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What are Channel Letters?

Have you ever wondered about those illuminated letters on the front of a building? What are they and what are the options to make this work for my business? Well, we are going to go through the basics to help you understand what they are, and what options are available so you can ask the right questions when purchasing your sign.

Simply put, a channel letter sign is created with depth to give a 3-dimensional look to the sign. Each number, letter, or character is created using 3 basic components. Options can be added to create additional functionality, interest, and effectiveness. The 3 basic elements are a back, return and face. When assembled, this creates a 3-dimensional sign. The result can be letters, numbers, or custom shapes.

What are the Parts of a Channel Letter?

The Back

The back of the channel letter is created using a flat sheet of metal or an aluminum composite material. Using a machine called a router, the material is cut into the shape of the letter, number, or shape. 

The Return

The sides of the letter, number, or shape are called the return. These are bent to match the shape of the back using computer-driven bending and shaping machines. The returns can range in depth from 3 to 8 inches to add dimension to the sign and set an appropriate distance from the face for lighting if desired. The return is attached to the back and creates the enclosed channel that this type of signage is named for. You may also hear the term “Can” which refers to the channel.

 The Face

For front illuminated signs, the face is usually created out of acrylic and attached to the return which creates a cap. There are other options where the face may not be illuminated. In this case, the face may be aluminum and painted or finished with a vinyl cover. You can also choose to not have a face and leave the channel letter open. This is sometimes done to create a special effect with either exposed bulbs to give that old-style classic look or a neon look with LED tube lighting. 

breakout view of a typical channel letter
Breakout view of typical channel letter.

What are some of the LED Channel Letter Lighting options available to make my sign stand out?

Face or Front-Lit Channel Letters

The most common type of channel signage is the face or front-lit channel letter. The face is fabricated with translucent acrylic which allows the light to shine through making the front of the sign light up. The acrylic is available in a variety of colors. But not to worry, if the acrylic does not come in your specific color, we can create your color with a translucent vinyl applied to a white translucent letter face. Front-lit signs are easy to read and offer the greatest visibility at night and over long distances. 

Back-lit or Halo Channel Letters

This type of lighting makes the sign appear to float off the wall. With this kind of letter, the face is made of solid aluminum and the back of the sign is either open or covered with translucent acrylic. This allows the light to come out of the backside of the sign. This style is mounted using spacers on the back to offset the sign from the wall. This allows the light to reflect off the wall creating a “halo effect” around the perimeter of the letter.

Combination-Lit channel letters

Combination-Lit channel letter sign means the sign is lit on the front and back. This allows the light to shine through both the face and back of the sign. You can choose a color for the front and a different color for the back. This contrast of colors will make the sign very unique, as well as help, make your sign more readable at night.

How do we mount Channel Letters?

There are several options when it comes to the mounting styles for channel letters. These options not only provide a means to be compliant with the property or municipality requirements but also add a different appearance to the sign.

Flush Mount

Letters are attached directly to the wall of the building. Direct mount is a more complex installation. Electrical and power components are installed behind the wall or building façade. It requires drilling holes in the face of the building for each letter. It also requires good access to the space behind the exterior for mounting power supplies and wiring each letter. This type of mounting typically results in a more upscale appearance.

Raceway Mount

Letters are attached to a metal box/raceway. The raceway is the enclosure for all the wiring and power supplies, making for a much easier installation. Because this style requires less drilling into the building, many property owners prefer this over the flush mount.’

Backer Mount

This is a good option to achieve the flush mount look without all the drilling into the building. The letters are preassembled and mounted to a pan-style panel,(essentially a metal cabinet) that contains all of the wiring and power supply. The panel/cabinet is mounted to the wall.


Channel letters are a great option for any storefront! With various lighting and mounting methods available, we can customize a set to match your building get you noticed!

Contact the experts at Paramount Signs today for a free consultation!

We believe that getting you noticed is PARAMOUNT!

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