Sign Glossary

 Glossary of Sign Related Terms

The following is a glossary of sign related terms and definitions that are commonly used in the sign industry, which our customers have found to be quite helpful.

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Advertising Mural

A large-scale Temporary or Permanent Sign that covers all or a major portion of a multi-story blank or unfinished wall, building or structure.

A-Frame Sign

A Freestanding Sign which is ordinarily in the shape of an “A” or some variation thereof, is readily moveable and is not permanently attached to the ground or any structure.
Also referred to as a Sidewalk Sign or Sandwich Board Sign.  See also the T-frame Sign.

Animated Sign

A sign depicting action, motion, light or color changes through electrical, mechanical or environmental means utilizing fluorescent lamps, cathode tubes, LEDs or incandescents. Although technologically similar to Flashing Signs, the animated sign emphasizes graphics and artistic display.

Architectural Sign

Signage in a built environment that provides wayfinding or other site specific information.


Graphics, images and logos which are used to create a sign.


An architectural entity that projects from, and is supported by, the exterior wall of a building.
It is composed of a covering of rigid or non-rigid materials and/or fabric that rests upon a supporting framework that may be either permanent or retractable.

Awning Sign

A sign displayed on or attached flat against the surface or surfaces of an Awning with lettering and/or graphics painted or screen printed on its exterior surface. It often also functions as a shaded cover or protection from weather and may or may not be illuminated.

Back-to-Back Sign

A sign which has two faces mounted in opposite directions.  A Pole Sign typically has back-to-back sign faces.  See also Double Faced Sign.

Backlit Letter

An illuminated Reverse Channel Letter (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. Also referred to as “silhouette lit” or “halo lit”.

Backlit Sign

A sign where the sign face is illuminated from behind.  See also Internally Illuminated Sign.

Balloon Sign

A sign that is an air inflated object made of flexible material or fabric that takes on a three-dimensional shape when filled with air or gas.  Balloon signs are restrained, attached or held in place by a cord, rope, cable, or similar method. See also Inflatable Sign.

Banner Mesh

Extremely lightweight, durable mesh polyester banner material which is ideal for large exterior wall murals whereby wind and/or weight would be an issue using other substrates.  Banner Mesh material can be sewn, seamed and/or grommeted.

Banner Sign

A Temporary Sign composed of light weight material such as cloth, canvas, plastic, fabric or similar lightweight, non-rigid material that can be mounted to a structure with a cord, rope, cable, or a similar method or that may be supported by stakes in the ground. Promotional Banners include those used to announce open houses and grand openings, make special announcements or communicate events.

Banner Vinyl

Used for indoor and outdoor Banner Signs.  The durable scrim within the fabric makes the banner extremely durable for outdoor use.  As with Banner Mesh, Banner Vinyl can be sewn, seamed and/or grommeted.

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 large, outdoor Off-Premise Sign displaying advertising intended for viewing from extended distances, generally more than 50 feet.  Typically seen along highways, main streets and other high traffic areas.  Billboards are typically rented to display advertisements for a set period of time.

Blade Sign (Feather, Teardrop or Flag)

A Temporary Sign that is constructed of cloth, canvas, plastic fabric or similar lightweight, non-rigid material and that is supported by a single vertical pole mounted into the ground or on a portable structure.

Box Sign

A sign that is typically enclosed in a square or rectangular structure that is with or without internal lighting. See also Light Box and Sign Cabinet.

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  (Attached)

A multisided overhead structure or Architectural projection supported by attachment to a building on one or more sides and either cantilevered from such building or also supported by columns at additional points.
Also referred to as a Marquee.

Canopy (Freestanding)

A multi-sided overhead structure supported by columns, but not enclosed by walls.

Canopy Sign

A sign affixed to the visible surface(s) of an attached or freestanding canopy.


A tightly woven, heavy, durable fabric made of cotton, linen or synthetic material.

Carved Sign

A sign made by routing, engraving, sandblasting or chiselling of lettering, shapes and/or patterns into the substrate of a sign face either computer generated or by hand.

Cast Metal Sign

A metal sign made through a casting process.  Aluminum and bronze are commonly used for cast metal signs such as Plaques.

Changeable Copy Panel

A section of a sign that functions like a Changeable Copy Sign.

Changeable Copy Sign

A variable message sign whose content can be changed by manual or electrical means.

Channel Letter

Fabricated or formed three-dimensional letter that may accommodate a light source.


A cover that is added to a sign to conceal or decorate the base or supporting structure.

Coated Fabric

A fabric that has been treated or coated with a substance, such as plastics, rubber or oils, to make it stronger and/or more durable.

Concrete Sign

A sign made of concrete.  The concrete sign can cast or poured in place.

Conforming Sign

A sign that has been legally installed in accordance with all applicable provincial and local regulations.

Construction Site Sign

A Temporary Sign, typically large and Freestanding, displayed at a construction site to promote and provide information about the company and/or companies.  These can include the contractor, architect, developer, etc.   Also referred to as a Job Site Sign.


The letters, numerals, figures, symbols, logos, and graphic elements comprising the content or written message of a sign.

Copy Area

The area on a sign Face that contains the Copy.

Corrugated Board

A sign board created by gluing a corrugated piece of material to a flat piece of material or between two flat pieces.  Plastic is the most common type of corrugated material used in sign making.

Custom Sign

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

Dead Load

The total weight of the materials used in a sign along with its supporting structure.  The dead load, including its distribution within the sign structure, must be taken into account when calculating load bearing requirements.


Printed lettering and/or graphics that can be transferred and affixed to another surface through the application of water and/or heat.

Deck Cabinet

Similar in detail and use as a Raceway, except larger in cross section to provide a background and support structure of the sign.


The clear and complete specifications describing the appearance, structure and implementation of a sign.  A design may include technical drawings, mock-ups, illustrations and written descriptions of the sign.

Design Intent Drawings

Drawings of a sign that show the basic size, profile and parts of the sign, but provides no further design details.  Design intent drawings are typically included as part of the bid package from the customer.

Dimensional Letter

Any letter, logo or symbol that has a raised profile in relation to the sign substrate.  It can be either cut out, cast, molded or fabricated in material such as metal or plastic to create a raised condition.

Directional Sign

Signs designed to provide information, either written and/or visual, to direct a person to a destination.

Direct Illumination

The illumination of a sign by means of an external light source directed at the Sign Face.  See also Exterior Illuminated Sign.

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.  Typically located at a public access point such as a building lobby.  Directional signs may provide simple text listings or also include maps and other Wayfinding information.

Double-Faced Sign

A sign with two parallel opposing faces (two faces mounted in opposite directions). Pole Signs are typically double-faced.  Also called a Back-to Back Sign.

Edge Lit Sign

An illuminated sign where the light source is positioned on the outside of the Sign Face along one or more of its edges such that the light shines back on to it.

Electric Sign

Any sign containing or using electrical wiring/components.

Electronic Display

Generally any type of electronic programmable display.  See also LED or LCD Signs.

Electronic Message Centre (EMC)

A changeable Copy sign that utilizes computer-generated messages or some other electronic means of changing Copy. These signs include displays using Incandescent Bulbs, LEDs, LCDs or other display technologies.

Electrostatic Film

A thin, electrostatically charged (static cling) material such as PVC used for lettering and graphics on glass, mirrors and other smooth surfaces. The static charge enables the material to firmly adhere to the smooth surface while still able to be peeled off with relative ease.


To create raised lettering or graphics in relief on the substrate of a sign through stamping, hammering or molding.

Embossed Plastic Sign Face

A plastic sign face that has had three dimensional lettering or graphical elements vacuum molded (embossed) into its surface.  Also called Pan Face.

Entrance Canopy

A type of Canopy or Awning that covers and identifies the entrance to a building or place of business.

Exterior Illuminated Sign

A sign that is illuminated by a light source that is directed towards, and shines on the Sign Face.  Also called direct illumination.

Fabricated Letter

A dimensional letter typically fabricated from sheet metal.


The exterior walls of a building, typically focusing on the front or most prominent side of the building.


The surface area on a sign where advertising copy is displayed.  Also called Copy Area or Sign Face.


The portion of any elevation of a building extending vertically from the grade to the top parapet wall or eaves, and horizontally across the entire width of the building elevation.

Fascia Sign

See Wall Sign.

Fiber Optics

Thin strands of specially manufactured plastic or glass used to transport and direct light from a source to a given destination.

Fiber Optic Display

A sign that uses Fiber Optics to create or illuminate the sign’s message.

Fingerpost Sign

A post-mounted Directional Sign having one or more panels each of which point in the direction of a particular destination.


A sign made of non-rigid material, such as Canvas or Vinyl, and having no enclosing or supporting framework.  Typically rectangular or triangular in shape and attached at one end to a pole.  See also Banner and Pennant.

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.

Flat Cutout Letter

A Dimensional Letter cut from metal sheet or plate stock.

Flat Screen

Generic term for an LCD display.

Flex Face

A Sign Face made of flexible material stretched over a supporting frame.  See also Flexible Face Material.

Flexible Face Material

Generic term for reinforced, translucent fabric made of PVC or polyester typically used for awnings, canopies and other types of signage.


The base of a sign’s supporting structure that is typically secured to a foundation or other anchor such as a building’s roof.


A concrete substruction that anchors a sign and its supporting structure to the ground.  See also Footing.

Freestanding Sign or Yard Sign

A Permanent or Temporary Sign that is not attached to a building, has its own support structure and is placed on the ground or is attached to a supporting structure, post or pole or with guy wires.

Front Lit Letter

An illuminated Channel Letter with a translucent face.

Gateway Sign

A sign marking the entrance to a town, neighbourhood, development, park or other public area.

Ground Sign

A Freestanding Sign with no visible support structure.

Guardian Letter

A metal letter with a curved face of highly polished stainless steel.

H-Channel Letter

A Dimensional Letter with a cross sectional shape like an “H” that allows for the mounting of neon tubing within the letter itself.

Halo Lighting

A type of sign lighting where a light source located within or behind a sign is allowed to reflect off the mounting surface, resulting in a sign that appears to be surrounded by a halo of light.

Hanging Sign

A projecting Double-Faced Sign mounted to a wall or pole and hung from a bracket or support arm.

High-Rise Sign

A Freestanding Sign tall enough to be seen from a distance, especially by motorists.

Identification Sign

A sign that provides the name of the business displaying the sign.

Illuminated Sign

A sign characterized by the use of artificial light, either projecting through its surface (internally illuminated), or reflecting off its surface (externally illuminated).

Incandescent Lamp

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

Incidental Sign

A sign intended for informational purposes as opposed to commercial or advertising.  Examples include parking, restroom, entrance and exit signs.

Inflatable Sign

A sign that is made of flexible material or fabric that takes on a three-dimensional shape when filled with air or gas. Most commonly used as a Temporary sign for special events or promotions.  See also Balloon Sign.

Interior Signs

Signs that are located inside a building, structure or other facility.

Internally Illuminated Sign

A sign that is illuminated by a light source that is contained inside the sign structure or housing. See also Backlit Sign and Exterior Illuminated Sign.

Job Sign

A Temporary Sign, typically large and Freestanding, displayed at a construction site to promote and provide information about the company and/or companies.  These can include the contractor, architect, developer, etc.   Also referred to as a Construction Site Sign.


A small, freestanding structure traditionally used for posting temporary signs and notices. May also be equipped with an interactive computer screen and provide services such as event ticket sales.


The overall arrangement of graphics and lettering on the Face of a sign.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)

A flat panel display that recreates an image and/or message by emitting electrically sensitive crystals suspended in a liquid medium.  Commonly uses in Electronic Message Centres (EMCs).

LED (Light-Emitting Diode)

Electronic device that emits light when electrically charged to create patterns that can produce changing video displays. May be used to create an Electronic Message Centre (EMC).

Light Box

A sign that is self-enclosed in a square or rectangular structure with an internal light system that illuminates the Sign Face.  See also Box Sign and Sign Cabinet.

Light Pole Banner/Support Pole Banner

A temporary Banner or sign that is designed to be attached to a permanent light pole or other pole structure whereby the temporary sign element can be changed without modifying the permanent structure.

Low Profile Sign

A Freestanding Sign that is built close to the ground or on top of a base that is sitting directly on the ground. See also Monument Sign.

Mall Signage

A wide variety of typical On-Premise Sign types located within the interior of a multi-tenant building or mall.

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.
  4. Typically illuminated and often ornately designed.
  5. Often used by movie theaters and concert halls.

Memorial Sign

As sign, typically a Plaque, which commemorates a person, place or event.

Menu Board

A Variable Message Sign that allows a retailer to list products and prices.  Commonly used to display menus at fast food restaurants.

Message Area

The area of the sign that conveys meaning to the viewer either through words and/or graphics.

Message Centre

A Variable Message Sign that allows for changes to be made either mechanically or  electronically.

Mobile Sign

A Portable Sign mounted on a trailer or back of a truck.  The sign may or may not be illuminated.  Also called a mobile billboard.

Monument Sign

A Ground Sign with low overall height that is often used to mark a place of significance or the entrance to a location.  See also Low Profile Sign or Free Standing Sign.


A wall surface decorated with a direct application of paint, tile or printed graphics.  See also Wall Mural.


A small wall-mounted or Freestanding Sign made of plastic or metal stating the name, occupation and/or title of the occupant of an office, cubicle, desk or building.

Neon Sign

A sign manufactured utilizing neon tubing that is bent and formed into lettering and/or graphical shapes.

Off-Premise Sign

A sign that advertises or otherwise directs attention to a product sold, service provided, or an activity that occurs but is not located on or directly adjacent to the business or property to which it relates.  Also referred to as Outdoor Advertising. A Billboard is an example of an Off-Premise Sign.

On-Premise Sign

A sign that advertises or otherwise directs attention to a business, event, profession or service being conducted, product sold or offered and is located on or directly adjacent to the business or property to which it relates.

Open Channel Letter

A Dimensional Letter that has no face and, if illuminated with a light source (such as neon tubing), is visible. A clear face for physical protection of internal components may be used.

Outdoor Advertising Sign

See Off-Premise Sign.

Painted Wall Sign

See Building Mounted Sign.

Pan Channel Letter

A Dimensional Letter that is constructed with side walls, back and a face. This makes the letter appear as a solid integral unit, with the side walls and back having a pan-shaped cross section.

Pan Face

A plastic sign face molded into a three dimensional shape. Also called molded face, molded and embossed face, or molded and debossed face.


Any visible surface of a sign that has Copy and/or artwork present.  A Sign Face is made up of one or more panels.


A low protective wall along the edge of a roof, bridge or balcony.

Parapet Sign

A sign mounted on top of the Parapet of a building. A type of Building Mounted Sign.

Pavement Graphics

Graphics and markings that are applied to roadways and parking areas to guide and manage traffic and to also supplement other traffic signs.


A triangular flag or irregular piece of fabric or material, whether or not containing a message of any kind, commonly attached in strings or strands, or supported on small poles intended to flap in the wind.  See also Banner.

People Sign

A person attired or decorated with commercial insignia, images, costumes, masks, or other symbols that display commercial messages to draw attention to or advertising for an on-premise activity. Also known as a human mascot, sign spinner or human sign.

Perforated Window Vinyl

A perforated vinyl designed for viewing through window graphics.  An optically clear laminate is often applied to increase durability. See also Window 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 lessens the ready removal or movement of the sign.


A legal document or licence that is granted by the appropriate government agency giving official permission to take a specific action such as erecting a sign.


An inscribed, commemorative plate or tablet, usually made of cast metal.

Point-of-Purchase (POP) Sign

A form of interior signage that advertises a product at its point of sale or “point of purchase” location.  Also known as point-of-sale advertising.

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, usually double-faced, that is mounted on a round pole, square tube or other fabricated member without any type of secondary support.

POP or POP Sign

See Point of Purchase (POP) Sign.

Portable Sign

A sign not permanently attached to the ground, building or other structure, which may be moved from place to place, including, but not limited to, signs designed to be transported by means of wheels. Such signs may include changeable copy that can be readily removed by hand tools.

Post and Panel Sign

An unlit sign fabricated by using one or more visible posts to support the sign body.

Post Mounted Sign

A sign that is attached to one or more sign poles.


  1. As series of sheets printed on paper, plastic or cloth for use on a Billboard.
  2. A sign intended for indoor use and typically printed on paper, but can also be printed on plastic or cloth.

Projected-Image Sign

A sign which involves an image projected on the face of a wall, structure, sidewalk, or other surface, from a distant electronic device, such that the image does not originate from the plane of the wall, structure, sidewalk, or other surface.

Projecting Sign

As opposed to a Wall Sign, a sign (frequently double-sided) that is attached to a building face or wall, and projects more than eighteen inches from the surface. Also called a Blade Sign.


A letter or graphic cut out of a backing material that is as thick or thicker than the sign face material, and mounted on the inside of the Sign Face so that the backing material’s thickness extends flush with or through and beyond the front plane of the Sign Face.

Pylon Sign

A Freestanding Sign that is not a Pole or Ground Sign.


An electrical enclosure that may also serve as a mounting structure for the sign.  See also Deck Cabinet.


A sign on which Copy can be changed manually.  Usually consists of a Panel where letters and graphics are mounted. Often used to advertise special prices or events and placed so that the sign can be easily seen by passing motorists.

Reflective Vinyl

Vinyl that has been specifically treated to reflect when hit by artificial light at night, such as a vehicle’s headlights.  Historically used for road and highway signs.  With the advancement in manufacturing, reflective vinyl has also become popular for use in commercial business signage and vehicle wraps.  Also referred to as vinyl reflective.

Regulatory Sign

A sign installed by a government body to inform the public of traffic laws and other regulations.


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.


The sides of a Channel Letter.


An indented detail on a sign.

Reverse Channel Letter

A fabricated Dimensional Letter with an opaque face and side walls but no back.  When a neon tube inside the letter is illuminated, it produces a halo effect around the letter.

Revolving Sign

A sign that revolves three hundred and sixty degrees around an axis by the presence of an electric motor driving its movable parts.  All or a portion of the sign may revolve at a variable or speed.

Right of Way (ROW)

The land on which a public thoroughfare is located and certain lands adjacent thereto. Permanent commercial signs are generally located on private land adjacent to the public right of way.

Roof Sign

A sign mounted on, and supported by, the main roof portion of a building, or above the uppermost edge of a Parapet wall of a building and which is wholly or partially supported by the building.


Generally, the distance between a fixed object (for example, the outwardmost edge of a sign) and the pavement edge line of its adjacent roadway.

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.  Also known as an A-Frame Sign or Sidewalk Sign.

Sidewalk Sign

See Sandwich or A-Frame Sign.


Any object, device, display or structure visible from a public place intended to advertise, identify, display, direct or attract attention to an object, person, institution, organization, business, product, service, event or location by any means including words, letters, pictures, logos, figures, designs, symbols, fixtures, colors, illumination or projected images.

Sign Band

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

Sign Cabinet

The enclosure of an electric sign, excluding the components and mounting structure.  See also Box Sign and Light Box.

Sign Face

The area of a sign on which Copy is intended to be placed.


A system of placed-based communication devices and graphics intended to relay information or attract attention. Such systems include Signature Buildings and product displays and dispensers, as well as traditional Projecting, Wall, Roof, and Freestanding signs.

Signature Building

Architectural design of a building or structure that makes the signage a prominent visual feature.

Sign-Centric Design

Building architectural design that reinforces signage, making it the most prominent visual feature.

Single-Face Sign

A sign with only one face plane.

Small Hanging Blade Sign

A sign attached to the underside of a Canopy or Marquee. Also known as an “Under Canopy” or “Under Marquee” sign.

Snipe Sign

An overlay sign added to an existing sign layout as an additional message to the main sign.  For example, adding “opening soon”.  Also a term for a sign illegally tacked, nailed, posted, pasted, glued, or otherwise attached to trees, poles, stakes, fences, or other objects without a permit.

Spinner Sign

A Freestanding or Wall Mounted Sign where the messages rotate in the wind.  A Spinner Sign is not considered to be an Animated Sign.

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 positioned at close proximity to pedestrians for eye-level viewing or at a curb-side to reach vehicular traffic. An example is a Bench Sign.


The material out of which the Sign Face is made or graphics are applied.  Substrate examples include vinyl, wood, plastics, fabrics, metal sheeting, paper, acrylic and glass.

T-Frame Sign

A Freestanding Sign which is ordinarily in the shape of an upside down “T” or some variation thereof, which is readily moveable and is not permanently attached to the ground or any structure. See also the definition for A-Frame Signs.

Tactile Sign

A sign, or area of a sign, that conveys a message through raised or engraved letters or graphics for access by the visually impaired.

Temporary Sign

Portable Signs or any sign not intended for permanent installation, such as Banners and Construction Site Signs. They may also be incidental or miscellaneous in nature, such as political or 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.

Under-Canopy Sign

A sign designed to be mounted underneath a Canopy.

V Sign

Signs containing two faces of approximately equal size, erected upon a common or separate structure, positioned in a “V” shape, with an interior angle between faces of not more than ninety degrees.

Variable Message Sign

A sign that includes provisions for message changes.  See also Changeable Copy Panel, Changeable Copy Sign, Electronic Message Centre, Marquee Sign, Menu Board, Readerboard and Time and Temperature Sign.


Special administrative procedure by which one may obtain an exception to zoning rules such as height, setback and type of use.

Vehicle Sign

Any sign permanently or temporarily attached to or placed on a vehicle or trailer in any manner so that the sign is used primarily as a stationary identification or advertisement sign. Also referred to as a vehicle wrap or vehicle graphics.

Video Sign

A Variable Sign displayed on a monitor or television screen.

Vinyl (Flex/Flexible Face)

A substrate upon which an advertising message is rendered, either by computer production or hand painting.


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

Wall Mounted Sign

A single-faced sign that is mounted on a wall.  See also Wall Sign.

Wall Mural

Any piece of art or messaging which is printed on a material/substrate (e.g., vinyl or canvas), which is then applied directly to a wall, but can also be applied to almost any non-porous, flat, smooth and dry surface (e.g., doors, ceilings, windows, furniture, cabinets, etc.).

Wall Sign

A sign that is in any manner affixed to any exterior wall of a building or structure and that projects not more than eighteen inches from the building or structure wall. Also known as a Fascia Sign.


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

Window Sign

Any sign viewable through and/or affixed in any manner to the surface of a window or exterior glass door such that it is intended to be visible and readable from the public way or from the adjacent property.  This includes window paintings and signs located inside a building but visible primarily from the outside of the building. See also Perforated Window Vinyl.