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#Good To Know: Typography Guide For Signs & Billboards

Attracting customers to your business is difficult, especially if they don’t know who you are, or what you do. Outdoor signs and billboards are there to grab the attention of motorists and pedestrians alike as they move past, enticing them to stop in, call or otherwise initiate contact. When done correctly signage can be extremely effective, likewise, a sign that hasn’t been well thought out, or with design flaws will deter customers. The following guidelines will help you create environmental graphics for your business, and ensure that you’ll avoid any major mistakes and attract the attention your business deserves.

1. Font Choice

There are literally tens of thousands of fonts that are used in print as well as billboards and exterior signage around the world. Some are ornate, while others are simple and plain. However, they can all be split into two different types of fonts, those that are warm, friendly and casual and those that are more formal, traditional and serious. Some fonts are capable of being either formal or casual, depending upon how and where they are used. If you operate a serious business like a health clinic or lawyers office, you’ll want to stay away from casual fonts and lean towards more serious ones. Remember that even though a specific font may present well on a business card or company letterhead, it may not be the best choice for a sign.

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2. Font Size

Character height is one of the most important aspects to consider when choosing a font for your environmental signage. To determine the correct size for the distance the sign will be viewed at, one must use a calculation called the Legibility Index (LI), or feet per inch of letter height. One rule of thumb that is often observed is an LI of 35 ft/in, which means that for every inch of letter height the sign can be read 35 feet away. Keep in mind that this is an average measurement and is dependent upon factors such as the age of the individual observing the sign, their vision, and environmental factors such as lighting. That said, the only real limit on the height of characters is the size of the sign, and taller fonts are more readable from longer distances.

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3. Upper & Lower Case

You may be tempted to use all upper case letters in your sign, thinking that they’re more visible and easily read. However, this may actually cause observers to have trouble reading the text, causing confusion. A combination of both upper and lower case text is actually more legible from a distance because it’s easier to distinguish the shapes of upper and lower case text together than it is for all capital letters. A passing motorist has only a few seconds to read your sign and comprehend its message, therefore, it’s vital to maximize the signs readability by incorporating both upper and lower case text, as you would in any other context.

4. Limit Font Types

There are, as mentioned earlier, a plethora of font types available and it can be tempting to use several of them because they look cool, or have a vibe that relates to your business. This is a terrible idea. There is nothing more difficult to read than a exterior sign or billboard with multiple fonts that are all mashed together. Avoid issues with this by limiting the number of fonts used to no more than two at a time. For example, you may choose to use a scripted font for your company name and a sans serif font for your tagline, or other relevant information. If you are using two fonts, make sure that there is a significant amount of contrast between the two, otherwise it will look like you forgot which font you were initially using.

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5. Line & Character Spacing

White space is of the utmost importance when it comes to creating legible signs. This pertains not only to the space between lines, but also between the individual characters that make up words. Kerning, is a technique by which letters are spaced either further apart, or drawn closer together for an overlapping effect. Some fonts use kerning that makes words less readable and will need to be adjusted to allow enough space between the letters to make the word legible. Likewise, the space between lines of text and other elements is essential. Leaving open areas helps direct the eye to the relevant information and alleviates strain.

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6. Color Choices

Colour choice is absolutely vital to the effectiveness of any sign as they attract attention and portray a specific feeling. While it is important to maintain your company’s brand image, capturing the attention of passers by requires significant thought into the colours used. It’s best to use colors that offer high contrast against one another, such as a bright blue background with black font. The greater the contrast between the colours, the more legible the text will be from a distance. Be careful not to use colors that are closely related, such as light gray text on a black background, however, as there won’t be as much contrast. Much like font styles, using too many colors can be detrimental, so stick with only two, or three to gain maximum impact.

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7. Graphics For Impact

Graphics are not a requirement for a good exterior sign, however, they can make it more visible and help to relay relevant information. For large, established companies, the brand logo is an ideal graphic. Smaller businesses that may not have an established brand often opt for generic graphics instead. For example, a veterinary clinic may use images dogs and cats on their signage along with the text. These graphics are recognizable to anyone passing by and the text reinforces that the business does, indeed provide care for pets. By contrast, a lawyer, consultant, or other professional doesn’t necessarily need a graphic to demonstrate what they do.

There are many factors to consider when creating an exterior sign for your business, or a billboard along the motorway. Every detail of it must be congruent with your business’s brand image, products, services and customer base. By following the simple guidelines detailed above, the odds of your signage being attractive and effective are greatly increased. Remember that the type and size of the font, spacing, colors and graphics you choose all must work together to convey your message.