Sign Materials for Outdoor Wayfinding

Decisions about the use of materials help with determining a sign’s design. Most exterior wayfinding signs are made out of painted aluminum or aluminum composite material, both durable, affordable materials, according to Jim Brown, exterior products manager of Takeform.

“Aluminum is very affordable. It’s very easy to work with,” Brown says.

The material is lightweight, does not rust, is easy to bend and fabricate, and can hold paint well. ACM comes in diverse colors and patterns, and the finish is part of the material, as opposed to aluminum, which has to be painted. It’s graffiti-resistant, easy to clean, and resistant to scratching.

Jeffrey Stewart, vice president of sales for Howard Industries, recommends using an automotive-grade polyurethane paint for long-lasting sign finishes and adding a clear coat to further extend the longevity of the finish. If eco-solvent inkjet printed graphics are used, they should have an ultraviolet protective laminate to protect against the elements. For cut vinyl graphics, he recommends using high-performance rated materials.

“You need to be able to see them at night,” Brown says, adding that the signs could be illuminated internally or externally with lights pointing toward them or by using reflective vinyl.

Signs made out of plastic can deteriorate, and over time metal can rust, according to Natalie Whited, VP of marketing at Orbus Exhibit & Display.

“If this is a permanent exterior solution, the dealer will want to sell aluminum, not steel, for durability and lifespan,” Whited says.

As a final consideration, signs should be raised above the ground in areas that get snow or have lawns that need mowing.

“The most important thing with exterior wayfinding is getting the person where they need to go in the most clear, concise way possible, and that pretty much sums up wayfinding,” Brown says.

As such, Whited says signage is needed for both the exterior and interior environments.

“You have to carry from the exterior to the interior the same wayfinding philosophy to guide visitors to where they need to go,” Whited says. “The message has to be consistent from the exterior to the interior to provide a good experience for someone coming to that place.


Shelley Widhalm

Shelley Widhalm is a freelance writer and editor and founder of Shell's Ink Services, a writing and editing service based in Loveland, Colorado. She has more than 15 years of experience in communications and holds a master's degree in English from Colorado State University. She can be reached at or

View all articles by Shelley Widhalm  

Related Articles

Back to top button