Every industry has its own lingo.  Sign terms and sign vocabulary unique to sign making is actually simple to decipher.   Below is an alphabetized list of the most common terms you will hear at a sign shop.  It is a sort of sign language.  It is a sign terms index with simple to understand definitions.


A Board:  Two-sided sign that looks like an ‘A’ from the side.  Often used on sidewalks in front of retail stores.  See Sandwich Board or Sidewalk sign.

Acrylic:  Hard, smooth plastic material used for many things including signs.  Available in varying range of thickness and color – including clear.  Sometimes used in place of glass.  You may recognize brand names such as Plexiglass or Lucite.

ADA Signs:  Directional signs that meet the requirements outlined in the US Americans with Disabilities Act.  Proper ADA signage meet stringent standards regarding design, color, size and location as well as raised letters and braille messaging.

Aluminum Composite:  A commonly used sign material composed of two very thin layers of aluminum on either side of a polyethylene core.  See Alupanel and Dibond.

Alupanel: A brand of aluminum composite material available in a range of thickness options as well as colors.

Anti-Graffiti Laminate: A protective overlaminate specifically designed to hold up to the harsh cleaning agents needed to remove marker and spray paint.

Application Tape: Low-tack tape that transfers cut graphics from a waxy release liner to the sign, wall, vehicle or another surface where the graphics will be applied. Also known as transfer tape.

Asphalt Graphics: Printed graphics that can be applied directly to asphalt and other outdoor surfaces such as concrete.  Though intended for short-term use, they stand up to pedestrian and even some wheeled traffic.

Awning Sign: A building-mounted sign that extends out over the entrance to give shelter as well.


Backlit Sign: An illuminated sign with an open or translucent back so that light is directed against the surface behind the sign to produce a halo effect around the sign. Can also apply to individual letters making up a larger sign.  Also called silhouette-lit or halo-lit.

Banner: A temporary sign usually made of lightweight and flexible vinyl or fabric.

Banner Bracket: Hardware used to display banners on lamp posts, light poles, street poles, and walls.  See Boulevard Banners.

Bench Sign: A sign located on the seat or back of a bench or other public area seating.

Blade Sign: A sign installed at a right angle from a wall – often above halls and doorways.

Bonus Definition:  An SGS special bonus for reading our Sign Glossary and visiting our website – 10% off your first sign order of $250 or more if you mention this Bonus!

Bouvelard Banners: Series of vertical banners that are displayed along a street, usually on light posts.  Frequently used to promote community or special events.


Cabinet Sign: A common type of sign made up of a frame and face(s) that together look like a box or closed cabinet.

Calendered Vinyl: Calendered vinyl films are often called intermediate or short-term films and are manufactured by rolling and stretching the vinyl through a series of calendering rolls. These films average a thickness of 3-4 mil and are best suited for application on flat and simple curved surfaces. See Cast Vinyl.

Cast Vinyl: Cast vinyl films are a premium vinyl. These films start as a liquid poured onto a casting sheet. Compared to calendered vinyl, cast vinyl is thinner (usually 1-2 mil thick), more durable, more flexible and better at retaining color.  Cast films are required for application on complex surfaces such as vehicles and where a long life is needed.  See Calendered Vinyl.

Car Wrap: Vinyl graphics applied to all, or most, of a car, truck or van.  Most include promotional messages, but some are simply color change wraps that replace paint jobs.  See Color Change Wrap.

Chalkboard Film: Adhesive backed film with a black surface that can be used as a chalkboard.  Frequently used by a business that wants to make frequent changes such as restaurants and retail stores.

Channel Letter: Custom made 3-dimensional letter used primarily in outdoor electrical signs.  Both individual letters and logo shapes are considered Channel Letters.

CMYK: The four basic colors used in digital printing – Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K).

Color Change Wrap: A vinyl vehicle wrap that is an alternative to a paint job.  Unique colors, including metallics and even chrome, are available.

Conspicuity:  Seriously cool sounding word (say it 3 times fast) that refers to a key element of an effective sign.  High conspicuity = very conspicuous and noticeable – a.k.a – a good sign.  Also see Contrast, Legibility,  Readability, and Visibility.

Contour Cut:  Refers to cut lines around a specific design or individual letters rather than a print on a square cut background.  See Die-Cut Graphics.

Contrast:  Another key element of an effective sign – it’s the difference or degree of difference between components of a sign such as light and dark areas, colors, or typefaces. You need contrast to make your sign stand out.  Also see Conspicuity, Legibility, Readability, and Visibility.

Copy: The words or message displayed on a sign.

Coroplast (Coro):  Inexpensive, corrugated plastic sign material. See Yard Sign.

Cut Vinyl: Pre-colored vinyl with adhesive backing.  It’s cut using a plotter/cutter into words and shapes and applied to sign face and vehicles.


Daily Effective Circulation (DEC): Average number of daily potential exposures to a display or group of signs. Here’s the formula:  # of vehicles traveling toward the face of the sign X average number of people per car during hours the sign is visible = potential daily exposures.  You don’t get to add pedestrians and mass-transit riders in this calculation. You do care about this formula if you’re figuring out the cost-per-thousand exposures for your sign project.

Dibond:  A brand name for a high quality aluminum composite sign panel.

Die-Cut Graphics: A graphic trimmed around the custom shapes of a design (rather than a graphic on a single color square background.  See Contour Cut.

Digital Print:  Graphic produced by a digital printer as opposed to something produced using methods such as offset printing or screen printing.  Digital prints are well suited to custom, short run projects.

Dimensional Letter: A 3-D letter or logo that is cut-out, cast, fabricated or molded from a material like metal or plastic.  Think raised metal letters spelling out the firm’s logo when you walk into a professional office.

Directional Sign: Signs designed to provide directions.  (Hey – give us a break.  It’s hard to come up with the tough definitions so we take a ‘gimme’ now and then.)

Directory Sign: A sign identifying the names and locations of tenants in a multi-tenant building or in a development made up of a group of buildings.

Door Graphics:  Logos, lettering and other graphics applied to doors (OK – we admit this is another gimme)

Double-Faced Sign: A sign with messages on both sides.

Dry Erase Laminate: Protective overlaminate the is applied over the face of a print AND allows the use of dry erase markers.  NOTE:  Always check with your sign company to find out which brand of dry erase marker works best with the specific dry erase laminate used on your project.  it’s a detail that does matter.

Dry Erase Vinyl: Print vinyl that allows the use of dry erase markers without a special laminate.  Again – always check to determine which brand of dry erase marker works best with the specific vinyl used on your project.

Dye-Sublimation:  A printing process that uses heat to transfer dye onto a material.  Often used to print on fabric for things like flags.

Dynamic Digital Displays:  Category of electronic signs using commercial LCD video screens.  Commonly used for restaurant menus, mall signage, and directories.  These displays feature changing messages ranging from static image slideshows to videos to real-time broadcast updates.


Electronic Message Center: A sign that uses computer-generated messages or some other electronic means to display changing copy. These signs include displays using incandescent lamps, LEDs, LCDs, or a flipper matrix.

Entrance Sign:  This term generally refers to either 1) a sign in a lobby of a business or 2) a sign at the exterior entrance to a building, business complex or residential neighborhood.

Extensions: The area of design made as a cutout that extends beyond the basic rectangular space of a sign face or message.

Exterior Illuminated Sign:  A sign that is illuminated by a light source that is directed towards and shines on the face of a sign rather than a sign lit from within or behind; also called direct illumination.


Face: The surface area of a sign on which the advertising message is displayed. A sign may have more than one face.

Fascia Sign: A building-mounted sign.

Floor Graphics: A wide range of graphics that can be applied to surfaces that are walked on including wood, tile, linoleum, low-pile carpet and even concrete and asphalt.  Floor graphics can have a lifespan of a few days to several months – even with heavy foot traffic.

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

Freestanding Sign: A sign that is not attached to a building.

French Cleats: Mounting hardware that consists of 2 ‘Z’ shaped rails that fit securely together on the back of a sign.  French cleats are completely hidden behind the sign for a clean, modern look.  See Z Clips.

Front-Lighted Letter: An illuminated channel letter with a translucent face so the letters glow from within when lit.

Frosted Vinyl:  Adhesive backed vinyl with a frosted glass pattern.  Available in various patterns and levels of opacity.  Can create the effect of etched glass at a fraction of the cost.  Used for decoration and privacy in addition to promotional messages.

Full Wrap: Vehicle graphics that cover an entire car, truck or van.  A very cost effective method of advertising that can truly cost only pennies per thousand impressions over the life of the wrap.


Gloss Finish:  A shiny finish on vinyls and laminates.  Colors tend to ‘pop’ more on gloss finishes than on matte finishes.

Grommet:  A two-part metal ring installed on banners (and some thin signs) as a tool to hang or install the banner more easily.


H-Stake:  Metal step stake shaped like an ‘H’ that is used with yards signs.

Halo Lighting:  The type of lighting that shines on the surface behind a sign in order to create a glow or halo behind the sign.  See Backlit Sign.

Hi-Tack Vinyl or Film:  Graphic vinyl with extra strong adhesive.  Used with low energy surfaces that don’t accept adhesives as readily.


Illuminated Sign: A sign that includes electrical equipment installed for illumination in darkness.  The sign could be lit internally using a light source inside the sign that shines through the face or externally lit by directing a light onto it.

ISA: International Sign Association. Trade association representing manufacturers, installers, users, and suppliers of on-premise signs and products. Located in Alexandria, VA.


Jarhead:  Brand of removable indoor wall vinyl.  Most widely known as material used to create life sized sports figures that can be displayed on fans’ walls.


Knifeless Tape:  Car wrap installer’s tool.  Special tape is positioned on the vehicle along the cut lines before the vinyl is applied and then removed to avoid having to use a knife to trim materials during a wrap installation.


Laminate:  Protective, clear film frequently applied over the face of a digital print to protect the print from fading and scratching.  Specialty laminates such as dry erase laminate or anti-graffiti laminates are available for special sign requirements.

LED:  Light-emitting diodes have revolutionized the electrical sign business.  These highly efficient light sources have almost completely replaced the more traditional neon lighting that was the standard for many years in the sign industry.

Legibility: The readability of letters, numbers, and symbols on a sign.  One of the key elements of an effective sign.  Font choice is an important factor in legibility. Legibility is considered an objective stimulus.  Also see Conspicuity, Contrast, Readability and Visibility.

Light Box:  A 3 sided box built to hold lighting that will shine through a translucent panel with a sign graphic on the front so that the sigh is lit from within.  Ultra-thin light boxes are often used to hold lighted posters in a retail setting.  More traditional light boxes are used for exterior business signs.

Listed Sign: A sign labeled to indicate that the manufacturer of the sign is identified on a list published by a nationally recognized testing laboratory as producing signs in conformance with the applicable American national standard.  You’ve probably seen a reference to UL Listed as an example.  It’s a mark of quality.

Lobby Sign:  A business sign placed in the lobby or entrance to an office or store.  It’s often a large, dimensional version of the company logo.  See Dimensional Letters.

Luster Finish:  A semi-gloss finish.  Not too shiny, but not matte either.


Magnetic Signs:  Temporary or easily moved signs with magnetic backing.  Traditionally, magnetic signs have referred to door graphics for cars and trucks.  But new materials are making ultra-chic, magnetic retail signs available for non-metal surfaces.

Mask:   When we mask something we cover the face of a graphic with application tape in order to transfer the image to a new surface.

Matte Finish:  Non-glossy finish on either vinyl or laminate.

Mesh Banner:  Vinyl banner stock with holes in it so that wind can pass through the banner.  This alleviates a significant portion of the stress on the banner’s attachment points caused by wind.

Message Center: A sign with either electronic or mechanical components that allow the message to be changed remotely.

Mobile Sign: A portable sign mounted on a trailer.

Monument Sign: A ground sign with low overall height. Frequently used in front of company headquarters, business parks, apartment complexes or housing developments.


Name Plate:  A sign usually attached to a door or wall that identifies the person who works in that location.  Name plates can be mass produced with just a paper insert that is changed, or they can be custom built to include a company’s logo or special features of the facility.


Open Channel Letter:  A dimensional letter that has no face and, if illuminated, has a visible light source.

Overlaminate: Another way of referring to a protective laminate.

Overlay: A paper strip or price designation, such as a short-term promotion, which is added to the face of an existing advertising panel or sign.   Sometimes referred to as a Snipe.


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.  Enough variations there for you?

Pantone:  Pantone Inc. is actually a company based in New Jersey and the world’s leading authority on color matching.  Their Pantone Matching System (PMS) is an international standard system for communicating colors from designers to manufacturers to consumers.  See PMS Color.

Partial Wrap:  A vehicle wrap that covers only a portion of a car, truck or van.  Typically, a partial wrap covers just the sides or just the sides and rear of a vehicle, but there is no set definition.

Perforated Vinyl:  Print vinyl designed for use on windows.  An image is visible from the outside, but tiny holes throughout the material allow viewing from the inside out.

PMS Color:  A defined color in the Pantone Matching System (See Pantone). PMS Colors are generally defined by a numeric code along with letters denoting a coated or uncoated finish.

Pole Sign:  A freestanding sign with visible support structure.

Post and Panel Sign: A sign supported by one or more posts.  Most commonly it’s a flat panel supported between two wood or metal posts.

Print Vinyl: Adhesive backed vinyl film that can be printed to make custom signs and graphics.

Projecting Sign: A building-mounted sign with the faces of the sign projecting out at a 90-degree angle from the building – as opposed to a sign mounted flat against the wall of the building.

Push-Through: A letter or logo that is cut out of a backing material as thick or thicker than the sign face material, and then 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.


Quick Sign Gold:  Authentic 22 karat gold film.  Available in printable and non-printable versions.  Great for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles!


Raceway: An electrical enclosure that also serves as a mounting structure for the sign.  Commonly used with channel letters or logo cabinets above retail stores.  Your landlord might require your signs to be mounted on a raceway instead directly on the face of the building.

Raster Art: In a word – photos.  Digital files that are made up of lots of pixels are raster art.  You’ll know you’ve got a raster file if it becomes blurry & pixelated when you enlarge it or if it’s a .jpg or .png file.  See Vector Art.

Razor Flags: Rectangle shaped promotional flags.  Generally, range from 6′ tall to over 15′ tall.

Readability:  Degree to which the viewer can easily and correctly perceive the information on a sign.  In other words – it’s a measure of how well the reader can look at the letters, images, words, and colors all together and understand the message.  It’s a key factor in effective sign design.  Also see Conspicuity, Contrast, Legibility, and Visibility.

Recall: The ability of a viewer or listener to remember an advertising message.  A measure of effectiveness.

Reception Sign:  Corporate branding sign in reception area.  Also known as a Lobby Sign.

Recognition: The ability of a viewer or a listener to identify a message and connect it with the particular advertiser.

Reflective Vinyl: Specialty cut vinyl with reflective properties.  Used for vehicles, unlit signs that need to be seen at night and for special safety signs or projects.

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

Repositionable Graphics:  Specialized adhesive backed vinyl that is very easily moved from one installation spot to another.  PhotoTex is an example of a brand of this really cool graphics material.

Retractable Banner: Highly portable and easy-to-display vertical banner stand.  Often used at trade shows and sometimes called a Pull-Up banner (not to be confused with ‘Huggies’ as described by one of our awesome customers).

Return: The sides of a channel letter or other dimensional letter or logo.

Reverse Apply: Technique of installing graphics on the back side of a clear material.  The graphic is printed backward – or in reverse – and then applied on the back side of a clear material to show through normally from the front.

RGB: Three color components used to create full color displays on electronic monitors – Red (R), Green (G) and Blue (B).

Rivet Brush:  Tool used to finish vinyl installation on and around rivets on cargo trailers, commercial trucks, and other vehicles.

RTA Vinyl:  Ready-to-Apply vinyl is cut and masked with transfer tape and ready to be applied on a sign or other surface.  Traditionally refers to pre-colored vinyl, but many printed graphics are also prepped similarly and can be considered RTA Vinyl when they are all set for the application.


Sandwich Board/Sidewalk Sign: A two-sided sign that usually looks like an ‘A’ from the side.  Restaurants use them to advertise menu specials.  Retailers use them to highlight products and promotions.  They’re easy to move and easy to store when not in use.  Also see A Board.

Scrim Banner Stock: Slightly textured vinyl used to produce banners. For very short-term and/or interior use, 10 oz. stock might be a smart choice.  Heavier 16 oz. or even 20 oz. stock is a better choice for longer term, exterior use.

Sign: Any device, structure, fixture, painting, or visual image using words, graphics, symbols, numbers, or letters designed for the purpose of conveying information or attracting attention.

Sign Face: The area of a sign on which copy is intended to be placed.

Signage: A system of place-based communication devices and graphics intended to impart information or the largest number of outdoor advertising signs.

Single-Face Sign: A sign with only one face plane – – uh, duh?

Snipe (Overlay): Refers to a small, added strip along a poster design to announce special or revised messages.

Special Offer:  A super duper deal from SGS – 10% off your first purchase of $250 or more if you mentions this Special Offer from our Sign Language page.  It’s our thanks to you for visiting our site and reading our glossary.  What a deal!

Squeegee: Every day basic vinyl installation tool.  Way better than a credit card…

Stand Off Mounts:  Sign mounting hardware with two or more pieces that enable the sign to be ‘stood off’ the wall so that it has more dimension.

Substrate: Sign makers’ name for rigid sign panel that graphics are applied to.  Common sign substrates are PVC, ACM, Coro, and acrylic.


Table Throws: Another name for a table cloth.  Often include full color digital graphics.

Tear Drop Flags: A style of promotional flag used to get noticed.  The sign face is shaped like an upside-down teardrop.

Trade Show Display:  One or more pieces used to create an exhibit.  Common displays include retractable banners, fabric displays, backlit panels, truss systems.  There are lots of ways to customize standard displays, but you can also create completely unique build-to-suit custom displays.

Trademark (Also Service Mark):  Used by a business to distinguish itself and its products from the competition. A trademark may include a name, symbol, word or any combination thereof. Trademarks are 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 mark. See United States Trademark Act 15 U.S.C.

Translucent Vinyl: Print or pre-colored vinyl especially designed to allow light through from a backlit sign.

Truck Wrap:  Printed vinyl graphics that cover all or part of a truck to make it WAY MORE than just a truck!!

Truss Displays: Sturdy exhibit or trade show display system that features extruded aluminum hardware.  Truss systems are a smart, durable and eye-catching choice for serious exhibitors.


UL: Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., a nationally recognized testing laboratory.

Under-Canopy Sign: A sign mounted underneath a canopy.  Another definition that truly astounded you, didn’t it?  (wink, wink)


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, or menu board.

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

Vector Art:  Digital art files that are defined by a series of geometric points and the relationships between those points.  Sign makers love vector art because we can enlarge it as much as we like without losing resolutions or seeing pixelation (see Raster Art).  Vector art is often in files ending in .ai or .eps.  You probably can’t open them on your computer, but we can!

Vehicle Wrap:  brilliant way to get noticed using printed vinyl graphics that cover your car, truck or van.

VHB Tape: Very high bond tape used to attach sign components to each other or to mounting surfaces.

Visibility:  Measure of how well a sign can be seen from a particular distance or angle.  First, a sign must be visible (ex., not hidden behind a tree) and then other attributes of effective signs can do their thing!  See Conspicuity, Contrast, Legibility, and Readability.


Wall Graphics:  Printed or cut vinyl graphics applied directly to interior or exterior walls.  Wall graphics can function as murals, wall paper or as either large or small accents.  We can apply graphics to surfaces ranging from drywall and glass to concrete and brick.

Wall Mural: An advertising display applied directly onto the exterior surface of a building. Painting directly onto the surface is the most common application method; however, a painted or printed vinyl substrate can also be applied to a wall surface, depending on the location.

Wall Sign: A building-mounted sign either attached to or displayed or painted on an exterior wall in a manner parallel with the wall surface, and not projecting more than 16 inches from such surface. (See fascia sign.)

Wave Posting: A concentration of poster showings in a succession of areas within the market, usually coinciding with special promotions in the designated areas.

Wayfinding Signs: Individual signs and/or sign systems designed to aid the task of finding one’s way to a given location using information found along the travel path.

Weeding: The process of removing unneeded adhesive-backed vinyl from a design.  For example, if letters are cut from pre-colored vinyl, the sign maker will weed out the background vinyl from around/within the letters.

Window Graphics: Any of a wide variety of printed or cut graphics that are applied directly to windows.  Options include opaque printed graphics, perforated printed graphics (image visible from the outside but folks inside can see out), frosted vinyl, cut vinyl letters, or temporary window clings.

Window Perf: Shorthand for perforated vinyl that creates a colorful image visible from the exterior while still allowing people inside to see out.  Perforated vinyl is available in 50/50, 70/30 and 80/20 ratios of vinyl to holes.

Window Sign:  A sign that is on or suspended directly behind or in front of a window or the glass portion of a door.  Long-lasting vinyl graphics can go directly on the glass.

Wrap Vinyl: Highly conformable and high-quality cast vinyl used specifically to wrap cars, truck and vans with high impact graphics.


Xacto Knife:  Quintessential sign makers’ production tool.  Plus – it’s a real X word we could put in our Sign Language Glossary!


Yard Sign: Temporary single- or double-sided sign placed in a landscaped area.  Usually made of inexpensive corrugated plastic and put on a stake that inserts in the ground.  Frequently used by contractors, political campaigns, retailers, and events.


Z Clips:  Two-piece installation hardware that hides behind a sign so that it can be attached on the wall without anything showing on the face or borders of the sign.  Also, see French Cleats.