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It’s The Signs of The Times: The History of Signage

by Nathan Swinson-Bullough

Silhouette of a directions sign against a pink sunset

Signs have been around forever. They’ve always been an essential part of business, but they aren’t restricted to the commercial sector. From hospitality to hospitals, signage is everywhere and showcases a range of information in a variety of ways – whether the purpose is to attract new customers or to communicate a message.  

At Imageco, companies come to us for their signage needs again and again because it’s something we’re really good at! But we want to investigate the long history of signage, to see how we got to where we are today.  


The Beginnings 


Even as early as the Palaeolithic era, humans would draw symbols on cave walls to communicate the products they had to trade. This type of sign developed quickly across Ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire to display businesses like taverns and workshops. 

Fast-forward to 1393, Richard III of England declared that every establishment selling ale needed a sign in front of its building to identify them to the ale inspector. A lot of pubs in the UK still use some of the earliest sign graphics that were developed in the mid 15th century. Because who doesn’t love a bit of vintage styling in their signage? From this point on, signs became more extravagant with impressive graphics to attract new customers. 


20th Century 


From the 20th century onwards, there were lots of developments in signage, particularly in the invention of new, innovative materials.  

Stainless steel was developed in 1913. Through the course of the 20th century, it began to emerge as a popular material for signage due to its durability. It doesn’t rust, corrode, or tarnish, and it’s weatherproof. Because of this, it’s been used to make traffic signs as it keeps them clear and readable. Stainless steel truly stands the test of time which is why we still like to work with it. 

Post-World War 2, plastic signage became mainstream. It was versatile and required very little maintenance. Acrylic continues to be among the most popular materials for signage because it’s so versatile. It’s a sought-after choice for any office or professional setting. But we try to minimise the use of plastics because we’ve found more sustainable alternatives in recent years.  

The biggest development in the 20th century was the introduction of electric signs. First, signs began featuring light bulbs, then neon tubes, followed by fluorescent tubes. Signs became more eye-catching, creating impactful first impressions that brought in new business for the companies using them. The biggest advantage of these new signs was that they can’t be missed because they are visible 24 hours a day. These signs paved the way for LED signage which is an ideal choice because of its durability and excellent visibility. We still use illuminated LED signage because of its ability to create amazing visual impact. Our version of this sort of signage comes in the form of light boxes. We can create spectacular print on these boxes making them perfect for all signage needs. 

Motor Match sign by Imageco

Latest Developments 


Wide-format print will continue to trend in the signage world because of its ability to produce bold colours and sharp resolutions. In the last few years, our wide-format print signage at Imageco has been a great option for more sustainable signage because of HP’s Latex inks which use 70% water. Not everyone uses sustainable inks, but we believe that it’s important going into the future! At Imageco, we use the latest technology meaning, we can digitally print directly onto any material to create our signs, with the added bonus of us future-proofing our printed signage through the use of sustainable materials. 


The Future is ImagEco 


The focus going into the future is on sustainability and at Imageco, we’re leading the way. We have a zero-landfill policy. All our waste from acrylic, and other materials, can be fully recycled with our recycling partners. We also work with media suppliers to source the most sustainable products suitable for the signs we make.  

We hate to brag, but we’re experts at signage because we have our finger on the pulse of all the latest developments. At Imageco, we produce everything from illuminated signage to flex face banners to bespoke designs to meet your signage needs.  

If you’re looking to bring your signage into the 2020’s, get in contact with us.