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Sign Lighting Systems

Everyone is seeking sustainable energy solutions right now, and signage needs to be clever – not necessarily bigger, but definitely brighter. Summer Brooks discovers the latest LED lighting systems

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Boutique restaurants and bars are driving demand for industrial-looking illuminated signage

Blinded by the lights

As competition continues to drive businesses to get innovative on the high street, so does the signage. What better way to help a business stand out than by using retrofit LED systems to make the sign really shine?

Applelec creates a range of LED signage from its site in West Yorkshire including built-up letters, which can be integrated with LED. Michael Crotch, sales team manager for Applelec’s signage division, comments: “The letters can be integrated with a wide variety of LED options ranging from RGB to a choice of white colour temperatures, and depending on project requirements, we can manufacture our metal built-up signs with halo or face illumination styles to create attention grabbing signage during both day and night-time hours.”

Applelec has seen a rise in demand for its built-up letters coupled with LED cabochon bulbs

As well as illuminating built-up letters, Applelec’s LED signage range NeonLux is designed to mimic the appearance of neon glass tubing. “The signage is manufactured to bespoke specification and can accommodate a range of customer requirements including; complex graphic shapes, brand logos and lettering in different font styles,” says Crotch. “As well as LEDs being used to bring illumination to signage, certain LED solutions act as stand-alone products. Our metal built-up letters with LED cabochon bulbs or push-through LEDs are examples of where the LEDs are the main feature of letters or logos, creating highly visual, modern and stylish signage.”

Stand-out lighting

LEDs have emerged as the most practical way to illuminate signage thanks to the modules’ energy and cost efficiency. “Along with this, LED modules are low maintenance and once fitted require very little aftercare, which is ideal for illuminated signage that may be installed at a high level or where access to letters and logos is difficult,” says Crotch.

Crotch adds that one of the main reasons clients ask for LED systems is to help create a more impactful sign. “With the inclusion of, for example, SloanLED’s High Output LEDs which deliver 180 lumens per module, the powerful illumination helps to elevate the appearance of traditional signage, creating eye-catching branding that stands out,” he says. With that in mind, Crotch attributes advances in LED technology to the expansion of design possibilities for illuminated signage, for example, with static colour options where LEDs can be programmed to create movement of light with chase sequences and flashing effects.

O Factoid: The most common forms of LED module are circular and rectangular, and their brightness ranges from 105 lumens to 6000 lumens  O

“There has been a steady increase in demand for illuminated signage over the years, which we’ve noticed across the whole of Applelec’s illuminated letter range and certain lit signage styles have grown in popularity to coincide with current fashions and trends,” comments Crotch. Applelec has seen a rise in demand for retro-looking signage, as Crotch explains: “Although visually striking, neon glass signage is not without its limitations, and as a result, Applelec’s NeonLux product helps to fulfil requirements with a more practical and hard-wearing solution.

Manufactured from block acrylic, NeonLux is a sturdier illuminated signage option to the fragile, glass tubing of traditional neon, which widens application opportunities otherwise not possible, such as low-level installations. As NeonLux is embedded with LEDs, the solution is more energy efficient, cost effective and environmentally friendly to its neon glass counterpart.”

Another trend Applelec has identified is a desire for the industrial, stripped-back look for interior spaces often seen in bar and retail design, which has led to an increase in demand for the company’s built-up stainless steel letters combined with warm white LED cabochon bulbs. “The imperfect and aged look of this signage design marries perfectly with the rustic aesthetics, creating striking feature pieces within these spaces,” adds Crotch.

Whilst an LED system is likely the best way to light signage, choosing LEDs that will last is important as cheaper alternatives are likely to degrade much quicker than modules of higher quality. “In the majority of cases, signs are not a temporary installation and once they’ve been installed there should be confidence that the signage will last,” says Crotch. “Selecting good quality illumination is one way to help guarantee the longevity of a sign whilst greatly reducing the sign’s energy consumption and future maintenance cost due to LED failure.”

Quality over price

To minimise the risk of using poorly designed LEDs that might need more energy to achieve adequate brightness, which in turn leads to colour inconsistencies, a faster drop off in brightness and ultimately a higher failure rate, Applelec recommends using a premium LED brand to provide assurance on these issues. “As the sole UK distributor for SloanLED, the vast majority of Applelec’s built-up metal signage is integrated with these premium LEDs, where the high quality modules is a result of expert manufacturing processes and rigorous testing, and with SloanLED’s ten-year warranty on parts and labour provides addition reassurance of the confidence in their brand,” adds Crotch.

Kings Plastics in Bristol produces a range of LED products in-house to accommodate customer demand. Jenna Underhill, sales office manager, comments: “We can supply illuminated built-up lettering in aluminium, stainless steel and acrylic as well as our Opal Halo Illuminated Lettering made from 15mm Opal Acrylic and our Kings LED Flexi-Ribbon. We produce in-house all our Edgelit signs using our own aluminium extrusions and our Kings LED Ribbon. We are now also producing in-house our new range of Kings LED Flexi-Neon signage which comes in an array of colours and two different sizes to suit multiple applications.”

(Above & below) LED alternatives to neon can be suited to different applications and environments, like this piece by Kings Plastics using its LED Flexi-Neon

Underhill agrees that the popularity of LED systems is down to their low running costs and efficiency over fluorescent tubes. “LEDS are virtually maintenance free and are low voltage which makes them much safer to work with and supply in signage, plus they are more environmentally friendly,” she says. “To be honest, we rarely get asked for fluorescent tubes anymore. We have seen a big interest in our new LED Flexi-Neon signage, this is our equivalent to traditional glass neon.” The Flexi-Neon is supplied in two sizes – mini, at 6 x 13mm, suited for creating lettering and shapes; and standard at 8 x 16mm, which is suited to perimeter illumination.

“Retro is very popular at the moment and we’ve seen a huge increase in demand for LED neon alternatives since launching our Mini LED Flexi-Neon earlier this year, especially as it can make neon signage more affordable and lower risk with the added benefit of being low voltage and a lot more durable,” says Underhill. “We have also been producing a lot of our Monoframe 80 slim lightboxes as demand also increases for slimmer, more modern-looking signage.”

Kings Plastics stocks its own aluminium extrusions for housing its LEDs. For lightboxes, the company stocks three types – Kingcase Major 175mm-deep, Kingcase Junior 117mm-deep, and Monoframe 80 at 80mm-deep. The manufacturer also stocks circular lightboxes at 600mm and 750mm in diameter, which can be made single or double-sided. For edgelit extrusions, Kings stocks three products – Miniflex, an ultra-slim extrusion; Reflex, a slightly larger extrusion that houses all electrics internally; and Dualflex, a two-part frame that can be fixed to the wall, houses all electrics and the top cover can hide the fixings.

Another lightbox created using the Monoframe 80 with LEDs from Kings Plastics 

Underhill adds: “Demand has definitely increased massively over the years especially as LED technology changes and becomes more widely acknowledged by the trade and the public. We’ve also found an increased demand for double-sided LED lightboxes as LED technology improves and products like our Kings LED XB1 Edgelit modules makes producing double-sided lightboxes quicker and cheaper to produce.”

Powered by solar

Another UK manufacturer of lighting solutions is Zeta Specialist Lighting, supplying bespoke LED and solar light solutions to the signage industry, offering both LED and solar powered systems. Kevin Batham, account manager at the firm, comments: “LEDs are flexible, energy efficient and longer lasting. Zeta’s Embedded LED Panels for example, last for an average rated life of 50,000 hours – almost three times longer than a traditional fluorescent.

But without a doubt, the biggest advantage is that they can also be used in conjunction with our solar powered lighting systems, which is when the real economies kick in. Additional benefits of solar-powered LED systems are that they consume zero energy and therefore have no ongoing running costs. Plus, as there is no requirement to link into a mains connection, installation is quick, easy and cost less.”

Zeta LED’s ECOLUX SOLAR trough lighting system used in signage for NHS Bradford

Zeta’s Bespoke Solar Signage Kit is compatible with various lighting options from the company, including Zeta Embedded LED Panels, Zeta Light Guide Panel and Zeta LED Lattice Ladder. “Each kit is a bespoke solution to provide optimal performance and substantial energy and cost savings for totems and monoliths,” adds Batham.

Zeta’s Light Guide Panel illuminates Redrow hoardings in Saxon Square Luton

Changes and trends in design are also affecting the light systems sign-makers are using. “Due to the nature of the signage industry today lighting systems are having to change due to various reasons,” says Batham. “The main reason is that wayfinding totems for example are getting thinner by design, therefore more thought is needed for rear illumination. Issues such as hot spots from the LEDs could prove to be a major factor in choosing an LED system for this application. Some of the LEDs used today are edge lighting systems. Again, choosing which system to go for depends on the design of the project. There isn’t just one product suits every application in signage.”

Obviously with more pressure being put upon companies to promote their businesses they are choosing to have more illumination in their signage

As businesses and brands compete for attention, illuminating their signage is a popular way of standing apart from other places, as Batham concludes: “Obviously with more pressure being put upon companies to promote their businesses they are choosing to have more illumination in their signage. Also, as we can now offer the solution to use our solar kits in their signage this will give them even more options to quote their customers. I honestly think that most signage jobs that are to be illuminated today use LEDs. Apart from cost, efficiency and all the other benefits of using LEDs, I do believe the overall look of the signage today has improved because of the quality of LEDs that are around in the industry today. With the addition of dimming controls, DMX controls etc you can achieve any colour/ambiance you want to now.”

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