Channel Letters Definition: 6 Common Questions Answered 

Helen Davies
Helen Davies
- 9 min read

In this article, we’re going to specify what channel letters are by explaining the channel letters definition. In addition, you’ll learn important points of consideration before purchasing this kind of sign. 

So what are channel letters? Let’s get to the basics.

Channel Letters Definition: Starting from the Basics 

Before we take a deeper dive, let’s examine the fundamentals of channel sign design. To get an understanding of what channel letters are, we’ve narrowed down the most frequently asked questions and answered them.  

Sign example from for showing what a channel letter sign is

#1. What are channel letters?

Channel letters are a type of 3D signage composed of individually crafted plastic or metallic lettering. Typically applied for exterior usage on commercial buildings, the text on the signs is illuminated from inside each letter. Visible by day and radiant by night, these building signs provide lasting appeal and add great depth to the facade.

Sign example from Grand Sport for showing what a channel letter sign is

Components and Assembly

To get the whole image of what channel letters are, let’s go over their components and assembly. A typical channel sign has three parts: face, returns and trim. These compose each letter in the text. The surface of the frames are known as the face. The sides of each letter are called returns. A trim is used to bind the returns and face together.

Illustration showcasing what channel letter sign component parts are


Main Features

Let’s get to the next step of the channel letters definition. They’re grouped into standard and reverse channel letters. These are distinguished by the way they’re illuminated. 

1.Standard dimensional letter signs are inlaid with LED or neon strips to illuminate the face. The sides and backing of lighted channel letters are generally made of aluminum. The front part is made of translucent acrylic, aluminum or left open depending on the desired lighting effect. standard 3D channel letter sign example

2. The reverse signs often have an aluminum face and are backlit instead of face-lit. They’re mounted slightly away from the building so the light can project onto the back wall. This creates a halo or glow that immerses the silhouette of the text, earning it the popular “halo-lit sign” reference.

No Other Way Production sign example for defining what channel letters are

Being able to identify the different features of each type of sign gives us a better grasp of what channel letters are. Now it’s time to understand when it’s appropriate to choose them over other business signage.

#2. What are the benefits of channel letters?

Why choose this kind of lettering over other dimensional or light up signs? By defining these letters and their benefits, you’ll know exactly when and why to choose them. So what are channel letters in terms of their advantages? Let’s see.

  • Lasting method of branding

Durability is an advantage in the channel letters definition that should prompt favor. These signs are lightweight but typically made of aluminum that’s sturdy enough to ‘survive fires.’ According to academic findings, aluminum is also the has excellent corrosion resistance

  • Extra visibility

They’re illuminated! This point deserves a highlight to define channel letters in terms of benefits. Each letter is inlaid with lighting to provide day and night visibility and invite public attention 24/7. People will notice your brand at all hours of the day, even from afar. Combine your lettering with a light box sign to showcase your brand name and logo.

  • Cost-effectiveness

The letters are sustainable and cost much less in the long-run. Using aluminum, efficient lighting and minimal fillers, you will boost brand visibility while saving money. Studies show that especially red LED bulbs use twenty to sixty percent less power than neon lights.

Raceway sign example from 9 Round

For detailed information about factors that go into cost,  check out this article: Channel Letter Signs Cost Guide: Disclosing 6 Key Factors

  • Establishing authority

While defining channel letters, another prime advantage that comes to mind is their power to enhance authority. Quality and style establish instant credibility for brands. Their exquisite craftsmanship will make your store signs and corporate displays look prestigious and irresistible.

Now let’s go on to find out the technical aspects of what channel letters are.

Sign example from LG Electronics for defining what channel letters are

What are Channel Letters? Getting Into the Technical Details 

Now let’s move on to the technical properties for a more in-depth understanding of what is a channel letter sign

#3. How are channel letters made?

How are channel letters made? These custom signs are fabricated using special machines that include an automated router, water-jet, laser and so on. The machines are used to connect the returns to a base. They can be fused at the seam or fixed with a stainless wire. 

After installing the lighting system into each letter, the last step is notching and cutting the trim cap. This can be done manually or with a special device. A plastic or aluminum face is applied to the sides using a trim.

In recent years, the production of this product has undergone serious upgrades in terms of automation. Automated machines optimize the speed, effort and precision of how channel letters are made.



#4. What kind of mounting options are available?

Below, we’ll describe the main mounting options for channel signboards. This will nail the full definition of channel letters so we can move on to other features. 

  • Direct/flush mounting

Direct mounting gives you a sign with just 3D letters and no visible boards for the power supply. In this type of mounting, each letter is attached directly to the wall using non-corrosive fasteners. The electrical wires go behind the wall. The extra effort required for this installation offers the cleanest look. 

Direct mounted channel letter example from Eclair & Cafe

  • Raceway mounting

A raceway is a thin, rectangular mounting structure between the 3D text and the wall. It encloses all the electrical components such as wiring, transformers and power supply. Now you may be wondering, what is a raceway sign? Simply put, it’s a sign installed with the help of a raceway.

Raceway sign example from Urgent Care

  • Wireway/backer mounting 

With wireway mounting, the letters are attached onto a mounting box. This backer panel is more shallow than a raceway mount and is used to hide the power supply. The panel encompasses the entirety of the text. It gives the sign a refined and architectural appearance. 

Wireway mounted channel letter sign example from Thomas Cook

  • Difference between wireway and raceway: Which is the winner?

Both methods are acceptable. But there are key differences you should be aware of before making a decision. 

  • Wireway and raceway installation difference

The main difference between wireway and raceway mounting lies in their size. Raceways are narrow and wide rectangle boxes whereas wireways are broad but shallow backboards. 

Just as in the example of a raceway sign provided, you won’t need to drill many holes into the wall for their installation. This saves labor time and reduces damage to the building. 

Raceway sign examples are usually simple and practical while direct and wireway mounting ones are more complicated. This is because you’ll have to invest additional efforts into enclosing all the electrical wiring behind the wall or into a shallow backer panel, respectively.

  • Wireway and raceway maintenance difference

Maintenance creates another difference between wireway and raceway mounting. 

What a raceway sign requires in terms of repair is a no brainer. Electrical wiring is easily accessible in a raceway sign. The top of the mount box opens up so anyone with electrical knowledge can examine and replace the wires if needed.

For repairing wireway signs, on the other hand, the whole sign may need to be taken down in order to fix any issues. 

  • Wireway and raceway final look difference

Raceway mounting may seem less polished due to the rectangular box mount that remains visible behind the lettering. Wireway mounting is more aesthetically pleasing as it encompasses the lettering like a backboard.

Infographics showing the difference between wireway and raceway signs

If you’d like to know about the best channel letter fonts, we will cover them in this section. 

1.The most widely used channel letter font is Helvetica. It offers more than eighty font faces including North Face, Microsoft and Caterpillar.

Showcasing Helvetica channel letter font example

2. Futura is the channel letter font that follows Helvetica in popularity. Futura was created at the beginning of the twentieth century. It has been in continuous use by graphic designers without losing its appeal.

Showcasing Futura channel letter font example

3. Garamond takes third place in terms of most favored channel letter font. The latest version of Garamond is Adobe Garamond.

Showcasing Garamond channel letter font example

#6. How is channel sign placement determined?

Clear visibility and efficient installation are important for successful signage. Depending on their positioning, different signs will have a different impact. 

1.The sign angle plays a huge role in its effectiveness. Placing your sign directly in front of passersby routes will ensure that people see your message clearly.

Every angle from right, left, up or down, affects the visibility and therefore the reach of your signage. 

2.The sign should be directly in the line of sight. Nothing should be blocking the view between your signage and audience, whether it’s for outdoor signs or lobby signs.

For more detailed information, read the following article: Tips On How To Design a Sign For Your Business Like a Pro

Continue on to discover final tips.

What are basic channel letters tips you should look out for?

In this section, we’ll go over key factors to finalize your decision. Let’s go.

1.Keep up with trends but don’t overestimate them. Following trends raises the bar but trends may have a short lifespan whereas your signage should endure the test of time. The market is dynamic so a variety of letter trends pop-up and go out of the radar at frequent intervals. Despite this, there are a few that remain steady in their desirability.

  • LED/Neon lighting leads the way. As mentioned earlier, there are two types of lettering: illuminated and non-illuminated. The Illuminated options are consistently higher up in trend over the non-illuminated ones.
  • Metallic signs outnumber acrylic-made products and there are notable reasons for that! Metal provides an excellent finish and durability for the final product. Advanced machinery is used to craft metal lettering, producing precise and refined results. 


2.Invest for quality. You won’t be able to purchase a high-quality sign by cutting corners. The process will be daunting and result in blurry lights, a cracked trim cap and the list goes on. The appearance and quality of your sign will suffer so it’s not worth any short-term gains. Invest for a premium product once and your investment will offer returns for a long time to come. Even if you’re planning on using this medium as short-term corporate event signage, stadium signage or a trade show display, you can freely use it in your office later on.


Sign example from Glanz for showing what an illuminated channel letter is

There is no doubt that once you define channel letter signage and identify your favorite style, you’ll take the lead among the competition. Now that you know what channel letters are, get signage that makes a real statement right where you want it. 



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