Selecting Traffic Sign Materials

Traffic Signs

Traffic signs are one of the most essential tools to prevent chaos on the highways and streets of every town and city on the planet. From makeshift wooden boards to professionally designed and manufactured LED-illuminated traffic signs, they help travelers arrive at their destination.

Standards for Canadian traffic signs specifying materials, wording, installation, etc. can be found in the MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Device) which closely follows the MUTCD for the United States. Since the two countries have fairly similar driving situations, it makes sense to have uniformity of traffic signs. In Canada, provinces and territories may also have their own manuals based on the MUTCD standards such as the Manual of Standard Traffic Signs and Pavement Markings from the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

The effectiveness of traffic signs depends on a number of elements. The most important, of course, is the legibility of each sign followed by durability. The material the sign is made of will effect both of those.    There are a variety of road sign materials that are available and each one has its own benefits and disadvantages.

Traffic Sign Materials:

Aluminum – Traffic safety signs made of aluminum are able to withstand the outdoor conditions of the road. Aside from the fact that aluminum is more durable than plastic, it’s also rust and corrosion-proof. Because of its lightweight characteristics, aluminum road signs are easy to install. One drawback of using aluminum, though, is that it’s prone to dents and scratches. It’s also more expensive than plastic.

Steel – In terms of durability, nothing compares to heavy-duty galvanized steel signs. With its 18-gauge steel sheet that’s .05 inches thick, signs could last decades without needing replacements. Steel doesn’t easily bend or dent making it virtually maintenance-free. However, galvanized steel signs are fairly heavy which means they need heavy-duty hardware for installation.

Polyethylene – High-density plastic is the least expensive material used in signage. Typical signs are .125 inches thick which is strong enough to withstand indoor as well as regular outdoor conditions. Because polyethylene signs are easy to install and to customize, these signs are ideal for parking lots where companies can include their logos and employee names to reserve parking spaces. And while its most obvious weakness is that it easily buckles and collapses upon impact, plastic signs can actually reduce injuries to people and vehicles because of this very reason.

The material’s reflectivity is another aspect of traffic and parking signs that should be considered. Drivers and pedestrians need to be able to read the signs even under low-light and nighttime conditions to prevent accidents and collisions.

Traffic Sign Reflectivity:

Non-Reflective – Modern road signs usually need reflective materials or illumination during the night to guide drivers and motorists. Non-reflective signs are recommended only for well-lit areas and signs that are not vital at night. Parking signs and other facility signs can be made with non-reflective materials. For official traffic signs, however, the standard is still retro-reflective or illuminated signs.

Engineer-Grade Reflective – Materials that are classified Engineer-Grade reflective are visible for up to 500 feet. The material’s reflectivity has a lifespan of 5 to 7 years. It’s recommended to use engineer-grade reflectivity on non-critical signage only such as parking lot signs and way-finding signs.

High-Intensity Reflective – Most traffic signs are made with high-intensity reflectivity. The material is visible up to 1,000 feet which makes it ideal for highways, roadways, and essential street signs.


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Points to Consider When Choosing Sign Posts

Sign PostsSigns remind us where we are and where we are headed. Without signs, there would be utter chaos in the streets and highways. Navigation would be virtually impossible in our complex modern world.

Sign posts, bases and stanchions are just as important as the signs they hold up. Without proper accessories and hardware, your signs might just as well be as temporary as a cardboard marker that flies away with a sudden gust of wind.

Traffic Sign Posts

Road signs are especially vulnerable to weather conditions, graffiti, and accidents. You need strong sign posts that can withstand these elements if you don’t want to keep spending money trying to replace your signs.

According to the Manual of Standard Traffic Signs & Pavement Markings by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways in British Columbia, traffic sign posts may be made of wood, metal or plastic, though they recommend plastic be used for highway delineators only.

The ministry also recommends:

  • To position signs against the wind, plowed snow and be high enough to discourage displacement by vandals
  • To install signs behind barriers or breakaway footings to prevent vehicles from hitting them
  • To drill a hole through a 15 cm x 15 cm (6 sq in) post above ground to allow breakage if hit (in accordance with Standard Specifications for Highway Construction)
  • To check for underground utility lines before excavation
  • To ensure concrete sign bases are level and are behind roadside barriers
  • To install more than 1 post for large signs at least 1.2 me wide
  • To install uniform posts (same material and style) across highway sections for aesthetic purposes

Types of Sign Posts

The market offers a variety of sign posts to choose from. There are permanent posts that you can drive through the ground using a post driver and there are portable sign systems with stable bases you could position in different locations around your facility.

Permanent Sign Posts

There are different materials, sizes, and styles of permanent sign posts. There are u-channel posts which are made of perforated galvanized steel or dry coat steel, tubular posts made of rust-proof steel, and fixed-base posts that can be mounted on the ground using bolts.

Temporary Sign Posts

Portable sign posts can be made of rubber, cast iron, polyethylene, etc. These sign posts are especially useful for facility driveways and parking lots.

Flexible Sign Posts

Flexible sign posts are ideal for locations where vehicle impact is expected. These special posts bend and bounce right back up after contact with vehicles.


Sign PostsReflective Sign Posts

Reflective panels on posts and bases increase visibility that’s critical during low light and night time conditions. The reflectivity allows drivers to avoid hitting signs that may cause unnecessary damage to both vehicle and sign post.  Reflective sign post options are recommended for areas with high vehicular traffic.

Signs are incomplete without the proper sign posts to hold it up. Consider these points when choosing sign posts for your facilities, streets, or highways.

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