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Particularly in the past decade with decreasing screen and computer costs, digital signage is more popular than ever. Marketing professionals, small businesses, and non-commercial users alike all have the same question: how does digital signage work?

Digital signage works by creating a sign design that then is cast to a screen (usually a TV) using a small chip. Depending on the hardware that is used, signs can sometimes connect to WiFi and be instantly updated remotely.

Sounds simple, right? In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about digital signage. After telling you about what digital signage is, I’ll give you some tips for designing digital signs, picking out the hardware you want to use, how to publish digital signs, and lastly, how to control and update your digital signs.

How Does Digital Signage Work?

What is Digital Signage and How Does it Work?

While the term may seem like incomprehensible jargon, digital signage is actually incredibly simple: signs that are displayed digitally. Signs can communicate a huge variety of information, and digital signage introduces new flexibility that makes them even more powerful.

Traditionally, signs are made by creating and then installing. First, a design is decided upon and printed onto some sort of surface. Then, the sign is put into the desired place to communicate and show off this design.

The disadvantage of this is that there is no flexibility. Once you’ve made and installed your sign, it’s fixed. Let’s say, for example, you put an ad on the window of your store that says “25% off all items!”. The disadvantage of this sign is that if you ever want to change the sale, you need to make a new sign.

Digital signage solves this problem. By displaying your sign through a digital platform, rather than a physical one, the sign can be easily changed – all you have to do is change the sign’s file, and the display will update. Because of this flexibility, they’ve become hugely popular in every industry that you can think of.

Examples of How Different Industries Use Digital Signs

Different industries use digital signs for countless different purposes. Here are some of the most popular ones.

Restaurants, Bars, Coffee Shops, and Cafeterias

How Does Digital Signage Work?

Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and cafeterias can use digital signs to show off their menu. I’m sure you’ve walked into an establishment, and when you went to order, you selected from menu screens on the wall above the counter. You may not have thought much about it at the time, but that’s digital signage!

Corporate Communications

Corporations use digital signage for communications. Digital signs are found in the lobbies of office buildings where they display directories. They also are sometimes found outside meeting rooms, giving info on the next meeting. Signs are also used to communicate and coordinate employees and have been shown to increase productivity.

Transit and Transportation

Transit stations, for example, subway stations, often have digital signs that guide passengers through the station, give information on ticketing, tell you when the next subway or vehicle is arriving, and provide instructions in event of emergencies.

Hospitality

Hotels use digital signs to show off their amenities, provide information on upcoming events, post their hours, and give you ideas for things to do in the surrounding area.

Hospitals use digital signage to display directories and maps, guiding visitors and patients around to the proper rooms. They also can be used to share facts, provide patient medical information, and coordinate people in the event of an emergency.

Education

Schools and universities use digital signage to display upcoming events, guide students and visitors around their campuses, provide information, and notify in the event of an emergency.

Religion

Houses of worship use digital signage as an auxiliary to their services. Digital signs can be used to stream videos of past services, provide information about volunteering or service events, and display important teachings or insights.

These are just a few of the countless uses of digital signage.

How To Use Digital Signs

Digital signs are remarkably easy to design, and many companies exist to help guide you through the process. They’ll also help you host your signs on screens when they’re ready.

In the next few sections, I’ll tell you everything you need to know from the start to the end of this process.

Designing Digital Signs

The first step to installing your digital sign happens on your computer. Before you can put up the sign, you’ll want to design it.

I mentioned a number of uses for digital signs above, and hopefully, these can help provide you with some inspiration on what you want to post on your sign. Perhaps you have an idea in mind already.

Once you’ve figured out what you want to post on your sign, you’ll design how it appears on screens. Tens of thousands of fully-customizable templates are available online to help you get started, and most of these are free. 

If you’re working with a digital signage provider, there’s a good chance they’ll provide you with templates and editing software to design your sign. Otherwise, you can download templates online and edit them in the software of your choice. Two popular offline software are PowerPoint and Microsoft Publisher.

Digital Signage Templates

There are countless digital signage templates available for use. Some of these are free and high-quality, while plenty of others lack real value. Here are a few of my favorite template providers.

PresentationPoint

PresentationPoint offers over 200 digital signage templates, totally free for you to use. These can be downloaded as PowerPoint slides and edited in PowerPoint. Many of the templates are of quite good quality.

PosterMyWall

PosterMyWall is a partner of the digital signage company Raydiant and proudly offers over 6,000 digital signage templates, in both portrait and landscape formats. You have to purchase or sign up for a plan to publish these signs, but they’re worth the cost – you’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for with PosterMyWall’s huge selection.

Microsoft PowerPoint

PowerPoint itself actually comes preloaded with a huge number of templates, which can easily be downloaded right from Microsoft. You can search in a huge variety of different industries and styles, and you don’t even have to leave PowerPoint to download the templates and start working on your design.

Enplug

Enplug is one of the biggest digital signage providers, and I’ll talk more about them later. When it comes to templates, Enplug is hard to beat. They’ve done the research on their designs to make sure that they lead to real, measurable outcomes. They also have plenty of templates for niche industries when it comes to digital signage, like banking.

Editors for Digital Signage

Besides templates, you’ll need to use an editor to make your digital sign. In a moment I’ll give you some tips for designing the best digital signs, but first, let me tell you about a few of my favorite editors.

Microsoft PowerPoint

Simple but effective and amazingly powerful, PowerPoint is a fantastic editor to use for your digital signs. It’s easy to incorporate animations and even video into your digital sign. It’s also simple to automate the slide deck to run, even if the individual visuals you’re displaying are quite complex.

Enplug

For those who have selected Enplug as their digital signage provider, their editor is worth the price of admission. Enplug’s editor uses an easy drag-and-drop interface and can incorporate plenty of interesting elements. You can even include, for example, a countdown clock into your sign – just set it once, and you’re good to go. 

In Enplug’s editor, you can also preview your sign in any orientation, to see what it would look like on any screen before you publish it.

Canva

Canva is especially great for image and visual design. The free software lets you customize your images however you’d like in any layout, orientation, or ratio. The best part? It’s totally free to use them. It’s a simple and powerful editor for your digital signage needs.

Chrome Sign Builder

Tech giant Google has also invested in the digital signage industry. With any Google account, you can easily download the Sign Builder extension into Chrome for free. Within it, you’ll find a simple and effective editor to create and publish fantastic signs.

Tips For Designing Digital Signs

Especially if your sign is going to be seen by a lot of people, it’s important to get it right.

Follow these tips for designing the best digital signs.

Ratio and Resolution

The two R’s are essential for designing good signs. Ratio is determined by the screen your sign will be displayed on. Most TVs are 16:9 (landscape) or 9:16 (portrait), but other screens have different ratios too. Be sure to design for the right ratio. 

Resolution is the image quality that you’ll display on the screen. Higher pixel counts mean higher quality. For most signs, you’ll want at least HD (1,280×720 pixels), or up to UHD/4K (3,840×2,160 pixels).

Outside Space

When designing your sign, make sure to include a bit of border along the outside that doesn’t contain any essential content. Screens will often crop a few inches, so leave a small buffer to be on the safe side.

The F Rule

When people look at digital signs, their eye moves in an “F” shape – starting at the top left corner of the screen, moving across to the right, then down and to the left, across again, and down further. Organize your most essential content in these places on the screen so that they aren’t missed.

The Rule of Thirds

Another design rule shows that the most powerful positions are at the intersection of thirds. So, for example, if you used two vertical lines to divide your screen into 3 sections, and then two horizontal ones to divide it into 9, the most powerful places to put your content are at the intersections of the horizontal and vertical lines.

The 3×5 Rule

This one’s pretty simple: no more than 3 lines of text, 5 words each. If your sign is being displayed in portrait rather than landscape, the reverse is true: no more than 5 lines of text, 3 words each. Keep your message simple, and it’s much more likely to be read.

File Size

Since most digital signs publish and update over WiFi, you’ll want to keep the file size of your sign small so that the hardware can keep up. I’d recommend keeping it between 2 and 3 MB, but if you want to use bigger files (for example, to include 4K video), you’ll want to get better hardware.

Clear Text

Make sure your text can easily be read. Use a font that is easy to read, and a size large enough for it to be read from far away. I’d also recommend using overlays if you’d like to display text over an image – put a small tint on the image, and then use a font color that contrasts the tint.

Check Sounds

If your sign displays video or plays music, then there’s a good chance you’ll also want the monitor to play sounds. Make sure that sounds are at a good volume and ensure that they’re appropriate for the space that your sign is displayed in.

Test The Call To Action

In marketing, the Call To Action (CTA) is the section that calls the viewer to take the next step in the process, whether that’s subscribing to an email list, buying something, or just clicking a button. 

Tiny changes in the wording of a CTA have been known to cause huge changes in results, so test out a few different wordings and pick the one that works best.

Of course, if your sign doesn’t get the response you wanted, you can easily change it until it does – that’s what’s so great about using digital signs!

Hardware For Digital Signage

After you’ve designed your digital sign, the next step is to select and acquire the hardware. The hardware you use is called a “player”, and it will plug into a digital screen so that it displays your sign. Depending on the sign, you also may have to provide the display screen.

A number of different hardware devices can be used. Some are as simple as a USB drive, while others can be as complicated as multi-channel streaming devices connected to several screens. Raspberry Pi computer chips are some of the most popular devices because of their power, simplicity, and versatility.

Typically, hardware will either be loaded with your digital sign, or it will stream it from the cloud. Streaming hardware is equipped with WiFi, and if your hardware is not WiFi connected, you will need to manually update each screen every time you need to make changes to your sign.

If your hardware streams your signs from the cloud, make sure that your internet plan is unmetered/unlimited. Otherwise, your sign will use a giant amount of data and rack up a huge internet bill.

If you use a company provider for your digital signage needs, oftentimes they will provide players for you at no or little additional cost. I’ll tell you about some of the providers next.

Publishing Digital Signs

Now that your sign is designed and you’ve got the hardware player to show it on a screen, the next step is to publish the sign and show it off!

Many companies are out there for the specific purpose of helping you through this process. They’ll help you set up your digital sign, and oftentimes if your hardware is WiFi-compatible, you’ll be able to update your signs using your provider’s applications from anywhere in the world. Many providers also provide hardware.

There are some great companies out there to be aware of. I’ll give a quick run-down of some of my favorites for different price ranges, from low-to-high.

Free Digital Signage: Yodeck and NoviSign

If you want to show off your digital signs for free, I’d recommend one of these two options: Yodeck or NoviSign.

Yodeck is an all-around fantastic, budget digital signage provider. I mentioned they’re free, but I do have some bad news – this is only true if you have your own hardware, and only the first screen is free. You can also purchase one of their Plug And Play Yodeck Players for cheap.

If you want more than one screen, Yodeck does still offer one of the cheapest plans around. Plans start from $7.99 per screen per month, and if you purchase a plan, they will provide you with all the players you need, totally free. Even with just a handful of signs to show, this can save you thousands of dollars.

NoviSign is another kind-of free provider, as their free trial is one of the best in the business. For your first month, NoviSign gives you the full perks of all their plans, totally free. This is a fantastic way to give digital signage a try, to see if it’s right for you.

After the first month, NoviSign’s plans start from $20 per screen per month, which is pretty middle-of-the-road for digital signage costs.

Medium Cost Digital Signage: MangoSigns and Raydiant

If you’re willing to spend a little more, MangoSigns and Raydiant are popular digital signage providers that have some nice perks included.

MangoSigns is known for being an all-around great digital signage provider. Their templates are among the best, especially for 3D and video designs. Their plans start from $8.95 per screen per month, which puts them around the same price as Yodeck. However, you’ll have to provide all your players.

MangoSigns sells an awesome player called the MangoSigns Box. Each of these costs $99.99 but is worth the investment. They’ve got great hardware inside, and are WiFi capable, so you’ll be able to use MangoSigns’ app to control and update your signs in any way.

Raydiant is another top-rated digital signage provider. They’re arguably the best for a business that’s beginning to scale up. For a $59 per month fee, you’ll get unlimited screen hosting capabilities. Whether you’ve got 1 sign or 100, it’s the same flat fee. You’ll have to purchase your players, too.

The advantage to one of their enterprise plans, on the other hand, is that you can enable multiple users to control and edit the signs. This is particularly useful for large corporations where many employees are tasked with controlling the company’s digital signage. All of these can be controlled remotely.

High-End Digital Signage: Enplug and ScreenScape

When it comes to the best-of-the-best in digital signage, the companies you’re looking for are Enplug and ScreenScape.

Used by global supercorporations like Google, IBM, and GE, Enplug has everything a big company would ever want when it comes to digital signage. Their plans all come with unlimited users to control your signs, so they’re a favorite for large users with many signs.

Enplug’s templates are also quite good, and their simple drag-and-drop editor makes creating sign designs easier than ever before. They’ve done industry case studies to prove that their signs really do lead to the outcomes you’re looking for, no matter what business you’re in. Their signs start from $32 per screen per month.

ScreenScape is another top-quality digital signage provider. They claim to be “The World’s Easiest” when it comes to digital signage, and they’ve got the interface to win the trophy. You can search through thousands of fantastic templates in their Media Manager, all of which can then be fully customized in their editor.

ScreenScape’s hardware is ridiculously easy to use, too – all you have to do is plug it into the HDMI port on a TV, and it’s good to go. Their hardware is WiFi enabled, and ScreenScape was actually the first company to have a Smart app that could be used to control and update screens remotely. Their plans start from $40 per screen per month.

Controlling and Updating Digital Signage

Now that you’ve designed your sign, got the hardware to support it, and selected a provider, you’re ready to install your digital sign and start showing it to the world! Congratulations – that’s a great step, and I’m sure that it will be fantastic for your business.

Over the course of your sign’s lifetime, it’s quite possible you’ll want to change your content. Perhaps the content becomes outdated, you want to test other Calls To Action, or you just want to redesign it to make it look better.

In any case, controlling and updating your digital signs will mostly depend on your hardware and providers.

Non-WiFi Hardware

The hardest signs to update are those running non-WiFi compatible hardware, such as a USB drive or other cheap players. To update the sign, the only way to do it is to visit the sign, pull out the USB or chip, and bring it home to update the design. Once the design is updated, bring it back to the screen, and start it up again.

It’s worth noting that, while this certainly isn’t ideal, it is nonetheless easily doable with just a few signs. For companies running thousands of signs, it would be near impossible for them to control and update their signs by manually replacing and revising their hardware.

WiFi-Compatible Hardware and Smart Signage

Fortunately, many of the bigger signage providers make sure that your players are WiFi compatible so that you can update your signs from anywhere. This opens up a lot more options because you can update and control specific signs anytime you want to.

Most of the best providers, like ScreenScape, have apps that can be used to easily and flexibly control huge numbers of signs. Just download the app, log in with your info, and all your players can be controlled with the touch of a button!

The huge flexibility provided by smartphone signage control apps is one of the biggest appeals of using one of the more expensive signage providers. Especially for a company with many offices in many cities, different regional staff can be authorized to operate each city’s signs, independently.

Summary

Digital marketing is bigger than ever, and companies who display images in public are opting to display their signs digitally. While digital signage may seem intimidating, it’s actually remarkably simple. 

Just follow the steps I outlined in this article, and you’ll be creating awesome digital signs in no time:

  • Design your digital sign, using editors and templates. Follow the tips I provided to make it look as good as possible.
  • Select your hardware for your sign, paying attention to if it is capable of supporting WiFi or not. Keep in mind, also, how many screens you will be showing your signs on. With more screens, you will almost certainly want WiFi capable hardware that can be controlled remotely.
  • Publish your signs using one of the many service providers available. When considering service providers, consider their many different strengths and weaknesses. The most expensive providers are unparalleled in their scalability, versatility, and effectiveness. For smaller applications, the less-expensive providers work just as well.
  • Control and update your signs as you go so that your content remains engaging and relevant. The best way to make the most out of your digital signs is to update them every once in a while. After all, this is the best perk of using digital, rather than non-digital, signage.