Built-up letters - Nov/Dec 2013

Trade-letters.com keep to traditional techniques

Mark making built up letters by hand.

Mark Ashcroft, Managing Director of TRADE-LETTERS.COM, notes that as the popularity of built up lettering has increased, the market has seen a number of new methods of lettering production.

One such method is the use of computerized bending machinery to make letters, as opposed to fabricating the letters by hand after they have been cut on a water jet machine. While there are some perks to this method, such as cost-efficiency, Mark notes that machines cannot always return the same quality results as handcrafted lettering. “We have made some lettering that a machine could never really handle,” he says. “In fact, I believe machines would struggle with anything that is not square cornered, and would have a difficult time with anything that wasn’t in a Sans Serif font.”

For sign makers on a budget, machine manufactured letters may be a slightly cheaper option, but for Mark, the focus lies on a quality finished product. His team of quality time served craftsmen create built up lettering made from polished, brushed and descaled stainless steel, the latter of which is used so they can powder coat or wet spray the lettering to a client defined colour. “It is not that we are against progress, if we thought the bending machines were any good we would purchase one tomorrow, maybe even two with the volume of work we have at present. But we have spent time reviewing them and we are happy with our current traditional methods of production, as from my point of view quality of the finished product is paramount.”

Another major improvement Mark has noticed over the last 5 years from a cost efficiency angle has been the introduction of LED lighting modules. “I just think LED’s have transformed illuminated built up letters, it has basically killed our neon department, but made the job so much easier and cost effective” he says. “There are new products all the time, the hot one at present looking at how some of our competitors seem to be marketing appears to be the LED light sheet, although it is more frequently used for other signage applications and not as much in built up lettering.”

For Mark, the focus remains on the customer, and listening to client feedback above all else. “As a company we do not try and lead the way in selling these new concepts, as we are client driven, and our clients haven’t asked us for them. We tend to concentrate on our core principal of letter making as we have for the last 60 years.”

For further information call 0800 917 6376 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rock Ferry Centre sign made with powder coated descaled stainless steel on a custom fabricated stand for ease of installation.

Sign here talk about Built-up letters

Acrylic being bent to form the lettersThe acrylic letters in preparation Built-up letters in production The lighting and colour variations being displayed alongside built up lettering

Ken Wildsmith, Director of Sign Here, also notes the changes that lighting and illumination have had on the built up lettering industry.

“The look of built up letters is forever changing,” he says. “Five years ago it just seemed to be stainless steel with Halo illumination that was the "in look", but now with a wide range of specialist material and lighting techniques available, designers are becoming more adventurous and demanding for that impactful and original look.”

Sign Here manufactures signs in acrylic, stainless steel and aluminum, and is currently making an abundance of lettering in a “fairground” style due to popular demand. “The finishes vary from the natural material to painted and powder-coated letters, with and without illumination” he adds. When it comes to illumination, the advent of LEDs has allowed the company to develop more complex signs with built up letters, using a wide variety of colours and changing colour combinations.

From simple built up acrylic letters to complex individual letters with different material incorporated into them, there are a number of styles that Sign Here are playing with in order to cater to increasing consumer demand. “The end user is becoming more aware of the impact that built up letters can make in display and corporate signage, and that it contributes to giving a greater visual presence in the market place, especially within the retail business,” he explains. The combination of a large variety of materials, illumination, colours, environmental factors and cost concerns can sometimes make it tough to create signage that ticks all the boxes. Ken credits the substantial investment his company has made in Laser & CNC machinery as being the key to being able to control the production schedule, and always provide the end user with the desired results. “The machinery combined with our skilled experienced letter builders has allowed us to perfect the art of bespoke built up lettering with the quality and service expected from an established company.”

Get the best finish

According to Ken, getting the best finish from built up signage is a combination of the right planning beforehand, and the correct care afterwards.

Whether the sign is installed indoors or out, choosing the right material is crucial to a strong finished product, as is the maintenance. “We do find that once the end user has fitted the sign, it almost becomes forgotten about! It should go without saying that a sign would benefit from a clean occasionally to maintain its best finish.” When it comes to selecting materials, Ken prides himself on the offerings available at Sign Here, and says a stringent quality control process maintains the high level of excellence from the products. “Achieving the best possible finish is only possible if you’re using quality materials made by skilled experienced letter builders,” he says, “and every one of our letter builders is conscious of the quality demanded, and will never let the customer down.”

For more information, visit www.sign-here.co.uk.

A finished addidas sign with vinyl applied to the letters

Built-up letters in a "living wall"

The nestle built up letters in the living wall Applelec’s Premium built-up letters - ideal for use in exterior signage or indoor settings like reception areas

Applelec worked with Harrison Signs to create a “living wall” of plants, complete with floating signage, for Nestle. The project was part of a £150 million investment in the Nestle Tutbury factory, and is a prime example of the diversity this signage style can afford those willing to get creative with it.

“We have a long-standing relationship with Harrisons Signs, who created this sign for Nestle, and they approached us with a requirement for project support,” reveals Andy Armitage, Applelec Business Development Manager. “As a component supplier, we do regularly advise customers on sign construction, installation and other matters; particularly for highly complex projects like this one.”

The brief was tricky, calling for built up letters to seemingly “float” on the wall without any visible fixings, and these fixings would have to be strong enough to handle the weight of the large stainless steel letters. The sign design also included the iconic Nestle bird’s nest logo, which too had to be discreetly supported. Attaching these large metal components to a wall made from plants would prove to be a challenge, especially given the status of the project’s planning permission. “Following meetings at Nestle, it became clear that the wall and planting systems were already in place and that the system to fix the letters into position would have to be constructed around what had already been planned,” explains Andy.

The system in question was an H-section frame system, devised by Andy and Richard Hunter at Harrison Signs. The frame was positioned behind the wall, and would be strong enough to hold the letters through the plants. The frame consisted of 32 letter-fixing arms, which were positioned to provide enough room for plant maintenance, and then screwed into the H-section framework with a threaded rod attached to one end. The other end connected to the sign component with a fixing flange that attached to the back tray of the letter, holding it in place. “Although the final system was a bespoke creation to meet the challenges of this highly unique project, in similar situations, this system could certainly be used again,” says Andy.

Location, location, location

Applelec Business Development Manager Andy Armitage

Aesthetics, price, longevity and ease of installation may all be factors to consider when selecting built up lettering, but Andy points out that there’s more to think about when selecting materials. “Getting the best finish for built-up lettering is very much dependent on the implications, restrictions and even opportunities presented by the sign’s intended location,” he explains. “For example, we tend to use lightweight metals such as aluminium for built-up letters due to be positioned at height, but for eye-level signage this wouldn’t necessarily be suitable. In a reception area, built-up letters from our Premium range would be more appropriate as the finish on these letters is exceptional. Ultimately this all depends on the impression our customer’s client is trying to achieve with their signage or what the signage is being used to communicate.”

Sign makers can make their money go further by being realistic about the project, and selecting materials that make the most sense for the specific task at hand, rather than materials that would appear to create a larger impact or stand out more. For example, stainless steel letters with a horizontal grain may appear detailed and intriguing, but if they’re placed at a height, this detail will be lost and won’t have the desired impact. By discussing with experts the desired impact of your sign as well as the location, you can potentially save money on materials whilst still delivering an expressive finish. “We have several built-up letter ranges, which include standard metal and acrylic letters, premium metal letters and illuminated acrylic letters that have a luxury finish,” says Andy. While illumination wasn’t present on the Nestle project, he adds that most of the Applelec built-up letters are normally illuminated with SloanLED LEDs, offering a bright finish at a competitive price with the added benefit of a five-year warranty.

For more information, visit www.applelec.co.uk.

Design by Hinchliffeart.co.uk