Signage Letters

signage letters

Signage letter types , materials and how they are made

At cutting edge designs we make all sorts of signage letters from simple flat cut letters to beautiful hand craft channel & carved letters and , we use a vast range of materials some listed below , we can also apply specialist colours to any ral or pantone code if the customer requires along with a number of fixture types again most commonly used would be general sign locators but we have various options for various situations

Materials we typically use for signage letters

  • Aluminium composite
  • Acrylic
  • Polycarbonate
  • Wood
  • Mdf ( All grades )
  • Mdf ( tricoya brilliant for signage letters)
  • Plywood
  • Real hard woods like oak ,
  • Foamex
  • HPL
  • Aluminium

Here is a list of typically signage letters we make at Cutting Edge Designs

  • Flat cut letters ( all material as above )
  • Chamfered / radius letters
  • Carved letters ( pristmatic )
  • Engraved cut letters
  • Channel letter ( built up letter )
  • 3d letter ( machined carved )
  • Painted letters

Flat cut letters

We make flat cut letters all the time via our CNC routers we use the range of materials as shown above and below ( so read on to see the different materials) anyway flat cut letters is what it says just letters machined out of the sheet material these can be supplied with locators , studs or d/side tape as fixtures but can be left blank for the customer to choose themselves, we can also supply a printed layout so the customer or fitter knows the positioning of each letter so it looks right on the wall .

So how do I get flat cut letter from us and what is the process

Well that is simply just email us your CAD file of the letters you want cut if you can supply a CAD file then give us a ring and tell us what you want we will draw the letters up for and send it back for approval once design and size of letters is approved tell us what material you would like them in , we then select that material place it onto one of our CNC routers or CNC lasers and cut them out once cut we can added the fixings and supply a layout if you want these really pretty simple if all else fails just email or best yet give us a phone on 028 302 68623

Chamfered / radius letters

A chamfered letter has a beveled edge around the outside of the letters this adds a bit more style and helps smooth off the square edge that a typically flat cut letter would have there is 2-3 times as more cutting required to add a chamfer or radius ( radius is round edge chamfer is angled edge) to the lettering so it does cost a more to add this but it does upgrade the flat cut letter to the next level depending on budget its worth doing especially on larger thicker letters , another good feature of a chamfered edge is an old school touch of gold leafing the chamfer this really makes the letter stand out

Making a chamfered letter

Well it pretty easy all you are doing is adding another tool path to the cnc machine code, we normally do 3 cuts to make these the first cut is a clear out pass to remove material away for the area we intend to chamfer as this gives you a much cleaner bevel or radius as all it has to cut is the bevel itself , once the bevel is added we simply machine the rest of the letter out and that’s the letters cut not much to it just takes more machine time and set up that’s all

Cnc Carved letters

Carved letters are letters which are machined out of a thick material which normally go into a point in the centre of the letter as shown below , this typically carved letter we are talking about here is also known as prismatic letter. These letters are great for gold leafing as the machined angles of the letters makes the letters pop and really stand out especially in sun light as well as this and more importantly they give a real high quality look to any shop front this is why they are very popular but they are pretty expensive especially if you use gold leaf, you know the old saying you get what you pay for well its true in this case

How are they done

Well its simply you send us your cad file again we can sort this out if you don’t have a cad file once size & design of letters is agreed we take a block of normally 19 -25mm foamex pvc and place it onto the CNC machine then we set up the router to cut this type of lettering as it requires some special tool paths to create the machine code , once we have that already we send to the router and it carves the letters out ,after the letters are cut they are then hand sanded to get a really smooth surface we then apply the fixture either locators or suds once that is done they either go for spraying or gold leafing , they is a lot of work in these letters hence they do cost especially the gold leaf that very time consuming but the end result are stunning and will make you shop stand out that why they are popular

Engraved Cut Letters

An engraved cut letter can mean 2 things in this case we are talking about actual cut out flat letters with a engraving or designs actual machined into them and not a plaque where the letters are engraved out just to make that clear , these letters would not be very common we have made quite a few over the years with engraved designs in them but they are not as common as any of the other sign letter types we are talking about here you do see them more in peoples homes as personalised gifts ,

How are they done

Well again its pretty simple you take the letters you want as the outside shape then add the text or deigns into the letter in your CAD software once you are happy with how it looks you save the file ready to be machined , next you send the CAD file to get machined you set it up in the router software add the tools path for engraving the design you want once you machine the design you simply cut around the outside of the letter and you done as I said it pretty straight forward , they do look really good if you colour the letter face in one colour and highlight the design or engraving in a different colour just makes the engraving stand out

Channel Letter (built up )

Channel letters are letters that have returns on the side of the letter they are normally illuminated ( lit up ) with leds or neon as a light source there are 2 main kinds and 2 main materials used in their construction .

Acrylic Built up ( channel letter )

The first type is acrylic where the entire letter or just the face is lit up , these letters are made by taken acrylic flat cut letters and building up a return on the back side of the letter face, this return is then glued to the back of letter face to create the return around the letter , there is a lot of work in doing this as the whole process is hand done by skilled craftsman,the main problem with these is the time it takes in production as any curves in the letter requires the craftsman to heat ,form and cool that part of the return to that curve if not done right it makes a mess of the letter this is a very skilled and very time consuming part of their construction with many pitfalls and should only be done by skilled people who know what they are doing. Once the letters have their returns added you need a light source as I said leds are the choice now days so to keep things short you place your leds on the back plate the same size and shape of the inside of the letter return , this plate holds your leds and is mounted to the inside of the return so it not seen this will then illuminated the letter

Metal built up

Metal letters are typically made from aluminium and stainless steel pretty much the same thing as acrylic letters except for a couple of things with it being metal the letter itself does not illuminate unless it has an acrylic face which is known as a channel rim letter ( metal sides and rim with acrylic face ) metal letters  are normally used for halo lit letters which means the light source comes out the back of the letters and shines against the wall given a halo around the letter and does not actually lighting the letter , these are very popular especially the stainless steel as they look expensive and should last a long time if made correct and with the correct stainless steel ( marine grade) , they are much quicker to make than the acrylic as you do not need to heat and form any of the curves you simply bend and weld the curves as you make them so there is nowhere near as much work in them and does not take as much skill to produce them unlike the acrylic versions but still a time consuming process and really nice when done . Again light source is leds now days and is held on a clear polycarbonate plate which Is mounted to the return .

3D Letters

When we say 3d letters here we mean letters basically cnc carved from a block of material, this opens a whole host of possibilities we can take any 3d design and make letters from it or we can take a stock letter and add any type of 3d design to it like flowers , etc anything you can think of we basically take the 3d design or letter and make a 3d model of the letter once we create a 3d mould of the funky letters we then cnc carve them out

Painted letters

Well painted letters is exactly what it says we just offer a spraying service for the letters , some people use us for this and some people do the spraying themselves the only thing with doing this yourself is you really need to do it right especially with foamex as this requires a couple of coats to seal the letters right, best done by the experts if not done right the letter edge can go black after time and does look very unprofessional  so if unsure let us do this for you

Check our blog on this for more information

https://cncrouterit.co.uk/3d-letters-spraying-signage-letters

Ok lets talk about the materials we typically use and discuss the pros and cons of each type of signage letters

Aluminium Composite

Aluminium composite is a one of the most commonly used materials in the signage sector as it comes in a large range of pre finished colours and has a number of brushed finished as seen here this is the stainless steel effect composite, the material is made up with 2 different materials a polyethylene core which is then bonded with a thin layer of aluminium on both sides, there are 3 main grades of this material flat application, fabrication grade and transport grade.
Flat application has a very thin layer on the plastic core typically .1-.2mm thick and normally does not have any aluminium on the back to save cost but this is only used for the cheapest applications where cost is the most important factor and in fairness it does the job ,
Fabrication grade can be folded, rolled, cut etc basically fabricated into any shape you need just don’t over bend or stress the material and this will cause the material to facture as it work hardens very quick basically that means it will break when you bend it back and forwards a number of types, this material has a typical .3mm aluminium skin on both sides and normally has a gloss finish on one side and a matt finish on the other
Traffic grade is the same as the fabrication grade except it has .5mm skin and is normally a lot dear
The aluminium composite material is generally 3mm thick but it does come in other limited thickness like 2mm and 5mm but it does not have the same range as the 3mm thick does so In general its always 3mm used in the signage trade

With composite you can easily machine the material on the CNC Router here at cutting edge designs we have been machining this material for the last 22 years so we know it inside and out, there is a certain way to machine this material to achieve the best edge finish we also use a specific tool type for this material as well to achieve the high quality edge finish we are known for, here is a list of pros and cons of this material type

Pros:

• Pretty cheap to buy
• Great range of standard colours and effects
• Good range of sheet size from 8×4” to 2x4m
• Easy to machine on the CNC Router
• Lightweight
• Easy to clean

Cons:

• Can mark pretty easy
• The material can peel as its made up from 2 different materials
• It’s easy to dent ( which can’t be fixed)
• It’s easy to create burn marks from using the wrong glues
• I can look cheap has a black core visible from the side
• Can easily break if the material is over worked via bending back and fourth

Acrylic letters

Another main material with in the sign trade is the acrylic letter , acylic has been around for a long time it well known and comes in a variety of colours, thickness and effects .
Acrylic is also known as Perspex but Perspex is a brand name same as the vacuum cleaner hoover , Acrylic we use it typically 3mm , 5mm 10mm and 20mm for general use signage letters this material is really good but it does have its problems like most materials for example its not the easiest of material to cut you really do need a CNC router or scroll saw to cut or shape this material you can cut it with a jigsaw ok if you have a steady enough hand and a good outline lets looks at the pros and cons of this material

Pros:

• Vast range of colours
• Large range of thickness
• Large range of sheets size
• Great light transmission ( highly transparent )
• Uv resistant
• Great for moulding ,bending and cutting with the right equipment
• Makes great displays
• Much lighter than glass and much stronger
• Quite Hard to mark

Cons:

• Pretty expensive (Much dear than glass)
• Hard to machine ( without the right equipment)
• Can break easily if hit hard
• Can be very sharp on the edges
• Can stain if wrong chemicals are used to clean it

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is very similar to acrylic except its does not shatter like acrylic it design for taken impacts by that I mean you can hit a piece of polycarbonate with a harder and it will not break or shatter unlike acrylic and glass that’s why it’s used in a lot in protective screens and ant vandal signage and machine guards , Polycarbonate does not come in a lot of colours mainly just white and clear it does come in a range of thickness with good sheets sizes too , this material is not overlay used in simple letters like acyclic is but it is used in channel letter faces or signs that’s need to be vandal proof it is used a fair bit in light boxes as and projection signs to .
Polycarbonate is pretty hard to cut even with a CNC Router you need to use the correct tooling with good feeds and speed , tooling needs to be very sharp with the correct tool profile as polycarbonate has a much lower melting point than acrylic so this means it can and does stick to the tool and gums up around the cutter like chewing gum thus given a very bad cut and its very hard to recut or fix this initial first cut in the material as its normally welded to the cut path this can also happens when using jigsaws and table saws to cut polycarbonate in general when cutting this material the better your tool sharpness is the better the finish will be, if unsure always test a scrap section of the sheet to make sure you are getting a good cut result before doing your main components , if you need any more advice or need some polycarbonate cut give cutting edge designs a call when machine this material all the time

Pros:

• Very strong does not shatter
• Comes in good range of thickness and sheet sizes
• Quite cost effective for what it does
• You can get in it various finished like mirror , bronze etc
• Brilliant for making machine and protection guards
• Great light transmission ( highly transparent )
• Uv resistant
• Good heat resistances – used a lot for neon signs backing

Cons:

• Not many colours in it
• Hard to cut and fabricate
• Easy to mark / scratch the surface
• Not easy to clean wrong chemicals will make it go Smokey
• Not environmentally friendly due to its manufacture and disposal
• Can be expensive to buy

Wood

Natural wood is a lovely material to use for signage letters although this material is more suited for internal use, some people do use it outside but it needs to be looked after and treated with oil or vanish every year or so to stop it from rotting especially with our weather and quite frankly not many shop owners would be willing to be that so real wood for external use is not the best of an idea useless you seal and spray it heavily , on the other hand there is some lovely hardwoods out there so it does stand out from the crowd in terms of signage letters not many people would have real wood lettering .
Cut real wood is pretty simply on a cnc router just make sure you have the correct tooling and cut the wood in the right direction to achieve a good edge finish , a compression spiral tool is advisable as this stops or reduces the top and bottom surfaces of the material from splintering which is very common especially In long gain woods like Oak

Pros.

• Lovely looking natural material
• Environmentally friendly
• Can be cheap
• Loads of different and unique woods to choose from
• Easy to machine and fabricate

Cons

• Needs to be looked after
• Can be expensive
• Material can break easy enough
• Requires expensive machinery to manufacture

Mdf (exterior Grade)

Mdf is a much over looked material when it comes to signage letters many sign makers don’t realize how good a material it actual is when used and treated the right way , the exterior grade Mdf is about half the price of the standard Foamex material which is one of the main material used for signage letters , the main thing about the MDF is it does not harder via heating like foamex does , typically example of this is if you were to create a set of 19mm Foamex letters for a shop front and the same set of letters in Exterior MDF spray both sets and leave for 6 months in the weather especially sunlight if you hit the Foamex it would shatter pretty easily as we have seen this a lot over the years where as the MDF will not break in fact you can hit pretty hard it and it will not break or bent which makes it a brilliant choice for signage letter , I am personally surprised a lot more sign people don’t use this material I think they are not educated enough in the material as normally MDF would not work outside as its not made with the correct material binder ( glue) but the exterior and tricoya grades are very good indeed as they use a completely different chemistry to produce the mdf basically they use water proof glues to bind the material together

Mdf exterior grade is easy to cut on a cnc router , jigsaw or table saw the only thing is it does eat up your tooling as the material is hard and dense so it does blunt your tooling quickly , on the cnc router we typically machine with a PCD diamond tool this gives a good edge finish and it prolongs the sharpness of the cnc tools there are draw backs with diamond tooling they are expensive can chip very easily do not drop them and they normally come in large diameters 10mm and above which does not suit really for cutting small letters but great for larger letters and panelling .

Pros:

• Pretty cheap
• Good range of thickness
• Good range of sheet size
• Recyclable
• Easy to machine and fabricate
• Hard and durable
• Does not break
• Easy to paint
• Good smooth surfaces consistent layer structure
• Great outdoors if treated right

Cons

• Its MDF ( people think it’s a bad material for outside)
• No range of colours
• Needs sealed and sprayed for signage
• Its not environmentally friendly due to its manufacture
• Its quite heavy
• You need to use correct fixings

MDF (Tricoya)

Tricoya MDF is just a much better grade of Exterior mdf its basically water proof I mean you could make a bath tub out of this material and not have it swell, I remember when it came out a few years ago I was asked to test the material so we machine it in various ways and if different shapes I then took a few samples and left them in a bucket of water fully submerged to see if they would swell up as the supplier said they would not swell , I left them in a bucket of water for 3 months and after 3 months I measured their thickness with a set vernier calipers and it hadn’t move one bit not even .2mm of a millimetre which has to be said was very impressive considering normally mdf would swell up like a balloon in minutes under water ,this material is absolutely brilliant I have to say its that good the manufactures gives a 50 year outdoor warranty on the stuff nobody offers that ,the only problem is it’s hard to cut it will blunt your tools very easily plus you need to paint it as it only comes as Brown Mdf
Cutting this material a CNC router is a must however you can jigsaw cut the material as well just use the correct blade , when CNC cutting we recommend diamond tooling as it will last much longer than carbide tooling .

Pros:

• Very durable
• Good range of thickness and sheet size
• 50 year warranty
• Easy to paint
• Will not break , crack , swell
• Uv resistance
• Very low maintenance

Cons:

• Its quite dear to buy
• Not many suppliers sell it
• Hard to cut
• Not well known

Foamex ( pvc)

Foamex is made from PVC and is one of the most popular materials for lettering with in the sign industry , with a large of colours and sizes it is used a lot not just for letters but also for panels which can also be direct printed its good for that purpose but just for lettering personally I don’t think it’s a great material as it pretty soft, easy to mark and does not recycle well , so I am not sure why people like it so much maybe they have a bad education on their material selection or just a force of habit whatever the case its widely used by everyone ,Foamex is made from pvc foam
Foamex is very easy to machine especially with a cnc router , jigsaw, table saw & scroll saw basically anything sharp will cut this stuff with not much problem,
Pros:
• Large range of colours
• Large range of sheet size and thickness
• Readily available
• Easy to cut , fabricate glue etc
• Large applications base
• Uv resistance
• Outdoor applications
• Great for direct printing
• Water proof
Cons:
• Its very soft
• Very easy to mark or dent
• Pretty easy to break
• It will UV harden under direct sun light
• Quite expensive for what it is
• Not environmentally friendly ( does not recycle well )
• Real needs coating for outside ( will go black on edges after time )

HPL (High pressure laminate )

Not many people know or use HPL as it more used for engraving but this material is very durable and last a long time plus it comes in a large range of colours, Hpl stands for high pressure laminate which means it’s a sandwich type material i.e typically 3 layers of material sandwich together with the inside material being a different colour , as I said it is used a lot for engraving plaques where the face colour needs to be different from the letter colour this is the material main purpose but it also make great letters as it a very hard material and does not require any finish work simple cut and stick outside,
HPL is quite a hard material to cut you really need a cnc router to get the best quality cut you can use a jigsaw to cut this but you may find the material edge chipping due to vibration from the blade

Pros:

• Very hard wearing
• Great range of colours and finishes
• Uv resistance
• Good applications base
• Can be applied to other materials

Cons

• Can be expensive
• Availability may be an issue
• Hard to cut and fabricate
• Not environmentally friendly

Aluminium

Aluminium is used a lot in the sign trade this is a good material as it will last for years just like stainless steel , typically aluminium is used more for panels than letters but it makes really strong letters only problem is the aluminium needs to be sprayed or powder coated to achieve a colour finish . Aluminium is also used a lot in channel letters as its strong and light plus it easy to powder coat
Aluminium is hard enough to cut the approach to machine this material is either with a cnc router or a high powered laser but you can also cut it pretty well with a jigsaw and a good metal blade just depends on the material thickness really, if cnc routering you suggest you use a single flute tool with coolant to keep the cutting temperature down as aluminium is soft and it likes to stick or weld to the tooling if not done right ,

Pros

• Strong fairly lightweight
• Very durable will last a long time outside
• Good range of sheet size and thickness
• Good application range
• Pretty easy to paint or powder coat
• Standard sheet sizes are normally quite cheap
• Easily sourced
• Easy to bend and fabricate

Cons.

• Requires expensive machinery to cut right
• Needs sprayed or powder coated for finish
• Can be heavy when large panels are needed