What does a sign cost?

What does a sign cost?

Over the years I have often been asked what a sign costs, and my standard, laughing reply, is between 5 and 500,000.

This generally has the ‘asker’ smiling with me as they press home the question with a ‘no, seriously’!

The issue at hand is that the people that ask this open ended question very seldom give me enough information to even make an educated guess.

As such, what follows is a condensed list of factors will affect what a sign costs:

  1. SIZE

    In general, the larger the sign the more it will cost, with the exception of when a sign – no matter the size – is decorated with cut vinyl where the letters are very small.


    What a sign costs is directly related to the design of the sign. A simple sign will generally cost less than an elaborate sign.


    While it may seem obvious that different materials will not all cost the same, what makes this an important factor in pricing signs is that when the average client looks at a picture of how ‘their’ sign will look, they may not have any idea of the materials that will be used to manufacture the sign. While one supplier may quote for say a white, premium Plexiglas backing (fairly costly cast plastic), another may quote for a (low cost) treated metal backing. On a standard size paper page both will look about the same, HOWEVER, the final message that the sign projects and hence it’s effectiveness as an investment, is vastly different, as is the cost.


    An illuminated sign will cost more than a non-illuminated sign! For illuminated signs, how the sign is illuminated (front or rear illuminated, halo effect, energy efficient or ‘old’ technology illumination) can have a HUGE impact on the the cost of the sign.


    I believe all custom made signs require a labour component. The amount of time, and the related cost, will, amongst other factors, depend on the difficulty of the work. So while a small sign generally takes less time to make than a larger sign, if the small sign is very ‘technical’, it could take a lot longer to produce. Another factor with labour is that often, certain sign types have a basic labour component and will take the same amount of time to make, regardless of the size, (until a certain size is reached).

    Sorry, I know this sounds confusing, so here is an example. A box sign made with material A size 1,000 mm x 1,000 mm x 150 mm deep will take say two hours to produce, and a box sign 3,000 mm x 1,800 mm x 150 mm deep made with the same material will ALSO take two hours to make, because they both have the same basic processes.


    What a sign costs is also influenced by the location of the installation in relation to the manufacturing plant. The further the sign company has to travel, the more the sign is going to cost.


    Site work is generally the largest ‘unknown’ factor. Amongst the factors that influence time on site are influenced factors such as :

    * The type of ‘wall’ (concrete vs brick vs wood vs dry wall etc) that the sign is going to be placed against.

    * If the sign is to go on poles, the make-up of the ground (rocky vs clay etc).

    * The location of the sign on the wall (will ladders or scaffolding or other specialist equipment and / or skills be required).

    *Are there any obstacles that may be in the way of the installation team and any other unforeseen circumstances.


    While this may seem to be a strange ‘cost’ factor, a client’s budget can also have an impact on the cost of a sign, as what the sign costs will be factored into what the client is looking for and what they are prepared to pay to get what they want. If the client is looking for an elaborate sign, with special design features and that require specific, non standard materials, this will impact the cost.


    The cost of the sign is also impacted by a number of what I referred to as “hidden factors”. Anyone ‘can’ make a cheap sign, [no idea why they would want to] but as stated by Larry Elliott Design (http://www.elliott-design.net/sign_costs.htm ) the cost of a cheap sign is not measured by the amount that is paid for the sign but rather by the loss of business because the sign projects and inappropriate image, which is unquantifiable.

    Some of the hidden factors include:

    *Insurance: Does the sign company carry insurance for incidents that may occur while the sign is being transported and erected erected? This insurance will be built into the cost.

    *Guarantee: Some guarantees are not worth the paper they are written on. Is your prospective supplier’s all the guarantee realistic. If you are paying less for the sign than it costs to come out and see what the problem is, chances are the supplier will default on the guarantee. The cost of a legitimate guarantee will be built into the cost of the sign.

    *Advice: As the old adage goes. Free advice is often worth less than the costs. If a sign company is giving you good advice the cost is going to be included somewhere in the cost of the sign. Are you looking for advice or just a supplier? Is the sign company acting as a sign consultant or merely as an order taker. If acting as a consultant, expect this to be factored into the cost of the sign, even if it is at a HUGE discount to a dedicated sign consultant.

    *DesignAre you using an outside design company to design your signs? If so, are you paying for that service. So if you are using the sing company to design, why would you not be prepared to pay for the same service. Once again, if your sign is being designed by your sign supplier, who has an understanding of the elements of sign design that are required to make brilliant signs, the value of the design will also be factored into the cost of the sign. It is also worth remembering that if you don’t pay for the design, chances are you don’t own it.

    * Playing Open CardIs your supplier prepared to show you all his costs. This is generally not necessary, but if you get three quotes that are so far apart that you believe one of the potential suppliers could be ripping you off, ask for them (or even all of the bidders) to show you their costings. This should help clarify any discrepancies and concerns you have.


My advice is to look beyond the ‘cost of a sign’, and rather look at what VALUE you may get from it. At the end of the day, do your homework and then go with the sign company you feel comfortable with. As with many things in life, what you pay for is generally what you get, so don’t necessarily go for the cheapest and remember, while it is generally safer to go with a company that has a track record, this should not be THE deciding factor, as there are many start-up’s with lower overheads that may provide good value.

If you are in the market for a sign, any sign, go ahead and email me at arnold@signforce.co.za and I will assist, where I can, without any obligation. You can also visit SignForce’s idea’s bank at http://www.signforce.co.za/gallery.php to get idea’s.   

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