Traffic signs are signs that are installed on the side or above the road providing drivers with up-to-date information about the route they are driving on. They are often taken for granted, but when you venture out to unfamiliar territory, they become your best friends and make sure you stay safe.

Remnants of traffic signs show that they have been used as far back as Ancient Rome. Via Appia, commonly known as the Appian Way, was the first road adorned with signs. They were made of stones and marked who oversaw a certain aspect of the road. Later on, the Romans would place signs at intersections that told you how much more ground you needed to cover to reach the Roman capital – Rome.

Nowadays, traffic signs come in a variety of shapes and forms from rectangular vertical posts to road marking signs, all of which provide guidance and information to both drivers and pedestrians. If you are interested in the modern-day process of making traffic signs and the materials used during this process, make sure you read on.

These signs are very important for the safety of drivers. Apart from this, a guardrail is also used to protect people from falling over the edge.


Photo by Nick Fewings from Unsplash

The Frame

In recent times, road engineers have been focusing on the durability aspect of traffic signs. Stone has become less popular because it doesn’t last long, so manufacturers use different frames to create signs. Depending on the sign they are creating, manufacturers typically choose between aluminum and plywood coated with plastic and steel as their go-to materials.

Aluminum is probably the most durable option; its only downside is that the signs made out of it need to be reinforced with metal braces on the back because the material is very light in weight.

On the other hand, plywood is the least expensive option, but it is also less durable and susceptible to weather damage.

The Background Sheeting

If you ever wondered what makes signs appear so clear and shiny when it’s dark, that’s due to a process called retroreflection. The sign copy which includes the letters, symbols and background is made of retroreflective sheeting which allows it to be seen well at night. The sheeting is made of reflective micro prism material which is embedded in a flexible surface, making it easier for drivers to see it at night when reflected from their vehicles’ leadlights.

These days all professional highway and street sign makers use cutting-edge CAD tools for their work. This enables them to pick the right panel, add intelligent letter formatting, and have proper sizing and editing flexibility. The software also takes care of custom orders, making the process simpler and less time-consuming. With convenient features available on modern software, traffic engineers can make sure the process is consistent.

No matter how traffic signs are made, they should always adhere to standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

The Manufacturing Process

The manufacturing process of road signs involves a number of steps. These include:

  1. Cutting the blank: The blank is constructed from aluminum and the corners are rounded on a punching machine. Once this is done, holes for mounting the signs are drilled.
  2. Checking the blank: The blanks are then inspected for signs of contamination or damage by wrapping a clear cellophane tape around them. If a color is present, that means contamination occurred.
  3. Degreasing the blank: This step involves immersion of the blank in a bath of trichloroethylene.
  4. Applying the retroreflective sheet to the blank: The adhesive liner on the back of the sign is removed and a retroreflective sheeting material is placed onto the surface. Air bubbles usually occur during this step which can be eliminated with a squeeze roll applicator. Finally, the edges of the sheeting are trimmed.

The Future of Traffic Signs

As advances in technology evolve, so will traffic signs. Many states are already using light-emitting diodes (LED) because of their ability to enhance signs’ visibility, especially at intersections. However, we should not expect any drastic changes in traffic signs, but maybe some improvements and tweaks on what’s already working.


Photo by Malachi Brooks from Unsplash

Final Thoughts

Traffic signs are made in much more advanced ways than they have been in the past. Nowadays, manufacturers use different materials to create traffic signs in various shapes and sizes, all of which still provide guidance and important information to drivers and pedestrians.

In case you want to learn more about traffic signs, be sure to refer to our post and find out everything you need to know about the manufacturing process of these road safeguards.