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What Makes a Sign Successful? Tips to Create Readable and Effective Signage

cluttered lawn signs

Have you ever noticed the small yard signs at certain intersections that are advertising fundraising events, political candidates, church fairs or store-closing sales? These signs are generally so cluttered with information that reading them becomes next to impossible, even at only a few feet away.

The reason for this is because the majority of people don't understand the factors and questions that should be considered before beginning your design process. Signs can be an effective and affordable way to advertise if you use some of key principles when creating your sign design.

Professional graphic artists typically use design principles to create appealing and readable high-impact signage:


sign with not enough white space

Keep your message short by minimizing your copy. This allows the reader to absorb and retain your message with just a glance. Consider the size of your sign when determining the distance from where it will be read. Since visibility is a crucial factor for your sign, be sure to avoid placement where there may be obstructions.


sign showing good use of white space

Crowding your sign with too many graphics or words makes it harder to read. It's always great to include enough "white space" or empty space around the text and artwork in your design. Unfortunately, many people want to maximize the space available the sign by filling it up with as much text and graphics possible. When this happens though, the content becomes crowded and hard to read. A good rule of thumb is always leave 30% - 40% of your sign's face clear and empty to encourage readability.


sans fonts examples

Most of the time, using fonts that are clean and sharp will offer the best legibility. There are many typeface options that offer a variety of weights including light, regular, bold and black. Avoiding use of ALL CAPS is encouraged. Tests have concluded that a mix of upper and lowercase copy is more legible than the latter.

Another important tip is to stick with no more than two font styles in your design. Choosing a pair of complementary fonts can make your sign stand apart from the rest.

Below is a chart issued from the United States Sign Council (USSC) that helps determine what font size would be best for your sign:

USSC font size recommendation chart


To boost reading speed, up to 25% faster, consider adding a border to your sign design. When vehicle traffic is your intended audience, borders are often recommended, as they help focus the eye on your message. To step up your impact even more, try using full digital color photos along with artwork, logos, graphics, etc.


The winning combo here is to choose colors that offer LOTS of contrast. The more contrast, the easier your sign will be read from a distance. Color combinations like green and blue do not offer much contrast and will be a lot harder to read.

color examples of combos that are easy and hard to read
ranking of best color combos that maximize readability


The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) had issued the following 15 color combinations ranking from #1 most legible to #15 least legible.

By following the guidelines listed here, you can be confident that your message and sign will be readable in most settings.

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