Custom ADA Signage for your Business – Shipped to anywhere in the US download our ADA Guide

Lighted Or Unlighted Outdoor Signs: What’s The Question?

Lighted or Unlighted Outdoor Signs: What’s the Question?

When you want to build brand authority, improve wayfinding, and get your message noticed, lighted outdoor signs can be a great option. But they’re not right for everyone.

Just as every sign is different, so too is every business budget, location, and marketing need, which means there is no universal “best” option for on-premise advertising. But there is a “best” for you, and the team at Indy Sign Factory is standing by to help you find it.

Read on to learn how to answer the lighted vs. unlighted outdoor sign question, or call (317)-733-5800 to speak directly with an outdoor sign specialist in Indianapolis, IN.

Lighted Or Unlighted Outdoor Signs: What’s Best For My Business?

Before you commit to a lighted or unlighted outdoor sign order, ask yourself:

  1. “What is my outdoor sign budget?” Generally speaking, lighted outdoor signs cost more than their unlit counterparts. They also come with higher operating costs, as you must pay for power. In some cases, you may also need to pay extra for permits, variances, and electrification, depending on your chosen sign type and local sign code. Working with a full-service shop like ours can help to reduce these additional project costs, but if you’re working with a very limited budget, unlighted outdoor signs might be the better choice.

    Once you’ve determined your marketing spend, get in touch with our outdoor sign team and we will create a shortlist of lighted sign products that fit your budget.

  2. “Are my current signs conspicuous enough?” In one study for the Lighting Research & Technology journal, researchers Lasauskaite & Reisinger (2017) define conspicuity as the “ease with which a visible object is noticed in its environment by an observer who has no prior knowledge about its location” (p. 521). Based on this definition, we can see that conspicuity is key for effective signage, but many outdoor sign systems continue to fall short in this area.

    In fact, according to the American Shopper Study, nearly two-thirds (60.8%) of US consumers have driven by and failed to find a business they intended to visit because their signage was too inconspicuous. This is a critical wayfinding failure, one that costs Indianapolis business owners thousands of dollars every year, but it is easily prevented.

    If you’re looking to make your outdoor signs more conspicuous, illumination is your friend. In fact, in a meta-analysis of sign studies by the Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, researchers concluded that luminance and contrast were the two most important elements for outdoor sign conspicuity (Bullough, 2017; Freyssinier et al., 2006).

    Lighted outdoor signs not only got noticed more often compared to unlighted alternatives; they also scored much higher on the legibility index, helping brand messages get read faster and more often, especially by passing drivers (Lasauskaite & Reisinger, 2017, p. 528).

    Of course, the results of your lighted outdoor signs will depend on a variety of factors, including the ambient lighting levels, the amount of clutter in the visual field, and the standards factors of visibility (e.g. setback, sign angle, sign size), and there is such a thing as too much lighting. But generally speaking, lighted outdoor signs get more eyes on your message.

  3. “How much ambient light do I have to work with?” If your business is blessed with lots of ambient lighting during business hours, be it from the sun, street lamps, or even the glow of neighboring signage, you may not need lighted outdoor signs to get noticed. What’s more, because they will need to be much brighter to make a difference in daylight, using lighted signs in these conditions will come with higher operating costs.

    But if you want to crank up the conspicuity even more, lighted outdoor signs create serious competitive advantages, even in brightly lit areas. Just make sure to adjust your luminance levels accordingly. Generally speaking, the more ambient lighting you have to begin with, the higher your lighting levels will need to be. In “very brightly lighted urban locations,” Dobres et al. (2017) recommend a minimum luminance of 700 cd/m2.

    For more help, get in touch with our lighted sign experts. We know all the luminance requirements stipulated in the Indianapolis sign code, and our selection of efficient LED lighting options make it easy to control operating costs.

  4. “How steep is the local outdoor sign competition?” If your brand messages are getting lost in Indianapolis’ competitive signscape, it might be time to invest in lighted outdoor signs.

    Multiple studies show how lighted signs leap out at viewers, even in display contexts with high levels of visual clutter. For example, in one study on the effects of illumination on wayfinding signs, Lasauskaite & Reisinger (2017) found that “increasing the light output of the LEDs inside the sign improved the conspicuousness of the signage against its surroundings,” even when surrounded by dynamic digital advertisements and kiosk signboards. If you need to outshine the competition, get in touch with our team.

  5. “Do lighted signs suit my brand image?” Although all businesses can benefit from illuminated messaging, lighted outdoor signs fit some brand images better than others. Illumination suggests technology, modernity, security, and excitement, whereas unlighted outdoor signs suggest tradition, naturalism, and sustainability, making them great for artisanal shops, holistic health centers, gardening supply stores, yoga studios, and natural product vendors.

    That said, you should not feel limited in this regard. With the help of our in-house designers, and the largest outdoor sign catalog in Indianapolis at your fingertips, you can create bespoke outdoor signs to suit any brand image.

Ask The Experts: Book A Free Sign Consultation In Indianapolis, IN

Still not sure what style of outdoor sign is best for your business? Let’s talk!

Every sign consultation starts with a needs assessment—that’s your chance to tell us a bit about your unique location, budget, and advertising needs—then we take it from there, creating a shortlist of recommendations and taking the time to explain pros and cons of each.

Whatever style of outdoor sign you choose, and whatever your level of experience, we guarantee great results, on-time and on-budget, with full support at every stage of the process, from ideation to installation. Borrow the expert’s eye to determine the best installation site, sign specifications, and design, and then leave the sign manufacturing, permitting, delivery, set up, and electrification up to us. You control the entire project from a single point of contact, and it all starts with a single click.

To schedule your free outdoor sign consultation, click here or call (317)-733-5800 to speak directly with an outdoor sign expert near you.


Bullough, J. (2017). Factors affecting sign visibility, conspicuity, and legibility: Review and annotated bibliography. Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, 1(2), 2-25.

Dobres, J., Chahine, N., & Reimer, B. (2017). Effects of ambient illumination, contrast polarity, and letter size on text legibility under glance-like reading. Applied Ergonomics, 60, 68-73.

Freyssinier, J. P., Narendran, N., & Bullough, J. D. (2006, September). Luminance requirements for lighted signage. In Sixth International Conference on Solid State Lighting (Vol. 6337, pp. 357-364). SPIE.

Kellaris, James J. (2011), “100,000 Shoppers Can’t Be Wrong: Signage Communication Evidence from the BrandSpark International Grocery Shopper Survey.” The Science of Signage: Proceedings of the National Signage Research and Education Conference, Signage Foundation, Inc, Cincinnati, October 12-13, 2011.

Lasauskaite, R., & Reisinger, M. (2017). Optimal luminance of internally illuminated wayfinding signs. Lighting Research & Technology, 49(4), 521-533.