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Safety Identification: How to Choose the Right Sign Material

By Mauriah Lamia
Published: August 28, 2017
Key Takeaways

The right sign material will strike the right balance between durability, appearance, and budget.

Source: karenfoleyphotography / iStock

Can you imagine relying on a cracked, chipped, and completely faded sign to keep people from wandering into a dangerous confined space?

That's a disaster waiting to happen.

Leaving up a damaged, battered, and faded sign is almost as useless as not posting one at all. That's why selecting the right type of material for your sign is every bit as important as the message that will be printed on it.


Workers depend on signs to warn them about potential hazards in their work areas, and they need these signs to withstand everything their environment can throw at them. A sign that falls apart or fades isn't just a bad purchase, it's one that can put people's safety at risk.

(Find out How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility)

Types of Sign Materials

Unfortunately, there's no universal right option when it comes to sign materials. The key is identifying the material that will best meets your needs for durability, longevity, appearance, and budget.

If you need a short-term sign to identify a temporary hazard, using a material with a long lifespan will be too costly. On the other hand, taking shortcuts and choosing a weak material for long-term use means your sign will wear down quickly and need to be replaced frequently.

Your main options when selecting sign materials are:

  • Fiberglass – A highly durable material, suitable for harsh conditions. It is weather resistant, strong, rigid, resistant to chemicals and abrasion, and will not chip, fade, corrode, peel, or shatter for up to 25 years.
  • Plastic – Lightweight, cost-effective, and durable. Plastic signs are most suited for indoor applications.
  • Aluminum and stainless steel – Highly resistant to chemicals, abrasion, and corrosion. They can also withstand harsh weather conditions like wind, rain, and sunlight. Aluminum and steel are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use such as parking, building, and informational signs.
  • Self-adhering polyester and vinyl – Economical, easy to mount, and can be used both indoors and outdoors. These signs are fairly resistant to chemicals and abrasions and have an average durability of eight years.

The label material used on signboards is also an important consideration, especially when it comes to visibility. Two finishes in particular can make it easier for a sign to be seen in different conditions:

  • Photoluminescent materials glow after being exposed to light. This makes them ideal for signs that should be easy to see during a power outage, such as exit signs.
  • Retro-reflective materials reflect light back to its source. This enhances visibility at night and is common for roadsigns, since they will glow when headlights shine on them.

(Find out How to Ensure Outdoor Worker Visibility)

Environmental Factors to Consider

Environmental conditions will play a big role in determining which sign material is right for your application. will dictate the material you choose. Remember, you can't depend on a warning sign if it chips, breaks, or fades.

Harsh Environments

Every industry has its own example of harsh environments, but they all mean the same thing when it comes to sign materials: durability.


Harsh environments means that the sign might be subject to anything from direct sunlight, chemical exposure, high pressure washdowns, to industrial impacts. Look for the strongest materials that can withstand the most punishment.

Hot Environments

Boiler rooms, chemical plants, mines, petroleum plants, and various other industrial facilities have consistently high temperatures and need signs that are tough enough to handle the heat.

For signs that will be posted in hot environments, always check the material's specified temperature rating. You’ll also want to consider the maximum time the material will be in the hot environment. For instance, it might make a difference whether the room is always hot or only when some occasionally used machinery is running.

(Learn more about PPE, Hydration, and How to Handle Both)

Cold Environments

When you're dealing with food processing plants and outdoor environments, you're dealing with temperatures that might dip low. Most materials can stand up to cold weather, but some don't fare so well. If low temperatures are a factor, look for materials with the coldest temperature ratings.

Wet Environments

If moisture gets on materials that aren't rated for wet environments or washdowns, you're going to have to replace your signs too quickly. To avoid the extra hassle and expense, go with a material that can endure constant moisture and repeated washings.

Warehouse Environments

Warehouses have a lot of traffic - both by workers on foot and those behind the controls of forklifts. When posting a sign in a warehouse, it should be made of a material that won't chip or scratch even if a forklift bumps against it.

(Check out these Top 10 Tips for Increasing Warehouse Safety)

Don't Settle for the Wrong Materials

When it comes to communicating critical safety information, it's never a good idea to cut corners. Posting a sign made from a material that can't handle the environment it's in might help you save up front, but it will end up costing you more when you have to keep replacing damaged or worn out signs.

Take a good look at where your sign will be placed and what it might be subjected to once you put it up. That way, you can make sure the material you get will be up to the job.


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Written by Mauriah Lamia | Content and Social Media Manager

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Mauriah Lamia, Content Marketing at Accuform
Mauriah performs industry research to educate others about products, markets, and standards/regulations. She writes content that’s topical and solves problems, while engaging reader with unique perspectives. Her goal is to create safety experts in the industry of signage and facility identification.

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