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How to Order a Community Entrance Sign, or Any Other Signs!

sign-post1Signage is an important part of the impression created when someone visits your community. It’s the first thing residents see when they enter.  It’s also the first thing that prospective home buyers see when they are considering buying a home there.

So how do you go about ordering a sign? If you have never done it before and even if you have it is worth spending some time acquiring knowledge and familiarizing yourself with the questions you should be asking.

Here are some observations to consider when starting a new sign project; or things a Sign Professional should be asking you! (in these examples I am talking about a dimensional community entrance sign)

1. What job does the sign have to do? Is it informational, instructional or directional? Is it advertising something or is it a combination of several of these things. The answer to this will have a large bearing on the design of the sign.

2.  Location: is it in the DOT’s right of way?  The DOT (Department of Transportation) has a right of way (ROW) on either side of every road that they maintain. The vast majority of community entrances are on, or are next to, such a road. Therefore it is quite possible that your sign could be within one of these rights of way. Also, if the main road in front of your community has been widened or changed, the DOT’s set-backs and rights of way have quite possibly changed as well; you may not have been in their right of way before but now you could be. What this means to you is if the sign was erected several years ago there probably wasn’t any “Break Away” requirements on the posts or structure the sign is mounted on. For the most part that means your sign is grandfathered; that is until you upgrade or replace it. If you replace your sign you should check with the DOT district engineer (it’s easy to Google him).  See what, if anything, has changed and more importantly what he /she wants you to do about it.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a brick or stone structure for your entrance sign. It just means it has to be out of the DOT’s ROW or that you have permission to place it there. If someone from the DOT gives you permission to place a sign within the ROW be sure to get it in writing from the district engineer.

3.  “Break Away Requirements”: Any post or structure within the right of way must be created in such a way that it will break off cleanly at ground level if hit by a vehicle.  Therefore traditional stone and brick structures will not be acceptable. Each district engineer will have their own way of working with the public and their own opinions, so that’s one reason why you should check with them first. Don’t accept someone telling you “Oh we did this before, let’s do that here”. It could get very expensive.

4.  What are the city or county sign ordinances relating to this sign, even if it is on your property? Almost every town and city have their own ordinances. These are rules and guidelines letting people know what is and is not allowed within the city limits. Signage is a very small part of the overall ordinance. If your town or city does not have their own, or if you are in the country and not within any city limit, there will still be ordinances at the county level that you should conform to. Some counties don’t have sign ordinances, but most do. It is so much easier to check beforehand and do it right. The Planning and Zoning or the Building Inspectors Department will put you on the right track.

5.  Call 811 (Call Before You Dig) and get the site checked for services at the start of the project. It can be very inconvenient if you discover the week before the sign is to be installed that there is a water main where you want to place a footing. The sign company may or may not call to check. Some sign companies have it written into their contract that it is your responsibility to call, and in some cases it has to be the property owner or resident that calls 811. It’s a free service and in many states it’s illegal to dig without first calling 811.

My company once contracted to supply and install 170 cast Victorian style mail boxes and posts for a community. Because there is a limit to how many locations can be marked at a time I was told by the 811 operator that the property owners association should make the request. I asked the president of the association to call and he told me (in no uncertain terms) that we were replacing existing mail boxes it would be a waste of time and I should know better. I put my request to the association in writing informing them I wouldn’t be responsible for any damage.  It was the first or second day when we hit the cable line. We then had to delay all work for a week while the area was marked. That taught me a lesson as it had an adverse financial impact on my business.

6.  Is it going to be one single faced sign, two single faced signs or one double faced sign? Two single signs facing inward at an angle can be warm and welcoming. The same signs angled outward and away from the entrance; not so much.

7.  What is it going to be mounted to or on, and what is the budget for this? Often this can cost a lot more than the actual sign.

8.  From how far away will the sign be read? This is very important; what speed is the traffic traveling when approaching the sign location? This will affect the letter height and ultimately the size of the sign.

9.  What is the content of the sign?  What is the text? Will there be a logo or emblem? Often this could be a guide to the shape the sign will take.

10.  Do you have any fixed color requirements, such as club or community colors?

11.  Can the new sign be easily repaired should any damage happen? Can it be repaired on site?

12.  What are the maintenance requirements?  Who is going to perform the maintenance?

13.  What materials should be used in the construction? Many things have to be considered here and you should trust a competent sign professional. Many people assume most signs are constructed from wood. Very few are these days. We might make them look like wood but they are often made from a more durable material.

14.  What impression do you want your sign to create? Does it want to be:

  • Relaxed, casual and laid back
  • Crisp, efficient and clear.
  • Formal, upright and professional
  • Old world charm or contemporary efficiency

Fonts, graphics, sign shape, colors, contrasts, legibility, and clarity all come together to create an immediate and lasting impression of your whole community.

Additional things to consider:

  1. What is the budget for this project? Set a budget and share the budget with the sign company/designer up front. It doesn’t make sense to allow a $5,000 sign to be designed when you only have a $500 budget. Often the design can take 25% of the time it takes to create the sign itself. Quotes are almost always free, designs are usually not, and you will pay for them somewhere.
  2. If we know how much you have for your project we can design a sign that fits within those budgetary constraints.  I was told by a customer once that if they gave me a budget I might pad the price to fit that amount. That is completely wrong; sign companies have fixed rates for specific jobs and will price accordingly. If even one customer found out someone had over charged they would be out of business very quickly. It isn’t worth the trouble for the sake of a couple hundred dollars.
  3. If you want to receive bids for a project, pay an expert to create the design and set the specifications. That way everyone is bidding on the same thing and you will be sure you are getting the best price for exactly the same work.  Plus you will own the design so you won’t be inadvertently stealing anyone’s copyright or showing it to other sign companies.
  4. If I am sent a design to price, that is probably 4-6 hours of work I don’t have to do or account for. My bid will be appreciably less than the company that designed and created it. By paying your sign professional first you won’t have to pay for that design time when it goes out to bid, therefore it really doesn’t cost any extra to do it that way.
  5. It can be very easy to inadvertently infringe on someone’s copyright, so be careful. That could lead to extra fees having to be paid that were not in the budget.  Worse yet, the owner of the design could require you to remove the sign all together.
  6. If you ask several companies each to come up with individual designs and prices, how can you possibly know you are getting the best work and quality for your project? Someone could come in with a low bid because they are using cheap materials or they engineered a sign to look good for now. You have no way of knowing what you are really getting for your money unless you are in control of setting the specifications of both design and materials.

Observations & CCL

Signs 101:   CCL = Clarity, Contrast & Legibility. If you don’t have all three, scrap it and start again; or at least alter it for the better.

Metal or plastic letters mounted directly onto brick or stone are relatively maintenance free, however it can be very difficult to create a good contrast with the background and most brick and stone can vary in color quite dramatically.

Contrast is absolutely critical if you want your sign to be read.  It doesn’t matter how wonderful the polished brass letters on the natural stone are if no one can see or read them for most of the day.

If the sign is externally lit and has letters standing off the wall it can be the perfect place for insects to call home.  Lights attract bugs which means you will have webs to be cleaned off the wall every week or so. More importantly it can look very cold and impersonal.

Closing Comments

Accept that something like an entrance sign is a combination of:

  • The design that the committee or team agree on.
  • The size and placement that the local ordinances, laws and the DOT will allow.
  • The type and look of what your budget can afford.

Trust your sign professional. The way we all perceive, absorb and react to a sign when viewed at 25 MPH (while also concentrating on the conversation, radio, and not running into other cars) is totally different from reading something printed on a page or shown on a screen right in front of our eyes. It takes about 7 seconds to see, absorb and react to a sign while driving. That’s a long time: see how far you travel at 40 MPH in 7 seconds. Several universities have done studies and published documents on letter size and readable distance. If you want a copy of that information email me and I’ll send one to you. (Please use the form on our site).

I hope you find this useful and please remember every sign has its own quirks and needs. Consult a sign professional to assist with the signage for your community or project!