Sign Industry Terms and Definitions*

ADVERTISING MEDIA: The means by which an advertising message is carried to potential customers; including internet, magazine, newspaper, radio, signage and television.  

AESTHETICS:  A term dealing with form, design, and/or quality of construction of a particular sign, building, site or structure that presents a judgmental statement concerning the level of beauty or artistic value. 

AMORTIZATION:  1) In accounting terms, this refers to the method in which an intangible asset is depreciated over a specified period of time.  2)  In terms relevant to signage and urban planning, it conveys the “grace period” beginning on the date a sign owner is notified that removal of a previously conforming sign has been ordered, and ending on the date removal is required.  This process makes a structure, which was legally erected with all permits, legally non-conforming for period of time.  After an amortization period, the sign becomes illegal and non-conforming.  Amortization is a form of regulatory taking.  The legality of amortization depends on state law and numerous other conditions, and is frequently unenforceable. 

ANIMATED SIGN:  A sign depicting action, motion, light or color changes through electrical or mechanical means, although technologically similar to flashing signs, the animated sign emphasizes graphics and artistic display. 

ANNUAL AVERAGE DAILY TRAFFIC (ANNUAL ADT):  Measurement representing the total number of vehicles passing a given location each day.  These counts can usually be obtained from your State Highway Department. 

AWNING SIGN:  A building mounted sign that provides additional functionality as shelter. 

BALLAST:  An electrical device required to operate fluorescent lamps. 

BANNER:   A sign composed of lightweight material.  Promotional banners include those used to announce open houses and grand openings, make special announcements, or communicate events.  Ornamental banners use images or colors of a decorative nature. 

BENCH SIGN:  A sign located on the seat or back of a bench or seat placed on or adjacent to a public right-of-way.  A type of street furniture.  

BRAND EQUITY (Branding):   The intangible, but real, value of words, graphics or symbols that are associated with the products or services offered by a business.  Developing branding of a site includes the presentation of signage and architecture to create a unique awareness and memory by the potential customer of the products or services offered at that site.  Brand equity for a particular business is similar to the goodwill of an enterprise. 

BUILDING CODE:  State and/or local regulations governing public health, welfare and safety of construction and maintenance. 

BUILDING FACIA:  That portion of any elevation of a building extending vertically from the grade {sic} to the top parapet wall or eaves, and horizontally across the entire width of the building elevation, including slanted wall surfaces sometimes referred to as a mansard. 

BUILDING MOUNTED SIGN:  A sign that is applied or attached to a building. 

CABINET SIGN:  A sign structure consisting of the frame and face(s), not including the internal components, embellishments or support structure. 

CANOPY:  see marquee  

CANOPY SIGN:  1) A building mounted sign functioning as a marquee.  2) A sign mounted on a marquee or canopy. 

CHANGEABLE COPY PANEL:  A section of a sign that functions like a changeable copy sign. 

CHANGEABLE COPY SIGN:  A variable message sign composed of individual letters panel mounted in or on a track system  

CHANNEL LETTER:  Fabricated or formed three dimensional letters which may accommodate a light source. 

COATED TUBING:  Clear glass tubing, coated on the interior surface with phosphorus powder.  Coated tubing produces a variety of different light colors, dependent upon the specific mixture of phosphorus powders utilized. 

COLD CATHODE:  1.) Electric discharge lighting, which uses an electrode with a large metal mass to emit electrons.  Neon tubing is a cold cathode type.  2.) Generic term employed to specify custom interior lighting produced through the use of larger diameter cold cathode tubing. 

COLORED TUBING:  Transparent glass tubing manufactured with color pigments, typically color examples include ruby red, canary yellow, green, and midnight blue. 

CONFORMING SIGN:  A sign that is legally installed in accordance with federal, state, and local laws and ordinances.  

CONSPICUITY:  The characteristics of the sign that enables an observer to differentiate the sign from its surrounding environment. 

CONTENT NEUTRAL (Time, Place or Manner):  Consistently applicable nondiscriminatory sign regulations that specify, without reference to the content of the message, when, how and where a sign can be displayed, with physical standards, such as but not limited to height, size and location, that allow the sign to be readable.  

CONTRAST:  The difference or degree of difference between things having similar or comparable natures, such as light and dark areas, colors, or typefaces. 

COPY:  The words or message displayed on a sign.   

COPY AREA:  Areas which encloses the actual copy on a sign. 

COST APPROACH (Valuation):   An approach to estimating the value of real property whereby the appraiser determines the production cost of the property minus any accrued depreciation.  This approach does not merely include the hard costs of construction, but includes all soft costs such as interest, permits, and fees.  In sign appraisal this concept includes the cost of replacing the message delivered to viewers. 

COST PER THOUSAND (CPM):  Refers to the cost for an advertiser to send a message to 1000 receivers.  The measure is calculated by dividing the amount of money spent for a given advertisement by the number of people exposed to it.  (Based on this measure, signs are usually considered to be the least expensive form of advertising.)  

COVERAGE:  A marketing term that refers to the percentage of the total market population reached by an advertising message displayed in a given medium; measured at least once a month.  

CUSTOMER ACQUISITION COSTS:  Basic value calculation used to measure the cost versus return from the presence of signage; the cost of acquiring a customer.   

CUSTOM SIGN:  A sign designed, manufactured and installed to meet the requirements of a specific location. 

DAILY EFFECTIVE CIRCULATION (DEC):  The average number of daily potential exposures to a display or group of signs determined by counting only those vehicles traveling toward the face of the sign, and then multiplying that number by the average number of people per car during the hours the sign is visible.  Pedestrian and mass transit circulations are not included.  This is the basic measure in establishing cost per thousand exposures on signs.  The basic traffic numbers can usually be obtained from your State Department of Transportation. 

DECK CABINET:  Similar in detail and use as a raceway except larger in cross section to provide a background area.  

DIMENSIONAL LETTER:  A specification description of a letter or logo, either cut out or fabricated of metal or plastic materials to create a raised condition. 

DIRECTIONAL SIGN:  Signs designed to provide direction to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.  

DIRECTORY SIGN:  A sign that identifies the names and locations of tenants in a multi-tenant building or in a development made up of a group of buildings.  

DOUBLE-FACED SIGN:  A sign with two parallel faces. 

ELECTRIC SIGN:  Any sign containing or using electrical wiring. 

ELECTRONIC MESSAGE CENTER:  A variable message sign that utilizes computer generated messages or some other electronic means of changing copy.  These signs include displays using incandescent lamps, LEDs, LCDs or a flipper matrix. 

EXTERIOR ILLUMINATED SIGN:  A sign that is illuminated by a light source that is directed towards, and shines on the face of a sign.  Also called direct illumination. 

FACE:  The surface area on a sign where advertising copy is displayed.  

FAIR MARKET APPROACH:  One of three appraisal approaches. The highest price at which a property could be sold given a reasonable exposure period in the market. The price is arrived at by a willing seller and willing buyer, neither being under duress to act. 

FASCIA SIGN:  A building mounted sign.   

FLASHING SIGN:  A sign with an intermittent or flashing light source.  Generally, the sign’s message is constantly repeated, and the sign is most often used as a primary attention-getting device.  Government highway departments frequently use flashing signs to improve highway safety. 

FLUORESCENT LAMP OR TUBE:  Electric-discharge lighting utilizing glass tubing manufactured to standard lengths.  

FONT:  A set of letters, numerals, and shapes, which conform to a specific set of design criteria. 

FREESTANDING SIGN:  A sign that is not attached to a building. 

FREQUENCY:  The average number of times an individual has the opportunity to see an advertising message during a defined period of time.  Typically measured over a four week period. 

FULL SERVICE SIGN COMPANIES:  Sign companies that complete the entire signage project, including   surveying, designing, engineering, permitting, manufacturing, installing, and maintaining signs. 

GROUND SIGN:  A freestanding sign with no visible support structure.  

H CHANNEL LETTER:  A dimensional letter with baffles at the center of the cross sectional shape for support of neon tubing and mounting of transformers.  

HIGH-RISE SIGN:  A tall freestanding sign. 

IMPULSE BUYING:  An unplanned or shifted purchase. 

INCANDESCENT BULB:  A lamp that produces light through the application of electrical energy to a wire filament, which glows as it is heated 

INTERIOR SIGNS:  Signs that are located inside a building or other facility. 

INTERNALLY ILLUMINATED SIGN:  A sign that is illuminated by a light source that is contained inside the sign.  

ISA:  International Sign Association. (See trade association section.) 

JUST COMPENSATION:  The full monetary value to be paid for property taken by the government in accordance with the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Just compensation is generally determined by obtaining an appraisal.  

LEGIBILITY:  The characteristics of letters, numbers, graphics, or symbols which make it possible to differentiate one from the other.    See Conspicuity 

LISTED SIGN:   A sign labeled to indicate that the manufacturer of the sign is identified in a list published by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory as producing signs in conformance with the applicable American National Standard. 

LOGO:  A design that represents a goods, identity or service. 

MALL SIGNAGE:  A wide variety of typical on-premise sign types located within the interior of a multi-tenant building or mall. 

MANUAL ON UNIFORM TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICES (MUTCD):  This manual is the grandfather of all sign codes in the U.S.  Its approach is to set minimum standards of placement that a sign must be in to achieve readability and conspicuity.  The manual covers a range of traffic control devices; specifically signs, which it breaks into three categories—guide signs, warning signs, and directional signs.  It works with the idea that signing deficiencies cause traffic accidents. 

MARQUEE:  A permanent canopy often of metal and glass projecting over an entrance. 

MARQUEE SIGN:  1) a sign mounted on a permanent canopy, 2) a traditional industry term for the variable message section of a canopy sign, 3) an integral sign and permanent canopy. 

MENU BOARD:  A changeable sign that allows a retailer to list products and prices, for example the bill of fare for a fast food restaurant. 

MESSAGE AREA:  The area within the sign panel describing the limits of the message. 

MESSAGE CENTER:  An electronically or mechanically variable message sign enabling changes to be made from locations other than at the sign. (See also variable message sign.) 

MOBILE SIGN:  A portable sign mounted on a trailer. 

MONUMENT SIGN:  A ground sign with low overall height.  See freestanding sign.   

NEC:  National Electric Code  

NEON SIGN:  A sign manufactured utilizing neon tubing which is visible to the viewer. 

NEON TUBING:  Electric discharge, cold cathode tubing manufactured into shapes that form letters, parts of letters, skeleton tubing, outline lighting, and other decorative elements or art forms, in various colors and diameters and filled with inert gases.  

NESA:  National Electric Sign Association. Previous name of the International Sign Association. 

OFF-PREMISE SIGN:  Any sign that is not appurtenant to the use of the property, a product sold, or the sale or lease of the property on which it is displayed, and that does not identify the place of business as purveyor of the merchandise, services, etc., advertised upon the sign. Also known as Outdoor Advertising. 

ON-PREMISE SIGN:    A communication device whose message and design relates to a business, an event, goods, profession, or service being conducted, sold, or offered at the same location as where the sign is erected. 

OPEN CHANNEL LETTER:  A dimensional letter that has no face and in which the neon tubing is visible. 

PAINTED WALL SIGN:  See building mounted sign. 

PAN CHANNEL LETTER:  A dimensional  letter that is constructed with side walls, back and a face making the letter a solid integral unit with the side walls and back having a pan-shaped cross section. 

PAN FACE:  A plastic sign face molded into three dimensional shapes. 

PARAPET SIGN:  A sign mounted on the parapet of a building.  See building mounted sign. 

PERMANENT SIGN:  A sign attached to a building, structure, or the ground in a manner that enables the sign to resist environmental loads, such as wind, and precludes ready removal or movement of the sign. 

POLE OR PYLON COVER:  An enclosure for concealing and/or for decorating poles or other structural supports of a ground sign. 

POLE SIGN:  A freestanding sign with visible support structure. 

PORTABLE SIGN:  A sign not permanently attached to the ground or building, with a power-cord for connection to an electrical source, and readily removable using ordinary hand tools. 

POST AND PANEL SIGN:  An unlighted sign fabricated by using one or more visible posts to support the sign body.  

PROJECTING SIGN:  A building mounted sign with the faces of the sign perpendicular to the building fascia. 

PUSH-THROUGH:  A letter or logo cut out of a backing material that is thicker than the sign face material, and mounted on the inside of the sign face so that the backing material’s thickness extends through and beyond the front plane of the sign face.  

PYLON SIGN:  A freestanding sign with visible support structure or with the support structure enclosed with a pole cover. 

RACEWAY:  An electrical enclosure which may also serve as a mounting structure for the sign. 

READABILITY:  (Also CONSPICUITY) The quality that enables the observer to correctly perceive the message.  In transportation engineering, this word is being replaced by conspicuity. 

RECOGNITION:  Refers to the ability of a viewer to identify the message 

REGULATORY SIGN:  A sign having the primary purpose of conveying information concerning rules, ordinances or laws. 

RETAINER:  A framing member mounted around the perimeter of a sign face, and attached to the sign cabinet structure.  It is designed to attach the face to the cabinet and/or intended to provide a decorating trim piece. 

RETURN:  The sides of a channel letter. 

REVEAL:  An indented detail on a sign. 

REVERSE CHANNEL LETTER:  A dimensional letter with opaque face and side walls and open or translucent back so light from the letter is directed against the surface behind the letter producing a halo lighting effect around the letter. 

ROOF SIGN:   A building mounted sign erected on the roof of a building. 

SIDEWALK/SANDWICH SIGN:  A moveable sign not secured or attached to the ground or surface upon which it is located, but supported by its own frame and most often forming the cross-sectional shape of an A. 

SIGN:  Any visual display with words or symbols designed to convey information or attract attention. 

SIGN BAND:  A horizontal area above a multi-tenant building’s entrances, architecturally designed to accommodate signage in a sign-centric manner. 

SIGN FACE:  The area of a sign on which copy is intended to be placed. 

SIGNAGE:  A system of signs. 

SIGNATURE BUILDING:  Architectural design of a building or structure that reinforces signage.  

SIGN-CENTRIC DESIGN:  Building architectural design which makes the signage the prominent visual feature.   

SINGLE-FACE SIGN:  A sign with only one face plane. 

STATIONARY SIGN:  A sign with a power-cord for attachment to a source of electrical power that is not readily moveable or portable. 

STREET FURNITURE:  Advertising displays, many which provide a public amenity, positioned at close proximity to pedestrians for eye-level viewing or at a curbside to reach vehicular traffic. 

TARGET AUDIENCE:  The profile of the most desired consumer prospects for a product or service, listed by characteristics such as demography, lifestyle, brand or media consumption, purchase behavior, etc.  This is common to all media. 

TEMPORARY SIGN:  Any sign not intended for permanent installation, such as banners and signs at construction sites.  They may be incidental or miscellaneous in nature, such as political and real estate signs. 

TIME AND TEMPERATURE DISPLAY:  A variable message sign which displays current time and temperature in a stationary or alternating manner. Some also display simple messages. 

TIME, PLACE and MANNER NEUTRAL:  Consistently applicable non-discriminatory sign regulations as to the period when the message can be displayed, with physical standards, such as but not limited to height, size and location that allow the sign to be readable. 

TRADE AREA:  Most retail businesses have a relatively fixed area that customers come from to do business at their store. In general, the trade area is either the living or work locale for the customer.  The selling zone of place-based retail business will be dynamic for two reasons; the customer is moving residences or jobs or the customer is passing through on a trip that intersects the trade area.  The trade area for most small businesses is 3 to 5 miles. 

TRADEMARK:  Used by a business to distinguish itself and its products from the competition. A trademark may include a name, symbol, word or combination of those. Protected by the federal government and considered to have financial value. The circled “R” or “Reg. T.M.” printed with the mark indicates that it is a registered trademark. See United States Trademark Act 15 U.S.C. Section 1127 (1988).  (See also Lanham Act.) 

TRAFFIC COUNT:  The recording of the vehicles and pedestrians passing a given point, usually in a day. 

TRANSFORMER:  Electrical equipment that converts input voltage and current to a different output voltage and current.  

UL:  Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory. 

UNDER-CANOPY SIGN:  Double face or single face signs designed to be mounted underneath a canopy. 

VARIABLE MESSAGE SIGN:  A sign that includes provisions for message changes.   Also called changeable copy panel, changeable copy sign, time and temperature sign, electronic message center, menu board. 

VARIANCE:  Special administrative procedure by which one may obtain an exception to zoning rules such as height, setback and type of use. (See legal brief and detail section.) 

VISIBILITY:  The quality of a letter, number, graphic, or symbol, which enables the observer to distinguish it from its surroundings or background.   

WALL SIGN:  A building mounted sign.  (See also Fascia sign) 

WAYFINDING:  Enabling a person to find his or her way to a given destination through the use of effective signage.  

WINDOW SIGN:  A sign that is displayed in a window. 

 *This glossary of Signage terms was first published by the United States Small Business Administration in 2001 and is currently displayed on the International Sign Association website.

Petroleum Industry Terms and Definitions

Different petroleum marketers have different branding standards, have unique imaging, and use different terms for their signage.  Here is a list of our more commonly used terms for signage relating to the petroleum industry:

For All Fuel Stations

A:   Bollard—the cement post protecting fuel dispensers from vehicles and objects.  Can be tall and straight, U-shaped, or short and wide.

B:  Canopy—the roof structure above the fuel dispensers containing safety lighting

C:  Dispenser—the fuel pump

D:  Hi-Rise—a very tall pylon sign

E:  Island—the area protruding vertically from the ground that contains fuel dispensers

F:  MID—Main ID Sign, typically a pylon

G:  Valance—the decorated top of the fuel dispensers

H:  Swoosh—a curved, colored branding decoration

Synergy (Exxon, Mobile)

A:  Blade—a branding sign attached horizontally to canopy columns

B:  Koala—a curved sign attached to a canopy column at the top and bottom

C:  Number Wedge—a small sign labeling the pump number that is attached to the canopy column

D:  Wave—a branding sign next to a fuel dispenser with a curve bringing it over the top of the dispenser

E:  Breaking Wave—a wave sign that is not independent but attaches to the canopy column


A:  Helios – BP’s circular flower logo, illuminated

B:  Bullnose—the dimensional green trim containing a light bar along the BP canopy fascia

C:  Pearl Arc—the circular backing for Helios

D:  Swoosh—a curved branding decoration

Cenex Stations

A:  Butterfly—The red logo shaped similarly to a butterfly

Additional Abbreviation Terms and Definitions

COI – Certificate of Insurance – Required by many companies that subcontract our work

EOD – End of Day – Some work orders require documentation by end of day

OC – On Centers – Indicates measurements are taken from center-to-center of two objects, or a sign placement measured on horizontal and vertical centers in relation to an install location

PO – Purchase Order – Required to purchase parts

Spoils – The ground removed from drilling or excavating

TBD – To Be Determined

VO – Visible (or Visual) Opening – The “live area” of a sign, all logos and copy should fit within this area, “bleed” is typically required to extend beyond the VO

WIP – Work in Progress

WO – Work Order – Provides technicians with their scope of work

UC – Under Clearance – The distance required per zoning from the ground to the bottommost portion of the sign

Common Service Materials

Driver/Power Supply:  Used to regulate power going to LED lighting

Transformers:  Typically used to increase the voltage power to Neon, but can also decrease it.  There are different types of transformers for interior and exterior usage

Electronic Ballast:  A device attached to fluorescent and HID lighting from the main electrical input wires that limits the currency going to the lamps.

Fluorescent lamp:  Tube shaped light used in many signs that come in many lengths.

Capacitor:  A device mainly used in HPS ballasts to store energy.  There are different kinds of capacitors, and they can be either built inside a ballast or operating free-standing together with an ignitor.  

HID Lamps:  High-intensity discharge lamps (HID lamps) are a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp which produces light by means of an electric arc between tungsten electrodes housed inside a translucent or transparent fused quartz or fused alumina arc tube.  Most commonly used in parking lot fixtures.  HID lamps are frequently being replaced by LED Corn Cob style lamps.

HPS Lamps:  High Pressure Sodium lamps are a type of HID lamp that produce an amber light.

MH Lamps:  Metal Halide lamps are a type of HID lamp that produce a white light.

Bollard:  A light on top of a post used for safety and direction primarily along footpaths

LED Corn Lamp:  A newer style lamp that upgrades older HID lamps.  The Corn Cob lamps we use have a built-in power supply, making it the better choice when a ballast is out.

Wall Pack:  An industrial light installed on a building used primarily for safety

Warranties:  LED lamps and power supplies have a five-year manufacturer’s warranty.  Ballasts and Transformers have a two-year warranty from their manufactured date.  Manufactured date is stamped on each product.  TLC Sign gives a one-year warranty on our work.