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!

Retail Signage List

If you’re starting a new retail business this year, you may be wondering, “What kinds of signs do I really need to budget for?”   We thought we’d supply a handy list of must-have signs for a typical retail environment.

1.  Exterior fascia – This is the main sign with your business name or The Italian Centre Shop Sign lit up at night.logo on it.  Hopefully your name gives people an inkling of what you do, but if not, make sure it is somehow clear by using a few descriptive words or a tagline that also become part of the sign.  You should have one or more of these signs to face each main direction of traffic flow.

2.  Open for Business  This may not be applicable if you’re locating inside a shopping mall, but in almost any other environment, a prominent “OPEN” (or “VACANCY” sign if you’re a hotel/motel) is extremely helpful and will attract business.  Many stores use neon or lit LED signs to attract attention to OPEN signs as they are the most visible.

3. Business Hours – This should be posted visibly to the exterior doors.    If this can be lit, even better, since when you are closed with lights off, it may be hard to read by a person from within a car.   It’s also a great idea to have the sign data changeable, for holiday or seasonal hours, or if you decide you need to change your hours from time to time.   

4. Product Category Signs – Use signs inside your store to tell people what is in the store – for example “bicycles”, “helmets”,  “menswear” etc.  These interior signs ensure people will get a faster understanding of what your offerings are, and they will be more likely to investigate multiple areas instead of simply coming for the one product that spurred them to visit.

5. Directional Signs – These include instructional signs such as “Place Orders” and “Pick Up Orders”, or “Customer Service” and “Washrooms” signs.  Map out your business and ensure you have enough directional signs.   

6.  Safety Signs – Signs marking exits, fire escape/stairwells, push/pull doorways, fire extinguishers, “slippery when wet” and other areas should be properly placed.   If you’re concerned about safety or access around display racks, we do encourage you to have your site inspected by City Fire Inspectors.

7.  Parking Signs – Clearly mark where customers of your business are permitted to park, and for what duration.   This will ensure your parking spaces are maximizing their benefit to your business.

Pylon Sign8.  Pylon Signs – If you can get a panel for your business within a multi-tenant pylon sign, or even get a dedicated pylon sign that attracts vehicle traffic, this will be a great benefit to your business, as it is very much like having your own billboard.   It is also a good idea to refresh a pylon sign with a new design every few years, passers-by will often take notice of something new in their visual spectrum.  Also, design of multi-tenant panels is tricky (since your business name and logo must compete with others in the sign) so do ask us for assistance in design if you do not already have a graphic designer on deck.

9. Decorative Signs  Beautiful lifestyle graphics are superior silent “salespeople” that help your merchandise create a compelling image and appeal to various categories of customers.   If you’ve got some wonderful photography, or can access it through brands you might carry, we encourage you to create large, photographic imagery that creates a lifestyle to appeal to your customers.  Screens to display product videos are also an excellent idea.

10. Philosophy and Policy Signs – Your mission, your history, your customer service guarantee, your environmental philosophy – these are all messages that will set you apart from the competition.  Consider making signs containing these messages and placing them proudly for all to see. Philosophy Sign

11. Sandwich board signs –   If walk-by traffic is a priority, consider some sandwich boards.  These are free-standing A-frame signs that can be easily moved outside set up to direct traffic.  If you use “chalk paint” you can also rub off and change the messaging using colourful chalk!

12. Directory Signs – If you’ve got a big, multi-departmental store, consider a floor map or layout near the entryways, allowing people to easily locate key product categories in your store.    This will enhance the customer experience and once again give people a better understanding of the full range of merchandise you offer.

With these in mind, we at Topmade would be very happy to help you build a budget, and produce signage for your entire retail environment.  Please contact us today to start planning.


Marquee Signs

Ah, the vintage marquee sign.  Marquees are truly the pinnacle of beauty in the sign world, as they become a centrepiece of beauty on any street, adding character, style and timeless attractiveness.

Marquee Sign without letterboard
A marquee itself is a protruding structure over an entrance way to a theatre, performance venue or hotel.    A marquee sign is generally an illuminated sign that is used to  announce the name of the production or performers who are appearing for an upcoming show, as in this example (NOTE: this is a vintage sign in Calgary not constructed by Topmade). Their evolution to a trapezoidal shape from a basic rectangle also allowed them to more easily be noticed by drive-by traffic.

Theatre Marquee Letterboard Sign in Calgary

Marquees have a long history, going back to circus tents in the 1700s, and are thought to have gained popularity on buildings when automobile transportation became more widespread in the early 20th century.   Where guests might arrive to attend a show by car, the marquee would give them protection from the elements.  

Marquee Carriage House Sign

Marquee signs are comprised of three main elements:

  • The architectural structure.  This is usually a roof-like apparatus, protruding from the building structure over the main entryway.  If you’d like such a structure and the building does not currently have one, you’ll need to consult an architect about having one constructed.

Franklin Theatre Marquee Sign

  • The lit sign fascias.  Today, lit sign fascias these can be fully electronic and full colour (see Franklin Theatre for an electronic example), or simply backlit boxes with letter board racks that can be changed by hand.
  • The decorative trim lights  Exposed bulbs (known as Edison bulbs, which can actually be LED lights that look like traditional Edison bulbs) are popular, but there are many ways to trim around a marquee.

With this in mind, while you are imagining your stunning marquee sign, keep in mind a few of our recommendations:

1. Allow for the largest letter height you can  – readability of the marquee is critical.  If you can’t fit everything, you can always make room for a website address for details.

2.  Realize that you will have to constantly change letters, clean and maintain your sign.  A marquee is a centerpiece of any street, so it can certainly make a lasting impression about the entire neighbourhood.  It is a responsibility that should be taken seriously.  If you simply don’t have the staff to handle it, you should definitely consider a maintenance agreement from Topmade.

Casino Marquee3. One final thought about marquee signs.  Remember that if you indeed create a beautiful marquee, hundreds or thousands of people may take photos of themselves in front of your sign or building over the years.  These photos could be shared in social media and create wonderful free publicity, and beautiful memories. 

We hope you will design your marquee sign with maximum “wow” effect, since it will undoubtedly be the visual centrepiece of your business, and quite possibly a centrepiece of your retail neighbourhood.   Be sure to visit or call us here at Topmade for design recommendations.

Event Signage

Event Signs CalgaryDo you have the right signage for your event?

When attending an event, there are many kinds of signs you should consider preparing to manage the crowds and flow of traffic. These can be useful for any event, from a family wedding to a corporate party.  In fact, few event rental companies, who typically rent event tents or furniture, include or offer signs, so be sure you review our list below to cover off event needs.

  • Overall Branding Signs – Got a stage you’d like to light up?  Name your event and put it on a large banner, board or display. (Even if it’s a family reunion).  Just reminding people you are running a branded event gives it more credibility, because it has a name to which people can refer.  It also creates elevates it as potentially a recurring event.
  • Reserved Seating – To avoid awkward moments of needing to move people out of assigned areas, make sure you use reserved seating signs, and specify the names to which that seating is assigned.
  • Nametags – Nametags are another great way to avoid awkward moments – ushers, key guests, and host/hostesses should wear tags invite people to ask them questions and help identify people who are “working” and versus other guests.  (Note: distinctly coloured shirts are also a good idea for staff).
  • Washroom signs – You can never have too many washroom/directional signs.  Be sure to place them in highly visible locations and mark separate Men’s and Ladies’ locations.
  • Payment area signs – “Please Pay Here”  – If you’re accepting money, be sure people understand how and where to make payments.  It also sets the tone that, for example, food or drinks are not free, so people realize this before they place orders for those items.
  • Payment Types accepted (Visa/MC/cash only) – This will help guests avoid frustration at having made their way through lineups, only to discover you cannot accept their method of payment.
  • Line-up Signs – Clearly, signs on stands and barriers will help manage the flow, avoiding blocking doors or access to key areas.  By creating a floorplan of your event carefully, you can ensure you have enough, and anticipate how to move and adjust areas where traffic may become backed up.
  • Pricing Signs – Create pricing boards so people are not upset or surprised by the pricing you have set for various items at your event.  Pricing boards inevitably improve sales, because few people will get in line to pay an unknown amount.
  • Guestbook Signs – If you have a guestbook, it can be easily forgotten without an obvious sign.  What’s more, if you’re using it to collect email addresses, it could be a vital part of your follow-through/thank-you post-event strategy.
  • Coat Check – Coats, hats or boots can create a mess at tables and take up chair/seating space unnecessarily.  If you can create a coat check area (and of course, post a price, if there is one, or mark it as “FREE” or “BY DONATION”) and mark it with bold signage, it will imply to people that they ought to check their coats.
  • Congratulations Signs with Names of Guests of Honour – Sometimes, not everyone attending will know the guests of honour, and this can create awkward moments.  If you have an important sponsor or guest of honour, consider posting photographic signage of them so that people know who they are, and can acknowledge them as such.
  • Communications / Key Messages – What was the key purpose of your event?   If it was to let the world know your philosophy of life, get people to appreciate what you stand for, or to make a marketing statement about your products, then signage, perhaps built into a creative display of some sort, is a great, silent way to communicate this while guest are mingling.  Not everyone is a great networker, so giving them something to read while they circulate around the room is a wonderful way to get your message across.
  • Legal Signs – Is there any risk involved in your event?   In this case, any legal signs should be included in a prominent area.  If you are serving alcohol, providing a dance lesson, or even taking images that might be posted to a website, be sure to include some version of  “This activity is….at your own risk” –
  • Signs to Acknowledge Sponsors – Finally, if you got any sponsors to fund your event, signage is an excellent way to acknowledge them.  We’ve all been in the position where we’ve forgotten to thank someone in a speech…with signage, you can cover your bases and even take event photos so that sponsors are aware of the exposure they received. You could consider separate signs for each sponsor, or a main sponsor board.  In the former case, this allows you to have a “bar sponsor” – in which case the sign is over the bar, for example.

Need to get these, or any other signs produced?  Please contact us for your event; we can help you create a budget for your signs and get everything produced on time, made to order.

How Big Should A Sign Be?

There are some best practices when choosing letter height for maximum visibility.  The United States Sign Council has published quite a technical study on the subject that we recommend you use as a complete reference guide to signage, as well as a sign legibility guide.

They provide an interesting 10-step calculation method as follows, that accounts for speed of travel, viewing distance, and viewer reaction time. There is also a lookup table to estimate viewer reaction time based on speed of travel and size of sign.


Calculating Sign Size

For more on this calculation method, CLICK HERE to view the whole study.

With this in mind, we have one final thought – we recommend to always get the largest sign you can afford or that your landlord will allow.  Prominent signs always maximize your brand awareness and walk-in traffic.

Contact Us today to assist you in ordering your sign.

Where To Position Your Signs

There are no hard and fast rules about positioning your sign, but we’ve put our heads together to give you a few insights:

  • Are customers walking or driving? If customers are walking in a mall or an outdoor shopping area, you will need signs at eye level, on any doors/ windows (avoid the “which is the right door?” problem), and if the sidewalk is narrow, perpendicular to oncoming foot traffic. You can also try sandwich boards if they do not block foot traffic, and if allowed in your community shopping area. If your location will be viewable by driving traffic, ensure it is viewable (preferably perpendicular) to traffic in both directions and is within eye-lines of both trucks and cars (up to height of traffic lights generally best).
  • Where will customers likely have to park? If customers are likely to park far away from your store, consider signs that lead them to you and encourage them to visit you. These might be in an elevator, or walkway, or food court near you. Ensure you appear correctly in any directory panels or electronic directory board categories in which you qualify. Consult your landlords to see what is appropriate and allowable.
  • How will they navigate in-store? Once in your store, customers must easily be able to get a “lay of the land.” Include a directory at the entrance if you have lots of departments/features, or easily visible signage categorizing your merchandise for ease of location. If you expect people to shop for longer periods of time, include directional signage for washrooms. If you expect line-ups, ensure you have signs to direct people. Of course, ensure exits are marked for safety, and doors for direction of opening.

Here are a few examples:

Sandblasted Wood Sign

Driving customers need to see signs from access roads.

Washroom Sign

Washroom signs need to be overhead, and perpendicular to walking traffic.

Remember – visibility is the key – and it may take years until you perfect it within your location. Do your best, keep optimizing, and we’ll be there to assist you every step of the way.

Any more thoughts on where to position signs? CONTACT US – we’d love to assist you.

What Makes A Great Sign?

Signage generally serves one or more functions: to attract, direct or inform. Great signage does enough of all three functions, making your customers feel interested and secure enough to be comfortable buying from you.

  1. Attract – Without considering what the sign says – the sign should be appealing and eye catching. Lighting, colour, size and position height should maximize visibility. Remember, the image or graphic will set the personality of the business. Consider these example signs:FasciaSign1-pLEDSign320130927_203015
  2. Direct – The sign should show people how to access your business. If you have a shop around the back of a building, tell people how to get at it. Include further directional signs for any elements the customers may be seeking – the washrooms, the exit door, the nursing room, the parking lot, the elevators, the stairs, and of course, signs that help to segment your product lines into intuitive groupings. The following are some ways to do this:
    • By Brand – only use this is the brand is actively known and sought by customers. Sign should carry the Brand’s logo to enhance recognizability.
    • By Purpose – for example, all cooking utensils together. Sign should describe the category “Cooking Utensils”
    • By Customer Type – for example, kids toys together. Sign should describe customer “For Kids”
  3. Inform – Signs should help the customers make decisions, and be clear in their usage. The offer a great opportunity to sell when salespeople are not present. For example:
    • Discounts: “All winter merchandise – 40% off”
    • Products: “100% wool, made in Canada.”
    • Add-ons: “Inquire about our catering services.”
    • Cross-Promotion: “Visit us online at or on twitter @topmade”

There is a balance between proper signage use and looking too “salesy” – and it truly depends on the kind of brand you desire.

We strongly recommend working with a professional graphic designer to develop your logo and brand guidelines prior to developing your signage. This will help to keep your brand consistent and meaningful to your audience, and help your signs to attract, inform and direct the right customers to your door.

Have any further questions about signage? CONTACT US today.

How Many Signs Do You Need?

Some businesses are littered with too much signage, while others lack it, frustrating the customer. Signage is a part of a customer’s “good service” experience, and needs to be in balance. Here are 3 ways to figure out how much signage your location requires:

  • Can it be found by driving or walking by in any direction? Produce signs that will catch the attention of all passing cars in either direction. This could be one, two or more signs.
  • Are people asking for directions? If so, you may need more signs. Pay attention to what directions people ask for — for example seeking to find the washrooms, escalators, or the ballet slippers. Any such questions mean that another sign, or a more descriptive sign, should be placed in another location. Master, searchable directory boards are another option for stores with great numbers of products.
  • Are there traffic issues? Check tills and parkades – if people are lining up to block the flow of traffic, signage can be used to redirect the problem more appropriately.
  • Are people asking other product-related questions frequently? Signs could be used to answer these questions in strategic locations. For example – “Products Do Not Contain Nuts” or “Imported from USA”
  • Are cars driving up to your door to stop and try to read your posted hours? A lit “Open” sign may do the trick.

It is impossible to say an exact number needed in your retail store, but most retail businesses need at least 10 signs for every 2000 sq.ft. Be sure to do your planning and homework carefully to get all you need! And keep your ears open to the above indicators of when you need a few more.

What is the Secret to Successful Signage?

At Topmade, there are 5 keys we consider to make your signage solution successful:

1. Graphic Design – Never “skip” getting a professional logo designed. Professional graphic designers know that logos need to be readable from afar, use striking colour combinations, and interesting and memorable icons that reflect what you do or stand for. It takes years of training to become a graphic designer, so unless you have that yourself, go to a pro – it’s well worth it.

2. Visibility- Size of your sign matters, and if it’s an outdoor sign, we always recommend illumination. We also recommend you get the biggest your landlord (and city permitting authority) will allow. Signs are such a powerful marketing tool, you might as well get the biggest you can afford.

3. Positioning – Always examine the walking and driving traffic patterns to ensure you get the most “eyeball” attention. Take photos and create mockups of where and how you could position your sign.

4. Amount – Make sure you’ve ordered enough signs to direct traffic from as many directions as possible. This will always maximize your walk-in and drive-in traffic.

5. Quality – Carefully consider the how long you need your sign to last.  At Topmade, we almost never need to return to fix or repair signs — we already know how windy  and snowy (not to mention hail) Alberta can be!  Beware of cheap materials and lighting solutions that do not last….give us a call to learn more.

Are you ready to order your sign?  Click here to give us your order information.

Do Signs Actually Impact Sales?

A market research firm in Calgary recently told us about an interesting signage study they conducted.

The survey involved visiting businesses in a specific part of the city to determine the approximate amount of walk-by traffic each day, and compare it to each business’ storefront signage.


Based on averages in surrounding cafes and other businesses, it was determined that indeed, signage – its size and prominence had a lot to do with attracting people into various shops.  It generally appeared that the larger the signs, the greater the walk-in traffic on a store-by-store basis, even though there were variations between various kinds of businesses. Those with the largest signs often considered 100% of their client base to be “walk in” and those with smaller/non-existent signs were largely selling to internet audiences with little walk-in.


In short, there is no reason not to have the biggest signs you can get to represent your business, especially if you see benefit in getting walk-in traffic.  It’s a personal billboard that says, “Hey we exist” – and you might as well use it to your maximum advantage.