How Specification Affects the Lifespan & Cost of Your Signage
It’s easy to take signage for granted. Few people appreciate the logistics involved in creating effective signage for a specific environment, and even fewer understand that these materials have a limited lifespan. It rarely occurs to us that signage will eventually wear out and need replacement, or be rendered obsolete by a change in branding.

Signs are generally intended to perform one of four main duties: identification, direction, regulation and information. Effective signage can accomplish two or more duties simultaneously, and the finest installations will continue to do this over a long period of time. To choose the right specification for your signage, it’s therefore important to know how long it’s expected to last. A five-year lifespan may require different materials or design compared to something intended to last until 2030. Equally, even the finest components will wear badly if the design is flawed from the outset.

These are the key issues to bear in mind when planning new signage, to ensure a cost-effective blend of efficiency and durability:

1. How long does the signage need to last?

If new signage is expected to provide many years of dependable service, specify high-calibre materials that won’t degrade or wear out. Galvanised steel can last for ten times longer than mild steel, and powder-coated aluminium will typically retain its appearance for up to twenty years – specialist powder coatings can increase protection against saltwater, sun bleaching, etc. It’s usually worth investing in the best materials for infrastructure-based signage (such as transport interchanges or public buildings) that may be on show for decades. Conversely, retail or financial services signage is often designed to match existing marketing materials or colour schemes. In this scenario, it’s likely that the materials will easily outlast the messages they’re conveying.

2. What materials meet the required lifespan?

Following on from the point above, choose materials that match the durability and cost-effectiveness required – without massively exceeding them. Monomeric vinyls will last for up to five years before requiring replacement, whereas polymeric vinyls are more expensive but provide a superior lifespan. Clearly, these two materials will suit different briefs and specifications. Consider whether features like anti-vandal paint or easy wipe-clean surfaces will be needed to keep public-facing signage in pristine condition. These criteria won’t apply to ceiling-mounted wayfinding signs in a store, which could be affordably manufactured using recycled cardboard or thin vinyl without altering their functionality.

3. Will ongoing maintenance be required?

Illuminated or motorised signage may require replacement of internal parts, such as low-voltage bulbs or LED strips. Any signage with internal electrics must be waterproof yet breathable (so internal moisture can dissipate), which will affect the choice of materials and their finish. It also needs to be easily accessible for replacement of worn-out components – shop fronts with partially illuminated signage are never a good advert for the brand. Resist the temptation to get carried away with unnecessarily complex specifications at the design stage, and focus on products that are simple yet effective.

4. Is each component essential, or just desirable?

Most signage places function above form, which explains the prevalence of rectangular signs compared to circular or oval ones. Design can affect a product’s lifespan as well as its manufacturing costs, so make sure unusually-shaped signage in exotic materials still delivers value for money. The look and feel of premium signage can convey positive brand connotations, but it’s only worth making this investment if the results will be obvious to end users. A stylish shop front is more important than signage at the delivery entrance, for example.

5. Can the signage be redressed or refurbished?

An illuminated roof-level shop sign will typically require an aluminium frame, internal electrics and an access hatch for maintenance. However, the general public will only ever see its outer skin. Choosing signage that can be reclad without requiring a completely new frame will enable customers to specify high-quality materials in the knowledge that their expenditure represents good value for money in the long-term. Refurbishing existing signage also avoids disposal or dismantling costs, as well as reducing demand for raw materials.