Types of Signage

The following article originally appeared on the Small Business Administration website in February 2001, but it was subsequently removed.

Signs are expanding communication media that respond to our mobile lifestyles. Signature buildings such as the widely recognized McDonalds restaurant building designs are signs. A facelift to a building such as the old, western-village false storefronts is also considered a sign. Thoughtful use of the visibility features of your business site expands your ability to communicate with passersby. Regardless of the type used, your signage must be appealing to your customers, and the message must be readable.

When reviewing the many choices of signs available, first look at the three primary locations in which you will typically use on-premise signs:

  • Building Mounted signs
  • Freestanding signs
  • Interior signs

Many of the sign types fall into more than one of the above location-based categories. For example, channel letters can be either building-mounted, freestanding, or even be on an interior sign. As you review this section, remember there are dozens of possible sign options and configurations, each as unique as a business’ needs. We present in this section, as well as in our “Sign Gallery,” the most commonly used types of signs.

Here are some generalized points, as an introduction to sign types:

  • Building mounted on-premise signs may be attached to the roof, parapet, marquee or building fascia. These signs may be either parallel or perpendicular to the building surface.
  • Freestanding on-premise signs are generally supported by a structure attached to or cast in a foundation. The structure and attachments to the foundation may be concealed with a decorative covering. Freestanding signs can be further enhanced by landscaping.
  • On-premise signs can be either internally or externally illuminated (click to link for additional important details about illumination). For retail businesses, on-premise signs should be illuminated to facilitate communication with potential customers during nighttime hours.
  • Sometimes a building itself functions as a sign. This occurs most often with franchise and chain retail operations, where standardized (or “signature”) buildings and colors, as well as traditional on-premise signage, announce the business’ presence.
  • Buildings also may be fitted or retrofitted with “trade dress” to design a theme. Retrofitting of a building-façade is often described as a “face lift.” Both building and freestanding signs should be designed to echo the theme or trade dress.
  • Changeable-copy boards or electronic message centers enhance a sign’s effectiveness by providing space to advertise time-dependent messages. Such sign or sign additions can be electronically controlled (the electronic message center), or changed manually (the changeable-copy sign).
  • Interior on-premise signs advertise the location of businesses located in a common building, such as a mall, office building, entertainment complex etc. They have two major purposes: (1) to influence buyer choices and encourage certain “point of purchase” transactions; and (2) to provide guidance in a safe and efficient manner, as required by local regulatory authorities (such as the fire marshall) and federal law, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (additional detail is in the “Interior Signage – The Background & The Evolution of an Industry” section, through the link shown below).

In summary…

Primarily, there are building-mounted, freestanding and interior signs, within which are many types of signs. Carefully reviewing the many types of signs, and considering how well they will meet your location and business’ needs, will enable you to select the kind of signs you need for your greatest business success.

The Signage Categories

Each of the following links expands on one of the primary signage categories and presents example photos of actual signs.

Wade Swormstedt

Wade Swormstedt

Wade is the former Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry and the former Editor and Publisher of Signs of the Times magazine.

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Posted in Electronic Message Centers, Small Business Administration.