LED, halo effect, LED lighting

Creating Signs with Halos

Regan Dickinson is a the publisher of THE SHOP magazine.

Halo-lit letters and signs create a unique, eye-catching lighting effect that elevates the perceived value of both the sign and what it advertises.

“We’ve done a lot with LED illumination and a combination rear glow and face glow to stand out from the sea of signs,” says Matt Shrode of Apogee Signs in Tallahassee, Florida. “We try to find other alternatives to be different, and find cool ways to give customers a modern effect.”

Halo Design

A good example of this is Apogee’s halo-lit creation for Smashing Olives, a boutique olive oil and vinegar tasting room. This sign is actually a combination of LED and fluorescent lighting in order to stay within the new business’ tight budget. Apogee built it in such a way, however, so that the fluorescent lighting can be easily replaced or upgraded to LED later.

“After the sign was installed, the owner called me at 10 that night and I thought, ‘Oh great; the sign’s not lighting for some reason.’ But she called to say how bright it was,” recalls Shrode. “At first we thought we would have to hook up a dimmer to tone it down, but she called back and said she loved it and not to change it. It’s a traditional cabinet—a hingeable Sign Comp cabinet—and we oversized the face where it gave us a ledge to mount the green LEDs from EGL around the perimeter of the cabinet. The letters are illuminated with fluorescents. We’re building a lot more cabinets with LEDs. It’s become a lot more economical with small and medium cabinets.”

Shrode adds that Apogee has been increasingly introducing signs into its market using 1/8” clear polycarbonate as a back plate for lighting on both the front and back of the sign.

“Sometimes we’re able to achieve different color mixes with this method. One of the franchises we work with is Guthrie’s Chicken, where we produced a blue rear wall glow, a red face plate and a secondary rear glow of white,” Shrode says.

For halo-lit channel letter signs at Superior Wholesale Signage, Daytona Beach, Florida, the standard configuration is .090 aluminum faces with three-inch deep returns, which are welded to the faces with .063 aluminum and a 3/16” clear Lexan back.

“We use an ultra-white bright paint on the inside for greater reflectivity and install LEDs on the clear Lexan back pointing into the letter, not into the wall, and the light bounces off the white surface of the letter. The letters are normally pinned off the fascia about an inch and a half or two inches. We furnish the letter, the installation pattern, UL labeling, the whole nine yards,” says Michael Florio of Superior Wholesale Signage.

Halo Checklist

Of course there are a lot of variations to achieve different effects and color combinations, including animation, though local regulations are likely to restrict how far you can go with it.

“We did some interior casino work where they wanted animation as part of the halo effect, so we used RGB LEDs to achieve that,” says Florio. “You could also have an h-type letter—a channel letter with a center baffle—and on the front side of the baffle you could have blue LEDs and blue faces, for example, and on the other side you could have green LEDs and a clear back for a green halo and a blue letter.”

However the halo effect is produced, there are a number of important considerations that need to be taken into account before the sign is produced. First, halo-lit letters are typically 20 percent or so more expensive than internally illuminated signs, so they’re a great choice for customers looking to distinguish themselves with a high-end look.

The background on which the letters or sign will be installed is also important. If the background is too dark or too shiny (glossy), it could negate the effect you’re trying to create.

“A black or very dark wall will absorb a lot of the light, so if you can’t change the background for whatever reason, you can either cut vinyl or an identical set of white letters and install those on the wall behind the letters so the light bounces off the white background,” Florio says.

For shiny backgrounds, the best bet is the use of some type of diffuser. Bob Hilde, owner of Sign America, Richmond, Ohio, recommends either a diffuser vinyl to block some of the light, or to sand the back of the Lexan.

“We use many different types of LEDs and different colors, including different temperatures of white,” Hilde says. “You can stand them off at different depths to create more or less of an outline. The farther off the wall you stand off a halo letter the more of a halo outline you get. However, if you stand them off too far, it doesn’t individualize each letter. Our standard is about an inch and a half; it just depends on what effect you want.”

Generally speaking, it’s best to face the LEDs toward the inside of the letter and not mount them too close to the wall to ensure a nice, smooth halo that doesn’t show the individual points of LED light.

“It’s hard to think of any reason to mount LEDs shining toward the wall. If you do, you need to use a diffusing material as a back to reduce that effect, like diffusing plastics and film, which adds unnecessary expense, instead of shining it from the clear back into the sign to diffuse the light,” says Morgan Crook of EGL. “You can also use a translucent vinyl on the back of the letter to create a different color for the halo. The only trick is after you get the vinyl on the back you need to run some opaque sealer around the edge because you can’t have any places where you didn’t get vinyl on it because white light will shine through and create white spots in your colored halo. Sealing the edges makes that problem go away.”

For larger letters, Crook says there’s an advantage to using a larger, more powerful LED system, just as you would in a deep channel letter or cabinet. In the sample halo letter shown here with a 3” return and 8” stroke at 1 1/2” off the wall, you produce even lighting with either four feet of traditional circumference lighting (EGL V600), or a single stroke of LEDs you would use in a cabinet application (EGL BoxStar).

Crook says you’ll use slightly less power overall, and labor and material costs will also be reduced when using the higher-wattage LED module. By the way, these dimensions are maxed out for a single stroke application; don’t go shallower than a 3” return or wider than 8” if you do use the normal circumference layout style.