Open Face Channel Letter Signs

A variant of front lighting, open face channel letters have no face at all, or use a totally transparent face so people can see the lighting elements themselves. This is best paired with neon tube lights, or LED bulbs in the channels (as opposed to LED strips).


Installation Options for Channel Letter Signs

There are three common methods for installing channel letters: raceway, backer, and flush mounting.

Raceway Mount

This common and cost-effective method involves mounting a rail to the building facade called a raceway. The letters attach to the raceway, and the wiring for the lights is housed inside. This puts the fewest amount of holes in the wall itself, which landlords may require. The raceways can be painted to match the building cover, helping to camouflage them and make the letters more prominent.

Backer Mount

This is very similar to the raceway mounting, with one main difference - the small raceway is replaced with a large backer panel that serves as a background for the letters. Additionally, the backer is a cabinet that holds the wiring and power supply for illumination.

Flush Mount

Also known as direct mount, this method installs each individual letter directly to the building facade. This will involve much more drilling, and as such will be more expensive. However, the trade-off is in having a stark, eye-catching presence.

Hampton Inn & Suites Channel Letter Sign

Best Channel Letter Sign

With all the options in consideration, the question remains - what’s the best channel letter sign? If there was only one answer, there would only be one kind of sign. In reality, it depends on your business’s needs, goals, and what the local laws and building owners permit. (In other words, combine what’s best for you with what’s the best you can do.)

One final note: This guide is only the beginning of channel letter signage possibilities. There are so many options that whatever your goal is, you can make it happen. Take a look at the signs you find attractive, and imagine which parts would work well for your own designs.

We recommend talking with experts to learn more about getting the perfect sign for your business. If you can show them your goals, your assets, and your ideas, they can show how to bring it to life.


Ready to chat with a signage specialist at Flexume? Contact us today!

New call-to-action