The Topmade Blog

Commercial Signage Tips

You want your sign to Attract, Direct and Inform your target audience. It is a message to the world; be sure it gets noticed. Who hasn’t been driving down the street, stopped at a store and made a purchase, merely because they noticed the sign?

Once you’ve decided what you want to say, there are a few things you should reflect on before you visit Topmade. Here are some considerations in designing a great commercial sign.



Be aware of your competitors’ marketing strategy and try to make yours distinct. Your sign is often the first impression of your brand– whether luxury, budget conscious, high-tech or otherwise. If you allow your business to look like a carbon copy of another business, then you’re subtly telling people you’re a lesser version of the original.



Tell the world who you are!  Ever gone by a sign and wondered, “Geez, what do they do?” For certain businesses, there may be some mystery they want to evoke, but vagueness is a real hindrance for the vast majority of companies. The two primary elements are the business name and logo. Obviously, when you design your signage you should have these two elements solidified. But if for some reason your name and logo do not really convey what it is you do, consider a tagline or imagery that further clarifies the message. A sign is a true opportunity to bring in new traffic. Even if your business is a sophisticated consulting firm or highly specialized technical service, you never know who could be walking by, and whether they have friends or family members who might fit within your precise target market.



Choose your colours carefully. Your colour choice will help your commercial sign get noticed, read and remembered. Give some careful thought to what colours fit your business’ brand and what will be noticed from across the street. A poor colour choice can make it difficult to read your sign or even notice it in the first place, while compelling colour is integral to brand identity– think of Coca-Cola red & white, or McDonald’s golden arches. On the other hand, if you have a logo that just doesn’t read well, or a corporate colour scheme that won’t lend well to your sign, you might consider doing a natural treatment (e.g. wood or metallic) or converting your sign into black and white.

Another important consideration: trendy colours. Some business owners may feel compelled to convey their personality via signs that use current, edgy colour trends, but care should be taken to consider longevity when designing static signage. Today’s “colour of the year” could be tomorrow’s eyesore.



Apart from colour, a sign’s contrast will usually determine its readability and is a huge factor in engaging the attention of passersby. Contrast refers to the difference between light and dark, and this can be dramatically affected by how the sign is lit and placed on its intended background.

Most signs will include either text or graphics in the foreground, with a continuous background colour. Contrast between these two elements is critical to the viewer’s retention of the content. Pairing similar colours will decrease a sign’s readability, but a weak colour contrast can be strengthened with outlines, drop shadows around the foreground elements, or lighting. The reflective properties of the chosen materials must also be considered.


Font Choice

As we’ve mentioned recently, a clear and simple statement can be rendered ineffective with a poor choice of font. Pick out a font type that is easy to read, and consider the distance from which passersby are likely to see the sign. Steer clear of font types that are difficult to see from a distance, and make sure the size of your font is large enough to read.


Graphics and Images

A key asset to a commercial sign is beautiful eye-catching graphics and images. Pairing graphics and/or images with your main message can instantly bring focus to the product or service you’re offering. Your image should also be a size that can be easily seen and identified from a distance, and not weave in so closely to the text that it confuses text with image.



Simply put, the larger the letter, the easier it is to read. We almost always recommend using the biggest sign your landlord or municipality will allow.  After all, it is a billboard, right at your location, for which you need not pay monthly fees!

The size of your sign is especially important if you’re creating roadside signage or signs that will be displayed at a significant distance. A good rule of thumb is ten feet per inch of letter height. Say you have lettering that is one inch high and clearly legible at a distance of ten feet; at a distance of 100 feet the lettering would have to be 10 inches high to achieve the same impact.



Just like font, type size and image size, you should think about where your sign is being placed. You may already be working with strict size specifications. If not, make sure your commercial sign is large enough to get noticed and to accommodate all your design elements (i.e. name, logo, headline, graphics, etc.).



In this technology-centred world, we’re often talking about advertising and marketing online and especially over mobile phones. But when it comes to really grabbing people’s attention with immediacy, sometimes a real, physically impressive, solid sign can be your best bet. It says, “we’re here in the flesh” and helps to build customer trust, so it’s worth getting right.

Extensive design experience is just one reason Topmade is Calgary’s leading full-service sign manufacturer. Give us a call today!

How to Choose a Colour Palette for Your Sign

In our last blog, we talked about typography and how your font choice can impact your sign’s legibility, as well as its visual appeal. Today we’re going to explore an equally important design element – colour.

Artists can spend years exploring how to expertly manipulate the power of colour. But if a career in the fine arts isn’t part of your life plan, don’t worry. By reviewing a few key concepts of basic colour theory, you will be able to make more informed decisions about an integral aspect of your sign’s design. And, if you’re working with a graphic designer, having a good grasp on design vocabulary can work wonders to reduce the revision process.

The Power of Colour

When we appreciate great signs, we tend to focus on the clever wording or the neat imagery. In comparison, as long as the sign isn’t hurting our eyes, we might not actively pay much attention to the colour choices. However, that does not mean colour should be underestimated. Its true power rests in how it subconsciously makes us feel.

Due to cultural, historical, or personal associations, colours have multiple meanings and can elicit strong responses. For example, in Europe and North America, purple represents royalty and riches. But why is that? Until 1856, purple dye was very difficult and costly to make. Soon, purple fabric became a symbol of the wealthiest class. When Cadbury, a chocolate company located in the UK, uses purple as a packaging colour, they’re sending a clear message to their consumers: Cadbury chocolate is rich, high quality, and decadent.

At the same time, purple can mean something very different in other parts of the world. In Brazil, for instance, purple is worn with black when mourning. So if you’re planning to expand your business globally, it might be worthwhile to investigate the various meanings of your chosen colours thoroughly before using them.

For a comprehensive guide to the meaning of colours in different cultures, check out this infographic by Information is Beautiful.

In short, colours are imbued with meaning. They are also a useful tool when planning your design’s composition. A carefully chosen colour, like a bright yellow against a backdrop of greys, can balance an asymmetrical design or guide the viewers eyes along a predetermined path.

Basic Colour Terminology

  • Hue is the name of a colour.
  • Saturation is the intensity of a colour. A vivid colour has a high saturation, while a dull colour is desaturated.
  • Brightness is how light or dark a colour is.
  • In addition to portraying specific meanings, colours can also feel warm, neutral and cool. Warm colours, like red, appear to pop in a composition whereas cool colours, like blue, recede.

The Colour Wheel and Colour Harmonies

Choosing one colour might not seem intimidating, but how do you decide on an appealing palette of two or three? In general, it’s best to keep colour combinations simple. This means there should be a primary colour – think Home Depot’s orange or Snapchat’s yellow – followed by a few, less dominant, accent colours.

For these difficult decisions, we often rely on a colour wheel. Using the colour wheel, you can easily identify sets of colours that work well together. These successful colour relationships are referred to as “colour harmonies.”

six colour wheel diagrams of the different colour harmonies

  • Complementary: Two colours that are opposites on the colour wheel. These colours will have a strong contrast with each other and the result is dramatic.
  • Split Complementary: Like complementary but a little subtler. A primary colour is picked and the two supporting colours will be adjacent to the complementary colour of the primary.
  • Double Complementary/Rectangle: 4-colour combination that consists of two complementary pairs. Because this colour scheme features a lot of contrasts, set one colour as the primary, and use the secondary colours sparingly.
  • Analogous: Two or more colours that are beside each other on the colour wheel. The colours are similar; so, it creates a soothing and natural combination.
  • Triadic: Three colours that are spaced evenly around a colour wheel. This variety in colour leads to a vibrant colour combination. To tame the results, two of the colours should be used sparingly.
  • Monochromatic: Varieties of saturation and lightness of a single hue are used to create a colour scheme.

Colour harmonies are a great way to form a pleasing visual but don’t be afraid to break the “rules” when it suits the goal of the design. For example, if you’re hoping to disrupt the status quo with your sign, deliberately choosing discordant colours can shock and excite the viewer.

If you’re not sure where to start, is a great online resource. You can browse their large library of community-made colour palettes for inspiration.

Colour and Your Brand

Designing your company’s sign is a great opportunity to really consider how colour can play a major role in your brand strategy. Once you’ve decided on a colour palette that supports your company’s message and tone, why not set down some brand guidelines? Ensuring colour consistency across the rest of your print materials will speed up future design projects and project a professional image.

We hope that this discussion in colour theory has been helpful and, if you’d like further guidance, Topmade offers expert signage consulting to help you decide what kind of sign is right for you.

Additional Sources:

  • Stone, T. L., Adams, S., & Morioka, N. (2006). Color design workbook: A real-world guide to using color in graphic design. Gloucester, Mass: Rockport Publishers.

Typography and Your Signage

Cast metal type pieces of the alphabet in a variety of font styles

Driving around town we see all kinds of signs, good and bad. Sometimes you’ll see some really questionable typographical choices clouding the whole point of a sign: to convey information. A little knowledge of basic typography can go a long way toward improving your signage.

Legibility is the first consideration in designing a sign or graphic, particularly if your goal is to direct customers or employees around your place of business. When time is of the essence– like finding an emergency exit, or maybe the washroom—elaborate, difficult-to-read fonts will be a negative experience for your visitors and can reflect poorly on your organization. Fancy type can be hard on the eyes, especially from a distance. Typographical choices should complement the purpose of the sign (informing, directing or attracting) and allow for being readable at a reasonable distance.

A building sign that reads "Private Property - No Trespassing" in a hard-to-read script font

When not properly used, font, size and colour can confuse the message. Random changes in style can be confusing as well. It is important to find a consistent typeface to use throughout your business; this should be part of your brand identity. Select a font that effectively communicates your message, image and design needs. A nice clean type style choice will get your message across, not just more rapidly, but more memorably.

There are three main categories of typeface: Serif, Sans Serif, and Script. Serifs are short finishing strokes at the end of each stroke in a letterform. They are sometimes called “feet.” A large body of text is easier to read if it is in a serif font because these little ornamental effects help guide the eye from one letter to the next. This is why the publishers of books, magazines and newspapers use them almost exclusively. As for Sans Serif, obviously, sans means “without.” Sans Serif fonts are commonly used for headlines or titles. Their clean, simple appearance helps them stand out.

Script refers to typeface that mimics hand-lettered writing by pen, brush or pencil. It can add a touch of elegance in small doses, but can quickly destroy a design if overused. Script fonts are not intended for body copy or heavy usage; using them that way will detract from your message. Think of it as decoration; it’s meant to attract the eye, but too much decoration and you won’t know where to look! In other words, you may have a large box of jewelry, but you wouldn’t wear it all at once… would you?

When wanting to emphasize your message, sometimes the first impulse is to put it in all-capital letters. This is the print equivalent of shouting. While it might be effective for something short and urgent (think ATTENTION or DANGER), for longer messages it can actually make the message harder to take in. This is because of the way our brains process visual information; we don’t just read a stream of letters, we read words at a time– phrases, too– and these have “coastlines”. Putting a word in all-caps takes away its distinctive shape, making it just a rectangular letter stream. The longer your message is, the more important it is to utilize lowercase letters.

Kerning refers to the space between letters. This usually requires some tweaking in titles, headlines and signage. Letters that have verticals next to each other (e.g. N, H) require more space between them to appear balanced, while neighbouring curves (e.g. O, C) require less space. The least space is needed between letters with lots of white space on their side edges (e.g. A, T, V). Getting the right kerning to achieve visual balance is really an art form, but even more important than visual balance is just being understood! If you’re not careful, “L I” can be seen as “U”, “c l” can be seen as “d” and so on, leading to endless embarrassing possibilities.

A sign in a grocery store that uses all capital letters and incorrect spacing, so the words are difficult to read


  •  If you’re using more than one font, make sure the types contrast. For instance, you could use a sans serif caption over a body of text in a serif font, but you’ll want to avoid mixing two slightly different serif fonts.
  • Use script fonts sparingly, and never ever use all-caps in a script font.
  • Stick to a unified font style as part of your brand.
  • Don’t use more than two to three fonts in a sign design.
  • Be clear, be concise and resist the urge to use a fancy but hard to read font. When in doubt, keep it simple and remember that less is more.
  • Try to be mindful of how your sign might appear at a glance. Squinting helps.

Sometimes typography seems to be an afterthought, but at Topmade we use it to help make your message clear and memorable. Give us a call to find out how we can improve on yours.