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If you’ve ever had to buy a diamond, someone – maybe a jewelry store salesperson, a friend or even a family member – most likely made you aware of the “4Cs.” For the uninitiated, and I’m counting myself here, that’s Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat. Cut influences the gem’s sparkle. Color, or lack of color, deter-mines grade. Clarity refers to imperfections that may reduce overall brilliance. And finally, Carat is the total weight of the gem. All four of these characteristics determine how much you’ll pay for the diamond, as well as give a general understanding of how satisfied you’ll be with the stone overall.

Choosing the right LED is similar, though thankfully, as the technology continues to improve and proliferate each year, it’s less nerve-wracking and much less expensive. Every day, signshops around the country order a variety of LEDs for use in channel and dimensional letters, front and backlit cabinets, and more, but what characteristics should you be looking for when purchasing this type of lighting? That is, what is the “4C” equivalent? Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus in our industry on a clever acronym for us to use. There are, however, specific qualities and considerations each shop takes into account when ordering and using LEDs, and while many of them are identical, where they differ, they can be light years apart.

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Tako Tyko Signs & Lighting, Los Angeles

Ruben Cielak, owner of Tako Tyko Signs & Lighting in Los Angeles, has been in the business for more than 30 years. Originally a sign repair company, Tako Tyko has grown into a trusted, full-service, manufacturing and install giant in the LA market, handling everything from design, engineering and permitting, to a “night patrol” service, where teams go out in the evening to ensure illuminated signs are operating correctly.

“It was difficult to do much with LEDs back in the day,” Cielak said. “They were expensive – too expensive – and hard to integrate into custom designs due to their initial size offerings.” Now though, he noted, with LEDs being made smaller, lighter and cheaper, the only limitations are creativity and imagination – to a point. “If the manufacturer makes the LED chips 2 in. long by 1 in. wide,” he continued, “you have to account for that in your design.” This might include adding, adjusting or “fattening” up the stroke of the type in a custom channel or reverse channel sign to allot enough space to fit the LED module. Cielak admitted it can be a struggle between what the client wants and what the technology can do. It might also mean purchasing custom LEDs to fit exact the specifications of a project. That’s why Tako Tyko regularly meets with designers and clients to determine the maximum stroke and LED size before they begin production. 

Beyond that drawback, Cielak added, you can use LEDs almost anywhere you’d use traditional lighting. And use them Tako Tyko does, blending award-winning design with expert installation to ensure elegant and functional signs. Because, as Cielak asserted, “Before, you needed to be an expert in, say, neon. Not every shop could do it. But anyone these days can use LED. That means you have to be creative to stay ahead of the competition.”