Is That “High-Quality” Custom Neon-LED Sign Legit?
Here’s How to Tell.
A bright, safe, high-quality custom neon or LED sign can be a great investment no matter what type of business you own. The right custom sign can provide an impactful and professional way to advertise products, showcase your business’s personality and brand identity, and add a pop of color to your storefront or interior décor.
However, not all LED and neon signs are the same. There is a wide range in quality and cost across different sign companies.
Remember the two key elements of a sign that most business owners need:
- It must shine bright enough to be highly visible not only at night, but also during the day. The daylight hours represent the majority of most businesses’ operating hours, so it's important to capitalize on them.
- It must last longer than a year or two. For most business owners, having to repair or replace a short-lived sign is a costly, time-consuming distraction from running the business or simply having free time to spend with family and friends.
While the sticker price on a high-quality sign can be intimidating, it is also a valuable investment. For example, many of our customers tell us their SpellBrite sign paid for itself in a few days or weeks. Furthermore, a high-quality sign that can stand out to customers 24 hours a day every day for ten years will have a greater positive impact on your business than a cheaper sign that either doesn’t work, breaks and needs replacing too soon, or has a cheap appearance that reflects poorly on your business. Nobody wants to shell out hundreds of dollars for a business sign that’s not up to the job.
How to determine quality signs:
With tens of thousands of different sign companies and retailers claiming their signs are the best, it can be overwhelming to know how to tell which companies are actually selling high-quality products that last, which are scams, and which fall somewhere in between. Many signs available for purchase are not certified or tested for quality, leaving you at risk of wasting money on a low-quality sign. This is especially true when dealing with sellers on third party sites like Amazon and Etsy. Since signs run on electricity, this becomes more than just an issue of how long signs will last: it can be a safety issue for you and your customers as well.
Knowing what to keep an eye out for when you’re purchasing a new custom LED or neon sign can help. Below, you can find a comprehensive overview of how to research and investigate the quality of a sign to help you get the most for your money. From safety and quality ratings to waterproofing to the best practices in sleuthing out a scam, these tips and tricks will help guide you toward a long-lasting sign that will attract new customers and increase your sales.
If You Want a Bright Sign, Avoid This
If brightness is an important criteria for you, like it is for many business owners, you will want to avoid edge lit signs. Edge lit signs are just what the name suggests: a piece of glass or clear acrylic etched with a message or image. A light source, often LEDs, are on the edge of the glass or acrylic and light up the etching. This sort of sign can be aesthetically beautiful and relatively inexpensive, and they are useful for certain applications, particularly in low-light, interior applications. However, that aesthetic value comes at a cost: even a high-quality edge lit sign doesn't project much light. Edge lit signs are not designed to be in a window shouting out a message to potential customers. If you are looking for a bright sign, you will likely be disappointed with an edge lit sign.
Product Certifications, Quality & Safety
Technical design, the components used, and the manufacturing process determine the quality of a sign. Taking shortcuts in any of these will lead to a poor quality sign that disappoints immediately or over time. As an example, a manufacturer can use lower quality LEDs to cut costs, but “overdrive” them electronically to make them extremely bright initially. However, overdriving LEDs significantly shortens their life. The sign may look great when you first turn it on, but soon the LEDs will dim, and your sign will not be bright enough to attract anyone’s attention.
Companies that manufacture long-lasting, quality signs will make the investment to have them certified (generally under the UL certification in the United States, and the CE certification in Europe). For a well-made product, obtaining UL and other certifications is not incredibly time consuming or expensive. While a UL rating is not a guarantee of high quality, the lack of a rating should be seen as a red flag.
Beyond showing a sign’s quality, these certifications also attest to its safety. Because neon and LED signs run on electricity, safety ratings help regulate what signs are in the market. Generally, if a sign company has successfully met or exceeded the requirements for these certifications, they will publish that information somewhere on their website. If you don’t explicitly see these ratings, you can always reach out directly to the seller to inquire – if they are legitimate, they should know and be able to respond.
What is a UL Rating?
Notice a tiny “UL” enclosed in a circle on your sign?
This means that UL, or the Underwriters Laboratories (non-profit testing laboratories dedicated to accurately and consistently testing product quality) have evaluated the product and found it to meet or exceed their requirements for fire and electrical safety. The UL rating is applicable in the United States. This mark is another sign of a legitimate product that has passed a series of safety and function testing performed by a reputable source.
It’s important to note that UL is an individual company and, outside of granting a UL certification, UL has no say on whether or not production of a product should be approved or rejected. Only governmental agencies like the FDA are able to legally prevent production based on their own research, though even these agencies may incorporate UL’s testing into their own assessments.
There are dozens of individual certifications under the “UL” umbrella. In the case of checking for safety regulations on your sign, the most important factor is whether it is UL listed. Products that are UL listed will have a UL label (see above). To earn a UL label, the Underwriter’s Laboratory tests the standalone product to confirm that it is made of a high enough quality to meet or exceed nationally recognized safety and sustainability standards. Beyond these, a UL listing also confirms that UL has found the sign to be free from a “reasonably foreseeable” risk of fire.
UL Rating should be for both product and its power supply
If you don’t see a UL rating, that doesn’t necessarily mean the sign in question is unsafe. Some companies may use different certifications to achieve the same end goal, like the CE certification discussed below. Although UL certifications are the most common for lighting fixtures, including LED and neon signs and lighting fixtures, an ETL label (Electrical Testing Labs) is also a nationally recognized mark of safety and quality. CSA (Canadian Standards Association) is another, also recognized in the US and beyond.
A UL label doesn’t mean the sign is 100% safe. Sometimes, companies will manipulate what part of their sign is UL listed. Most signs will have multiple electrical components, and each one must go through the UL certification process independently in order for the entire signage system to be listed.
Is your entire sign UL rated?
In some cases, companies will vaguely state “UL rated” when only the power supply, not the actual sign, is UL listed. You should always check to see if the sign itself has a UL listing and not just its power cord or adapter. For example, for our products, both the sign itself (left) and the power cord (right) are UL certified, so both bear the UL label.
If you’re not sure if a sign is UL rated, you can quickly and easily search the company name in the UL database, found here. This database features every single manufactured product that is UL certified, giving you the power to fact-check sign companies’ claims and ensure that your sign is safe. Additionally, the UL database indicates which items produced by the company are UL certified. If only the power supply is listed and not the sign itself, that means that only the power supply is listed.
What is a CE Rating?
If you look carefully, you might see a “CE” label on your neon or LED sign. There are two different meanings for this, and it’s good to be aware of which one applies to the product before you buy.
How can you tell the two “CE” marks apart? Look at the distance between the C and the E, as shown above.
The “CE” rating on the left stands for “Conformitè Europëenne,” or “European Conformity.” It is roughly the European equivalent of a UL rating. If you spot this mark, congratulations! The product in question complies with all the health, safety, and environmental protection requirements of the European Union (EU). Certain products sold in the European Economic Area require this certification. The CE rating doesn't automatically signify a high quality sign or other product, but it does show that the product you’re looking at has been tested and confirmed to be safe for use by a reputable source.
However, there is a second type of “CE” mark that looks extremely similar but is not a standard of quality. This “CE” stands for “China Export,” and manufacturers in China use it arbitrarily to show the item’s country of origin, much like “MADE IN THE U.S.A.” labels on certain clothing brands. The two “CE” logos look extremely similar, as shown above, and it is easy to confuse one for the other.
While many signs and other products with the “China Export” CE label can be high quality and pass other regulatory certifications, the “China Export” label itself requires no quality check or health and safety testing, meaning that this label alone cannot be seen as a signifier of a quality product.
Not sure if a company is CE certified? Ask them! If companies have the “Conformitè Europëenne” CE certification, they can provide evidence through a Certificate of Compliance.
Is that Neon-LED Sign Safe, or “Safe”?
Whether or not it's true, the majority of sign companies will claim that their signs are safe. This is obviously an important selling point – businesses are looking for a safe sign even more than a visible one – so it makes sense to include.
However, the UL and similar groups are the ones who ultimately determine sign safety and demonstrate it through certifications. Just because a sign company tells you that their sign is safe doesn’t mean that it actually is, especially if they don’t list or can’t prove any specific certifications.
You should never trust that a sign is safe until you see the proof of its safety, as designated by safety ratings like those above.
What is an IP Rating? Or, How Can You Tell If a Sign is Waterproof?
While placing signage outside can be useful in driving traffic to your business and attracting new customers, finding LED or neon signs that are waterproof and can work effectively in all kinds of weather can be problematic. If you’re looking for a sign to use outdoors, you should keep your eye out for Ingress Protection (IP) ratings. IP ratings certify the waterproof capabilities of electronic products, including lights.
IP numbers show how good a product is at preventing other things from getting inside of it. These quality ratings are distributed based on testing done by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and are made up of two single-digit numbers. The first digit indicates protection against solids, like dust or pollen, and goes up to a maximum of 6; the second digit indicates protection against liquids and goes up to a maximum of 8.
Most common waterproof IP ratings:
IP65: Signs with this rating have been tested using a water jet, like a hose, and have waterproofing protection for 3 minutes.
IP66: Signs with this rating have demonstrated an ability to repel water from a powerful jet stream for 3 minutes.
IP67: Signs with this rating are able to be submerged in water up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.
IP68: Signs with this rating have the highest level of protection on the IP scale. These products are fully protected against solid particles, and they can be submerged in water beyond 1 meter deep for up to 30 minutes. In the case of the latest iPhone, Apple claims that their IP-68 rated iPhone 13 can survive depths of up to 6 meters for up to 30 minutes.
Sometimes, you may also see multiple IP ratings on a product. This simply means that the sign protects against particles in multiple ways. For example, if you spot a product with both an IP 65 and an IP 68 rating, the product holds up against both submersion and a water jet.
When it comes to signage, even a waterproof sign may not necessarily be completely weatherproof. Hot and humid Florida weather or freezing Minnesota snowstorms can impact the performance of signs depending on their construction. If you are selecting a neon or LED sign to use outside, you should always confirm with the sign company that their products are safe for outdoor use first.
Is the Price Right?
Everyone loves to save a few bucks. When it comes to lighting and signage solutions though, low prices are a warning sign. Seeing an extremely low price doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t buy that particular sign, or that there’s something wrong with it, but it does mean that you should proceed with caution.
Generally, the average cost of a high-quality LED sign will start at around $150-200 and go up to $1000 or more depending on the size and type of the sign. For neon signs, that up-front cost for a custom sign will start slightly higher (closer to $300-400 for a stock sign) and can again go up to $4000 or more for a custom sign. Sometimes sign companies will offer sales on certain high-quality items or can provide stock items for a slightly cheaper price, especially when trying to blow out inventory.
Is the Price Misleading?
Some sign companies can also be misleading about their pricing, particularly on third-party services like Etsy. If you search for “custom neon sign,” you’ll see a wide variety of sellers touting custom neon or LED-neon signs at $20 apiece. However, if you look closer, you’ll see that these inexpensive signs are only 10cm long! Sometimes, these low costs also hide upcharges or additional costs, which is why it’s important to read the fine print. Some sellers use low costs as “down payments” for more expensive signs or add hidden fees at checkout.
While a low-cost 10cm sign may be exactly what you need, it likely won’t be effective for most business uses.
Keeping that in mind, if you stumble upon company offering “high-quality” signs at a fraction of this cost ($50 or below), you’re right to be suspicious. Many of these solutions don’t have safety certifications, won’t be very bright, and/or won’t last a long time.
A Return Policy Can Be Telling
One indicator of a company that makes quality signs is their return policy. If you receive a sign and find it doesn’t meet your needs or is low-quality, can you return it for a full refund? This is particularly important as the first time a customer sees their sign is often after they purchase it.
Some companies allow returns. Many will accept returns on stock signs, but not custom signs. Other companies refuse all returns and will only repair or replace signage damaged in shipping. There are some companies that do not even specify what their return policy is. If the company in question is legitimate, you should be able to find their return policy (or lack of) easily. For example, you can find our 30-day return policy clearly laid out on our website here.
What is the Warranty?
The company's website should clearly articulate the warranty on their signs, if applicable. Many manufacturers make no mention of their warranty. Others might offer a one year warranty whose coverage depends on what particular issue the sign has. Some have longer warranties that sound great…until you read the fine print. Be sure to investigate how the long the warranty is and what exactly it covers before making a purchase. (Again, you can find SpellBrite’s policies – an automatic one-year warranty, with a free three-year extended warranty available with product registration – quickly and easily here).
Keeping an Eye Out For Possible Scams
When trying to determine whether that LED or neon sign company is going to give you a long-lasting, high-quality product or a cheap but dim alternative, using the best practices for judging scams in general can be helpful. Here, we’ll outline what to watch for when buying custom signs from a seller whose reputation you’re unsure of.
How long has the company been in business? If a company has been in business for decades, like us, there should be plenty of information about them online. Conversely, many brand new companies won't clearly state how long they have been in business. This makes it harder to tell if their signs are high-quality or how long they will last.
Is the company an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)? Not all legitimate companies register with the BBB, but the BBB will often keep a record of problematic dealings associated with the business. This may help you to confirm the business’s authenticity.
Does the company have a website? Generally, the website a company has can help you determine if it is legitimate or a scam. While not all legitimate companies have websites, a website can help put your mind at ease.
If the company does have a website:
- Does the company list their phone number? If so, try calling it; does somebody pick up the phone or call you back?
- In what way does the company accept payment? While credit cards are generally safer (and make it easier to obtain a refund in the event of fraudulent activity), some companies will require payment in the form of envelopes of cash or checks mailed to a specific address.
- How is their website design and grammar? Are there sections that look extremely underdeveloped, or that have serious programming errors? Some legitimate businesses, especially small businesses, will have poor website design and may have some small grammatical issues. However, most legitimate e-commerce companies will invest in a website that accurately reflects their brand and products.
Does the company have social media? A digital presence is becoming increasingly more important for businesses of all kinds, from physical storefronts and restaurants to sign companies. It can be hard to tell if a business is legitimate or high-quality based solely on their social media. However, social media does provide great insight into a business’s values.
If the company doesn’t have any social media, especially if they also have no website, that is a red flag. The exception to this would be if the business is small, like a shop selling crocheted stuffed animals on Etsy. If the business in question is larger or seemingly well-established, you should expect to see a website and social media.
Responsive to negative feedback
If the company does have social media, you can easily scroll through their posts and often learn something about them. If you see any negative feedback, has the company responded to it in a helpful way? Does the company seem responsive to the concerns of potential customers on their social media? If you are suspicious that the company is not legitimate, do not click on the link directly in their bio. Instead, open a new tab and Google the company name to see what pops up.
Search Appearance on Third-Party Sellers
While e-commerce platforms do work to ensure that products are fairly rated, and that companies aren’t paying for positive reviews, many reviews and companies fall between the cracks. In particular, we are going to take a closer look at e-commerce giant Amazon.
One thing to note is that the majority of sellers on Amazon are now selling directly from Chinese sellers. This makes safety ratings and certifications harder to obtain or confirm. One way in which these sellers are protecting their interests in the United States is by creating official “brands.” They create these brands by combining a string of numbers to create a unique "brand name" for the company. If you see a brand name like JHTKLWOII on Amazon, it's likely that the company is based in China. This means that the product is not held to the same safety standards or government requirements as products created and sold from the United States. You can confirm where a company is based by using the above steps to look for their website or social media, or try reaching out to their customer service line.
Search Placement on Amazon
Additionally, looking at reviews on Amazon can be extremely telling. While Amazon has cracked down on purchasing reviews, there are still many companies who purchase both positive reviews for themselves. Some companies will even purchase negative reviews for other companies, compromising the legitimacy of many negative reviews as well. Do the reviews of these "high-quality" signs seem to be legitimate? Do they come with pictures? Are they all extremely positive or extremely negative?
Oftentimes, the 3 and 4 star reviews will be the most helpful. They are also the ones that are most likely to be true, accurate reviews given by paying customers. If a seller has 500+ reviews and a 4.98 rating, it is unlikely that all their reviews are legitimate. Customers with mid-range ratings often have more level-headed feedback, giving you a better sense of the company’s shortcomings. Do they have a great product but terrible customer service? False advertising on shipping times? These 3-4 star reviews will let you know.
Other Third-Party Reviews
Other third-party reviews can be extremely helpful to investigate when determining whether a company is legitimate or not. Although both the company in question and their competitors can manipulate these, common sense helps you read between the lines.
First, you can look up “[company name] scam” or “is [company] legit.” If it actually is a suspected scam, top results will link to their rating on sites like ScamRisk.
If they don’t show up there, look at sites like Trustpilot, Sitejabber, Google Reviews, Yelp, or Facebook Reviews. While these reviews may be short and sweet, there are often at least a few that go into more detail. Hearing from previous customers can give you insight into the company and whether the product will work for you. In particular, spotting returning customers who have left multiple reviews is always a good sign.
Having a bright sign can increase your business’ sales. Having a quality bright sign can increase those sales for years to come and give you peace of mind. We hope you found our suggestions valuable. Unfortunately, none of the above strategies are 100% accurate in proving that a sign is bright, long-lasting or high-quality. However, using all of them together – looking for certifications of safety and quality on the product, checking for a return and warranty policy, evaluating content on a company’s social media and website, and investigating third-party review platforms – can help you determine if the sign you’re looking at is the right one for you.
Of course, we’d (www.SpellBrite.com) be delighted to provide you with a high-quality sign. We have decades of experience in the lighting and signage industries, and would be happy to schedule a free consultation. Contact us at [email protected] or (312)575-9620 and we'll work with you to determine what solution is best for you.