Signage Terminology Made Simple: A To Z

Behrends Group


There is nothing worse than an industry so full of complicated jargon that both clients and contractors have difficulty navigating its vocabulary just to get the job done. Signage and graphic design are both no exception to this so we have decided to compile some important “words” to help everyone navigate the industry a little easier. When you want professional help, starting with the group that defines the terms of the industry (in practice and in writing) is the best place to start. And, Behrends Group is doing just that.



Acrylic is a term often used in the same way as “plastic” and is a material derived from polymers of acrylic acid and its derivatives. For all intents and purposes, it is synonymous with plastic. At Behrends, we manufacture signs and plaques in the acrylic medium for a wide variety of purposes including wayfinding systems, interior office signage, recognition plaques and much more. It is infinitely adaptable and looks ultra-modern when combined with cast metal, giving a polished professional look to any interior signage project.


Aluminum is a metal with a variety of finished looks from mirror polished or textured to vertical brushed. Increasing in popularity due to its resemblance to stainless steel, aluminum casting is cost-effective and versatile. Aluminum offers an economical alternative to more expensive metals without sacrificing style and design.

Barrier Free

Barrier-free refers to design that is oriented towards the independence and dignity of everyone, particularly as it pertains to vision, hearing, communication, mobility and cognition. The provincially-legislated codes for being barrier-free allow for proper and safe access to buildings and facilities for all individuals, no matter their abilities or background. Accessibility is a requirement for all public buildings excluding some historical sites, single-family dwellings and some industrial sites. For the vast majority of the time, however, barrier-free access is a required duty. Signage is a major part of being barrier-free.

Bench Plaques

Bench plaques are markers of dedication that are added to commemorative and decorative benches in public places in order to recognize or memorialize certain individuals or groups. Usually found in high-profile public spaces, dedication benches get a lot of visual traffic so it is important to have uniform, well-designed and durable plaques to create lasting memories.


This tactile writing method is used for the blind and the visually impaired as a way of transmitting information beyond visuals. At Behrends, we consult with appropriate translators and can make signs accessible by everyone. Using Braille is one type of barrier-free signage.  Functionality and style are both taken into account when making inclusive visual tools in corporate or office environments.


Branding through signage refers to the methods and themes used in making your products or services memorable to your clients. Custom quality signage in experienced spaces and environments are one major part of your branding and creating a unified, cohesive voice for your company or organization.


Reminiscent of the military, brass house plaques have a commanding presence that gives spaces a sense of prestige and presence that other metals cannot offer. With the options of an antique aged look or a brilliant shiny finish, brass also offers versatility depending on what image you want to put forth.


There is a reason there is an entire historical age devoted to bronze – it is long-lasting and offers a sense of stability and permanence to any structure. Especially popular with corporate clients and professionals, bronze can lend itself well to any office building or the sophisticated home. The variety available in bronze is very large and diverse depending on your preference for the typeface (font) or how you want to finish your lettering. For someone seeking a lot of options, bronze might be for you.

Cast Metal

Casting metal simply means the pouring of liquid metal into a waiting mold. This mold is a hollowed cavity that is made in the shape of your desired vision. The metal is then allowed to cool which lets it solidify. The solidified component of the metal is technically known as the casting which is then either ejected (removed) or broken out of the mold to finish the entire process. There are many different materials used for molding, depending on the desired outcome. At Behrends, we use a variety of different types, but rely heavily on sand casting as it is the most popular in the industry and is, by far the simplest. When a technique has been around for centuries, why mess with it?

Channel Letters

Channel letters are a type of signage that involves a three-dimensional, individual structure for each letter, usually with separate illumination if the sign is lit. This makes the signage very visible and tends to be the norm for a lot of franchise businesses, though other organizations will use them as well. The channel itself is usually made from sheet metal, typically non-rusting aluminum, and it can form either the back (in the case of a standard channel letter) or the front (in the case of a reverse-lit channel letter). LED lights or neon gas tubes can be added to the channel to make it shine.


This term refers to a form of editing in signage that is not dissimilar to what is found in the field of writing. It is the work that a designer does in order to improve how things are formatted, the style they are using, and (of course) checking the accuracy of the text. It does not necessarily entail altering what has been written but can include edits to the final look of something, particularly its layout, typeface and spacing. However, it can also involve double-checking grammar, any terminology used, and whether or not the piece fits the overall style of the client.

Corporate Identity Signage

Signage is one of the best ways to develop corporate identity cohesion throughout your built space to make a lasting impression on people using these environments. There are few more effective methods of developing brand memory in individuals than by having them experience your corporate identity in physical space, and one of the best ways to ensure this happens is through visual cues in the environment, like quality custom signage. From typeface and colour to style and size, these are the elements that express an organization’s identity, projecting qualities such as dynamism, pride, integrity or professionalism.

Custom Fabrication

Metal fabrication can include stock components and pieces that a shop produces to fit typical needs. However, when non-standard metal parts are required, custom fabrication becomes an important way that we offer solutions for you. Custom fabrication refers to the creation of pieces specifically for your project. This involves careful design and execution of your vision through the medium of your choice. It offers more flexibility and freedom in terms of the look of your final product, what materials it is made from, installation and other customizable components. With top-of-the-line equipment and decades of experience, the team at Behrends can produce quality custom metal work beyond your expectations.

Cut Metal

Cut metal signage is exactly what it sounds like! We use precision cutting tools (lasers?) to custom-cut virtually anything you can think of, from company logos to graphic fonts and much more.  The look of cut metal can be bold and modern, or laid-back and rustic according to your needs. It should be noted too that the end-result is bold and brilliant, without breaking the bank. The economical nature of cut metal combined with its wide versatility makes cut metal an excellent choice for various signage needs.

Digital Media (Content Management)

Digital media is an excellent addition to your signage needs and is particularly common with recognition walls, for wayfinding and other areas of signage that might need to be regularly updated. Digital media screens can be incorporated seamlessly into the look of your display and are easily updateable with timely content to keep your display relevant and fresh. With digital media comes the need for content management and this requires precision and innovation. Using the WonderSign solution, we take the time to learn your needs and develop an excellent communicative relationship to make the managing of your content easy and efficient. Using cloud-based digital media distribution, there is no hassle when it comes to changing things up on a regular basis, whether it be to add donors to a recognition wall, change office names on a directory, add historical anecdotes or whatever other content desires you need filled. Digital signage, interactive kiosks, screens and tablets are all available to customize the look and feel of your display.

Dimensional Letters

These letters are individual and formed out of a variety of materials. While they are three-dimensional (hence the name!) and add depth to your signage, they are not the same as channel letters in that they are generally not illuminated and tend to be used for offices and interior applications. That is not to say that they are not durable enough to be used for certain exterior purposes, however, they are more typically used inside. They are a classy and professional option, particularly for businesses, medical clinics and similar institutions.


Directory signage is part of the entire wayfinding system and helps assist visitors in finding their way to specific areas of a building. These areas can include offices, washrooms, elevators, specific floors, stairs and so forth. It includes directional, informational and identification details that promote ease of navigation and minimize confusion.

Donor Recognition System

Donor recognition walls are a growing trend for non-profit, non-governmental and governmental organizations alike. When funding or volunteer labour for a project comes from external donors, particularly in the launching of a project, it has become customary to designate prominent space in offices and facilities as a way to show gratitude. These walls tend to be a stylistic opportunity to recognize those important to the organization while being a beautiful addition to the environment. These systems must be attractive, engaging, technologically advanced and professional – qualities that your brand emulates in order to inspire confidence in your donors, from the past and in the future. They often include digital media and can easily be updated frequently to suit your organization’s needs and growing list of supporters.

Entrance Features

Entrance features refer to signage and sculptural elements that are at the front of properties, neighbourhoods or subdivisions. They offer information to visitors to orient them, but are also beautiful and welcoming. It confers a certain status on an area to have a stylish entrance sign that is both visible and functional, and offers a sense of arrival that is innovative and expressive.


The finish of your metal signage is critical to determining how the final product looks and can change dramatically according to what is chosen. Depending on the metal used, there are a variety of different finishes available, making your opportunity for complete customization very wide. Some of the many finishes we offer include: painted, powder coated, satin natural anodized, polished, mirror polished, satin finish, chrome plated, patina, natural bronze, orbital finish, brushed metal, sandblasted and much more.


The font of your sign is determinative of your voice and brand. Believe it or not, the style of your sign’s lettering can confer legitimacy, trust, friendliness and a myriad of other social cues to your future clientele so don’t underestimate the power of how it looks! Sometimes called the typeface (referring to the font family), the weight, style, condensation, width, slant, italicization, ornamentation and design will all be important factors for your consideration. If you don’t have a fluency with fonts, leave it to the design experts to take your brand information and transform it to effectively communicate everything you need and more.

Freestanding Signs

Freestanding signs are sometimes mistaken for “floor stands”, which are portable signs that does not need permanent installation. However, freestanding signs (sometimes called pylon signage) are much larger, are permanent, and are found outside all major business areas, including professional centers, strip malls and commercial subdivisions. A well-designed and easy-to-read freestanding sign attracts clients from a distance, increasing visibility and communicating all services offered. These can be double-sided to be seen from both directions of traffic, as well as illuminated with LED lighting to ensure optimal visibility, even after dark. Further add-ons include area branding and electronic message boards that communicate the most current retail information to potential clients. Behrends Group only uses the most durable of materials to ensure the longevity and strength of your freestanding sign for many years to come.

Grave Markers

Grave markers can come in a variety of appearances include single flat grave markers that are flush with the ground, bevel markers (also flush with a slightly raised face), slant markers (in an upright position to mimic an upright headstone), headstones (completely upright) and gravestones (larger headstones that might cover more than one grave). Behrends Group offers memorial signage to adorn grave markers in the form of bronze plaques. Memorial signage is one of the most important parts of the grieving process and is a method of remembrance that involves beautiful, customized signage to pay homage to the life of our loved ones who have passed on. Conscious or not, memorial signage is a crucial method of preserving social memory and passing on history to coming generations. There is a reason there is an entire historical age devoted to bronze – it is long-lasting and offers a sense of stability and permanence to any structure. Pet memorial signage is also available.

Historical Architectural Signs

Architectural signage is a cornerstone of the work that Behrends Group conducts. It is an essential part of the signage industry and tends to refer to any custom sign or signage system that helps with identification and navigation. In the case of historical signage, this generally refers to signs that indicate or communicate the meaning of a place from official governmental sources, historical agencies or other organizations that seek to preserve historical memory in the public. These signs tend to be found in exterior places that are easily accessible to remind and inform of the public of a community’s legacy and a neighborhood’s past.


An icon refers to any image or symbol that is meant to represent something else. It is usually in the form of a graphic image, a small picture or some object that comes to be associated with something else. An icon can enhance your branding by associating a visual short-hand with your company that is easy to remember and comes to represent your voice. A classic example of this is the Windows icon or McDonald’s Golden Arches. Both of these symbols are inextricable from the companies they represent and are used in their branding and signage to elicit a specific consumer response in their clients.

Interpretive Panels

Interpretive signs refer to large panels that contain a large amount of information on them about the history or significance of a particular place. These will often have some kind of story and additional information on them that helps increase a patron’s knowledge of a place in reading them. Available in full-colour, high resolution and durable materials, interpretive signage can deliver bold diagrams, bright graphics and brilliant text to engage viewers and educate them on their visit. With a variety of materials available to resist the extremes of weather changes and to increase recoverability from vandalism and graffiti, our interpretive panels will stand the test of time.


A logo is a type of emblem or graphic mark that becomes commonly associated with a company or organization that aids its public recognition. Logos and symbols have been used for centuries to create a more succinct language of communication and sometimes to communicate while traversing linguistics boundaries. These days, logos are an essential part of any marketing plan and are among one of the first things generated in the building of a new company. As it invokes the initial impression of a company, a logo should consider many factors including its own cultural promotion and the message it is trying to convey about the company it symbolizes. A logo is a core identifier of an organization and will appear on its letterhead, business cards, websites and, of course, signage.


LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode, meaning a semiconductor device that emits a visible light when electricity passes through it. Most of these lights are monochromatic, meaning that it occurs on a single wavelength, tends to emit less heat and are generally energy-efficient. These types of lights are used everywhere nowadays, lighting LCD displays, refrigerators, flashlights, all kinds of buildings and signage. LED message boards and signs are growing in popularity because of their flexibility in what they depict, full colour applications, and the dynamic nature of their advertising potential. LED signs are low-maintenance and use technology that has a half-life of almost 100,000 hours. Customizable to the point of pixilation quality and angle viewing, LED signs are becoming more popular as the go-to sign for public advertising and communication.

Lost Wax Casting

Also known as investment or precision casting, lost wax casting is the process by which a duplicate of a metal sculpture is made. Though modern methods do not always necessitate the use of wax to create a mould of the original object, the jargon can still be used in the industry today. The process can involve making a model of the original sculpture which is then used to make a mould. Molten wax (or another medium) is then poured into the mould. When it solidifies, it is removed and dipped into a slurry of silica or sand to make a shell, drying before being dipped again. When a piece is larger, it requires a thicker shell so the process can be repeated a number of times. When this is ready, it is placed in a kiln that melts out the wax and leaves the shell only. The shell is tested for imperfections before being immersed in a container of sand for pouring. Molten metal is poured into the shell which is then allowed to cool and harden. After this, the shell is finally cracked and the metal duplicate is finally released. Various finishing techniques may be applied to perfect the duplication.

Lit Signs

Lit signs are increasing in popularity in urban centers as a way for companies and organizations to get noticed, even at night. In particular neighbourhoods, these types of lights might even be the legislated norm with more business communities looking for visual cohesion with one another, particularly in kitschy areas or new subdivision developments. There are a number of lit signs that Behrends Group has on the offer and as technology changes, we continue to diversify your choices. The most common type of lit sign involves LED Front Lit channel letters with trim around the face of the letters (also known as an integrated retainer). These signs are very common but variations do exist and can include: front lit channel letters with no retainer, thinner trim, as well as rounded over and resined faces. Some companies prefer halo lit signs which refers to both Front and Back Lit channel letters which offers a different look depending on your needs. Other custom options from Behrends Group include special retainers that are extra wide, acrylic-faced letters that have invisible metal sidings, and black acrylic facing with white illuminated edges. The possibilities are wide and if there is something in particular you are looking for, we can likely accommodate it.

Memorial Signs

A crucial part of traditional human grieving rituals involves honouring and memorializing loved ones in performative or permanent ways. These can include specific burial sites, funerary rites and permanent grave markers too. It has been popular to offer homage to your loved ones by marking their grave with a bronze or aluminum memorial plaque. At Behrends, we pride ourselves on helping people through the grieving process by offering custom memorial plaques that are long-lasting and preserve the memory of your loved ones. The level of personalization in their memorial is completely up to you. Whether you choose to honour them at their funeral by adorning their special burial place, or you choose some other reminder of them to grace a special place (such as a bench or sanctuary), we are able to use a variety of mediums to make sure we get your tribute just perfect. Additionally, using PhotoSculpt technology, we can add a hyper-realistic image of your loved one to whichever medium you choose. In exacting detail, the imagery adds a level of personality to your memorial and helps in coping with your loss as you will be regularly reminded of them by seeing their image. As a timeless investment, the image of your loved one will grace their memorial, continuing to bring the smiles and fondness that they gave so freely while alive.


Once you have your beautiful sign or plaque, the mounting of it becomes just as important as its overall quality and production. Without the proper mounting that works best for particular types of signage and without the knowledge to back that up, other sign companies can leave you with less than desirable results. At Behrends Group, we have decades of experience determining the best mounting methods for putting up our brilliantly designed and manufactured products because we know our work is not done until everything is perfect. Depending on the style of sign or plaque and the space it goes into, we might use blind mounting, French cleat, flush, thru-face, pin with offset or other styles of mounting brackets and techniques. Our mounting techniques are really only limited to what you envision and where you envision it. Given our level of experience, we know what will work best for the most lasting results so your signage endures the test of time and changing aesthetics. Our installation team is professionally trained and always learning new techniques to make sure the final result looks great and is durable as well.

Niche Plaques

Similar to memorial signs, niche plaques refer to memorial markers for mausoleum spaces or urns. As cremation increases in popularity, people are finding innovative ways to honour the remains of their loved ones and the lasting impression of a bronze plaque works brilliantly for this purpose. Like grave markers or headstones, niche plaques allow for personalization of the final resting place for your loved one’s remains. These plaques are cast bronze and come with a variety of customizable options including fonts, finishes, and patinas. Names, dates, quotes and PhotoSculpt imagery can make this plaque unique, timeless and lasting to honour the legacy of your loved one, no matter how they choose to be held.


This is a bronze casting technique that recreates recreates photographic images on bronze signs and plaques for a detailed and realistic effect. A picture is worth a thousand words and Photosculpt can be used to convey a beautiful and timeless message on grave markers and memorials, pet memorials, in recognition systems, on historical markers and plaques, and so much more.


This term refers to two free-standing posts that are supporting a panel that displays the sign and its information. Depending on the material and construction, these structures can be temporary such as in the case of a real estate or construction sign. There are also, more commonly, permanent post-and-panel signs, particularly for businesses or business plazas, offering directions (wayfinding) or displaying some other kind of important information.

Push-Through Lettering

This is when lettering or a logo has been cut out and mounted on a sign substrate directly over the place where the same shape has been cut out and removed. The lettering is usually back-lit from within the sign to illuminate the space between the substrate cut-out and the mounting. Depending on the material and treatment of the letters, the sides might be lit up (illuminating the outline of the letters) or the face and sides will both be lit up. Usually the substrate is made of either stainless steel or aluminum with acrylic lettering.

Pylon Signs

Pylon signs refer to free-standing structures (medium or large-scale) that are often used to mark shopping centers, gas stations, hotels and industrial complexes. This large, roadside signage usually indicates the presence of multiple tenants and businesses. They can be double-sided and are usually made of aluminum, steel and can be illuminated.

Regulatory Signs

These signs are important for indicating rules, regulations and requirements as they pertain to a particular location. These can include indications regarding traffic, parking or even no-smoking signs. In order to be effective, the imagery chosen and the words used need to be clear and simple. They should be widely recognizable and standardized to ensure optimal visual communication.

Sign Box

A sign box is a panel with applied graphics that is then mounted on a box which contains LED or fluorescent lighting illuminates the graphics. The graphics or panel are easily changed allowing for versatility without needing to change the entire box out.

Sign Planning

This is the process by which we develop effective wayfinding systems for  your built environments. Information should be communicated through consistent visual and linguistic language; it has to be relevant and strategically placed to guide people through a space with little to no effort.

Sign Systems

This refers to multiple signs used in a “family” to form a consistent sign language in a particular environment. These work together for effective communication throughout a space, especially for wayfinding purposes. Consistent use of symbols, terms and strategic placing in relation to each other ensure that a visitor is left with an easy navigation experience.

Subdivision Signs

These architectural signs appear at the entrance of subdivisions and contain information about the name of the community. They convey a beautiful and positive first impression while setting the tone for the community’s aesthetic. Operating as markets for distinct, unified communities under a shared image or name, these signs lend elegance to new areas of the urban landscape.

TactileLetters/Tactile Type

This type of raised lettering gives depth and textured to your signage. It can be used in Signage for people with Visual Impairments. Raised letters or translations into Braille are available as well. The placing of signs needs to be accessible, at locations that can facilitate touching or close-up reading. For signs that are not at arm or eye level, lettering should be large, sans serif type and in high contrast tones.


Typeface refers to a set of fonts that share common design features but might differ in terms of size weight and style. For example, Times New Roman is a particular type face, while italics Times New Roman refers to a font. One useful way to classify certain typefaces is in Serif, Sans Serif, Script and Decorative Type Styles. Each of these can further be divided into classifications based on style and even history. This a term that is now commonly used interchangeably with the word “font” (though not everyone agrees on that!)


This material is a type of plastic that is a versatile and economical alternative to metal signage. It is great for wayfinding systems, office buildings, and interior signage but also has exterior applications such as in information boards, historical markers and much more. Its appearance can be customized to virtually any graphic design and is cold/heat resistant keeping your signs protected from temperature fluctuations.


Wayfinding systems help your patrons make a mental map of your facility, using directional and architectural signage to make navigating from one part of your space to another simple and intuitive. At Behrends, we create wayfinding systems that reinforce your brand identity and enhance the visual appeal of your workplace, incorporating custom design elements, colours, and materials. The most effective wayfinding systems create a positive navigating experience that reflects well on your company.


This is a typographically distinct logo made of the company’s name or even an image that turns an organization’s name into a memorable, visual symbol. It can be especially useful in creating a brand presence for your company and a visual language associated with your business.


Behrends Group