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Graffiti Design And Illuminated LED Signage – THEN & NOW

The story of Graffiti Design as a company is a bit of an odyssey, from tentative beginnings in a war-torn country to culminating in a multi-media enterprise in a highly digital world.

Though we started with a single jig-saw and scalpel, then evolved to cutting-edge CNC and our very own innovative Gdi TRAX system, the Graffiti Design team has always been defined by their skill, not their tools.

My name is Colin Pestell, chairman and co-founder of Graffiti Design International Ltd.

Let me tell you the story from the very beginning.

At the Beginning:

After spending a lot of his time on the Russian Convoy defending supply ships from U-Boat attack, Harry Pestell was de-mobbed from the Royal Navy in 1946. Having been conscripted into the Royal Navy at the tender age of 17, on his return to civvy street, he had no work experience or training to speak of.

He was a moderately good artist, so decided to enrol on a Painter & Decorator’s course at the Brixton School of Building. As well as gilding, wood graining and marbling, part of the curriculum was lettering. This was the start of my father’s career as a signwriter.

Harry Pestell

Like Father Like Son… Sometimes

Jumping forward to much later, 1954 was the year I entered the equation. My father had established himself as a self-employed signwriter and general signmaking “one-man-band”. I grew up helping out where I could: painting boards ready for signwriting, a bit of infilling and learning how to use a brand new innovative process called “wet transfer Letraset”. By the time I was 17, I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I left school. I wanted to be a signwriter, like my Dad.

I was a slightly rebellious teenager, so my father thought it better that I should attend college, rather than work as his apprentice. I ended up attending a 3-year design course at South Bank Poly. The first year went well, but after that it all went downhill. I found going down the pub and generally dossing around far more appealing. 

The college eventually lost patience, and asked me leave. That left me with no grant (remember those?), nothing to do and no income. The only thing I knew anything about was signs. So, in 1976 with the purchase of an ancient epidiascope, a polystyrene cutter, a jigsaw and a very sharp scalpel, Graffiti Design Int. (Gdi) was born.

A Different Time

42 years ago, everything was hand-drawn and hand-cut. There were no computers, no CNC and no lasers. If you were lucky, you may have had a pantograph, and at least Letraset had evolved into dry transfer lettering. The hidden benefit was that there was very little to break down, but nevertheless: you had to have a good skills base to be a signmaker. 

Eight years on, we were able to purchase one of the very early Gerber machines – no more hand-cutting Fablon with a scalpel! Two years further on from that, we bought our first 48 CNC machine. This meant no more jig-sawing acrylic sheet, so we were on a roll!

Our latest CNC machine. Not the original, but close enough!

Speaking as an expert: the introduction of computer technology in signage design has made manufacture incredibly more efficient and consistent. However, elsewhere it also opened up the industry to unskilled people, resulting in a plethora of poorly-designed and made signs.

What technology gives with one hand, it takes with the other. Clearly, the advent of digital printing had a major impact on the industry, and it even could be viewed as having spawned an entirely new industry. It certainly had a detrimental effect on screenprinting, and again opened up the industry to more unskilled people.

It cannot be overestimated but it is often overlooked: how much impact the internet has had on all industry. The ability to transmit digital files all over the world for production and approval was a huge advance on fax machines and snail-mail. It massively improved turnaround, production and consistency.



Graffiti Design and LEDs

There are many technological advances that could, and maybe should be mentioned, but the list is quite extensive, including thick coloured acrylics, letter-bending machines and 3D printers, to list but a few!

However, the introduction of LED lighting to our industry is not something that can be skipped. Smaller, brighter and more energy-efficient, white LED light bulbs have greater longevity than almost any other form of illumination.

The imaginative and innovative use of various types of LED by signmakers and designers, including our Gdi TRAX system, is frankly outstanding. Long gone are the days for the need of fluorescent tubes and neon for encased lighting (although, yes, nothing quite matches the iconic look of exposed neon).

Overall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing the changes to our industry over the last 50 years, although some were great and others not-so-great. And I’m really looking forward to witnessing the technological innovations to come.

Colin Pestell


Graffiti Design International Ltd (Gdi) is a leading UK signage company based in London.

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New Signage for City Electrical Factors

We have just completed the manufacture and installation of our first City Electrical Factors signage at the Brighton West Branch. We were approached by CEF back in February and competed in a tender for the works. We were awarded the signage work based on our competitive pricing, our extensive knowledge and experience. It is a great start for Graffiti Design within City Electrical Factors, as the retailer has over 360 sites in the UK.

We have secured a further 9 sites and are looking at 10 beyond that, with a possibility of covering the whole of the South East’s City Electrical Factors branches.

CEF Brighton West

The signage is clean and smart, with simple and effective imagery and wording. Red ACM panels with cast vinyl, flat cut white acrylic letters and a halo illuminated logo with digitally printed contravision made up the front elevation of the branch. The install engineers also erected a 3 metre monolith at the entrance to the trading estate, with cast vinyl detailing on the front.

Our relationship with City Electrical Factors has been taking to another level with the install of the new signage at CEF Brighton West, as before we were a customer of theirs, and now the favour is returned. CEF Chichester is now under way in the factory with pushed through illuminated lettering, and Littlehampton should not be far off after that.

The what’s what of illuminated letters

At Graffiti we get many enquiries for illuminated letters. Great, this is one of the areas we really specialise in. However, there are so many different looks and methods of illumination it is tricky for our customers to make the right decision to achieve their desired results. This should help you to understand and get some ideas of what would be best for you.

There are really seven different types of illuminated letters, so deciding isn’t straight forward. They are halo illumination, face illumination, full letter illumination, side illumination, Matrix illumination, Trax illumination and the classic neon. All are effective and have their own individual strengths and purposes.

 

Firstly there is halo illuminated letters. These are very popular on the high streets of the UK and amongst retailers especially. It gives a classy and sophisticated yet subtle illumination of the sign. Halo can be used on any type of built up letter, from aluminium, stainless steel, modelboard and acrylic. LEDs would be mounted inside the letter to illuminate back onto the fascia as the letters would be stood off.

 

Face illumination is also a very popular form of retail signage, and probably the first port-of-call when it comes to illuminated signs. They are bright, bold and really stand out on the high street. The face of the letter would be acrylic, with either stainless steel or aluminium returns. Again, LEDs would be used to illuminate the face. We manufacture face illuminated letters for Monsoon stores.

 

Full letter illumination can only be used with built up acrylic letters. LEDs in the backs of the letters illuminate the entire area as the acrylic is semi-translucent. We have used these types of illuminated letters for Red Bull Racing.

 

Side illumination is very similar to full letter illumination, as the letters would be built up acrylic with internal LEDs, however the face would be covered so only the returns illuminate. The main fascia signage for Oasis used this method.

 

Matrix illuminated letters are a new take on traditional fairground style of illuminated letters. Using exposed LED light bulbs or pushed through LEDs on the face of the letters to achieve a retro style. This has proved extremely popular with some clients and we believe it is only a matter of time before Matrix illumination really takes off and becomes a household name of illumination in the signage industry.

 

Another developed product from Graffiti Design is our very own Trax method. This is where we mount half the letters onto the outside of a glass frontage, then the other half on the inside of the glass. There are steel tubes that subtly hold all the electrics that run power to the LEDs mounted in the interior part of the letter. The light shines through the glass to the acrylic letter on the exterior illuminating the sign. It gives a look of floating letters coming through the window that has been extremely popular with Jones the Bootmaker, and many of our clients.

Finally we come to neon. Neon has been around for an extremely long time, and is what everyone thinks of when it comes to an illuminated sign. The bold bright colours are nearly impossible to replicate and there is sometimes nothing else that can match the effect neon gives you.

 

Hopefully this should give you all a better understanding of what can be done with illuminated signs and built up letters. We have every example of illumination mentioned here in our showroom which we welcome you to visit. If you have a project or an idea for some signage, then please contact us to today and we would be happy to help.

Massive New Monsoon Illuminated Signage

Graffiti Design has recently completed the new Monsoon signage for Monsoon Kingston store. The main side of the massive fascia stretched over 34 metres long with two projecting signs and four sets of illuminated built up letters.

This site is part of the continued rollout of the newly rebranded Monsoon Accessorize signage that Graffiti Design won back in March 2012. Now that the initial Olympic rollout has been successfully completed, Graffiti have been working through the major sites in the Monsoon Accessorize estate.

Kingston was just one of a number of the key sites for the worldwide fashion retailer; others have included Accessorize Euston Station, Kings Road London and Taunton. More sites are on the horizon and now in manufacture, Canary Wharf, Windsor and Crawley will be completed with the next couple of weeks.

The illuminated signage at Kingston was complex not just because of the size, but also the splay around the corner of the building. The powder coated aluminium trays were over 1.3 metres in height, and reached a little over 42 metres in length. There were four different sets of illuminated letters on the fascia, ranging from a cap height of 240mm over the door, to the main set which was 1.2 metres.

All the letters and both projecting signs were internally illuminated using LEDs, and diffused with opal acrylic. The job took over two nights to install because of the sheer size of the panels and letters.

The fascia also included the new Monsoon Children logo, in a very attractive illuminated blue. The other two sites where Graffiti has manufactured and installed the Monsoon Children fascia are Regent Street and Kings Road. The ‘Monsoon’ remains as built up illuminated letters although ‘Children’ is manufactured as pushed through illuminated letters, so they appear flush with the rest of the fascia.

Graffiti Design has also been working on samples of the illuminated built up letters to be sent out Egypt for Monsoon, as the retailer spreads it wings to the Middle East.

Coffee Republic Signage

Graffiti Design can now announce that we will be producing the complete interior and exterior signage and graphics for its first Coffee Republic store.

After an amicable and positive meeting with a director of Coffee Republic, and a successful tendering process, Graffiti has won the work for the new Oxford outlet. We have also been named and confirmed as the signage and graphic supplier for a hopeful second new opening in London which is in the not too distant future.

Once the works are complete, Graffiti Design will be placed in the brand manual for Coffee Republic, and will be the named supplier for all the new franchises and the six company owned stores.

Peter Phair, Sales & Marketing Executive and project manager for the works commented: “This is another great success for the company. To be selected by a large high street name with stores nationwide is a great opportunity for us to exploit. To be associated with a brand this powerful is exactly the sort of market that we aim for and are moving into rapidly.”

The specification for Coffee Republic consists of a white dibond tray, pushed through opal acrylic letters with painted aluminium faces – all illuminated. There will be an illuminated circular projecting sign and internal vinyl and graphics, all the sort of things that we specialise in.

We have now gone into manufacture for all the signage and graphics and installation will be in September, shortly before the store will open, however a date is yet to be confirmed.