From Wood to Pixels: The Evolution of Business Signage

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Today, you can’t go far without coming across some form of business signage. Modern businesses use both indoor and outdoor displays to garner attention, inform customers about products or deals, and turn viewership into engagement.

Where did the idea of business signage come from, though? The first commercial signs might have looked different from today’s digital displays, but their purpose was largely the same. From wood to pixels and everything in between, explore the evolution of business signage and see how advertising displays grew into what they are today.

Signage in Ancient Civilizations

Business signage dates all the way back to ancient civilizations, such as those found in Greece and Rome. The Greeks and Romans used signage in a very similar way to how we do now—many of their signs designated businesses, government locations, and other important establishments. Because literacy was less common at the time, most signs used images instead of text.

These designs started out pretty simple, but they grew more elaborate over the years. Business signage soon included hand-carved wood and stone, colorful paintings, and even gold engravings and other decorations to make the displays stand out and catch the attention of passersby.

Prosperity in the 18th Century

As time went on, industries across the world experienced massive growth and expansion. Businesses evolved quickly. Raw materials became more common and accessible, allowing for greater levels of innovation. In the 1700s, the Industrial Revolution made mass production possible.

All of these factors contributed to a boom in signage production and usage. Business displays started to incorporate single letters. Over time, they would include even more text. With the introduction of text came an increase in popularity for advertorial designs. Innovation and creativity blossomed, expanding the limits of what businesses could do with their signage.

A Lightbulb Moment

New lighting solutions appeared in the 1800s, changing the signage scene forever. Businesses began using lights to illuminate their signs at night, with casinos and movie theaters being the first to make this change by using gas-lit signs.

Next came the invention of the incandescent light bulb, which used electricity instead of gas. This safer solution quickly became more popular than gas-powered lighting, and a wider range of businesses began using light bulbs to make their signs visible at night. With this new safe and powerful illumination, signage began to overtake newspapers as the more effective advertising medium.

Delving Into Neon

The signage industry briefly returned to gas-powered lights in the 1920s. Neon signs gained popularity as a bright and colorful fixture; they also stood out even in daylight, attracting even more attention to the businesses that used them. Neon became something of a spectacle, with famous installations on theater marquees, in Times Square, and in other iconic locations across the US.

However, neon also had a few downsides in comparison to electric lighting, including price and safety. Many businesses changed back to electric lighting after a couple of decades, but modern neon solutions are still common for many businesses and organizations.

The Spread of Plastics

Plastics entered the signage scene in the 1950s. Fewer restrictions, ongoing innovation, and improvements in manufacturing and overall quality spurred faster and more affordable mass production. Moreover, plastic’s versatility meant that it worked with any type of bulb. It could also be used to create much more complex signs, allowing developers to push creativity even further. As a result, business signage spread to more industries than ever before, becoming a staple in advertising across the board.

TVs As Displays

The concept of modern digital signage began in the ’80s and ’90s, when store owners used TV screens in store-front windows to display advertisements. By playing VHS tapes—and, later on, DVDs—businesses could create video advertisements to display. This made their ads stand out among static displays, drawing more attention and more customers to their businesses. Though today’s LED video sign boards are different than these early TV displays, they are still a result of the creativity and drive that caused businesses to seek more exciting and dynamic forms of advertising.

Enter the Personal Computer

Digital signage as we know it grew with the invention of the personal computer. This paved the way for graphic design software, programmed displays, controlled lighting settings, and so much more.

An example of early digital signs includes scrolling marquees at movie theaters, which displayed text and simple graphics. But as computer technology improved, screens evolved to match. This meant higher resolution and more vivid colors for a cleaner, sharper, better-looking picture.

The Introduction of LED Displays

Optec was at the forefront of LED signage technology when they developed the first wireless controlled LED displays for commercial use in 1985. Since then, Optec’s engineers have helped LED displays evolve through cutting-edge design and advancements in technology.

Innovations in the ’90s led to Optec developing the first full-color LED display models in 1990 and manufacturing the first full-color video display in the United States in 1996. Advancements like these paved the way for further technological achievements and the fast-growing popularity of LED signage.

Digital Signage Today

What can digital signage do today? The possibilities are endless. Higher resolutions, a wider range of pixel options, and other innovations create greater opportunities for creative, dynamic content than ever before. Over the years, Optec has changed the game with innovations like our Hybrid Pixel system, which features hot swappable pixels, cloud-based hosting and management software, indoor and outdoor tight pitch solutions, and so much more.

Meanwhile, an array of signage sizes and designs allows businesses to implement displays in more locations, including in parking lots, on storefronts, and within malls and other venues. Plus, LED video sign boards make it easy to display crisp, captivating moving images. These innovations and solutions make LED digital signage more versatile, attractive, and effective than ever before.

Cutting-Edge Signage From Optec Displays

Optec Displays is a leading innovator in reliable, efficient, and high-performance LED signage. With in-house engineering and manufacturing, top-quality materials, and continuously evolving design, we deliver cutting-edge signage solutions for a wide range of industries. Learn more about the role Optec continues to play in the evolution of business signs when you get started with your own optimized Optec Displays signage today.

From Wood to Pixels: The Evolution of Business Signage