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With LED lighting transforming the sign-lighting market, Jack Gocher reviews some of the most innovative technologies coming out, to ensure SignLink readers are not kept in the dark

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Chiplite’s LED lighting solutions are designed to enable large scale flexible illuminated signage solutions. When used correctly the effect can be quite beautiful

Let there be light

The need to be able to see in the dark is fundamental to human existence. When it comes to signage, the need to make your company or advertisement visible has seen the rapid adoption of a relatively new technology that has transformed it.

There has always been two ways of providing light to something, so that it can be seen at all times of day. One is to shine a light at it, a solution that is still very popular but has obvious limitations and significant cost issues. The other is to make the object itself the provider of the required light, and for signs, this has historically been delivered by neon. The ascension of LED lighting has changed all the rules on sign lighting and this has helped to create a flourishing and rapidly growing industry.

John Wiggins, national accounts signage for Oshino Lamps (UK), says: “There are a lot of companies providing sign lighting now, but there are not many that come to the market as sign lighting professionals. Oshino has been lighting aircraft and automotive interiors for more than 80 years and we bring this experience and technical know-how into the signage market. Like myself, our company is made of specialist lighting engineers who fully understand the products and how they can be best implemented for the required signage project.”

3M’s Envision range of Translucent and Diffuser Films have been specifically developed to optimise LED sign lighting technology

Wiggins also points out that the advances in LED technology has allowed companies like Oshino to offer a broad range of alternative methods to light signage products. He continues: “With these new designs and technology we can create displays that simply couldn’t be achieved before. We can also identify the illumination issues around new developments in the signage industry itself.

“For example, the sign industry has developed the ability to manufacture soft signage on shallow frames to enable very large displays. However, these shallower depth boxes are difficult to light if the lamp is too close behind the image, as bright spots will appear. Oshino has developed products that overcome this issue and allows sign-makers to create very large, shallow signage systems.”

Flex-faced signs have traditionally been lit by using fluorescent tubes; however, there is increasing pressure to find a more energy efficient, reliable, and simple-to-install alternative. Oshino’s Super Orbis LED is a chain LED lighting system specifically designed for large-scale acrylic and flex-faced sign boxes. With its market leading brightness (235lm) and efficacy (117lm/w) and advanced new optics design it takes from only four of the latest Super Orbis LED modules and 10 Watts of power to uniformly light one square metre of sign. In addition, only one power supply is required for a sign of up to 17sq/m.

It is all in the lenses: Oshino’s Super Orbis LEDs will light 1sq/m with four modules and consume just 10 Watts. This new wave of super-bright and efficient sign lighting technology is revolutionising the way that sign lighting solutions are being developed

Of course it is valid to compare lighting products in terms of their brightness and efficiency, but equally significant is the contribution a properly engineered optic plays in effective sign lighting. Oshino has recently completed the new design of optic, which will feature in the next generation of Super Orbis LED.

Wiggins concludes: “LEDs have completely changed the game for sign illumination and it has only really been in this century. Oshino has been manufacturing lamps since 1931, so we know what we are doing and we are continually bringing out new products that enable sign-makers to produce the brightest, most economical, and compelling displays.”

Group up your signs

According to Ian Hoole, sales manager for The Sign Group, the sign lighting market has always been important, but that with the introduction of LEDs, growth in the illuminated sign market is immense. He continues: “The vast majority of sign-makers in the UK are owner operated, employing five staff or less. These companies work very much on reaction to what their customers require and, whilst they are very good at what they do, they rely on trade suppliers like us to have the ability and know-how to guide them so they have options or can achieve a certain brief.”

 The introduction of LED in recent years to the illuminated sign market is immense

Hoole continues: “As end-users look to stand out, they are allocating more time and money on signage and display, allowing their sign supplier more scope in what can be offered. An ever-increasing part of this is the way the signage or displays look during the day and night, with the favourite and most effective options being different ways to illuminate them. It can be a deal breaker. Consequently we believe in training our staff to identify any issue that may arise and communicating it to our customers.”

Having an understanding of the best products around is also key to successful system delivery says Hoole, who explains: “You could ask us each year what are the best products and we would probably give you a different answer. We have found that fairground lights, warm white LED bulbs, have been successful because of the current ‘retro’ trend.

“Our NeonPlus letters, particularly the ‘RetroNeon’ range, which are a replacement for neon, work perfectly in shop and window displays. This is because they have eight colour choices, are low voltage, very strong, bright, and price-wise are like for like. In particular, there is no fireman’s switch required, unlike traditional neon.

Using the latest illumination technology, Sign Group’s NeonPlus lettering is designed to meet a rapidly growing demand from sign-makers for ‘retro’ letters to cater for current fashion trends in branding and sign design

“We have noticed that the LED market is growing very quickly and the product quality is excellent. However, as is true with many growing markets, there are some poor product suppliers out there. There is usually a very good reason for some products being cheap; our advice is call around and ask.”

The Sign Group seems driven by the need to deliver new products to an ever-more demanding customer base and have added to its range of built up slimline letters and currently have eight brilliant and individual options. The newest of them is NP6 letters, which have full face and partial illumination on the returns.

“They’ve been seen before, but we like to think ours stand out for quality and pricing,” explains Hoole, who adds: “For all our NeonPlus letters, we have had LEDs and acrylic specially manufactured to give the best results available. If we can’t achieve 100 percent satisfaction from any of our products using off the shelf raw materials, then we look to have the material manufactured.”

Indeed, this may sound like an expensive way to go about things, but according to Hoole it works out in the long run. The customer only pays for the material required to manufacture their job, and they benefit from the larger quantities of materials bought by The Sign Group, which can then keep the cost as competitive as any other supplier.

“Once our customers have seen how high the quality is without increasing the price they keep coming back for more. It’s satisfying and beneficial for all parties,” Hoole concludes.

Enhanced sign illumination

Another major lamp manufacturer to have realised the potential of the sign lighting market is Majert which has developed its Chiplite range to service the growing demands of sign-makers. It has recently made further enhancements to its LED module, the CL-XI, and following further optimisation, the product is now branded as CL-XOL. It will be formally launched at European Sign Expo to be held in conjunction with FESPA Digital 2014 in Munich at the end of May.

Marco Klan, managing director of Majert, says: “Further optical improvement at no additional cost to users now enables a 160-degree light distribution capability to be achieved with the upgraded CL-XOL module. It is now possible to illuminate a square-metre 220mm-deep flexible-face light box using only 16 CL-XOL H3 modules via a grid of 250 x 250mm.”

The upgraded system incorporates two SMD LED modules that are constant-current driven and soldered to form a chain of 40 modules. The CL-XOL also carries the CE/EN 55015 seal of approval and is RoHS-certified. It also incorporates an IP65-rated transparent housing for optimum safety and reliability.

Klan continues: “Of special interest to sign-makers is the system’s ability to accommodate difficult-to-fit corner or serif requirements due to the special optics that provide an extra-wide 160-degree angle of radiation. This enables the CL-XOL to be used in light boxes and for the illumination of sign lettering with a very low depth, typically as small as 30mm.”

He concludes: “Another important innovation for sign-makers is the CL-EI system that has been developed specifically for illuminating double-sided light boxes. These can be illuminated via the grid without the need to illuminate both sides of the light box. Due to its compact size, the system can also be used in double-sided circular banners. Available as a soldered chain of 30 modules, the light intensity of the CL-EI system can be varied by either pushing the modules together or pulling them apart.”

Media helps

Another major area of technological development that is influencing the evolution of sign lighting systems is the media that can be used in conjunction with them to help graphics and designs really pop.

Richard Davies, 3M Commercial Graphics’ trade marketing manager explains how his company is focussing on this area: “Part of 3M’s new Envision range of more environ-mentally aware materials, Envision 3730 Translucent and Diffuser Films, have been specifically developed to optimise LED technology and are reputedly the first graphic films to do so.

“The films enable sign and graphics producers to achieve the highest possible levels of luminance whilst requiring fewer light modules, thereby reducing power usage and overall running costs whilst providing a significant sustainability edge and complementing the ‘green’ aspirations of users of LED technology.”

The Diffuser films are available with two levels of light transmission (50 and 60 percent) to manage the illumination of signs and graphics more efficiently, while the Translucent films are avail-able in both standard and customised colours and in an inkjet-printable format.

Sihl Direct is another company with a very broad range of products that are ideal for light boxes and larger-scale signage systems, and has committed itself to ongoing research and development in this product category. Ian Turnbull, operations director at Sihl, outlines the potential of choosing the right media to enhance the effect of sign lighting systems: “We have a host of products that are ideal for production on aqueous, solvent, UV and latex printers. These products come in a range of sizes and coatings to enable flexible signage design to suit budget and environmental requirements, as well as the need for bright, vivid, and vibrant displays. Choosing the right media makes all the difference to the quality of the signage.”

Choosing the right media makes all the difference to the quality of the signage

Feel the flex

With development now obvious on all fronts, it is strange to think that the sign lighting sector was static in terms of development for many years, with a narrow range of technology that limited the boundaries of how creative designers could be. Indeed, if you took a sign-maker from the 1980s and transported him to the modern market they would think it was an advanced alien civilisation. Ok, perhaps not quite, but you take my point. And a great example of just how fast things developing is the LPflex system from Tring-based Trade Signs. Launched at Sign and Digital UK 2014, the patented technology’s concept is simple; solid acrylic with embedded LEDs. This claims to offer unparalleled possibilities in terms of design and creativity and allows for creations that simply are not possible using other fabrication methods and light sources.

(Above and below) Seeing is believing: New from Trade Signs is LPFlex, which sees solid acrylic embedded with LEDs to achieve a classy, high-brightness, and durable letter

“Our LPflex is high-end signage that can be made in a wide variety of striking designs, and is also often used for architectural signage due to its versatility and illumination uniformity. Trade Signs are extremely excited to offer this product to their customers, as this type of signage is highly desirable and an excellent selling tool to those high-end clients,” says Paula Hicks, marketing and office manager at Trade Signs.

She continues: “LPflex sign systems have a long lifetime, low degeneration and high energy efficiency. Manufacturers of LEDs in general refer to a long lifetime of being up to 100,000 hours and a low cost energy of up to 90 percent compared to neon lighting, however they do not state anything about degeneration. Some LEDs can lose up to 70 percent of their initial brightness after just a couple of months, but with LPflex sign systems this isn’t the case.”

O Factoid:  When the HOLLYWOOD sign was built in 1923, it contained 4,000 20-watt light bulbs mounted on the letters and spaced 8””apart. O

Indeed, according to Trade Signs its LPflex sign systems use LEDs that in laboratory tests lost just 5 percent of their brightness in 10,000 hours worth of usage.

With all this on the cards, it seems sign illumination looks set to remain one of the fastest moving technologies in the industry. Product enhancements are a regular occurrence and this is great news for sign-makers. New LED lights in particular are helping to increase application flexibility, as well as lowering costs in terms of energy consumption, ensuring the fire continues to burn bright for this core sector.


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