First impressions count. If you run a business, you’ll understand this only too well.

The sign outside your premises is one of the first things someone passing your property will see. With the right lighting, your outdoor sign is inviting and leaves people with a positive view of your brand. A poorly lit sign, on the other hand, hints at a company that doesn’t pay attention to details and isn’t worried about what people think of the business.

You don’t want to be that kind of business.

This guide will discuss best practices for outdoor sign lighting. You’ll also learn about things like setback guidelines and the optimal spacing for your lights, which is important at night. Read on to find out more.

Determine Your Needs

When choosing commercial lighting for exterior displays or signs, you must consider your display size and lighting needs. We’ll look at each of these in turn.

Consider the Display Size

From the beginning, you need to consider the size of the area you want to illuminate and its location. The sign’s location will impact your lighting choices. For example, if the sign is close to the ground, you might be able to use bullet lights to illuminate it. On the other hand, you might need a mounting to illuminate a sign on your building.

The size of the sign is another important consideration. The larger your sign, the more lights you’ll need to illuminate it properly. Secondly, the larger the area you want to illuminate, the more lighting options you have. 

Determine Your Lighting Needs

Next, think about the impression you want to achieve. Consider the following:

  • Do you want the sign to be illuminated from below, above, or behind? This can influence how much attention people give to your lighting fixtures and the impact you generate.
  • What color light bulb do you want to use? Do you want a bright white beam or a warm, yellow glow to create the ambiance for outdoor space?
  • What type of light bulb do you plan to use? LED bulbs, for example, have a longer lifespan than fluorescent lights. You’ll have to replace bulbs less frequently, which simplifies maintenance.

There are other things you can play around with near the entrance to your property. For example, you can play around with areas of illumination and shadow by changing the location of the lights.

Signage lighting on ritz carlton hotel sign


It’s a nice idea to look at different lighting options online for inspiration.

Setting your lighting needs is relatively straightforward. It’s a good exercise to go through before you turn to a lighting expert for advice.

Some Simple Rules to Follow

There are many rules to outdoor sign lighting. Here are a few lighting position rules you should know before starting the project.

Setback Guidelines

Setback is the distance from the sign to the lighting fixture in the ground. You’ll need to do some math to get the distances correct. However, the basic idea is the light source should be the height of the sign, and the distance to the light source should be the same.

light pointing at 45 degree angle towards object

The diagram above is handy if you’re a visual learner.

Spacing Options

Once you’ve determined the setback, think about light spacing. This will be important if you need to illuminate a large area.

The optimal distance between two lights is twice the distance of the setback. For example, if the setback is 6 feet, the distance between your lights would be 12 feet. That way, you get overlap between the beams.

lights flashing upward towards brick wall


You can play around with the distances between your lights to create different impressions. The image above nicely illustrates this point.

Choosing Your Outdoor Sign Lighting

There are various in-ground lighting options for your outdoor sign lighting. Many people struggle to choose between bullet lights, wash lights, and floodlights. Each type of light has its benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Bullet lights: They have a narrow, bright beam. Bullet lights are great for highlighting garden and architectural features. They can be good for illuminating smaller signs.
  • Wash lights: These have a soft beam and can illuminate a larger area. Wash lights are commonly used for illuminating fences, walls, and facades. 
  • Spotlights: They have a wider beam than bullet lights and are significantly brighter than wash lights. Spotlights can be used for large outdoor signs.

You can purchase various styles of bullet lights and wash lights through CAST. Our MR-16 and MR-11 bullet lights are particularly popular. The MR-16 lights are larger, with a broader beam than the MR-11.

The lights are made from rugged sand-cast bronze. They are virtually indestructible and have a lovely appearance (perfect for outdoor sign lighting).

Alternatively, you can consider our CAST Craftsman Series Bronze Wash Light. This lighting fixture is a similar style and made from the same solid sand-cast bronze as our bullet lights. One nice feature worth highlighting is the ability to choose between different lumen levels. You can create the perfect setting by adapting the light intensity to your needs.


Outdoor signs play an essential role in promoting your business. Ensuring your signs are properly illuminated at night is as important as having a nice sign in the first place if you want to leave a good impression on visitors.

This guide discussed some things to consider when you’re selecting appropriate outdoor lighting for your business. You learned that the first thing to do when selecting lighting is to consider the display size and determine your lighting needs. 

There are some important rules you’ll need to be aware of as well if you plan to install in-ground lighting. For example, setback guidelines and spacing options.

Understanding the basics of outdoor lighting is important. It will ensure you can have an informed conversation with your lighting expert, who understands how to create the best impact.