How to Spot (and Avoid) Low-Quality Channel Letter Materials

Your customer just called, and you heard those dreaded words: “The paint on our channel letter raceway has visible chips in two places.” This is particularly bad because you just installed the sign four months ago. The customer also e-mailed you a photo, and the chipped areas look terrible.

A low-quality channel letter sign can come back to haunt you in several ways; and increase your “do-overs” to the point where your profit is gone. Let’s look at a how to spot (and avoid) the low-quality materials that result in low quality channel letters. Here I will focus on the raceway.

First, if you are new to channel letters, a raceway is an optional separate mounting structure on which channel letters can be mounted instead of flush-mounting each letter individually to the building.

  • Raceway Material — Lower quality channel letter signs sometimes involve a raceway manufactured from 22 gauge steel, which can rust over time (particularly if it is installed in a humid or seaside location.) If the rusted raceway is then strained by the sign load, it can either tear or fall.
    Aluminum is a superior material. It is lighter than steel, equally strong (or stronger), and rust-free. Insist on aluminum for your channel letter sign raceway. Also, check the aluminum material gauge—.063" is sufficient for a sturdy, long-lasting raceway.
  • Hanger Bar  — The hanger bar (or lack of it) is another area of quality and installation concern. The hanger bar is a metal strip (see Photo 2) attached to the top of the raceway. It greatly simplifies your channel letter installation.
    If a raceway has no hanger bar (and low-quality quotations often do not), you will actually have to get inside the raceway to mount the sign. That can mean bloody knuckles. Insist on a hanger bar for a smooth installation.
  • Paint — Low-quality channel letters often involve a raceway that has been painted with latex house paint. Obviously, this paint is not meant for this application and will eventually peel and/or fade. Peeling paint can then cause a steel raceway to rust.
    Acrylic polyurethane paint is a superior choice. It has unexcelled resistance to weather, dirt, pollutants, and abrasion and also withstands chipping, color-fade, gloss loss and graffiti on interior and exterior surfaces.

The conclusion is the same: buying lower-quality channel letters can be a “penny wise, pound foolish” purchasing decision. Let your customer know that your professional sign proposal will not involve these quality issues.