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Definitions & Terms

Symbols and Phrases

  • 80% Rule A basic sign design layout rule. The total area of copy on a sign should not exceed 80% of the area of the sign's face
  • Ø The symbol on a technical drawing for Diameter
  • © The Copyright Symbol
  • ® The Registered Trademark Symbol
  • + The symbol on a technical drawing indicating an approximate size or dimension.
  • & (ampersand) Logogram representing the conjunction "and". Originated as ligature of the letters et, the Latin word for "and".


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


Abrasion Resistance: The ability of a given surface to resist scratching or scuffing due to contact or friction with another material. It is one measure of durability.


Access Door: A hinged that when opened provides access to the interior of a sign allowing for the inspection and servicing of its internal components.


Access Panel: A removable panel that when opened provides access to the interior of a sign allowing for the inspection and servicing of its internal components. 


Acetate: A thin, clear plastic material that is both flexible and strong. Available in both glossy and matte finishes, it is receptive to ink, and is popular as a substrate for point-ofpurchase advertising signs.


Achromatic: Literally means without color. Black, white and grays are achromatic.


Acid Etching: A method of marking or decorating a surface. In acid etching an acid resistant stencil of the artwork or text is applied to the chosen surface. A corrosive compound such as hydrofluoric acid is then applied to the remaining exposed areas. After a specified length of time during which the acid mixture is allowed to eat away at the exposed material, the entire surface is washed and the stencil removed, leaving behind an etched impression of the artwork. (See also etching and sandblasting.)


Acrylic: Generic term for manufactured synthetic polymer or plastic. Also referred to as Plexiglass. Used for interior and exterior signs.


Acrylic Paint: Any water-based paint having its pigments or dyes bound in an acrylic resin emulsion. Once it is dry, acrylic paint forms a tough, flexible film that is resistant to water. These types of paints are often used for silkscreening and screen printing and for hand painted signs.

ADA: ( Americans with Disabilities Act) Legislation enacted by the U.S. federal government in 1991 with the goal of removing barriers that limit a disabled individual's ability to engage in normal daily activity in the physical, public environment. Title III of the ADA deals with related signage and wayfinding issues.

ADAA (Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines): A set of U.S. standards enacted in 1990 with the goal of ensuring equal access to public places and facilities for all persons. For signage and wayfinding, the ADAA defines proper letter forms and letter heights for best legibility, proper Braille and tactile lettering forms, and also appropriate signage materials and finishes.


Additive colors: Red, green and blue are the three additive colors of light. All other colors of light are created by combinations of these three. If the three additive colors come together in equal proportions, the resulting light is white. (Also called additive primaries. See also Primary Colors.) Internally illuminated signs use additive color, since they are backlit


Additive primaries: Red, green and blue are the three additive colors of light. All other colors of light are created by combinations of these three. If the three additive colors come together in equal proportions, the resulting light is white. (Also called additive colors. See also Primary Colors.)


Adhesion: The force that holds the surface of one material to another. The strength of adhesion is affected by the type and condition of the surfaces in question and the adhesive used. Generally the surfaces need to be clean and porous enough to allow for a certain amount of penetration by the adhesive.


Adhesive: A material or substance able to bind and hold two surfaces together. Examples include glue, epoxy and tape.


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. (It is also called an approach sign.)


Age In: The initial time a new neon light must be on before it is able to achieve full brightness thereafter. The amount of time this takes can vary widely. (It is also called burnin. See also initial lumens.)


Airbrush: A handheld painting device that uses compressed air to generate a fine spray of paint. The pressurized air passes through the airbrush nozzle creating a vacuum that siphons paint from an attached container. Airbrushes come in a variety of sizes for different applications, and can be fitted with a variety of nozzles for different effects and levels of detail.


Aerial View: On a sign drawing, a screen capture of a satellite view of a sign project’s location as seen from above. Not to be confused with a Site Plan or a Plot Plan.


Aesthetics:  The general perception of a sign's artistic merit or beauty, both on its own and in relation to its surroundings. The design, construction, materials and colors of a sign all factor into its aesthetic appeal.  A critical reflection on an item’s beauty or artistic value. A design permit for a sign may take into consideration the aesthetics, including how the sign fits into its proposed surroundings.


Aluminum: A lightweight metal material used in sign panels, poles and frames. It is strong and durable in relation to its weight, and resistant to rust and corrosion.


Aluminum Composite Material (ACM): a type of substrate which is aluminum skinned over a PVC core.


Amortization: In accounting, this term means the time in which an asset has been depreciated. As it relates specifically to signage, this term also applies to the “grace” period in which a sign must be replaced or removed. In this instance, a sign was in compliance with zoning laws or codes that were then changed; the no-longer compliant sign must be replaced after the amortization period ends.


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 can be a consideration in a sign's design. Outdoor sunlight creates a high level of ambient light.



Ampersand: The logogram , representing the conjunction "and". It originated as a ligature of the letters etLatin for "and".  


AMSE (American Society of Mechanical Engineers): An American professional association that, in its own words, "promotes the art, science, and practice of multidisciplinary engineering and allied sciences around the globe" via "continuing education, training and professional development, codes and standards, research, conferences and publications, government relations, and other forms of outreach." ASME is thus an engineering society, a standards organization, a research and development organization, an advocacy organization, a provider of training and education, and a nonprofit organization.


AMSE Y14.00: This Standard establishes the essential requirements and reference documents applicable to the preparation and revision of manual or computer generated engineering drawings and associated lists unless tailored by a specialty Standard. It is essential that this Standard be used in close conjunction with ASME Y14.24, ASME Y14.34, ASME Y14.35M, and ASME Y14.41. Incorporates Y14.42 on Digital Approval Systems.

AMSE Y14.00 is the established standard for technical drawings used in the sign industry.  


ANSI (American National Standards Institute): A private, nonprofit organization in the U.S. that works to develop manufacturing and quality standards across multiple industries. The organization also works with the committees of other nations to develop standards that facilitate international trade and telecommunications.


Anchor: In general, any device that connects and secures one object to another. An example would be the devices used to secure awnings and fascia signs to facades. (See also expansion anchor and J-bolt.)


Anchor Tenant: The main tenant in a shopping center or shopping mall

Animated Sign:  Is a sign depicting action, motion, lights, or color change. Similar to a flashing sign, an animated sign features graphics and illustrations rather than words. They are not usually allowed by sign code, because the human eye/ brain system is attracted to moving objects.

Annual Average Daily Traffic (Annual ADT): The number of vehicles passing a given location each day, an important figure in determining where to place signs if multiple locations are an option. This figure typically can be obtained from a state’s highway department.

Anodized finish: A thin aluminum oxide coating applied electrochemically to the surface of a metal object. The coating hardens, protects and enhances the appearance of the object. It prevents oxidation of aluminum. An anodized finish can be created in a variety of colors.


Applique: A graphic element made separately then affixed to a cloth or fabric covering such as an awning.


Approach: The distance at which a sign becomes readable to a viewer to the point where the sign is no longer readable as the viewer passes by.


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

Apex: The uppermost point of a triangular or conical form.

Arc: A part of a circle

Arc Radius: it equals the radius of the circular arc which best approximates the curve at that point.

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


Argon:  An inert gas used in fluorescent lamps and neon tubes. By itself, argon generates pale lavender light. Combined with mercury, it can generate a blue or ultra-violet light. When it is not lit the phosphors show as white.


Artistic Drawing: The expression of real or imagined ideas of a cultural nature. Also known as Presentation Artwork.


Artwork: Any and all logos, graphics and images used in a sign.

Aspect ratio: The ratio of a sign’s height to its width.

Awning: A building mounting sign that provides shelter. See also Canopy.


Awning Cord: Most commonly a small diameter, cotton braid cord manufactured for stretch resistance and used for tying down awning covers.

Back-to-Back Sign: A sign having two faces mounted in opposite directions. Typically used for Pole and Pylon signs. (Also called a double-faced sign.)


Background panel:  A sign panel to which text or graphical elements are affixed.


Backlighted Letter: A channel letter, with an open or translucent back, that is illuminated. Light is directed against a surface behind the letter, producing a halo effect. Also known as a silhouette or halo lit channel letter.


Backlit Film: Short run, indoor or outdoor, backlit signage for the a fraction of the cost for traditional photographic methods.

Backlit Polyester (Right Reading): Premium quality 8mil right-reading backlit polyester film with excellent ink retention giving sharp edge definition on graphic images.


Backward Compatible: Hardware or software that is compatible with earlier versions of the product. Also called "downward compatible."


Bagging or Sign Bagging: An opaque cover placed over a pole or pylon sign cabinet to hide the sign of a defunct business. They are used until the defunct sign can be removed or refaced.


Banding:  The appearance of solid bands or patterns of visibly distinct colors within what should otherwise be a continuous and seamless color gradation.  Banding can be caused by several factors, including low resolution artwork, a poor quality scan of the original artwork or improper calibration of the printer used.


Banner Mesh: An extremely lightweight and durable mesh polyester banner material.  Great for large exterior wall murals where weight and/or wind would become a problem using other substrates. May be sewn, seamed and grommetted to finish in a wide variety of methods and sizes.


Banner Vinyl:  Indoor or outdoor applications with either spot or full color graphics. A durable scrim extruded within the banner fabric makes the banner extremely durable when used outdoors. May be sewn, seamed, and grommetted to finish in a wide variety of methods and sizes. Available in 10 oz or 14 oz.

Ballast:  An electrical device used in fluorescent lights to stabilize the flow of the electrical current

Banner: A sign composed of lightweight material; often used in a non-permanent setting, such as to announce a grand opening, sale, or special event, or a new business

Base Plate: A flat, thick piece of metal, usually steel and square or rectangular in shape, welded to the bottom of a sign support structure and then anchored with bolts to a concrete foundation or other substructure.

Base Skirt: The aluminum-clad area below a monument sign cabinet. Used to raise the sign for visibility.

Bench Sign: A sign located on the back of a bench that is placed near the public right of way, such as at a bus stop.

Bevel:   1.A slant or angle on a surface. 

  1. A cut made at the edge of a material to form an angle that is not 90


Bid Package: Documents from a prospective customer that state for the contractor the requirements and conditions of the project under bid. These documents communicate such details as design intent, desired materials, installation criteria and other project specifics. They also include standardized bidding forms and bidding instructions. (Also called front end documents).


Bitmap: a piece of text, a drawing, etc., represented, as on a computer display, by the activation of certain dots in a rectangular matrix of dots. A bitmap mage is a dot matrix data structure that represents a generally rectangular grid of pixels (points of color), viewable via a monitor, paper, or other display medium. Raster images are stored in image files with varying formats.


Blackout: A specially formulated paint or coating for use on electric signs to block light emission where needed, for example between letters in a neon sign. It adheres well to glass, and resists weather, heat and electrical discharge. (Also called blockout.)


Blade Sign: A type of projecting sign mounted such that the face of the sign is perpendicular to the normal flow of traffic.


Blank: An uninstalled sign panel with no lettering or graphics applied. (Also called an insert.)


Bleed:   In screen printing, the term refers to the portion of a printed image or graphic which extends beyond the intended borders of a sign. This excess portion is trimmed away. Also sometimes used to describe the halation where sharply contrasting colors meet on an illuminated sign.

Blind Fasteners: Fasteners used to mount signs to walls and others surfaces while remaining hidden from view. (Also called Concealed fasteners.)

Blistering: The appearance of bumps and bubbles on a surface covered in a coating such as paint, or a material such as vinyl. It is the result of the coating or material losing adhesion and separating from the surface underneath.

Block Color: An area of solid color having no gradation.

Blockout: A specially formulated paint or coating for use on electric signs to block light emission where needed, for example between letters in a neon sign. It adheres well to glass, and resists weather, heat and electrical discharge. (Also called Blackout.)

Bombarding: The process of heating to a high temperature the glass of a neon tube for the purpose of releasing trapped gases and other impurities within it.

Bonderizing: The process of treating a metal surface with a zinc phosphate coating in preparation for painting or enameling.


Border: A line or band of color or material that defines the outer edges of a sign and/or elements within the sign.


Box Sign: A sign that is self enclosed in a typically square or rectangular structure with or without internal lighting. They can be single or double-faced. (See also Light Box.)


Box Top Sign: A sign element, such as a channel logo, applied plant-on to the face of an existing box shaped background.


Braille beads: Small plastic or metal beads that can be placed in the face of a sign to create informational Braille text as required by the ADA. (Also known as Braille bullets or ballpoint Braille.)


Braille bullets: Small plastic or metal beads that can be placed in the face of a sign to create informational Braille text as required by the ADA. (Also known as ballpoint Braille or Braille beads.)

Brake Forming: A manufacturing process that produces a V-shape, U-shape, or channel shape along a straight axis in ductile materials, most commonly sheet metal.  The process of manufacturing sharp bends in aluminum or steel.

Brand: The mark, label, or image that makes a company recognizable.

Branding: The process of creating a unique, positive and recognizable identity for a product or service. Along with marketing and advertising, creating a visual identity through signage is an important part of the branding process. (See also brand equity.)


Brand Equity (Branding): The intangible value of product or a service in the marketplace, based on the way the business is perceived by consumers. The value a customer places on a branded product or service. It is the qualitative sum of everything that a customer thinks, feels and knows about the product or service. The value of brand equity can be determined by comparing the expected future revenue of the branded product/service against the expected future revenue from an equivalent but non-branded product/service. (See also Branding.)


Breakaway Foundation: A type of sign foundation that allows a sign pole or other attached support structure to break away cleanly if struck by a motor vehicle, thereby reducing the force of impact to the occupants inside the vehicle. Required by law in many areas. (Also called a Frangible Sign Mount.)


Breaking Strength: The maximum load a material can withstand before it breaks. (Also called tensile strength.)


Brightness: Brightness is one of the three attributes of color along with hue and saturation.

The perceived amount of light that a visual target emits or reflects. Its relative luminance.  The amount of white in a given color. The greater the amount of white, the brighter the color is said to be.  


 Bronze: 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 for the making of plaques, or fabricated from thin sheets into dimensional letters. Bronze can be finished in a variety of ways including being brushed, polished or lacquered.


Brushed Finish: A textured, non-reflective polished finish applied to metal by lightly brushing the surface with an abrasive material or briefly applying a mildly corrosive chemical.


Buff: To polish a metal surface by rubbing it with a slightly abrasive compound. (See also burnish.)


Building Code: The regulations issued by state and local governments that establish standards for the construction, modification and repair of buildings and other structures in the interest of public health, safety and general welfare. (See also content neutral time, place and manner regulations.)


Building Mounted Sign: Any sign that is applied or attached to a building in some manner.


Built-up letter: A lettering technique in which the outline of the letter is made first and then filled in.


Bulletin colors: A type of quick drying, fade resistant enamel paint commonly used by sign painters for hand lettering.


Burn-in: The initial time a new neon light must be on before it is able to achieve full brightness thereafter. The amount of time this takes can vary widely. (Also called age in. See also initial lumens.)

Burnish: To polish by friction, i.e. to rub with pressure. No abrasive compound or material is used when burnishing. (See also buff.)

Butt joint: The type of joint formed when two pieces of material (wood, metal, etc.) come together flush and edge-to-edge.


Braille: A system of small raised dots that represent the alphabet, punctuation and numbers for the visually impaired. The ADA stipulates the use of Braille on signage in certain instances.Building Code:  A governmental regulation of a structure’s construction or maintenance. See also Sign Code

Building Fascia: The part of a building that extends vertically from the grade to the top wall or eaves and horizontally across the width of the building.  Signs may be affixed to the fascia.

Building-Mounted Sign: The broad category for signs that are attached to a building; within this category are a number of other signs, which more specifically label where the sign is mounted (fascia, wall, roof, etc.)

Bus Art Vinyl: A 4mil flexible white vinyl coated with a repositionable/removable adhesive. Bus art is removable for up to 1 year. It is designed for full or partial wraps. A conformable film construction for compound curves.

Cabinet Sign: A sign structure comprised of a frame and face or faces. Though a cabinet sign may include electrical components or support structure, the cabinet sign refers only to the frame and face.

CAD (computer aided design) software: Advanced software used in engineering and manufacturing to create and modify complex 3D technical drawings of a device and its components.


CADD: Acronym for Computer Aided Drafting and Design


CAS (computer-aided sign making): General term for the use of design software and computer controlled manufacturing equipment in the sign-making process.

Cabinet Sign, Illuminated: A fabricated sign that is internally illuminated with florescent lamps or grid LEDs. See also Light Box.

Candela: symbol: cd) is the base unit of luminous intensity in the International System of Units (SI); that is, luminous power per unit solid angle emitted by a point light source in a particular direction. Luminous intensity is analogous to radiant intensity, but instead of simply adding up the contributions of every wavelength of light in the source's spectrum, the contribution of each wavelength is weighted by the standard luminosity function (a model of the sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths).  A common wax candle emits light with a luminous intensity of roughly one candela. If emission in some directions is blocked by an opaque barrier, the emission would still be approximately one candela in the directions that are not obscured. 

The word candela is Latin for candle. The old name "candle" is still sometimes used, as in foot candle and the modern definition of candlepower

Canopy:  A permanent fixture, often made of metal or glass, that is attached to a structure. It differs from an awning in that its aim is not to provide shelter.

Canopy Sign: This term refers to either a building-mounted sign that serves as a marquee, or a sign mounted on a canopy or marquee.

Canvas: Cotton, linen, or synthetic in heavy weights with an even firm weave, great for digital printing art reproductions.


Canvas Artist Stretch: These are gloss and matte canvases for use on ink jet digital printers. Each is designed with a base and coating formulation to optimize performance and various applications on wide format ink jet printers such as: photo reproductions, fine art, maps and heavy signage. The color of the canvas base is an attractive feature for author limited edition reproductions.

CDR: The DOS file extension for a Corel Draw file. CDR files are not forward compatible

Center Line: Lines on a technical drawing consisting of alternating long and short dashes that indicate the axis of symmetrical parts and features, bolt circles, and paths of motion. Symbol is CL.

Changeable Copy Panel:  A sign composed of individual letters or numbers that are mounted on or in a track system.  Also known as a Readerboard.

Channel Letter: A three-dimensional letter that may include a light source. It is fabricated and has a return. There are many types of channel letters.

Chloroplast : A brand of corrugated plastic substrate

CL: Abbreviation for Center Line

Chaser Bulbs or Chaser Lights: Incandescent or LED light bulbs that border around copy on a sign that is animated by sequential powering. The animated illusion is seen as a light bar that runs around the copy

Coated Tubing: Clear glass tubing that is coated with a phosphorous powder on its interior. This produces a variety of different light colors, depending on the mixture of the powders used. Most neon tubes are coated and appear white when not energized. 

Cold Cathode: A generic term referring to custom interior lighting using a large-diameter tube. Also refers to lighting that uses an electrode to emit electrons, such as neon tubing.

Colored Tubing:  Transparent glass that is manufactured with color, mostly in primary colors.

Compass Rose:  An element of an aerial view, plot plan or site plan which designates cardinal directions.

Completion Drawing: A drawing consisting of a series of photographs of a completed sign project.

Conforming Sign:  A sign that meets federal, state, and local laws and ordinances.

Conspicuity: What sets a sign apart from its surroundings.  Easily seen or noticed; readily visible or observable

Content Neutral: Sign regulations that are made without reference to the content of the sign, including where, when and how a sign can be displayed. This may include height, size and location limits.

Contrast: The difference between things having similar or different colors. High-contrast signs are easier to read whereas combinations with lower contrast – such as yellow on white—are more difficult.

Copy:  The words or letter characters displayed on a sign.

Copy area: The area that contains the words on a sign.

Corel Draw: is a vector graphics editor developed and marketed by Corel Corporation. It is also the name of the Corel graphics suite, which includes the bitmap-image editor Corel Photo-Paint as well as other graphics-related programs. The latest version is marketed as CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020 (equivalent to version 22), and was released in March, 2020. CorelDraw is designed to edit twodimensional images such as signs, logos and posters.

Cornice: A horizontal decorative molding that crowns a sign. Cornices are used frequently on Monument, Pole or Pylon signs. It usually copies the cornice designs used on the shopping center buildings. It is typically manufactured from aluminum, or foam covered in Dryvit. Note: foam cornices should only be used on signs 8 feet above grade as the foam is frangible and easily damaged.


Cost Approach (Valuation): A method of determining how much a real property is worth, minus depreciation. This will include the costs of construction as well as softer costs such as interest paid and permitting fees. In signage, this also includes the message delivered to viewers and the costs of replacing it.

Cost Per Thousand (CPM): The costs for an advertiser to reach 1,000 readers or viewers. This is determined by the amount of money spent on the advertisement divided by the number of people it reaches. Signs typically have a lower CPM, meaning they cost less for every 1,000 people they reach.

Coverage: A marketing term that applies to the percentage of the total population reached with a particular advertising message. This is measured monthly.


Criteria, Sign: A written document that details the rules for signage at a shopping center. It is meant to maintain sign consistency in case the landlord uses multiple sign companies for the tenants. See also Sign Program 

Cropping: Altering the boundaries of a photograph, negative or digital image to improve the composition, remove unwanted elements, or to fit a method of display.

Customer Acquisition Costs: A calculation that measures the total cost versus the potential return, or how much it costs to bring in a new customer.

Custom Sign: A sign designed to meet the requirements of a specific location. Unique signage.

Cutoff Switch: An electrical switch that allows for on-off control of all electrical current to an illuminated sign.