I’m about to open a really big can of worms in the world of “signage”. People are very passionate and opinionated about this subject matter, so let’s pause for a short minute to grab a cocktail and loosen up for this one…[one minute goes by]…Are we ready? Let’s begin.

Vertical banners. There. I said it. Such a dirty word. The funny thing is, I know you industry experts already have an opinion about it. Am I right?

People typically fall on one side of this fence or the other. They believe vertical banners should read:

  • Bottom-to-top OR…
  • Top-to-bottom

Ask an expert sign producer and you might come away believing that either way is FINE, because you’ve produced them both ways.

Today, I’m here to set the record straight—but, in order to do that, we first need to take a short trip down history lane. [Now would be a good time to grab that cocktail if you haven’t already…]

During the 30s, marquee signage was HUGE. Signage proclaiming the names of theatres, movies or artists would look like they were dancing, thanks to the beautiful glow and constant motion of the colorful chasing lights that adorned it. Sign makers would stack the letters on top of one another without a care in the world!

Ok, ok, that’s not entirely true. With a little research from our friend “Google”, you’ll learn that actually, it was because stacking made fabrication and installation much easier for the vendor. Today, there’s an understood rule of typography to never EVER stack type, as letters “are made to be read side-by-side”. You probably won’t see anyone doing signage “the old way” anymore, unless the brand is going for a more “vintage” feel.

Fast forward 80+ years and signs are now produced using much different materials. We don’t need to care about that right now. What you want to know is, “So how should they read? Like the spine of a book, right?” I guess that depends on which country you’re in. If you live in America or the UK, Scandinavia or any Benelux country [Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg], our spine text runs top-to-bottom. The reason being that if the book is laid on a table, you can easily read the spine. The rest of the world will disagree with this madness, however, pointing out that while all that’s true, it’s also true that if the book is lying face up, you can read the title on the cover—and thus the spine should be printed bottom-to-top.

Clearly, we can’t use book spines as a benchmark for signage, so here’s our “signage rule of thumb”. The answer is, “it depends”. More specifically, it depends on where the sign is placed and where the majority of your traffic is viewing the signage from. For example:

  • If the viewer is looking up at the sign from eye level, the sign should read “bottom-to-top”.
  • If the viewer has to look down from eye level, the sign should read “top-to-bottom”. This is definitely less common but always worth considering.

If you’re having a problem determining how your signage should read, give us a call. We can help you get to the bottom of it. Or the top.