channel letters



Channel letters are the standout sign features everyone recognizes, but few know them by their proper name. You’ve surely noticed the neon or LED lights of your favorite tavern or diner. The telltale curled letters, often in cursive, and beloved bright glow are beacons when hunger strikes late at night or you’re in the mood for a classic diner experience with malts and fries cut by hand. Channel letters are standard 3-D graphic features often made of aluminum. This type of metal won’t rust, which is why the letters and their complementary sheet metal backing can last for decades with proper care.

Typically, aluminum is cut by a computer to create the backing. Careful cutting is required to ensure the back of the sign is the right size and shape for each channel letter. Next, the channel letter sides or returns are cut, then shaped by artfully bending strips of metal sheets in segments of 3 to 6 inches. Returns are then welded at the seams, and in some cases riveted via metal stitchers. This is what holds the pieces together to create the can aspect. These cans are then painted if needed, and fitted with proper lighting.



The most popular lighting choice for channel letters is LED or neon gas tubes. The lighting is covered with polycarbonate or acrylic sheets that are designed to fit perfectly over the cans. Finally, a trip cap border is put on the letter edges. This is the traditional way of creating channel letters and what gives the sign the look of being complete. But today, you have a couple of alternatives to consider.

The reverse lit channel letter is just what it sounds like: The setup is basically the same, but the light faces the back. This allows for lights and shadows to play on the wall where the sign is mounted. It’s a practice in negative space and can look thrilling at night. It’s also sometimes called halo lettering, and it just happens to be the costliest of options (which may be why it’s not seen very often).

You can also choose exposed neon channel letters, a manufacturing method in which the neon has a clear acrylic cap on it. It doesn’t make much difference in looks, but it’s fantastic at keeping the letters clean and free of birds’ nests. It offers additional protection against the elements while still letting the neon be seen clearly. As an added bonus, the extra layers add even more to that 3-D look.



That’s a question only you can answer. There’s no denying they make a big “look at me” statement, which might be exactly what you’re going for. Explore more by talking to a pro.