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General LED Channel Letter Failures On The Rise


Been getting a lot of calls to retrofit channel letters that are having failures.

It seems like that short time period of three to five years has finally come around to where the sign user who bought from the lowest bidder or bought into the idea of "saving money....more efficient mantra" is coming around to bite them in the ass as well as the sign shop who made a poor choice in using the inexpensive most likely Chinese LEDs.

The reality is, there are very few LED manufacturers I would personally EVER use for sign projects that I build. I base that based on our very own Sign Syndicate Light Testing Projects where we test just about every LED on the market and have been doing so since 2008 The failures I see out on the field do nothing but support those results . LED Modules are great for peeling and sticking, spending more time in the shop than out in the field but they should not be used for everything. Too many sign shop are lazy, they look for an "easy way" to stay in business, that's the plain truth of our industry.

The Sign Syndicate's Neon & LED Test Comparison "The Great White Hope" (2012 Shot)


Our enabling of LED manufacturers inflated, exaggerated, and even misleading marketing points is what help kill our own industry, and now those chickens are coming home to roost. Those 100,000 hours, 80,000 hours, 60,000 hours, 50,000 hours that a lot of sign shops within our industry have financially sabotaged, and screwed the consumer.

The LED powers supplies have gotten cheaper, so have the LED modules, shops scramble for the 50¢ modules, the plastic $20 power supplies and a few years later...Waalaa.... individual diode failure leading to inconsistent lighting and power supplies that truly couldn't handle the heat of the load.

I've seen this rise in retrofit the retrofit and I'm only in 70˙F weather all year around in just that last couple of months. For Red LEDs that were supposed to last sooooo long, well now those same channel letter faces that were so evenly lit are now hot spotting.

The LED Sign market if you don't know as it relates to the sign industry is a crap shoot. Very few reputable companies like GE and others, don't even want to be in it any longer, they would rather be in general lighting. Why? Too many cheap consumers, too many sign companies that don't make wise decisions get lured and duped by the ever growing and disappearing market of what was once here today is gone tomorrow.


Sure, a lot of manufacturers tell sign shops their components are warrantied for 5 years BUT, do they, do YOU replace those parts for free to your client? Chances are like most of the scenarios that call me say no, "I still get charged labor" Shame on those companies and shame on you if you're one of those companies. You planned out your project, you spec'd out your project and there is absolutely NO reason why a electric sign should not carry a 5 year "worry free" electrical warranty.

This industry has plenty of quality components that are built to last, and Neon is still a VERY viable option especially when it comes to consistency in longevity as well as lighting, unfortunately that is no longer an option for a lot of shops because they lack the "know how", or willingness to learn, even worse..they only posses the laziness and willingness to collect a check and walk away.


Today I still continue to install the right light source based on the application, that goes for using LEDs, Fluorescent or Neon. 20+ years later I get very few failures , VERY few. I have signs that operated for 18+ without a single maintenance call.

I know I may work a little harder, pay a little more, even spend a little more time with each project BUT...I do sleep easier at night, I don't have to worry about taking those calls about having to come back, and I have happier clients that have stuck with more for my 20+ years that I've been in business.

Just some Thursday food for thought to chew on.

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You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. - Winston Churchill

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I'm with you Erik we lose a lot of jobs to these low cost low end companies.

We have signs that we put up that run 24/7 in the casinos here in CT that have been up over 15 years that have NEVER been serviced.

On the other hand I have guys out today servicing a sign that a competitor put up 6 months ago. Yes, it's under warrantee but this is the 3rd failure and the casino wants it fixed so it will last. It's a case of pay me now or pay me later. I'll stick with quality products and good labor practice any day.

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I have watched the LEDs for the past15 or so years. The claims of 50,000 hours, seemed too good to be true. I sold a Home Hardware store in m y area LED channel letters approx 10 years ago. Thankfully they have held up beautifully all those years, I never did like the early bluey white tinge of that era. After showing them what todays LEDs are like for brilliance, they agreed to retro fit again.

What I figure, with so many brands of LEDs, down the road (5yrs approx. that we are kind of screwed, with trying to piece brands , that were cheap and nopw gone. Try explaining that to a customer who has the LED hype.

My 2 cents, 3 Canadian.


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  • Board Patron

This is a set of letters maybe 6 months old which were done by a company beating us by almost $1000 on the initial estimate. As fate would have it the store got popped by code enforcement for not pulling a permit and the client called us back. That is why we got these pics. Lettering was not as per mall criteria and needed to be replaced all together. Now the store owner bought 2 signs for the same store. Save a nickel - lose 10 bucks.


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  • !llumenati

Seriously? Did the modules just all clump together or what?

Sorry, I don't have much pity for the owner.

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The LED's are just the way they were when faces were removed. Please admire further samples of same sign and the workmanship you get for a discount. The clumping is a new lighting effect or Special Effect I have noticed around town.

We always say; And they got paid for this shit?



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WOW! I think I will print these to show these customers that think we are trying to jip them when we are $500 - $1,000 higher than some of these folks around here on these LED channel letters. We actually had a case where ALL of the LED fell off of the back and were laying in a pile in the bottom of the letters. My grandmother used to always say "a pound of flesh now, or 10 pounds later" - It's hard to make a customer understand though that they are paying you $500 to $1,000 more than somebody else quoted them without a visual like this. Sad part is, it makes us ALL look bad! We have to fight against mess like this every day. "I just purchased a sign from company X and it is already not working and I can't get them to come repair it!" Of course you can't - they either A) Don't stand behind their product, or B) they are already out of business or C) all of the above. We had 3 cases like that last week alone - and the first question out of their mouth was - "are you going to be any better than company X was??" - Why yes, that's why we have been here 27 years! Not going anywhere.

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Spot on post. We're seeing the same kinds of things almost daily as well. General misuse of products, poor installations, clear lack of knowledge or concern of how to properly do the job. Nothing knew about really though - has been like this my entire career, and is the reason for UL2161 in the first place. At least one good thing to come from a collection of idiots working with high voltage.

We were called to repair a d/f blade sign (I would attach a picture but for the life of me can't figure out how). It's a restaurant chain that we had done work for previously and then they tried to save money by going to the cheap guy. They clearly know very little about properly installing LEDs!

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Wow. Rather concerning! I've never had these kinds of problems myself. We're lucky in that regard, I guess - our store has had its current sign running daily for close to ten years without so much as a single issue. But it's alarming to see such a shoddy job, especially those pics from Val's reply. What a mess! :dizzy:

Also think it's unfortunate that repeated cases like this give these signs a bad rap. As articles like this mention, there are definitely benefits to going with an LED sign over other options. Especially when you factor in running costs.

But then if you're not doing it right the first time with someone reputable? You're probably losing money in the long run anyways. Crazy that so many businesses are choosing the cheap-and-nasty method and then turning around surprised when something breaks! :eek13:

Edited by SignOfTheTimes
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A large problem we have in the electric sign industry is a lack of education both with sign shops and with the public, and you can add in lack of integrity when it comes to the sign industry.

That article you linked is part of the problem, it's manufacturers duping the sign companies who in turn pass on information they heard in a sign magazine, sign association seminar, or sales pitch and without verifying the information then pass that misinformation "brochure facts" onto the customer or consumer as truth.

Of course it's the biggest reason why The Sign Syndicate, the electric sign industries/trade last hope of information for the electric sign trade has tested/verified all the LED/Neon/Fluorescent lamp light output as well as power consumption of the years in numerous lit testing projects.

The biggest result and fact remains to be true when it comes to LEDs. You cannot take a pen light representing and LED, and compare it to a maglight representing a fluorescent lamp or neon lamp and say you are using less power or less cost of operation to have light. You have to have equal light output, and if one source is truly using less power then we can say one source is more efficient in that aspect of light.

When it comes to all three light sources used most for signs a .4 watt LED module that's "saving 80% in energy to a consumer" over fluorescent or neon is NOT true, it's false, it's a marketing spill and it misleads the public. We know from our own testing the reality is to get even closer to neon light output you're going to have to use .85 to 1 watt modules to get somewhat close, and well, that's now 2.55 to 3 watts per foot, Neon is the same. The higher the wattage rating for LEDs the faster they die, it's a matter of heat. Sure .3 watt modules will last forever but are they functional?

Another misleading characteristic light manufacturers bring up to the sign industry is "Lumens". Lumens do not apply with the sign industry, we care about Foot Candles or Lux measurable on a light surface, because after all, we are lighting up sign faces and surfaces.

That articles seems to be stuck some where around 2005 with the "savings" & "environment" sales pitches. Neon and Fluorescent tubes are also 100% recyclable, and Neon is also listed as "Green" with UL. Mercury is also not a nasty or dirty element, in fact it's a clean natural element and the pitch of it reaching water is always the typical scare tactic we all read about to scare us into buying something else and a phrase used to sell a product that can't stand on their own merit and something lobbyists use to handicap their own products.

LEDs are great, not here to burn them down but too many sign shop lack the integrity to use the right light source for the right application. They just want to peel and stick, get away with cheap "no know how" individuals and get paid. LEDs are easy, they truly are, but they aren't always the best to be used in all phases of the sign industry, and THAT's what we are all finding out with some time going by. Those 100k, 80K, 60k hours are looking a lot like 20k to 12k hours of operation over what was promised to the consumer.

It's a prediction and forecast most here on the SS have been discussing for years with the testing we do. Most sign companies say they don't have LED problems but the fact is, they haven't gone back to any of their signs to ever see if they are, not just individual module or diode failure but measuring their own light output on the sign surface with a light meter to check for lumen maintenance from the initial start.

We all know the return on investment is not there when it comes to retrofitting sign cabinet fluorescent lamps to LED http://www.thesignsyndicate.com/forums/index.php?/topic/3832-sign-cabinets-retrofitting-t12-t8-led/ We've seen / heard the pitch of a couple of years, fact check here that ends up being 40+ years for the consumer. But hey, the mfg and sign company got to turn a profit from the pitch and dupe.

No matter what light source is being used, LEDs, Fluorescent, or Neon, a bad installation will turn any good product bad, and put a bad taste into any consumers mouth.

I have a lot of friends in the electric sign industry, and their going to get mad at me for saying this but it is what it is and we can't change it, it's just simply the truth

The fact is education can improve both the sign industry and help the public consumer. My opinion, forget the electric sign industry, I would invest less in it, their too hard up chasing 50 cent modules, they don't care about integrity of the industry and for themselves or for their companies. Education needs to start with the public, we need smart buyers! That will make a smarter industry, by weeding out the hacks and wannabee's and national sign companies that have no business building large accounts based on the bottom line, and can't pay their bills.

Like I said before and have always said. LEDs are great, but there are few of them I would ever use, and from our testing I would only used LEDs used from our testing. So far from date, none of those good test result LEDs come from China. Shocked?

Of all the different LEDs we've tested since 2008 there are a few common denominators that makes some LED products last a very, very long, or make them bright enough to last as long as conventional light sources like Neon over time. Their Korean, their constant current not constant voltage, or their Japanese.

Korea and Japan have high standards, I don't know what else to tell you. Neon is still a very high standard as well for longevity and efficient light output.

LED manufacturers can make and say all the marketing claims/statements they want all day....it's just something that is executed but NEVER explained, or explained in a logical sense, and sign companies can be uneducated enough to soak in those claims and pass them off as their own trade secrets, but the fact will never change, there are few product that can make any claim to just lasting as long as Neon. To those few LED manufacturers, who's components are Korean or Japanese, Kudo's to you, you make an awesome product!

I've just never seen an LED product that impresses me that comes from anywhere else. There were once quite a few LED manufacturers that used to use components that they integrated into their products that came from Japan or Korea but they decided to join the race to the bottom of the circling toilet of cheap and they lost their way.

I always chuckle when I pass through a convention floor and the LED manufacturer tries to impress me with the cabinet parameter lighting and how it saves money and how it puts out "enough light". Enough light for what I always ask? Enough light to compete with neighboring signs that use conventional lighting in the same shopping center that they maybe installed next to? I've walked through quite a few sign shops because that's part of what I do, and one thing I always see happen from time to time. I see a sign returning to the shop and they have to end up doubling up on what was claimed by the LED manufacturer because the customer complained it wasn't bright enough, a change to be made in the shop or out in the field.

This industry still has a whole lot of problems to solve, a lot politically for sure, but for now I'm still aiming my sites on beginning to solve that starting with the public. I used to think it had to begin from the inside....out. Since I've expanded into other areas of the electric sign industry I've come to realize the only way to save it and solve a lot of the problems we have is to start with the consumer, and work our way in......Stay tune for that!

Sorry I've been gone a for a while, hopefully I'm back for a while, but hopefully I'm not....if you get the picture! :P

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. - Winston Churchill

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  • !llumenati

"Very few reputable companies like GE and others, don't even want to be in it any longer, they would rather be in general lighting. Why?"

I can answer that. If I remember correctly I think I even posted it here many moons ago. When I was on the OEM side of the fence. The companies like GE and OSRAM got into the sign LED scenerio as a beta site to conduct life tests, applications and the likes in actual settings to "perfect" thier modules for where the real money is. Why do you think they changes the systems so frequently?? Do you think they really had the sign guys intrest at the top of the priority list. Can you get the older modules or anything that was ousted when the next evolution rolled in. If they had the best intrest they would keep a stock of older systems like GM or any car manufacturer keeps parts available.

Just my .02

GOOD things happen for a reason......

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Trump/Gastelum '16


"Very few reputable companies like GE and others, don't even want to be in it any longer, they would rather be in general lighting. Why?"

I can answer that. If I remember correctly I think I even posted it here many moons ago. When I was on the OEM side of the fence. The companies like GE and OSRAM got into the sign LED scenerio as a beta site to conduct life tests, applications and the likes in actual settings to "perfect" thier modules for where the real money is. Why do you think they changes the systems so frequently?? Do you think they really had the sign guys intrest at the top of the priority list. Can you get the older modules or anything that was ousted when the next evolution rolled in. If they had the best intrest they would keep a stock of older systems like GM or any car manufacturer keeps parts available.

Just my .02

Man, shoot me over your phone# when you get a chance!

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. - Winston Churchill

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      If you're a solo one person shop and sick of those headaches come to Nashville. I wasn't looking to leave however our 3 grown kids are all back home in Vegas and 2 of of them sign guys (where did I go wrong?) My friend Bong Gonzalez  passed from covid and I'm going to be taking over his position in Vegas. I really wish that this was not the case. He and his Dad were staples in the neon world in Vegas and just damn fine men.
      Again if you were a bender back in the day, it's like riding a bike. In a few days it was mostly all back and now I have a greater appreciation for something I thought was gone. Again you're in a shop with super talented folks front and back.
      Please email me pictures of your work and your experience etc to jeff@joslinsign.com
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    • Back in the late 90's, before i ended up buying the family business, my parents talked to several different business brokers.   it took nearly almost two years to find one that was trustworthy.  One just wanted to sell us a book about the history of the business, another couldn't get any interested buyers, some just want to put your business up on a website, etc.   I eventually bought the family business (still not sure if that was a good idea or not) and we worked out our own terms.   Plus there was no brokers commission.   One of my realtor customers is also a business broker and we're supposed to get together.  With COVID on the wane, I hope to meet him farily soon.  Maybe one of your customers is a broker as well as a realtor.   I suggest that you reach out to SCORE and get some free help.   SCORE is part of the SBA and it's all free and the people are eager to help you.   Eventually I am going to have to sell and have been doing monthly zoom meetings to go over that subject, plus lots of other "stuff".    I'm now 63 (and wish I had contacted SCORE thirty years ago) and figure I can afford to retire in another 35-40 years.  :)     Go to the SBA website and search for what you want and they'll match you with someone.   I'm in the local chamber of commerce and another business owner told me that it took him 3-4 years to make one of businesses "bankable" because most buyers don't have the cash to buy you outight.   They will have to go to a bank for a loan so all your books, inventory, etc. will have to be set up so a banker can understand your business and approve the loan.   I'm supposed to catch up with that guy and get more details but we never seem to be at the same meetings.   Again, SCORE will have people who can give you better information than "some sign-guy on the internet".     What I can say that I've been upgrading equipment, having things serviced professionally, keep the trucks on regular maintenence schedules, etc.    When I bought the business, most everything was old and run down but I was used to it and knew what needed to be replaced right away and what could stay.   No one will want a business where a lot of equipment is close to the end of it's useful life.   "New and Shiny" sells better than "old and dusty" even if the old stuff is better than the new.   Best of luck!
    • What's the best way to sell my 51 year old commercal sign business?   millersignsinc.com     Tanks,     Rob
    • I know Neon Wizard does
    • Hey Brian, I tried to get to the art room to ask our Flexi techs. But, it was a busy morning.   I know in Corel Draw if you have the text converted to curves. You can look in object properties at path and it will show the path length. Which is the distance around the letter plus inserts.
    • Thanks Rocco. I was able to find suppliers that would ship to us. But, we would be on our own for set up and training on the new machines.   We are going to send our fabricator to a couple of shops that have purchased from our prospective supplier and check out the equipment before we buy.   Thank you for taking the time to reply!
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