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Interior signs identify virtually every building door and space and perform myriad functions.

Interior signs identify virtually every building door and space and perform myriad functions. Signs pinpoint location and provide directions to other locations; list and locate building tenants; identify room occupants, departments and uses;locate public telephones, rest rooms, electrical closets, and building service personnel; reveal routes of movement and places accessible to the disabled; post emergency instructions; direct you to parking areas, emergency stairs and exits; mark egress pathways and areas of conflict and refuge; warn of hazards and dangers; and specify rooms and areas off-limits to buildingtenants and visitors.

Architectural signage is generally conceived by an architect or other design professional for a particular building or space and is designed to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It is coordinated with the interior design of the office space. Excluded from this category are billboards, neon display signs, and standardized mass-produced “stock” signs, decals and stickers sold in retail stores and catalogs.

The principal fabrication techniques and materials used in the manufacture of architectural signs include the following:

  1. Engraving on plastic or metal produces letters with a slightly “rounded” appearance, meaning “photographic” reproductions of artwork are not possible. Engraved plastic signs are attractive, quick to produce, inexpensive, and vandal-proof. Metal engraving is typically done on aluminum, brass, or bronze with either a satin scratch- resistant finish or a mirror-polished finish. Engraving into metal is considerably more expensive than plastic, as the process takes far longer since metal is harder and more difficult to penetrate.
  2. Silk-screening produces a photographic image by forcing paint through a porous (typically nylon) membrane onto a sign material substrate (e.g., acrylic, plastic laminate, metal, wood, paper, cloth, etc.). The open and closed pores of the screen membrane define the image imposed on the substrate. Letters have straight corners, not rounded as with engraving, and virtually any image or logo can be reproduced. Silk-screening is quick, efficient, and economical if the signs being produced are all alike, but expensive if the signs are all different, as colors must be applied one at a time.
  3. Etching on metal with chemicals or acid produces the same look as engraving on metal, except that the etched image is always of “photographic” quality with no rounded corners. Etched signs are costly.
  4. Dimensional letterforms are very popular with professionals such as lawyers and doctors, hospitals, corporations, and exclusive companies and properties. Three-dimensional letters and logos, typically metals and acrylics, are hand- or machine-cut and individually glued or “pin-mounted,” using concealed studs, to walls or doors. Dimensional letterforms are priced by the letter, with costs dependent on the material used, the size and thickness of the letters, and their finish.
  5. Braille and tactile code-compliant signs are required by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that signs can be read by and are accessible to physically-and sight-impaired individuals. ADA specifications include sign sizes, character proportions and height, raised letters and numerals, Braille, pictorial symbols, finish and contrast, mounting locations, and height.
  6. Vinyl appliqués are simply images or patterns cut from a lined vinyl sheet using a special computerized device and affixed to glass doors, walls, or windows. They are inexpensive and quick to produce, but highly susceptible to damage and vandalism. Thus, they are inappropriate for permanent signage and are used primarily for temporary applications such as transient displays.

This article was excerpted with permission from Planning & Managing Interior Projects, available through RSMeans.

by Robert Katz and Arthur Frost last update:Feb 17, 2012

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