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The anatomy of a good traffic sign

A good traffic sign can go a long way in keeping drivers informed and the streets safer. What makes a good traffic sign? There are many characteristics but the most important ones are durability, legibility, reflectivity, and conformity to the Department of Transportation’s Manual on Uniform Traffic and Control Devices (MUTCD). 

Durability : Signs constructed from either cardboard or wood just don’t cut it anymore. While they used to be used in the old days, they were neither sturdy nor long-lasting i.e. sensitive to the elements). Therefore today’s sign must be built to last. The best signs on the market are made from high-grade aluminum materials, usually 80 millimeters thick and non-rusting. The latter is very important because your sign is bound to experience poor weather conditions like rain and snow, where waterproof material is a must. Look for heavy-duty aluminum that is highly sturdy, weatherproof and guaranteed to last at least 10 or more years.

Legibility : Make sure your sign’s message is highly visible: the ink for the letters should feature the highest quality. That means paint or marker ink won’t cut it. Instead, opt for 3M screen printing or digital ink to get the clearest and boldest lettering. Just as important to legibility is clarity of message; your signage should be easy to quickly read from a moving car, so the MUTCD standardized signage uses as few words as possible, and often will use the same universally understood words, like STOP and YIELD and DANGER, so that drivers can read and react quickly.

Reflectivity : Because people don’t stop driving at night, it’s important that your sign is visible in daytime and nighttime conditions. Signs that will appear visible in nighttime or poor visibility (i.e. fog) are signs with reflective material. There are varying levels of reflectivity: depending on the situation and on your budget (the more reflective, the higher the price tag) make sure you choose the right one. However, you can’t go wrong even with the minimum standard of reflectivity, often referred to as “engineer grade.” Yet higher amounts of reflectivity- known as “high intensity” grade (three times the amount of engineer grade) or “diamond grade” (10 times the amount of reflectivity of “engineer grade”) will make sure your sign stands out among the rest.

MUTCD Conformity: The MUTCD sets the standards for signs (shape, color, size, reflectivity, text etc.) Although there is a little room for customization, it’s important that your sign is MUTCD approved so its legal and you can avoid fines.

While these are the main qualities, there are other sign characteristic that are highly desirable—like pre-punched holes for easy installation and customization options.

Traffic Information Signs
The best signs exhibit reflective material that enables visibility during nighttime and poor weather conditions.

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