Business Signs that are Too Good To Be True

Reading an article in Fortune (European edition,  2 February 2015, number 1) about “The fund that was too good to be true” – a story about a financial firm that was bound to make investors rich because they had discovered a “new” matrix to predict and win from market movements.
Schemes like this  have been around since the beginning of time and tend to thrive because of people’s ego and greed.

I try to teach my children and students to question everything they are told and read and see – including what I tell them and to question the content AS WELL AS motives and validity of information, as I believe this is the only way to satisfy oneself that what you are being “sold” is true and valid, so you are more likely to ‘get’ what you are ‘sold’.

That got me thinking about the Latin phrase “Caveat emptor” defined by Wikipedia as “kævɛɑːt ˈɛmptɔr/ is Latin for “Let the buyer beware”[1] (from caveat, “may he beware”, the subjunctive of cavere, “to beware” + emptor, “buyer”).” – and had me wondering,  just how informed should or does a buyer need to be – especially when purchasing large ticket items –  and should buyers need to worry themselves about the make up if the goods (in this case business signs) they purchase – as long as the goods meet the specifications and fulfill the needs of the client.

All this thinking came about because of a sign we at #SignForce are refurbishing a large, high ticket business sign.  When we opened the sign the internal workings and ‘creative’ system that got the sign illuminated were ingenious,  however, if the client had been more aware that the sign could not be maintained, as well as of the make up of the sign, I have to question if they would have been happy to pay the full fee for, or even accepted, the sign.

At #SignForce we believe in and strive to educate,  be transparent and working with you,  our client,  to make sure you get what we have sold.  We are not perfect so we don’t always get it right, but that is what we strive for.

For more on how #SignForce can assist you with your large and small sign requirements,  call us on + 27 ( 0 ) 11 440 7425 or email or

How do I choose a sign supplier #2?

Illuminated signs

The same sign during the day and at night

Choosing a sign supplier #2, or how do you know what you are getting when you decide on your sign supplier?

I recently saw this sign at night – there is a photo attached. Big deal. I see this sign often – during the day, BUT, during the day the sign is very different.

I must say up front that SignForce did not make this sign. I am not making that statement because the sign is poorly made or is an example of a poorly made sign, quite the contrary. On the number of occasions I have seen this sign I have generally been impressed by it’s size and the seemed quality of it’s manufacture.

Seeing the sign at night got me thinking (again) about the components that go into the manufacturing of a sign, and the resultant costs associated with the manufacture and sale of the sign.

With signage it is ‘sometimes’ possible to compare “apples” with “apples”, especially when the signs are simple – say a Chromadek sign decorated with cut vinyl, yet even then the quality and life expectancy of the cut vinyl decoration can vary from six months to five to seven years, with the longer life vinyl having a higher input cost than the short term vinyl. The same applies when looking at outdoor digital prints, as not all inks or full colour printers are created equal, with some inks having longer life expectancy than others. And all this is for ‘simple’ signs.

When signs get more complicated – be it because the sign is illuminated or fabricated or on pins or painted or has been through one or more of a number of processes that result in the final finished product that you see – the situation can get exceptionally murky when comparing one supplier to another.

In order to keep this article short(ish), this article I will only cover illumination. I will cover fabrication – materials and processes, letters on pins and bonding components, paints – the various types and processes, and any other elements in separate articles.

Looking at the attached photo’s you can see that during the day the sign looks great. It is big and bold and tells any potential clients where the store is. It projects a professional, clean image and fits the available space well.

Looking at the same sign at night, when the lights are on, a lot of the professionalism that the sign projects during the day is lost. This is because at night, when illuminated the sign looks dull and dirty, and for me personally, being able to count the tubes inside means that it is most likely I will not actually be looking at the sign or it’s intended message, but I am more likely to spend my time getting the subliminal message that the sign, and thus the business it represents, is ‘cheap’ and dirty, and very likely not going to make my visit pleasurable.

Now these messages are generally not conscious, but they are subliminal (unconscious), which possibly makes them even stronger than the conscious, intended messages that the sign was designed to project. Now it is very easy to say the sign company is at fault for the sign looking bad (and they should possibly carry a portion of the responsibility), or to say that the store staff and management are ‘obviously’ unaware or unobservant or uncaring so they should be responsible, but in reality the staff either see the sign daily and are not noticing the progressive deterioration and / or the sign was ‘like that’ when they started working there or they may leave work before the sign comes on. [All positive arguments why businesses should enter into sign maintenance contracts with businesses like SignForce where we will independently and objectively check on the sign at regular, predetermined intervals, with reports and photo’s been provided.]

While it is easy to ‘blame’ all and sundry for the deterioration of the sign, the truth is that the sign will deteriorate over time, and it is a combination of ALL the factors mentioned above – as well as a number of other possible factors – that will lead to the sign looking as it does at night.

Now getting back to the issue at hand, deciding on a sign supplier, some of the ‘obvious’, visible (to sign suppliers) issues are that there are not enough florescent tubes and, as importantly, especially over a period of time, the placement of the said tubes.

In order for a sign to illuminate evenly so that the tubes cannot be seen three factors need to be considered. 1. The proximity of the tubes to the face of the sign. Tubes that are less than 70 mm have a great possibility of being visible, unless 2. The number of tubes is high. If there are tubes right next to the face, and the tubes are all almost touching each other, the light will be great, but the cost will be VERY high. 3. The third factor is the placement of the tubes. While it may be possible to use less tubes if the tubes are placed vertically, and there are times when there is no alternative but to place the tubes vertically, the reality is that the tubes run off gas, and when not in use, the gas will fall to the bottom of the tube. Over time, as the tube gets older, the gas no longer ignites as efficiently or brightly as when new. While this will happen to al tubes, it happens to vertical tubes noticeably faster.

It seems obvious to me, and I will thus assume all, that the number of tubes has a direct impact on the final cost of the sign. Since most businesses are cost sensitive, it is very likely that a supplier like SignForce, who as a matter of course, use more electronic over magnetic ballasts and place all tubes horizontally, will come in more costly than a supplier that uses magnetic ballasts and places the tubes vertically. As a rule SignForce also place tubes no more than 150 mm apart.

While electronic ballasts may cost more initially, over the five year expected life of a sign, there is a far greater possibility that a magnetic ballast failing, and an even greater possibility of the manual ‘starter’ failing, so in reality the additional cost of replacing and maintaining the electrics at least once over the life of the ‘cheaper’ sign should be costed into the initial costs, but this is seldom done, if ever.

As mentioned earlier, placing the tubes vertically may mean that the initial outlay for sign will be lower, but once again, the cost of maintenance, and almost unmeasurable reputation cost also need to be factored in.

Also as mentioned earlier, SignForce did not manufacture or install this sign, so without any knowledge of the client’s budget, or the size of the sign, I can only assume that SignForce may have used somewhere around the same number of tubes as have been used, but simply placing them horizontally should have resulted in a longer life of the tubes and thus better night visibility of the sign.

If you are in the market for professional looking illuminated signs that can be considered an investment in marketing, contact SignForce now on info@signforce for advice and / or an obligation free quote



How to Illuminate a sign

How should my sign be illuminated – or How do I light up my sign

There are three main directions that a sign can be illuminated, namely FRONT ILLUMINATED, EDGE LIT and REAR ILLUMINATED.

1. Front Illumination – also known as front lighting – refers to the sign being illuminated (lit) from the front, generally either from below or from above, and is commonly used on advertising billboards.

Front illumination is most commonly achieved with bright, ‘spot’ light type lighting, although almost any lighting, including florescent lamps, can be used for front illumination, where the light is being ‘reflected’ off the face of the sign.

Front illumination tends to have the advantage that it can keep costs – both initial investment and running costs – low. This saving does, however, tend to be at the trade-off of clarity and possibly visibility, because one of the largest disadvantages of front illumination is that if the light source is not properly, or well, focused, the sign can become totally illegible at night – just when the lighting is supposed to make the sign visible – as the light reflecting at the incorrect angle can result in the full brightness of the light reflecting off the face of the sign directly into the viewers eyes, similar to the effect of looking into the headlights of oncoming traffic, and effectively blocking the sign’s message.

2. Edge Lighting – also known as side lighting or side illumination or edge illumination – refers to when a sign – generally for a framed glass type sign – is illuminated from one or more side (or edge). Edge illumination is commonly used for safety signs that are illuminated from one edge, as well as for smaller signs that are placed in poorly lit area’s, and ‘slim’ signs that are located in area’s with limited space.

The biggest advantage of edge lighting is that the sign can be extremely thin – from as little as 20 mm deep – so that the illuminated sign can be hung like a work of art or used in the place of a standard piece of artwork, such as a decorative painting.

While there are many advantages to having thin signs, especially when space is at a premium, it is worth remembering that edge lighting can only be used with ‘thin’ light sources, such as T5 florescent tubes or LED lights, so that, for now, (or until the technology improves), the illumination is often not very bright. This does not tend to be an issue if the area where the sign is to hang is poorly or not illuminated, but can be problematic when the area is well illuminated, or there is a lot a ‘other’ light in the vicinity of the sign, as the edge light may not be as bright as the competing light, and thus the most powerful effect of the illumination can be lost.

3. Rear Illumination – also known as internal lighting, back illumination and back lighting – is the most powerful, and most common lighting, used for business signs, building signs and ‘light boxes’. Rear illumination refers to the light ‘passing through’ the face – and illustration – of the sign, thus enhancing the picture, and / or message.

Because of the work involved in the manufacturing and wiring process, rear illumination does tend to be the most costly form of illumination, although the costs are coming down with all the wonderful developments being made in lighting technology.

One of the many advantages of rear illumination is that different types of illumination can be used to create different effects for the viewer. An example of this is when old technology florescent lights (running off magnetic ballasts and starters) are placed behind a picture of running water. Because of the flow of energy in the tubes, the water in the picture also gives the impression that it is moving. While the effect is wonderful, and old technology ballasts are inexpensive when first purchased, it is common for these ballasts to fail. They are also very eco-unfriendly and use a lot of energy because almost 80% of their output is lost to heat.

Modern, energy efficient florescent lights such as the one’s that SignForce use, run off eco-friendly electronic ballasts, and while their cost is constantly decreasing, the initial investment required for this type of lighting is still significantly larger than that required for the older technology, magnetic ballasts. That said, the increased initial investment is WELL WORTH IT, both because of the longer life expectancy of the modern ballasts and tubes, and also because of the lower running costs – both from a power consumption AND a maintenance perspective, as well as the fact that the sign box will not need to have all the ventilation required from the heat generating magnetic ballasts, contributing to a lowing of the manufacturing costs.

It is becoming increasingly common for rear lit signs to be illuminated with energy efficient, eco-friendly LED lights, because of the reduction in running costs, the extended life expectancy of LED lights and the ease of use.

Another advantage of rear illumination is that the picture and / or commercial message is enhanced when the lighting is from the rear, making the message brighter and clearer.

If you are in the market for professional looking, illuminated signs, or simply require advice on how best to illuminate your sign – and get a return on your illuminated sign investment – email or using the subject line: ADVICE PLEASE and we will get back to you as soon as possible.