Tavernetta exterior signage designed by EBD.

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June 4, 2021

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6 min read

Notes from A Production Manager: Signage Edition

What to consider, when considering signage?

To answer that question simply, consider everything. Seriously, everything. Whether you’re looking to light up the night sky or do your wayfinding in a building or environment, signage requires a tremendous amount of consideration and time to accomplish. A qualified design & production team can help make your signage experience pain free and rewarding.

Permanent signage can be inside or outside; illuminated or non-illuminated. There are many different types of permanent signage, such as canopy signs, projecting signs, blade signs, pinned letters, vinyl wall graphics and ADA signs. Some of our examples are below.

Now, where do we begin? It’s all about the process.

Before starting, there are two important considerations. First, what is allowed by city code? And second, who is reviewing and approving your plan and design?

These considerations should be thoroughly discussed up front. At the beginning of our process, it’s also imperative to review a copy of the CSP (Comprehensive Sign Package) and building elevations. The CSP helps us determine how many signs are allotted to a building, how big the signs are allowed to be, what type of sign is allowed, and where it is supposed to be mounted, and what style of design is preferred. Also, having the elevations and electrical placement is essential when it comes time to design the sign to scale on the building. 

It’s important to know from the very beginning who will need to approve the final sign concept, placement, lighting, etc. It can vary per project, per client, per city, per county, per state…you get the point. Approvals can include the client, the architect, the build manager, the property owner, the city, your grandmother! Whatever we do, we don’t risk leaving an important stakeholder out of the approval process. If an approver is left out, it could result in months of delays, and additional cost.

Wilson Hotel signage designed by EBD.

Concept & Design

Now that we have some parameters to work with, brainstorming and ideas come next. The brand may be high-end with minimal colors, or funky and colorful. Signage can evoke all these things! It helps to start with the big picture. Get the idea on paper or screen, and mood board some cool materials and fabrication techniques. There’s so much to consider in this phase. Think about the brand, the architecture and even the interior design. You may even think the history of the building and the history of the neighborhood.

Once any and all things are considered—seriously though—then we can move into the details, transforming the sketch into a scale digital drawing on the elevations. It will get more and more detailed as we go. Getting it to look right visually and proportionally is key and then moving into details like how tall a letter is, or even how thick the stroke of that letter is, is well…satisfying. Just us? Oh ok.

Whoa, this is moving quickly, we were just talking about big picture stuff, and now we’re worried about the thickness of a stroke of a letter? Depending on how the letter is intended to be fabricated or lit, there could be some limitations for that letter. A metal, halo-lit letter will have different limitations than an acrylic, push-through letter. Material matters, lighting matters, size matters…it all matters. 

Thinking through these minute details helps narrow down the perfect sign for the project. It’s all about balancing the real-world limitations of materials and fabrication and the out-of-this-world ideas in your head. As we’ve mentioned, knowing the fundamentals of signage fabrication really helps in this conceptual phase.

So, we’ve created a great design, detailed out the sign, it’s perfect, scaled to the elevation and we’re sure we have considered everything. Now what? It’s time to share it with the world—well, the client—and get feedback and get the concept approved to move forward.

Hotel Born signage designed by EBD.

Selecting a Vendor & Comparing Bids

Once the design is approved, a detailed drawing is crucial. It should include visuals of the sign from all angles; a rendering of the sign in the environment, example images of fabrication techniques, thoughts on materials, paint colors and dimensions, and the timing for delivery/installation.

Now it’s time to compare vendor estimates and pick a vendor to partner with on your signage. In order to get an accurate estimate, it’s a good idea to have a meeting or call with the vendor and review the detailed sign drawing, site location, CSP, electrical placement and elevations. At this point the vendor may want to visit the site based on the complexity of the sign. 

The vendor will consider material availability, the weight of the sign, where the sign is being installed and what the building’s surface or interior wall material is listed as in the elevations, what equipment will be needed, (this could be as simple as a ladder or as involved as a lift), whether a road and or sidewalk will need to be closed for install, and the permitting process. These considerations and details will have an effect on price and time.

When we’re getting bids, we ask that they include a detailed shop drawing (we told you it was going to get more detailed!), permits, prototypes and/or samples of materials, the fabrication of the sign, and installation. Lastly, the vendor will clearly communicate anything that their bid will NOT include, so review this information carefully! For instance, the on-site team will need to provide electrical to an exterior location, signage vendors will not do this.

Permitting

We’ve chosen a vendor, congratulations!

The vendor will begin producing their own drawing, known as a shop drawing. This is where they flush out all the details of the build and install. More details you say? Yes. These vendors are professionals in the detail business. Once all the initial approvers have signed off on the drawing the vendor will submit the drawing to the city for approvals and permits. Permits are needed for exterior signs and the permit process can range from 4-6 weeks. The vendor will also provide their best estimate of the timeline for the approval process (timelines are longer when there is more construction going on in the city…why of course!)

It’s a nice thought to remain hopeful that a permit is issued on the first submittal, however the city can deny a permit for a multitude of reasons. This is where an experienced design and management team who is skilled at interpreting a CSP comes in handy as it will reduce your risk of rejection by the city. If the CSP allows a projecting sign but your inexperienced design team has labeled it as a blade sign, you can expect a big red “REJECTED” stamp on the sign. While blade signs and projecting signs are similar—and the names are often used interchangeably—they are actually different, and this could be enough to warrant a rejection. We go to great lengths to establish good relationships with the city approvers (as do our vendors), so we can ask questions up front and avoid multiple submittals. Then we just hope our contact doesn’t leave the city…hello, new contact?

Finally, a month has gone by and everything is signed off and permits are in! Let’s build the sign.

Fabrication

This is where all of the design work pays off. The shop drawings act as the playbook for fabricating the sign. First, color samples, small-scale fabrication samples, and material tests are done. Even with a shop drawing as a guide, tweaks can be made at this stage. Is the neon closer to the edge, on both ends, or in the middle of the sign? This is where we perfect the sign. Once all of the samples are approved, the sign goes into full fabrication. This is where we visit the vendor periodically to check in and see the baby being born! This process, depending on how complicated the sign is, can take 4-10 weeks. Once it is complete, we move into our final step, installation.

Installation

Prior to installation, a site visit is a must. This is where the vendor can check the construction progress, confirm the wall finishes, and finalize the proper installation tools.  Just remember signage projects are complicated and may not go exactly as planned but, with careful consideration from beginning to end and a great, communicative team, your signage should be lighting up the night sky in no time. All told, the process takes about 3-5 months, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day! 

Marczyk outdoor signage with the cow logo, designed by EBD.