Sign Basics & Tips

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Sign Basics & Tips 2016-12-06T15:06:31+00:00

Raster vs. Vector …


The Fair Use Rule … a component of copyright law, allows individuals to use an author’s work without their direct permission. This hinders the copyright owner’s rights to a small degree, but doesn’t lessen their protection under the law. Professors, authors, printers, photographers and publishers should understand what constitutes fair use, and what spells a copyright law violation. This list is not self-contained, as most writers, students or scholars use quotes or paraphrase ideas in other published works.

The primary factor in in determining fair use is whether copyrighted materials is copied verbatim or used to create a new work, often described as transformative. Transformative works use protected material to create a new angle or take on a topic.

Most often, fair use violations occur when someone misuses an author’s words for commercial gain. Unless it’s absolutely clear that fair use applies to a publication, you should check the owner’s rights under copyright law and request written permission.


Fonts … Presentation is crucial to all forms of communication — most of all when dealing with written communication. Unlike information conveyed personally, a written message is static. It must speak for itself. To achieve truly effective communication, one must pay equal attention to content and presentation. In written communication, the fundamental presentation element is the font.

When utilized well, a font can accomplish four things: 1) focus attention, 2) enhance readability, 3) establish a tone, and 4) project an image. Your font is the first line of defense against reader apathy — and your first chance to capture an audience and create a positive, lasting impression. To be effective, fonts should be chosen carefully and strategically. The following is a brief digest of useful font guidelines.

1. Watch Your Case

The body of most documents should use upper and lowercase text. Avoid using all upper or lowercase text anywhere in your document, as both can be difficult to read. As for headings and titles, use uppercase lettering whenever prescribed or appropriate.

2. Size Does Matter

Generally accepted writing guidelines for typical documents prescribe the use of 10-12 point font for the body, 14-48 point font for primary headings and one-half of the primary heading point size for secondary headings.

3. Keep It Simple

Simplicity is a virtue in writing. Keep this in mind when choosing a font or font mix. Remember, your font is supposed to enhance your message, not upstage it. Unless it is truly warranted, tend toward simple, inconspicuous fonts like Times New Roman or Arial. Also, these fonts, among others, are TrueType — this means that what you see on the screen is exactly what you will see on the page.

4. Be Consistent

Don’t overdo it by using three or four different styles in the same document. As a rule, never use more than two fonts in the same piece. Like the saying goes, two’s company, three’s a crowd. So once you choose your fonts, be committed and use them throughout.

5. Mix It Up

Though you should use no more than two fonts in a single document, variety is sometimes needed to break the monotony. A good way to add variety is through the use of italicized, bold or underlined text. These tools, when properly used, can signify importance, emphasis or even inflection. Just remember to use them sparingly.

6. Match Your Medium

The goal of every project is different, as is the intended audience. Accordingly, there isn’t one best font or style. The characteristics of your project should determine which font is right. When it comes to style, the above should be treated as guidelines, not gospel. If you need uppercase text, use it. If you need as additional font for a breakout section, add it. Ultimately, the most important thing is that your presentation matches your medium.


The general rules for signage covered by the law are these:

All signs must have non-glare backgrounds and characters. (Exception is for reflective parking and other traffic signs.) Glare and reflection are a major problem for persons with vision impairments, and particularly for the elderly.

All signs that contain visual characters must have a high dark to light (or vice versa) contrast between characters and their background. The important issue is not color, but lightness and darkness. Thus, a sign with very light gray letters on a charcoal gray background would be fine, but a sign with red letters on a black background would not.

All signs must have “easy to read” typefaces. The rules are different for signs that identify rooms and spaces, and signs that direct and inform. That’s because persons who are “functionally blind,” that is, have no usable vision, are able to locate doors, and therefore can locate signs adjacent to doors that identify them, but have no consistent way to find directional and information signs that could be located anywhere along corridors.

Directional and informational signs can use upper and lower case letters (recommended by many experts for visual readability) and “simple” serif typefaces of a non-decorative nature. No condensed or extended typefaces are allowed. Strokes are of medium weight, not too bold or too thin. The size of the letters is dictated by the distance of the sign from the expected position of the sign reader. Signs high upon walls or overhead must have 3 inch high characters (measured by the uppercase character).

Signs that identify rooms and spaces are to be located adjacent to the door they identify so they can be located by persons who are functionally blind. For the most part, one sign is used by both tactile and visual readers, so there are compromises to assist tactile readers. However, it is possible to use two separate signs with the same information. Tactile signs require uppercase characters in sans serif typefaces. (Helvetica is not required, other sans-serif typefaces can be used.) The characters can be from 5/8 inch to 2 inches high. The Braille must accompany the characters (below the characters) and must be Contracted Braille (formerly called Grade 2 Braille). The signs are installed 48 inches minimum from the baseline of the lowest raised character and 60 inches maximum from the baseline of the highest raised character. If pictograms are used to identify the space (example: restrooms with gender pictograms), they must be in a six inch high clear field and accompanied by a tactile character and Braille label below the field.

There are four symbols that stand for accessibility. One is the familiar International Symbol of Access, or “wheelchair symbol.” It’s used generally to show that persons with mobility impairments can access entrances, restrooms, or pathways. Three are specifically for persons with hearing impairments. The “ear” symbol is the International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss, and is used to show the availability of an assistive listening system. The “keyboard” symbol stands for a TTY or text telephone. The “phone” symbol with sound waves stands for the availability of a volume controlled phone.