ImageFirst News

2022 Update. Original 2019.

The Ultimate Guide to Channel Letters

Here's a great guide to options for mounting and illuminating channel letters.

ūüĎČūüŹĽPro Tip: Be smart with your time and check your local sign code before you do any¬≠thing! Get the answers to these ques¬≠tions first:

  • Are there any mount¬≠ing restrictions? 
  • Are there any depth requirements? 
  • Are there illu¬≠mi¬≠na¬≠tion requirements? 
  • What is the allow¬≠able square footage for the signage?
  • Where is elec¬≠tri¬≠cal com¬≠ing from and where is your access? 

Chan­nel Let­ter­ing Mount­ing Options: Race­way, direct, or backer.

Race­way Mounting

Using a race¬≠way reduces the amount of pen¬≠e¬≠tra¬≠tions into the fa√ßade of a build¬≠ing which is ide¬≠al for a more com¬≠mer¬≠cial envi¬≠ron¬≠ment (high¬≠er turnover of ten¬≠ants, etc). The let¬≠ters are attached to the race¬≠way that hous¬≠es all of the elec¬≠tri¬≠cal wiring, pow¬≠er sup¬≠plies, etc. The race¬≠way is then attached to the build¬≠ing. Typ¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly you want to paint the race¬≠way the same col¬≠or as the build¬≠ing so that it blends in as much as pos¬≠si¬≠ble and the let¬≠ters stand out suf¬≠fi¬≠cient¬≠ly. In the exam¬≠ple below, it‚Äôs hard to see the race¬≠way because it match¬≠es the fa√ßade of the building‚Ķjust the way we like it!

Channel Letter Raceway Mounted at OSF PromptCare


Direct or Stud Mounting

This method leans toward a more clean or archi¬≠tec¬≠tur¬≠al appear¬≠ance. Here, the let¬≠ters each have mul¬≠ti¬≠ple non-cor¬≠ro¬≠sive fas¬≠ten¬≠ers (or studs) that are attached direct¬≠ly into the face of the build¬≠ing (or ceil¬≠ing like the exam¬≠ple on the left. All elec¬≠tri¬≠cal is run inside the build¬≠ing, or wall, where the let¬≠ters attach. Acces¬≠si¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ty to this space is imper¬≠a¬≠tive for future main¬≠te¬≠nance. If your client does not have access then a race¬≠way is prob¬≠a¬≠bly the way to go. 

Stud Mounted Channel Letters


Backer mount¬≠ed letters 

Anoth¬≠er more archi¬≠tec¬≠tur¬≠al look is when chan¬≠nel let¬≠ters are attached to an over¬≠sized backer, mon¬≠u¬≠ment, or cab¬≠i¬≠net sign. Elec¬≠tri¬≠cal and pow¬≠er sup¬≠plies are eas¬≠i¬≠ly hid¬≠den in the over¬≠sized backer. Instal¬≠la¬≠tion is a bit sim¬≠pler with less per¬≠fo¬≠ra¬≠tions into the fa√ßade of the build¬≠ing and access points are a bit eas¬≠i¬≠er for future maintenance. 

Backer Mounted Channel Letters at OSF On Call

Back Lit Channel letter Monument


Illu¬≠mi¬≠na¬≠tion Options: Halo, face, or combination‚Ķand be care¬≠ful with blue.

CAU¬≠TION: Blue is the clos¬≠est col¬≠or to a dark night sky and a brand‚Äôs pres¬≠ence can be lost (what a waste of mon¬≠ey that would be). 

Sol¬≠id blue let¬≠ters do not illu¬≠mi¬≠nate the best at night. If you must use blue, or a sim¬≠i¬≠lar dark col¬≠or.
Here‚Äôs 4 ways to achieve suc¬≠cess with blue: 

1. Use per¬≠fo¬≠rat¬≠ed vinyl on acrylic for the face of the let¬≠ters. This allows a dark col¬≠or dur¬≠ing the day then illu¬≠mi¬≠nates white at night (see tiger¬≠hawk exam¬≠ple below).
2. Use a white key¬≠line around the perime¬≠ter of the faces with a min¬≠i¬≠mum of ¬ľ‚ÄĚ to have a nice white out¬≠line to the blue.
3. Stand the face lit blue let¬≠ters off the backer and back light with white. This is the a nice look but costs a bit more with the added illu¬≠mi¬≠na¬≠tion. This method is shown in the Gra¬≠ham Surgery Cen¬≠ter exam¬≠ple below.
4. Don‚Äôt use blue. Use white, always use white. 

Channel Letter Logos Day/Night vinyl

Front Lit Illu¬≠mi¬≠nat¬≠ed Chan¬≠nel Letters 

These can use a lex¬≠an or acrylic face depen¬≠dent upon the size of the let¬≠ter. There are many choic¬≠es out there for vinyl over¬≠lays, most only allow for <1% light trans¬≠mis¬≠sion so col¬≠or selec¬≠tion is a vital com¬≠po¬≠nent. If the stan¬≠dard array of col¬≠ors that are offered do not match what you are after, you can also print a spe¬≠cif¬≠ic color.
Dual film is also very pop¬≠u¬≠lar and has a war¬≠ran¬≠ty that fits the qual¬≠i¬≠ty of the prod¬≠uct. Using a dual film you are able to achieve the col¬≠or you want dur¬≠ing the day and white illu¬≠mi¬≠na¬≠tion at night which is opti¬≠mal for visibility.

Front Lit Channel Letters at Iowa State University


Back Lit Chan¬≠nel Let¬≠ters or ‚Äč‚ÄúHalo‚ÄĚ Illuminated

This type of illu¬≠mi¬≠na¬≠tion is best for direct mount¬≠ed appli¬≠ca¬≠tions. Back¬≠light¬≠ing is a great way to illu¬≠mi¬≠nate unique shapes and let¬≠ters. Keep in mind, some sub¬≠strates such as brick do not dis¬≠trib¬≠ute the light as well and a fab¬≠ri¬≠cat¬≠ed backer or over¬≠sized cut alu¬≠minum let¬≠ters may need to be used. Last¬≠ly, a shiny sur¬≠face may enhance the light¬≠ing so much that you may be able to see some of the LEDs reflect¬≠ed upon the wall. Using a mat¬≠te paint fin¬≠ish is imper¬≠a¬≠tive when using LEDs to reduce any visu¬≠al ‚Äč‚Äúhotspots.‚ÄĚ

Back Lit Channel Letters at St. Charles Police Department

Com¬≠bi¬≠na¬≠tion - Front and Back Illu¬≠mi¬≠na¬≠tion for the Win! 

This is a unique way to make your logo pop, espe¬≠cial¬≠ly if you‚Äôre dead set on a col¬≠or (oth¬≠er than white) for your let¬≠ter illu¬≠mi¬≠na¬≠tion. This is also the ide¬≠al way to use blue if it is part of your brand¬≠ing. This method is a great and high¬≠ly vis¬≠i¬≠ble solu¬≠tion, but con¬≠sid¬≠er that the cost is a bit more with hav¬≠ing twice as many LEDs for illumination. 

Front and Back Lit Channel Letters at Graham Surgery Center

Light Source:

There are many dif­fer­ent options avail­able in today’s mar­ket. LEDs are by far the most pop­u­lar. Image­First typ­i­cal­ly uses qual­i­ty LEDs from Prin­ci­pal LED, but any spec­i­fied LED, (brand), col­or tem­per­a­ture, or RGB sys­tem can be uti­lized to match your project needs.


Man­u­fac­tur­ing:
We pride our¬≠selves on cre¬≠at¬≠ing qual¬≠i¬≠ty chan¬≠nel let¬≠ters for our clients using .090 and .063 alu¬≠minum for backs and faces and .040 and .063 alu¬≠minum for returns. All of these let¬≠ters are cut, fab¬≠ri¬≠cat¬≠ed, paint¬≠ed, and fin¬≠ished out at our Iowa man¬≠u¬≠fac¬≠tur¬≠ing facil¬≠i¬≠ty. We wel¬≠come you to come for a vis¬≠it to see how we build chan¬≠nel let¬≠ters and all of the sig¬≠nage we have the oppor¬≠tu¬≠ni¬≠ty to build. 

Want to see more? Vis¬≠it our YouTube page for videos & here are some project examples.