Channel Letter Signage 101: What You Need to Know

Channel letter signage is a great way to capture the attention of clients and new business by providing a fresh and stylish impression of your brand identity. Here’s what you need to know when choosing the best option for your signage. 

What Is Channel Letter Signage?

Channel letters are made of plastic or metal and used as exterior signage on commercial or public buildings. They are often lit internally. Unlit 3D letters are also applied to panels and called dimensional letters. A channel letter is any number, letter or character used in the sign. The major parts of channel letters are the face, return, back, and lighting element. The returns, or letter sides, are made of aluminum sheeting. The face and back are usually acrylic but can also be aluminum, or nonexistent. Because they are highly flexible, channel letters signs are available in an array of colors, fonts, and sizes.


For face-lit channel letters, the illumination is impacted by the lighting material  — LED or neon — and the face material color and material, which is typically acrylic or polycarbonate. The illumination color is also influenced by the vinyl covering, if applicable. The channel letter's acrylic face is attached to the can via a trim cap.

Trim cap is the world's most popular signage material. It's made of top-quality aluminum coated with plastic or anodized, making it elastic and seamless. Trim cap is used to attach the sign face to the body of each letter via a liquid bonding agent.


The return creates, the enclosed channel that this type of signage is named for, and refers to the depth of the channel letter. The most common depths range from 3-8 inches, which are subject to the signage criteria in your city or county or in your lease agreement in a commercial property.

Computer-driven bending and shaping machines form the character needed for a particular design. The aluminum sheeting can be painted in standard colors or customized with branding-specific shades or PMS (Pantone Matching System). PMS is coveted by industries that need long-lasting, professional-grade results for graphic arts.


The back of the channel letter uses router-cut aluminum sheeting that is available in a variety of thicknesses. The aluminum thickness will depend on the size of letters. 

Light Source

You can choose illuminated or non-illuminated signage. Where lease agreements and local authorities permit illuminated signage, it's the most effective for drawing attention to the business. Almost all internally-illuminated channel letters use LED illumination, due to its energy efficiency and cost savings when compared to neon lights.

Types of Channel Letter Signage

A great starting point in determining the best signage for your business is knowing the difference between the types of channel letters. 

Front-Lit or Face-Illuminated

Channel Letters

LED Face Illuminated Sign

Front-lit channel letters illuminate letter faces and are still the most common type of channel signage. Light shines through a translucent acrylic face within the letters to draw attention night or day, offering great visibility over long distances that are easy to read.

Face-illuminated logos and characters give your brand added emphasis. Our LED signs use concealed illumination built to your specifications, so you don't need to compromise on perfecting your signage branding strategy.

Back-lit or Halo Channel Letters

Known by several names — backlit, reverse or halo channels — this type of lighting appears to float off the wall. During installation, spacers are used to achieve a “halo effect” that surrounds the shape of the letter.

Our halo illuminated letters are built with stainless steel, aluminum, and other quality metals. Experience and dedication have helped us become the industry’s premier manufacturers of halo signs.

Combination-Lit or Front/Back Lit Channel LettersLED Face and Halo Illuminated Sign

For those that really want to make a statement with their sign, combination halo-lit signs use both face illumination and halo channel letters. This type of sign allows you to use different colors to show contrast between the front and backlighting to give off a glow in the front and halo effect in the back. 

Mounting Options

There are three main mounting options, including raceway mounts, direct or flush mounts, and backer mounts.

Raceway Mount

A raceway mount features a metal box with a power supply and electrical wiring for each letter. These are popular in commercial buildings where property managers require channel letters to be installed on a raceway, which reduces the structural impact of signage by requiring fewer holes in the wall. Raceways are often painted to match the building façade to minimize the distraction.

Direct Mount or Flush Mount

When letters are mounted onto the façade using a pattern, it's called flush mount or direct mount channel signage. They are attached using non-corrosive fasteners. This option is popular with reverse channel letters, where direct mounting with standoff spacers achieves the unique lighting effect. The power supply and wiring connecting the letters are installed behind the facade or bulkhead of the building.

Backer Mount

Backer mounts feature channel letters attached to a backer panel or metal cabinet that's larger than the channel letters. The cabinet sometimes houses the wiring and power supply or it can be installed behind the building's facade or bulkhead.

Channel Letter Signage Tips

Here are some final tips to help you select the best channel letters signage for your business: 

  • Check with your landlord and local zoning office to make sure you understand the requirements in your area. 
  • Invest in the best sign within your budget to plan for the long-term and the strongest returns. Unlike print media and direct mail, your signage needs to convey a lasting impact on customers and business partners.
  • Don’t cut corners. Using low-quality LED’s means your sign won't be as bright, meaning—if it's dim today, that quality only declines over time. And substandard trim caps are likely to crack and deteriorate impacting the appearance of your sign.
  • Use high-quality acrylic to achieve colorfast results. This helps preserve the blue, red, yellow, green, purple, or orange face of your signs.

Details are important. Paying attention to factors that increase the quality of your signs is less expensive than having to pay for a better one down the road. When you compare the prices of different sign types, factor in the thickness of the face acrylic and metal returns. Make sure you understand the warranty for the power supply and the average lifetime of the LED you choose. 

Spectrum Signs is experienced in channel letter signage that creates a memorable brand image and clearly directs customers inside and outside your business. Talk to an expert today to discuss your signage needs.

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Patrick Woller ""

Patrick Woller

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Patrick is a Graphic Designer at Spectrum Signs, a custom business sign maker in Blaine, MN. After a call from his college placement office, Patrick joined the Spectrum Signs team in 2010. Patrick finds enjoyment in the unique challenges his job gives him through the use of out of the ordinary materials. When Patrick isn’t designing signs, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, hiking with his dog Willis, and getting out on the golf course.

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