How highway signs are made

A traveler noticed an amusing error on a highway sign and sent a photo of it to media observer Jim Romenesko. When the people responsible for the sign were told about it, they said they would correct it but added that there was no urgency since most people would know that it was meant to read ‘mile’.


But what interested me was this bit of information that the official gave.

“It’s not safety-related, which would obviously be a higher priority,” [DOT spokesman Ryan] Viggiani said. What has probably happened is that a strip of the magnetic tape that makes up the sign lettering has fallen off, he said.

I had thought that the words on these signs were painted on but apparently it is made up of magnetic tape. But when you think about it, that makes a lot of sense because it then becomes easy to change signs. You just strip off the old tape and stick on the new and can even reuse old bits of tape. With paint, you would have to paint over the old words and paint the new, a tedious and expensive chore.


  1. Crimson Clupeidae says

    You can purchase the same (essentially, it meets all the federal DOT standards) tape for use. Many of us who ride motorcycles and bicycles will add bits of it here and there on our rides/gear to improve our visibility.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    Mmmm, I dunno. As anyone who has experience with refrigerator magnets knows, vibrations such as what wind might inflict on a sign can cause magnets to slip out of position, and I’ve never seen a sign with misaligned letters. My guess is that he misspoke and he meant to say either “adhesive” or “reflective” instead of “magnetic”.

  3. jufulu says

    I used to work for a City w/ a sign department. Street signs are made of peel and stick letters & strips, if a correction is needed, they just put a piece of “tape” over the mistake and correct it. The reflectorized material is almost identical to those peel and stick tags you put on your license plates after renewing them. When I retired from there, they made up a personalized street sign for me as a going away present. Didn’t have to steal it for my bedroom or anything.

  4. Dardan says

    Where I work, the technology I use to Produce signs is much more sophisticated than those is see they use in USA, its all printed and much longer lasting than those stick on material they use. I personally guarantee you that the signs I produce last 13 years without discoloration.

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