The dangers of cheap channel letters

Low price vs low cost

We installed a channel letter set for a sign company; the channel letter set came from a national online company in the west. The price of the channel letter set was marginally cheaper than we had quoted, but the costs turned out much much higher

Shipping cost is high. With the increase in fuel the trucking costs can be as much as the sign. In this case the shipping cost was buried in the price (Free shipping!) but that is not real. The costs are there, they just are not listed. That shipping cost came out of the materials and workmanship and it shows.

Cheap PCB
retrofit to led with power supplies


Quality – The channel letter set had 1/8” Acrylic in the faces. The difference is not huge, 3/16” vs 1/8” – not really noticeable in smaller letters, the LEDs and power supplies were no name Chinese. They still light, not noticeable. The quality of the paint of the returns was… OK, and the fit and finish …acceptable. Overall, it looks OK, but.

During install the pattern was a little off, it was missing the level line and just a little off.

The secondary wire sheathing was rubbing off. We had problems with the LED to secondary wiring, or was it the LEDs themselves, some of the letters were not lighting consistently. They worked, then we came back and they didn’t. We would rewire the things and they worked again.

LED Quality

The LEDs, or the power supplies, or was the twist in the wire nuts? We are not sure, but probably all of them. We just could not get all the letters to light all the time. After redoing all the wiring connections behind the wall, a couple of times, we replaced the new power supplies with our own. We use the best power supplies on our own stuff for a simple reason they work and we don’t have to come back. This helped, but we still had intermittent lighting

problems. We ended up replacing all the LEDs in every letter. We used Sloan (Now we use GE) – a better LED, why? We don’t have to come back. Every wire nut was replaced, the result – It now lights consistently

Bad LEDs
Save money with a maintenance agreement
Price and value on the balance scale

Cheap Price, expensive result

The sign shop we did the install for experienced a longer than needed install (it took 3 trips). We told them; we won’t do any more installs for channel letter sets from that source.

We make channel letters. We know a thing or two about a thing or two. We use the best LEDs and Power Supplies we can, it is not a Cadillac vs Chevy issue. By using the best, we don’t have install or warranty issues. We actually have an inhouse class on how to use wire nuts, why? Well, we know that most people don’t actually do this right and they pull apart in install or over time – ours don’t – easier install and we don’t need to go back.

On this install nothing was physically broken, but sometimes a face will crack, a trim cap will delaminate, a return will get dented. When we make the letters the equipment, patters, material, and people are right

there. Need a replacement face? We can do it in a couple of hours, run it out and replace it before the installers nish with the rest, and it is an exact match, from the same acrylic sheet, the same roll of translucent vinyl, the same trim cap. It is fast and exact.

We got the install done and the customer is happy, but if we had made the channel letter set the install time would have been 1/3, the end user’s business disruption would have been minimal, the sign company frustration much much less and the sign itself, much much better than the “OK” sign that is there.

While this was an example where the cheap construction can back to bite everybody, there are advantages in dumping the shipping cost into the sign and buying locally. With shipping costs up, labor and service cost up, and delays affecting everything, often the low price of an online product do not reect the real cost.

author avatar
Developer & Designer
I, Frank Murch was born in Honolulu. Dad was an Army Captain. After his separation he drove my 2-year-old self and Mom to Colorado. After starting Kindergarten and terrorizing my parents, brother and sister for 20 years, I graduated both Kindergarten and the University of Colorado. I worked at Coors Porcelain for a time and then a series of high-tech companies in California, Pennsylvania, New York, and Tokyo. Along the way I gathered letters to drag behind my name MSEng, MBA.  30 years later I started Signs for San Diego. Signs for San Diego is a manufacturing company. Much more about building signs than other Sign Companies; it comes from my background. Technical Capability is a focus. We are a wholesale source for the industry. We want to make the best sign possible. It is in my DNA. Applying 30 years of manufacturing experience and 10 years of entrepreneurial experience make us the best sign company around. I also am of the HP management culture, Inclusion, respect and treating people as adults makes Signs for San Diego a happy place to work. We are looking for customers that match our culture, happy, better quality, and better than what is generally available