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exterior stud mounted letter material OPTIONS? (halo lit options too)

Discussion in 'Dimensional Signs' started by iSign, Feb 4, 2010.

  1. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    OK, this is a wide open appeal to be educated by folks who are further down this road then I am... there is a lot I've done & seen... but there are some new areas I want to explore... and I hope to shorten the learning curve a bit.

    Many here know I added a CNC machine last year. It is not running enough & I hope to change that. I've also sold & installed half a dozen sets of channel letters, but I've lost bids on twice that many & some of them for clients who still haven't done anything...

    so, I am looking for alternative exterior letter options I can offer that may be less expensive, or may be more intriguing & unique.

    One job I already sold that I'd like to ask for feedback on is an externally illuminated set of dimensional letters that I have offered to produce in an unusual way. The client has a perfect computer generated fade in their logotype, & rather then airbrush the HDU letters & hope to maintain consistency across a dozen letters... I thought of bonding an 1/8" non-glare acrylic face to a 1-1/2" HDU letter. The graphics could be digitally printed in reverse on clear & laminated with a white backing.

    I think the smooth satin finish will look real nice, & their logo has a thick white outline, so I plan to paint the HDU white & route the smaller acrylic faces with the inline path, leaving that dimensional reveal for their border.

    Has anyone tried something like this? Any tips on bonding the acrylic to the HDU? should I use dibond instead on surface mount laminated prints for the gradient filled letters? I was selling the client (also a friend) on the durability of subsurface graphics but then I started to fear that I couldn't easily include any UV protective laminate to a subsurface print... would the 1/8" of non-glare acrylic in front of the inkjet print offer the same or better protection?

    This job will probably be surface mounted with construction adhesive, but originally we had discussed a stud mounting & even considered adding a halo light effect. I route my stud mounted HDU letters in reverse so my router can also drill the stud holes, so I imagined that I could also route a shallow cavity for LED lights.

    The rest of the questions I wanted to put out for feedback has to do with material choices for dimensional letters & any feedback pertaining to designing halo light signs.

    So far, I've routed 1/8", 1/4" & 1/2" PVC & acrylic, 1/2" or 3/4" MDO and lots of HDU & Gator foam, as well as corian, aluminum & dibond...

    I think large exterior letters seem best if they are thick, but expensive HDU seems like a waste of money when it has such great carving characteristics but it's just being cut to simple letter shapes... plus it's not the ultra smooth finish people often like, unless a lot of time is spent sanding & applying multiple coats of paint... cheap Gator foam looks even better, but I don't trust it for exterior signs that are expensive to install with a rented lift...

    I'm tempted to try two layers of marine plywood with acrylic or aluminum laminated to the face, although that will be heavy, it will be cheaper then HDU especially since I have to ship HDU over the ocean & I can buy MDO, aluminum or acrylic down the street...

    Anyone who has done more of this then I have, I'd love to hear from you on what sort of exterior dimensional letters you have sold that held up well, and anything you can tell me about halo lit lettering as I really want to try that once, for something a little different!

    Thanks in advance!
     
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  2. Dzrt1st

    Dzrt1st Member

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    We've done dimensional letters (and signs) using MDX (exterior grade MDF) with great success. Like MDF, it cuts like butter, smooth finish, accepts paint well. Relatively inexpensive compared to HDU.


    As far as UV protection for a subsurface print on acrylic you could use this UVF acrylic sheet -

    http://www.plaskolite.com/products/flat_sheet/picture_frame/index.cfm


    Todd
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  3. vid

    vid Very Active Member

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    oooooops. perhaps I should be excluded from this discussion. nnnnnahh...

    For interior signs, we've laminated an optically clear adhesive on the face of the printed white.... and then used the adhesive side of the printed white to bond to another sheet of acrylic. I dunno, but a concern to me would be a dissimilar expansion and contraction between materials of different types for exterior use. --- Probably your concern as well with the question, huh?

    Sounds cool ... :thumb:

    I would imagine that the acrylic would offer some protection. But if you use the double sided adhesive, rather than a clear print you could add a UV laminate on top of the print (?)

    My concern would be the spacing of the LEDs in a narrow channel. Without the room for the light to bang around the inside of a traditional RPC (Reverse Pan Channel) the halo may appear spotty as it splashes on the wall.






    :banghead: I didn't answer anything did I?
     
  4. diverscott

    diverscott Member

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    Instead of HDU, you could also try 1" or 2" thickness PVC to beef up the backing.

    I'm not sure about bonding acrylic to PVC, however. It might take some experimentation.

    One good thing is that you have a stable surface to work with on the PVC. It easily threads studs and if your LEDs don't adhere, you can use screws into the PVC. Just drill a pilot hole, then use the screw to self-tap into the material.

    To get out any chatter marks from the CNC bit, use a really light coat of bondo and sand it smooth (if desired).

    We paint our PVC with pretty much any type of paint, so use something that's going to hold color out in the sun.
     
  5. Marlene

    Marlene Major Contributor

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    halo lighted letters work well with the LED's facing in and not pointing towards the back. the light bounces off the backside of the letter. letters that have the LED's pointing out look like dots, not an even flood of halo light. also, you'll need good info on how many LED's and power sources to make sure you get a good even light.
     
  6. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    lots of good comments so far... thanks...
     
  7. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    Todd, good ideas, you got me thinking about that MDF idea... I know that stuff does poorly if it's not well sealed, but I hate the edge of MDO, so I might try some MDF letters... there is a pretty smooth face on that stuff too huh? That might even be worth trying on this current project for my friend! I've also bookmarked that UV acrylic link so I can ask my local supplier...

    great ideas here too! Thanks David... I'm going to look into that optically clear adhesive idea as I will be ordering a pallet of media in the next week anyway... that does offer a solution for the UV lam, & eliminates the white backer, as well as providing that second adhesive surface... pretty much paying for itself in a way... Thanks also for the LED thoughts... almost has me wondering about sealing LEDs behind (well, actually in front of) 1/8" frosted acrylic as a diffuser...

    Interesting thoughts here too... looking at my last purchase notes though, 3 sheets of 1/2" PVC is almost the same as 1 sheet of 1-1/2" Precision Board HDU... I've never even seen or thought of 1" or 2" PVC... guess it's time I looked into it. My experience with thinner stuff like 1/4" has made me fear it's warpability in high heat. Are a lot of people trusting thicker PVC lettering for long term exterior applications?

    Great tips here too... that's why I love this site.. at first I though "only 4 replies... but still, actual experience is so valuable... I would have never thought of most of these tips. Now I wonder about cutting really deep and wide "channels" and painting white.. (or using white PVC?) to help that "bounce around" effect...

    Anyway, I hope to be getting the go-ahead soon & I'll let you all know what I try for the Fat Boy Burger sign, as well as some halo lighting samples I want to design up for myself...
     
  8. UFB Fabrication

    UFB Fabrication Member

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    Have you built electric signs before ? Do the local code authorities require UL Listed signs? Do they require electric signs wiring done by a liscensed electrician ? Are the substates that are talked about acceptable by UL against heat and fire ?
     
  9. Rick

    Rick Certified Enneadecagon Designer

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    I have not done any construction in Hawaii since 1996 but I remember the island I was on was a little backwards on the building code and the other 2 islands I worked on had adopted different standards. I know they adopted the IBC code and they use the NEC as a basis to test for your electrical license but each island has adopted their own version of the NEC.

    From what I understand, HDU has no fire rating (if a manufacturer does have one I have not seen it) so it has no business being used as an electrical sign enclosure (especially exterior), even on low voltage applications. You might be able to use it as a face outside an enclosure in some instances, but it's fire rating might come from the application of a finish and even thats risky if your inspector is hard-nosed. Depending on the project, here in California you are probably limited to it's use in government, hospital and airport projects because of a lack of fire rating.
     
  10. Marlene

    Marlene Major Contributor

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    you will also need a source that will not only supply the LED but will be of help in how many LEDs and power packs to run them as there's things you will need to know to get a good even light. since ours has to be UL listed, I get my LED letters as complete sets. I had a supplier do an awful job on some halo lighted letters and it took a ton of work to fix up that mess so be careful.
     
  11. Dzrt1st

    Dzrt1st Member

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    I should have been a little more specific and said Medex. It's an MDF panel that is made with an exterior grade glue. It looks, cuts, finishes and paints the same as standard MDF.

    Here is more info -
    http://www.sierrapine.com/index.php?pid=68

    Todd
     
  12. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    My experience with electrical sign fabrication is limited. I have participated in a number of projects involving custom fabrication and the use of electrical components. Electrical contractors & sign contractors are always involved in these projects, so their expertise is available to me, as well as their authority & responsibility being out front of me in the permitting & safety criteria. Think of me as more of a designer in this case, where any of you, as well as these licensed professionals on my end are being turned to for advice and experience.

    If anyone actually has experience with building & installing successful halo lit lettering, I welcome those experiences to assist in my efforts to begin expanding in to this area of sign design. For those who do not really know of anything to offer, that's cool too... I don't know anything either. I am aware that electricity and flammable materials should not be used indiscriminately, which is why I am starting to research this.

    People all over are wrapping rope lighting from Wal-Mart around anything that will hold still long enough, and while the elite stratosphere of neon fabricators resist the newcomer like myself, there are quite a few advances in LED technology that are starting to close the gap between the Wal-Mart example & the seasoned neon bending elite, so I have little doubt I will soon be building safe & legal signs that are dimensional & illuminated, but also unconventional & unique.

    I am interested in other innovative pioneers & their experiences. I'll take care of licensing & permits.
     
  13. UFB Fabrication

    UFB Fabrication Member

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    The standard for halo lighting would be a aluminum reverse channel letter with a poly carbonate back. UL is very specific on how things are assembled and if you are out of spec you have to submit it to UL for evaluation. Depending on the project 20 + thousand. No if you were to take a standard letter and laminate something to the face you should be OK. I do remember someone using fiber optic behind stuff to Halo but I dont think it took off. I also would bet some plastics are fire rated and might pass the test but I bet would be to expensive.
     
  14. J Hill Designs

    J Hill Designs Major Contributor

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    HDU takes on the fire rating of whatever it is painted with...
     
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