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Every industry uses its own terminology. The sign industry is no exception. We’ve included this list of sign industry terms to help you understand our lingo! If you still have questions, please contact us.


Related to signage, it is the removal or correction of a sign that violates local community code or standards.

Acrylic signs

Acrylic is a durable and weather resistant polymer material available in a wide variety of colors. Acrylic signs can be great indoors or outdoors. They are very versatile alone or combined with other sign processes to create unique, eye-catching and effective signage.

Ad Specialty

Advertising and promotional products. From pencils and pens to golf balls or even high-end drinkware, ad specialties can suit any occasion and any budget. Most often imprinted with a company name or logo and given away to promote a business or organization.


Legislation enacted by the US federal government in 1991 with the goal of removing barriers that limit a person with a disability to engage in normal daily activity in the physical, public environment. Title III of the ADA deals with related signage and wayfinding issues.

Advance notice sign

A sign indicating the approach of a specific destination, such as a highway, street intersection or building entrance. It is different from a directional sign in that it announces a single destination (also called an approach sign).

Ambient light

The sum of all non-directional light in a given area emitted by all sources at a given time. A high level of ambient light can have an impact on a sign’s readability, and it can be a consideration in a sign’s design.


When a previously conforming sign is subsequently deemed to be non-conforming, the owner of the sign is notified and given a grace period during which he may continue to keep and use the sign. At the end of the grace period, the sign must be removed. This process is referred to as amortization. The legality and enforceability of amortization depends on state and local law.

Architectural signage

A term used to describe signage in a built environment having the purpose of providing wayfinding or other site-specific information.

Aspect Ratio

The width-to-height ratio of an image. For example, a high definition TV has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 or 16:9. This means that for every 1.78 inches of image width, the image extends 1 inch in height.


A roof-like cover extending over or in front of a door or window. In the sign industry, these can be made out of canvas or a number of other materials.


A method of lighting signs so the light from the reverse side of the letter is directed back against the surface to which it is mounted, creating a halo effect. Also referred to as halo lighting or silhouette lighting.

Baked Enamel

A special paint coating, which is heat-treated to create a hard, durable surface.


An electrical device used in lighting systems to modulate changes to the current.


A lightweight sign composed of canvas or a number of other non-rigid materials. Banners are often used for temporary or semi-permanent signs in exterior applications. Banners can be digitally printed, or have cut vinyl letters and logos applied. This is a versatile and cost-effective sign solution.


A footing, typically concrete, that is used to support a freestanding sign.

Base plate

A flat, thick piece of steel welded to the bottom of a sign support.


A large outdoor sign used for posting advertising in high-traffic areas typically by highways or the sides of buildings in a metropolitan area.

Blade sign

A type of projecting sign mounted on the side of a building so it projects out and hangs perpendicular to the normal flow of traffic.

Boom mounting

A type of mounting where the sign or sign box is suspended from a horizontal support.


A system of small, raised dots that represent the alphabet, punctuation and numbers for people with visual impairments. ADA regulations require the use of Braille on signage in certain instances.


A very strong and durable metal alloy made of copper and tin with traces of other metals such as zinc and nickel. It can be cast, rolled, or etched to make plaques. Thin sheets can also be used to fabricate dimensional letters. Bronze can be finished in a variety of ways, including brushed, polished or lacquered.

Bronze, Imaged Bronze®

Photo relief plaques tell a story. This propriety process uses technology to create plaques directly from your art. It is popular for memorial plaques and building dedication plaques.

Building Code

Local and State agencies both have regulations governing public health, welfare and safety of construction and maintenance.

Building Fascia

An architectural term for the vertical bend under a roof edge on the face of a building.

Building mounted sign

Any sign that is attached to a building.


The “box” structure of the sign that consists of the frame and face(s), not including the internal components, embellishments or support structures.

Cabinet faces

The panel bearing the printed information for the sign.


A unit of measure indicating the amount of intensity displayed by artificial light. Abbreviated as cd.

Canopy Sign

A building mounted sign that functions as a permanent canopy (marquee) or a sign mounted onto a canopy. (Permanent, solid material canopies are sometimes called marquees.)

Cantilever Mount

A type of mount in which the sign or sign box is suspended off-center, to one side of the support column. Also called a flag mount.


A smooth, paste-like compound that is used to waterproof seams or joints, especially where water entry might cause rust or an electrical short.

Channel Letter

Three-dimensional letters that are made by forming sheets of metal into desired shapes, normally built to accommodate a light source.


The decorative materials used to encase sign columns or supports. Cladding can be made out of plastic, metal or wood.


The shortest distance between the lowest portion of a sign or awning and the grade. Also referred to as the height above grade.


Abbreviation for the ink colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Combinations of these four colors of inks are used in printing to create all other colors, also called four-color process.

Construction Site Sign

Temporary signs, typically large and freestanding at construction sites to promote and provide information about the company or companies involved in a building project. Also called a job site sign.

Corrugated board

A sign substrate that is created by gluing a flat face to a fluted piece, or gluing a fluted piece in-between two flat faces. Corrugated board can be made out of a variety of materials and to a variety of thicknesses.

Cove lighting

A type of indirect decorative illumination that’s created by placing either neon or fluorescent tubes inside a light box to produce a halo effect.


The appearance of fine cracks in the surface of paint, lacquer, plastic or vinyl. Typically the result of prolonged exposure to sunlight or weather.


In signmaking, electrical current is a consideration to ensure longevity of bulbs used to light signs.

Custom awards

Awards and recognition products that have been customized either by adding to a stock award or creating an entire award from scratch to specifications.

Custom Awards


A specially prepared vinyl with an adhesive back and printed logo, text or design that is used to affix to wood, metal, glass or plastic.


One method of creating bronze plaques or signs. Molten metal is poured into a hardened metal mold and then allowed to cool and solidify, taking the shape of the mold and creating a precise copy of the original object from which the mold was made or designed.

Digital graphics

A sign industry term meaning sign content that has been printed on an oversize digital printer. The digital graphics can be applied to any suitable sign surface to create everything from decals, car graphics, cabinet sign faces, or more.

Digital Graphics 

Dimensional letter

A letter, logo or symbol that is cut out, cast or molded out of a material such as plastic or metal to create a raised profile over surface of sign or wall to which said letter is mounted.

Dimensional letter

Direct burial

The term used for a sign support that is embedded in a concrete footing rather than attached by anchor bolts.

Directional Sign

Signs that are designed to provide direction to pedestrians or to vehicular traffic. Directional signs are often part of the larger “wayfinding” system for a building complex.


A sign that identifies the tenant names and locations inside a multi-tenant building or building complex. These are often used in healthcare, industrial or office parks, educational facilities.

Disconnect switch

A switch in or near the sign to control the flow of the electrical current.


A sign face that is lacking stiffness and may be subject to bowing inward, like a shallow dishpan. It may be the result of winds, but the force of gravity alone can be enough if the material used for the sign face lacks flexural strength.

Donor Walls and Recognition

Custom sign application made to specifications to honor donors. These can be made from any material and are usually designed to fit the environment.

Donor Walls and Recognition

Double-sided sign

A sign with two back-to-back faces often used by roadways where the sign will be approached from two directions.

Electric Sign

Any sign containing or using electrical wiring, fixtures or connections.

Electronic changeable copy sign

A sign that utilizes computer-generated messages or some other electronic means of changing copy. These signs include displays using LED, LCD or flipper matrix.

Electronic message centers

A sign that uses a programmable electronic screen for the sign face. This enables moving pictures or animations. It also allows for changeable information. This is often employed as a component of a larger sign for use by organizations such as churches and schools or shopping centers. Other terms might include “animated sign” or “digital readerboard.”


A plan or drawing made from ground level, showing the features of one side of a structure or sign.


A strongly-adhesive glue used in sign construction.


A decorative metal covering designed to conceal mounting structures and base plates.

Exterior Illuminated Sign

A sign illuminated by a light source shining directly on the sign’s face. Also called a direct illumination sign.


To architects, this usually means the front or the most prominent “face” of a building. In the sign industry, its meaning extends to any area of a building where a sign may be installed effectively.

Façade sign

A sign applied directly to the exterior surface or façade of a building.

Face panel

The primary display area of a sign. A sign face may consist of one or more face panels.


A single-faced sign or architectural band on one or more elevations of a building.

Fascia sign

A building-mounted sign.

First surface

The most external surface of a sign face that is most exposed to the elements.

Flag mount

A type of cantilever mount in which the sign is suspended on one side of the supporting structure.

Flex face

A sign face made of a flexible vinyl material reinforced with a fabric and stretched over a frame.

Fluorescent lamp or tube

A type of lamp in which the light is produced by the fluorescence of phosphor coating in the tube. It was traditionally widely used in sign making, but are being replaced with more energy-efficient LED lighting.

Foam board

A lightweight, rigid board used for interior signs. Foam boards consist of a foam center with laminate sheets on one or both sides by a variety of substrates.


The concrete substructure of a ground-mounted sign. When it is a cube shape, it is called a block foundation. When round or tube-shaped, it is called a caisson or pier foundation.

Freestanding sign

A sign that is not attached to a building.

Front-lighted letter

An illuminated channel letter with translucent face.

Full service sign company

A sign company that provides a complete spectrum of sign services: surveying, designing, engineering, permitting, manufacturing, installing and maintaining signs.

Galvanized steel

Refers to steel that has been coated with a thin layer of zinc for corrosion protection.

Gateway sign

A sign marking the entrance to a town, neighborhood, development, park or other public area. Sometimes called a precinct sign.


In the sign industry, this refers to a sign considered illegal under an existing ordinance, but allowed to remain because it was installed before that ordinance was enacted.


A small metal or plastic ring inserted into a hole made in another piece of material. It prevents fraying of the material around the hole and provides a durable, easily-threaded opening for rope or twine. Sometimes called an eyelet.

High-Rise sign

A tall freestanding sign, usually seen by busy roads or highways.

Horizontal Slab

A footing that has more width and length than depth. This is typically used to compensate for very loose or sandy soil. It can also be called a “spread” footing.

Illuminated sign

A sign that is lighted from either an internal (electric) source or external spotlights.

Incandescent Bulb

A lamp that produces light through the application of electrical energy to a wire filament, which glows as it is heated.

Incidental sign

Smaller, noncommercial signs found in public spaces that show things like hours of operation, location of restrooms, entrance and exit signs.

Industrial Products

Signs needed in industrial settings for OEM plates, Lock-out Tag-out, PPE, Hazard signs, ISO and Certification banners, front-office name plates, and machine panels.

Interior Signs

Signs located on the inside of a building or facility.


A small structure used for posting temporary signs and notices. It may be portable or permanent.


A method of processing plastic sheets, in which two materials with different characteristics are bonded together with an adhesive.


Liquid Crystal Display. A type of electronic changeable copy sign utilizing liquid crystals that become opaque or clear when exposed to controlled voltage. Although LCDs are most common in smaller applications, they can be used in some time and temperature displays.


Light Emitting Diode. A type of electronic changeable copy sign that utilizes hundreds of LEDs in a single-color or tri-color matrix. LEDs are physically flexible and inexpensive to operate when compared to other message centers.


The specific, proprietary form in which a company or product name is always displayed.


Many companies offer employees clothing and accessories with the company’s name and logo on it. Some companies require employees to wear uniforms. Charity events, such as run/walks or golf outings, also use logo wear for volunteers and participants, as well. Examples: medical scrubs, server’s uniforms or aprons, retail uniforms, run T shirts, golf shirts or visors.



The standard measure of light radiation.


A projecting structure permanently attached to, but not part of, the roof of a building. Also known as a canopy.


In painting, the process of covering areas with tape or paper to protect them from receiving subsequent layers of paint.

Memorial sign

A building sign or plaque noting such information as the name of the building, when it was built and by whom. Marble or bronze are popular materials due to their durability.

Menu board

Similar to a readerboard, this is a smaller message center, usually displayed at the point of purchase for product descriptions, prices and pictorials. Think restaurant menu.


Message Center

Message centers can be manual or electronic. This is a sign on which the message copy can be changed through the use of attachable letters and numbers or a computer program. Also called a variable message sign or changeable copy sign.

Message Center

Monument sign

A ground sign with low overall height. A freestanding sign.

Monument sign


The way a sign is supported such as between-pole mount, boom mount, cantilever mount, center-pole mount, flag mount, ground sign, monument sign, pole sign, portable sign, roof sign, side mount and wall mount.

Moving letter sign

A long, horizontal panel with incandescent bulbs. The lighting and darkening of the bulbs seem to make the letters move.

Name Badges

Personal identification stating person’s name and title. Usually branded with company name and logo. Can be made from a variety of materials, either custom or stock.

Name Plates & Badges


A small wall-mounted or free-standing sign traditionally made of plastic or metal that states the name, occupation and/or title of the occupant of an office, desk or building.

Name plates & Badges 


Traditionally, exposed neon signs used exposed tubes of neon to form brightly-colored words. This type of sign is restricted in some states. Neon is also used in the internal illumination of channel letters and other signs with unique shapes. The name comes from the neon gas within the tubes, which glow brightly when stimulated with high voltage electricity.

Neon signs

OEM plate

An acronym for Original Equipment Manufacturer plate. This term is used when one company makes a part or a subsystem that is used in another company’s end product. Often these products are marked with the company name and inspection or lot number. Indiana Signworks manufactures a variety of OEM plates, and our parent company, Indiana Stamp, also offers a wide variety of stamping/marking devices and inks to mark OEM parts.

Open Channel Letter

A dimensional letter that has no face until it is illuminated with a light source. It may have a clear face to protect its internal components.

Pan Channel Letter

A dimensional letter that has side walls, a back and a face so it stands off the building.

Pan face

A plastic sign face molded into a three-dimensional shape. Also called molded face, molded and embossed face, molded and debossed face.

Pantone matching system (PMS)

A standardized series of thousands of colors, each with specific color formulations and identification numbers. PMS colors are duplicated in swatch books and in computer-graphics programs to allow the exact duplication of colors in printing and other marking processes, such as signmaking.

Parapet sign

A sign mounted on top of the parapet or point where the wall meets the roof of a building.

Permanent room identification signs

These are the signs governed by ADA regulations. Any room with a fixed use, such as restroom or mechanical room, etc.


A license granted by the appropriate authorities to allow a sign to be erected.


An award or recognition product that features copy on a flat surface. Plaques can be made for achievement, board service, memorials and more out of many different types of materials to suit any budget or taste.


Point of Purchase (POP)

Signage that advertises a product at its point of sale.

Pole sign

A freestanding sign, usually double-faced and mounted on a round pole, square tube or other fabricated member without any type of support.

Post and Panel sign

An unlighted sign made by using one or more visible posts to support the sign body.

Post and Panel sign


Personal Protection Equipment used in factories, roadwork and industrial settings. Including safety vests, gloves, hazmat or other chemical protection suits, helmets and masks. These can be ordered with our without brand identification.

Pylon sign

A large on-site, freestanding sign with visible support structure or with the support structure enclosed within a pole cover. It is usually the primary logo identification.

Pylon signs


An electrical enclosure that may also serve as a mounting structure for the sign. This term has two fairly distinct meanings. In reference to sign cabinet construction, a raceway is a metal housing for the electrical leads from ballasts to lampholders. A raceway also refers to “raceway letter set,” a distinctive form of signage which resembles channel letters in which the characters are not individual units. In a raceway letter set, all the characters that make up a sign are mounted on a continuous raceway that houses the electrical leads for each of them.


Easy to read or understand the intended message. Also called conspicuity.


An artist’s sketch demonstrating how a sign will look when it is installed on-site to help the sign-user to decide among the possibilities. Sometimes required when requesting a permit or variance.


In the sign industry, this usually means adapting a new face design to an existing sign box or refitting a neon-lit sign with LED bulbs.

Revolving sign

A sign fitted with an electric motor to drive moveable parts, enabling it to turn 360 degrees. All or a portion of the sign may revolve at a steady or a variable rate of speed.

Roof sign

A building-mounted sign erected on the roof.


Elimination of material in a substrate, using a tool bit that has been machined for this purpose. In computerized sign making, a CAD.CAM machine, a tool is programmed to eliminate material along a tool path created along x-, y- and z- axes.

Sag rods

Supports on the inside of a sign box that extend from the primary support structure and hold up the weight of the sign box.



A method for decorating the surface of wood, stone or hard foam sign that can be used to create interior or exterior signs.

Sandblasted signs 

Second surface

The inside surface of a sign face not exposed to the elements.


General sign maintenance. It may include cleaning, repainting, replacing of bulbs or lamps, or other repairs.


In a sign or development code, the distance between the primary face of the sign and the property line opposite it measured in a straight line from the base of the sign. Most government offices require that signs meet specified setbacks or their owners must obtain variances from the regulations.

Sheet metal

Aluminum or steel in sheets or plates used as a sign substrate.

Sidewalk/sandwich signs

A moveable sign not secured or attached to the group or surface upon which it is located, but supported by its own frame and most often forming the cross-sectional shape of an “A”.

Sign box

Another name for a sign cabinet.

Sign Face

The surface area on a sign where advertising copy is displayed.

Signing schedule

A schedule supplied by the architect, designer or contractor on major projects that lists all of the signs to be installed, the locations where they are supposed to be and the information they should contain.


The material out of which the face of a sign is made. Including plastic, foam boards, metal and paper.


An analysis of a location to determine the best sign application. It evaluates factors including short- and long-range visibility, space, mounting conditions and local codes that might restrict sign installation. Also see “target” and “target survey.”

Tactile sign

A sign or area within a larger sign that conveys a message through raised or engraved art, making it accessible to people with visual impairment.

Temporary Sign

Any sign not intended for permanent installation, such as banners and signs at construction sites, as well as political or real estate signs.

Tradeshow Graphics

A broad category of signs products used to create booths, backdrops, table coverings, carpeting and more for promotional booths.

Trade show Graphics


Electrical equipment that converts input voltage and current to a different output voltage and current.


An abbreviation for Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., a nationally recognized testing laboratory.

Under-canopy sign

A sign designed to be mounted beneath a canopy.

Variable message sign

A sign that includes provisions for message changes. Also called a changeable copy panel, changeable copy sign, time and temperature sign, electronic message center or menu board.


A special administrative procedure by which people may obtain an exception to zoning rules such as height, setback and type of use for a sign.




Vehicle Graphics

Text, graphics, or logos applied to parts of the vehicle, such as roof, hood, doors, windows or tailgates. A cost-effective alternative to a full- or partial- vehicle wrap.

Vehicle graphics

Vehicle Wrap

A vinyl configuration designed to encase a vehicle in a graphic design to create a dynamic, eye-catching mobile advertisement.

Vertical Slab

A footing design with more depth than either width or length. The most common type of sign foundation.


Polyvinyl chloride (pvc) film that, in sign making, is backed with an adhesive that creates a strong bond to a surface when pressure is applied. Many different colors are available with different levels of adhesive for various applications—from permanent to semi-permanent to temporary.

Wall graphics

Digital graphics applied to a wall. Can be permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary.

Wall logos & graphics

Wall mount

A single-face sign mounted to a wall.


Signs that exist to enable people to find their way to, through and around a given destination.

Wayfinding signs

Window Graphics

Signs displayed in the window, or graphics applied directly to the window.

Window & door graphics