Sign Installations: Fluorescent-to-LED illumination retrofits

The sign’s dimensions, depth and face material will affect the choice of products to illuminate it.
Photo courtesy Vistex Graphics

The tools for the job
Another important consideration before undertaking a T12-to-LED retrofit is putting together all the required materials in advance of the on-site installation, including tools, wire and wire nuts.

Some of the aforementioned LED ‘sticks’ come preassembled with wire whips, making it easier to tie them with enough wire back to the power supply. These certainly save time on-site.

When using a ladder or carpet system, on the other hand, where some assembly will be required, it is a good idea to do as much of this work as possible in the shop, before going on-site. Assembly is always easier in the shop than on a truck or out in the elements.

For smaller, single-sided signs, signmakers may well prefer to install separate ‘peel and stick’ LED modules on the back of the existing cabinet, rather than use a preassembled system. In these cases, it is still important to have designed the layout in advance, based on the sign’s dimensions and face material. And choosing higher-power modules, especially those with wide optics, will be beneficial in reducing the sheer amount of on-site peeling and sticking.

“There are now simple LED solutions for single-face cabinets that can light a 6 x 6-m (20 x 20-ft) surface from a depth of 150 mm (5.9 in.) with just one 6-W module,” says Carlos Vilanova, owner of Global-Lux, an LED system provider based in Boucherville, Que.

Another tip before installing any peel-and-stick LED modules is to make sure the surface is free of debris and has been cleaned with a non-oil-based solution. It is also a good idea to attach the LEDs mechanically or with a minimum of silicon to the back of the sign, wherever possible.

A single 6-W module can now light a 6 x 6-m sign face from a depth of 150 mm.
Photo courtesy Global Lux

Calculating value
Many LED vendors can also equip signmakers with the tools to help sell retrofit jobs to their customers. The more understanding there is of the value a conversion can bring, the better the chance of closing the sale.

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In addition to outlining some of the obvious benefits of LEDs, it is a good idea to calculate the overall return on investment (ROI). Online tools allow users to input the number of LEDs, the hours of illumination per day and local electricity prices, then produce a summary of the relevant energy and maintenance savings. They can also help when determining the markup of material costs.

There are many fluorescent lamps still illuminating sign cabinets today, which represent a major opportunity to maximize the use of existing assets. And it is certainly more profitable to dedicate service teams to installing entire LED retrofits rather than simply relamping signs with more fluorescent bulbs.

J. Bryan Vincent is a partner at Principal LED, which manufactures LED systems for the sign industry. For more information, visit


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