The sign industry, in general, is changing all the time. This makes it difficult for churches to understand what a fair price even looks like. That’s the bad news, but there is good news to be had as well. The cost of fabrication has been steadily dropping and the industry has almost entirely moved to more efficient LED internal lighting instead of more costly solutions that previously prevailed in the sign industry. However, the cost of manufacturing is one thing, and the price provided to the church is another. Many companies are set up to take advantage of church leadership’s lack of knowledge to markup their pricing to exorbitant levels. In this blog, we will do our best to prepare you with the essential knowledge you will need to be able to keep the industry honest. In the end, the goal is to find the best option for your church to avoid over-investment and under-investment as well.
#1: Structural Materials
Ask about the structural materials. Do not provide your knowledge to the person you are talking to. Ask what the sign cabinet and support structures are made of. Modern, cost-effective, and high-quality signs should be built with aluminum extrusions, not steel, iron, or sheet metal. Internal support structures should be made of steel as the best possible option to keep the price down and provide a lasting foundation. A 5-year warranty should be expected as a minimum for structural materials. Beware of companies that try to force you into a predesigned solution. These companies often have exorbitant markups on standardized models that they mass produce with low-quality standards. Any modern fabricator will be able to manufacture your vision without requiring massive markups.
#2: Materials Used for Sign Faces
Ask what is used to create the decorated area of the sign with the church’s logo, name or other identifying information. Avoid acrylic materials as they fade and yellow quickly shortly after being exposed to the elements. You should favor polycarbonate materials for sign faces and preferably a polycarbonate with UV protectant added. These materials are slightly more costly than acrylics, but 10+ year lifetimes are much more cost-effective than the 3-5 years you will get out of acrylics before they yellow, crack, or fade.
The actual graphics you will see on the sign should be applied to a full digital print. Cut vinyl faces are often supplemented for this to save on manufacturing cost, but the customer rarely receives these savings. Cut vinyl has limited graphic capabilities whereas a full digital print on vinyl allows for any design you can imagine and the durability of a full digital print will provide many more years of effective signage. Ask them who makes the vinyl used and what grade it is. 3M cast vinyl includes a UV protectant and is preferred for outdoor applications for its durability, resistance to fading, and color capturing capabilities when printed upon.
Ask how the sign will be illuminated and what brand lighting is going to be used as well as the warranty that is included. Traditional fluorescent tube lighting or incandescent solutions are considered archaic and non-efficient in modern signage manufacturing. If a company is offering these solutions, it should be seen as a warning to the church. LED lighting is not all made the same either and quality can vary widely. A few examples of proven high quality LED lighting brands are GloboLux, Principal LED, and Hanley among others. The guiding factors of quality that these share are; UL Listing, 5-year replacement warranty, and low electrical consumption numbers due to high-quality Meanwell, or Delta power supplies. Companies that use these quality solutions will be proud of them so it should not be a difficult question to answer for them.
#4: Paints and Coatings
Ask how the color of the body of the sign will be applied and what brand is used. If the sign will be painted, be sure it is a sign-grade outdoor paint company. Matthews Paint and AkzoNobel are both specialty paint formulas made for outdoor signs. Other paints are generally considered inferior and will last only 6 months to a year without chipping or fading.
If a powder coat process is being used, be sure to know exactly what parts of the sign are to be powder coated and if touch up paint is provided to match. Powder coat is durable and long-lasting and costs much more than specialty paint, but can chip or scratch easily. If chipped or scratched you will need a touch-up paint solution since there is no easy way to buff powder coat on a sign.
#5: Programmable LED Displays
Many churches are upgrading their signs to LED displays, often called electronic message centers, digital signs, or programmable LED signs. If incorporated into your church’s sign, and LED message center will make up the lion’s share of the price. Thus, it is imperative that you become educated on the basics of LED signs and what makes one different from another. Most companies will tout their solution as the gold standard in quality and price. Of course, this is not always the case. The trick here is to establish your preferences ahead of time before convincing sign builders, salespeople, or others, change your mind for you. Take care to not tell salespeople what price you want, or what options you need. This might seem counterintuitive, but if you tell someone you want a sing under a certain price with certain qualities, manufacturers will cut corners to make it happen while ignoring quality standards you may not have considered. Instead, ask them open-ended questions about their solution, what aspects specifically make it better, and why. Gather this information, compare and contrast companies, and if possible, find an unbiased sign specialist to assist you in separating fact from fiction. Request examples in the field, in operation, that have been working for the duration you will expect your sign to last for.
The top 5 expectations to consider are longevity, definition, and software, support, and warranty. You can learn more about the differences in the LED sign industry here.