Laser at work: ADA signage
John Hose has been making ADA signs with the help of the laser for years
By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Wednesday, February 24th, 2016
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. It is intended to prevent discrimination against and to require accommodation for disabled people. One area it addressed was the need for wayfinding signage that was functional for those with a disability.
The design, color and placement of wayfinding signs had been spelled out by the ADA and compliance was required by the law. Sign shops scrambled to understand ADA and start producing ADA-compliant signage.
Such was the case when John Hose made his first ADA signs. John had a full-service sign business and was doing a lot of architectural signs. There was an immediate need for compliant signage but interpretation of the law was sketchy and few products were available.
John began learning about the ADA and looking for practical production methods. The signs required raised lettering so that they could be read by touch as well as Braille lettering. The ADA states size, color and location requirements.
ADA and laser
John bought one of the first Epilog lasers in 1990 and started experimenting with it for ADA signage. Its precision made it an excellent tool for producing small signs meant to be seen up close.
“I was looking for a way to produce these signs profitably,” John says. “I’m a gadget guy, so the laser intrigued me. It was very precise. But early lasers did not handle vector files. Once they could, though, the laser was the ideal tool for what we were doing.”
One of the problems John was trying to solve was a durability issue. Since the lettering had to be raised at least 1/32 of an inch off the surface of the sign to allow for touch reading, one of the early solutions was to cut the lettering from a thick self-adhesive film. This was a problem in many applications since vandals could peel the lettering off the sign. John was doing a lot of wayfinding signs for school buildings and didn’t want students removing or rearranging letters.
“I needed a way to bond the letters to the sign face. After a lot of trial and error, we opted for a system that uses two layers of background material. The first is 1/8-in. acrylic substrate. We then laser-cut the lettering out of 1/32-in. acrylic in reverse, giving us a thin sheet with the lettering cut out. We also laser the holes to accept the little balls that create the Braille. We bond that layer to the substrate, and it becomes the sign face.
“At this point, it looks like a miniature routed sign. We laser-cut the letters from 1/16-in. acrylic. They fit perfectly into the recesses in the sign face. The substrate layers and letters are cut from Rowmark ADA Alternative acrylic sheet
“We bond the letters using a mixture of WeldOn adhesive, mixing No. 3 and No. 16 to get the viscosity we like. The balls are added to the Braille, and the result is a very rugged sign that looks good and meets ADA requirements.”
Great profit margins
ADA production costs are low and most projects require a large number of signs. This means excellent profit margins for signs compared to other types of signage. There’s also considerable residual work as signs change or get replaced as building changes are made.
“These may look like insignificant, boring little signs to some people, but the profit margin is much higher than other types of sign work. You can do a large electrical display that takes a lot of time, planning and resources for $30,000. But $30,000 worth of ADA signage can fit in a few boxes in the back of a pickup truck.”
Knowledge and service count
An important part of being successful in this work is establishing yourself as their resource for such signage. That means providing excellent customer service and support, and being knowledgeable about the requirements. When the ADA was revised in 2010, the requirements and specifications changed again.
John says you usually can’t rely on the specifier to know what signs are required and the specs for them. The architects and designers often don’t know what signage is necessary to conform to what’s spelled out in the ADA. They’re busy designing the building and the site—and the details that go into that. They often provide minimal specs for the signage for bidding purposes.
If you understand the ADA requirements (or find someone who can do so for you), you can provide valuable guidance on what is required. Without the proper signage, the building cannot be occupied, causing real headaches for the architect and builder. Your knowledge of the ADA establishes a relationship for you with the architect or designer because they can rely on you to make sure they comply. You can review the drawings and explain what is required, then spec out the signs and the costs.
“We do this both for our own clients,” says John, “and for sign shops that we provide the signage for at wholesale. The sign shop doesn’t have to know the ins and outs of the ADA— they give us the prints and we tell them what’s required. We’ve been doing this for a long time, so it’s an everyday project for us. Not knowing the ADA inside and out doesn’t have to keep a sign shop from doing this profitable work.”
Not quite the same as other signage
In John’s case, his ADA sign work grew to become a business inside his full-service sign shop, i2 Visual in Punta Gorda, Florida
. With a staff of 13, the company services southwest Florida and beyond. Along with commercial signage, they produce ADA and interior digital displays.
“ADA signage requires a different mindset than other types of sign work,” says John, “and a different skill set for those doing the production. The signs are viewed up close, so they must be nearly perfect. It’s not quite the same as fabricating larger signs that are mounted on storefronts. An employee who is good with general sign fabrication may get frustrated with making small, precise signs with detailed graphics. Interior signage calls for people who are good with detailed work because the signs are viewed close up.”
ADA signage requires a different sales mindset, too. These aren’t highly creative signs that advertise, but rather highly legible signs that direct and inform. You’re selling your ability to deliver signage that achieves that while meeting the ADA requirements.
The laser engraver/cutter makes ADA signage practical, even for small orders. Its precise cutting makes it possible to cut letters that fit perfectly into the sign face, resulting in a durable, compliant sign that you can deliver profitably.