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Marquee text planning software

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  • Marquee text planning software

    Wondering wether someone ever thought about using software/spreadsheets to calculate/optimize placement of a given text on classic marquees? For most daily operations like show times, this is probably no big thing. However, if longer text comes into play, the effort to shift back and forth letters standing on a ladder that needs to be shifted a couple of times to follow the spread of the marquee could be greatly reduced if there was a software assisting with it. It would need a table of all your letters with their individual widths, and then calculate how a specific sequence of words can be laid out most efficiently. Also tell you if your available letters are sufficient.

    Did anyone ever think about this? I think it would be possible to build this in Excel, but, a simple smartphone app would be handy as well.

    - Carsten

  • #2
    Hello Carsten,
    You can make a simple chart of the sign face. Use the width of the letter M and divide that into the width of the letter space. Then make a simple chart with the proper number of squares to correspond to the available M spaces.

    However, there is the idea of visual spacing where the letter is an I so it needs less space.

    Also the placement of adjacent letters like AT where they take up less space than the two letter squares.

    If you use a clear sheet over the grid and a removable marker you can use the chart indefinitely.

    We now have a digital sign with lots of LEDs. There the problem is that what looks good on the computer screen at 24 inches away does not read well from the display at 150 feet.


    • #3
      Hmmm, I don't get it. A chart?

      Our chars have three different widths. I'm already glad we only have uppercase. I love to change text often, so, with more complex lines, I would like to see what fits and what would need to go where.
      Maybe I need to revive my programming skills. The issues occur with dot matrix signs, but, it is of course much easier to trial'n error by pressing an update button than by climbing on a ladder.

      - Carsten


      • #4
        I was just going to write something up for you quickly, but after a bit of thought I determined that it's more complex than it first appears, particularly on the input side.

        Line ABC is width of A plus width of B plus width of C. Easy with one single set of each letter even if the individual letters are a different width. (W is wider than I and so forth, but all W's and all I's are a consistent width).

        But how do you specify that ABC (where BC is smaller letters than A)? You need a marker in the input editor to show letter set changes and it suddenly gets quite a bit more complex to enter the sign text and edit it to suit.

        Not that it can't be done, but it's no longer a ten minute job, unfortunately. And I don't have a marquee sign of my own so it's not something I'd use personally.

        But it's an interesting project and if nobody else steps up with something I might get around it it one of these days.


        • #5
          The trouble could be that there may be too many different char systems for this to be a one size fits all solution. E.g. our chars are plotted on acrylic sheets, and we only have three different widths - Wide, Normal, and Narrow. Of course, one could simply build a table for all chars with their individual widths, so that could be used with 3D chars not on a fixed width plate. Our Marquee is pretty simple - two lines, only capitals and special characters, same charsets in black and red.

          Today I had to choose a long new sentence and a second idea came up - enable reuse of letters that are already on the marquee. I think a smartphone app could have a bit of a gamification effect and our staff would be more inclined to use it extensively - sometimes, when they update our Marquee, the result makes it very obvious that they were either too lazy or unsure wether the full name of the movie would fit, or that we'd have enough letters.

          I'm nearly sure there is a WIN3.1 software for this purpose lying around on some floppy disc with someone somewhere...
          Last edited by Carsten Kurz; 03-27-2020, 10:02 PM.


          • #6
            My idea (to the extent that I've considered it) would be to have the end user enter the width of each letter in each letter set that he has. So the width of A in Set 1 is 3" and the with of A in Set two is 4" and the width of A in Set three is 6". And so on thorough the alphabet for each letter in each set. Save that data in a setup file and it only has to be entered once and never again until or unless you get a new letter set.

            But I haven't yet thought of a good way for the user to enter the text into the program and indicate what letter set is to be used for each character. Maybe a tagging system, like this:

            <set1>HI FOLKS<set2>BIG SALE TODAY
            <set2>HURRY IN
            <set3>LIMITED QUANTITY

            But that still leaves us with the problem of double-height letters, where you have one big S that takes up two lines, and then UPER on the first line and ALE on the second in single height letters.

            As I said, it's an interesting problem and it might be fun to do something with it sometime.

            Can't say that I know a lot about marquee signs, other than that I've spent far too much time standing on a ladder in a snowstorm chiselling ice out of the tracks at midnight to get the sign changed before the next day. Which is one of the reasons why I don't have a marquee sign, oddly enough.....


            • #7
              Ohhhh, I would love to have that kind of a snowstorm around here once in a while... I didn't see a single snowflake this 'winter'.

              That said, our marquee is under a 5ft protruding solid roof.

              Yeah, certain types of Marqueee/Char systems would make it more complicated. Certainly not impossible, though


              • #8
                There is also the desire to make everything centered on the space.
                This picture shows how much text you can jam onto the sign.
                Practically no one could read this while driving past the theatre.


                • #9
                  I think you are trying to shoot flies with a howitzer.

                  First, I think that planning out a marquee can be done using a pencil and a sheet of graph paper just as easily and more intuitively. Just write one letter per square and count to the center character of each line. For characters that are wider or narrower, add or subtract a box at the end of the line.

                  When I was in high school, kids who worked on the student newspaper used to do things like this all the time, planning out headlines and column layouts. They called it "slash typing."

                  Second, I think we already have computer software that can do the job, much more easily, once you get it set up correctly.
                  Use any word processing application that you have on hand. MS Word would do just fine.

                  The only trick would be to find a font for your word processor that has similar metrics to the letters you use one your marquee. Once you do that, it's just a matter of setting your page margins and line spacing to match your marquee. You could insert some tab stops and/or guide rules for the center and quarters of your marquee to help you align things and translate from the screen to real life.

                  This should only take a sitting or two, in front of your computer to get a document that works the way you like. Then, once done, you can save it as a template and recall it as needed.

                  There are zillions of fonts that you can get for your computer, free for the downloading in many cases. It doesn't matter whether the font exactly matches the font of your marquee letters. Only the metrics (character size & spacing) need to match. Your word processing application will do the measurements and spacings for you.

                  If you can't find a font with the right metrics you can use a font design application program to create a font that works the way you want it to.

                  Once done, you only need to open up your template document, type in the text you want, set your centering or justification the way you want then print out the page and take it with you when you go out to change the sign.

                  Don't most smart phones have word processing apps, now? I know that my iPad does. I don't know about iPhones, etc. I use a "dumb phone" and I don't plan on getting an iPhone any time soon. It doesn't matter... There should be a way to send a word processing document to your phone, one way or another.

                  Or, as I said, just print out a piece of paper, fold it up and stick it in your pocket. It would be a lot safer pulling a piece of paper out of your pocket while standing on a ladder than it would be fussing with your iPhone.


                  • #10
                    There is no font that matches our acrylic sheet metrics - the font metrics itself is irrelevant, the sheet width is the only relevant aspect. I could, of course, try to make my own non-proportional font and hope that there is a way to accomodate a fixed spacing per char that reflects our sheet widths.

                    One wouldn't need to fuss with a phone on a ladder. It would be sufficient to look at it before I fetch the chars and climb the ladder. That's the whole idea.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Kenneth Wuepper View Post
                      There is also the desire to make everything centered on the space.
                      This picture shows how much text you can jam onto the sign.
                      Practically no one could read this while driving past the theatre.
                      That's one of the issues a software could solve. You wouldn't need to guess where you start the line, and then cram the letters together so as to fit all the chars in. Then at the end notice that a much wider spacing would have been possible, or that your actually ran off center.
                      With that Marquee on your picture, however, any text processor or Excel should be able to simulate the placement accurately enough with the help of the grids. With our fixed width sheets, that doesn't work.
                      What a pity this nice marquee has been replaced with LED. But, this thread wouldn't be there if I wouldn't understand the effort needed to maintain and populate a real marquee with quickly changing content. Plus potential safety issues.

                      I built a pusher from a broomstick and a squeegee that allows me to fineadjust spacing from the ground. I thought about wether I could extend it with some sort of a suction cup that would also allow me to insert or take out letters.

                      Last edited by Carsten Kurz; 03-28-2020, 04:03 PM.


                      • #12
                        I don't do our marquee anymore except in a pinch, but my method is all in my head.

                        I figure out how many letters I want to put on a line, and divide it in half. If it is a long title or name, I write it down and draw a vertical line through the center of the text to divide it in half. Then I pick the "left" side letters first, followed by the "right" letters. A space counts as one letter.

                        After picking the letters, I get the ladder out. I take down the outgoing letters and put up the new letters on each half of the letters on the sign, working from the middle out. That way I only have to move the ladder once on each side, and it was automatically centered. I would make allowances if a title had a lot of "I's" in it.

                        I have tried to teach my method to every single one of the teenagers who have done the job after me, and not one of them has been able to understand it. They all insist upon taking down the old letters from the whole marquee first, and they wind up moving the ladder all over the place trying to get everything centered. The average kid takes about 30 to 45 minutes to do the marquee. I can do it in 15 minutes or less. but I got tired of climbing that damn ladder.


                        • #13
                          The nearest font to those metal letters was the IBM font made for use in charts. It is called "Copperplate Gothic" and is very readable in very small sizes but also can be used for scaling words like you describe.
                          The old method for sorting letters used last week's sign sheet and compared it to the new sign. Simply circle the letters that are currently on the sign and where they are used again in the new one. Most of the high school employees could figure that out on their first try.
                          Centering is easily accomplished by counting characters and placing a line between the two nearest the center or the one that is on the center. A little piece of silver tape on the rails marked the center of the panel.


                          • #14
                            Oh, it's certainly possible to do it with pen and paper with the chars you had. You can also still write invoices with pen and paper.
                            But try that with chars on variable width sheets which define your spacing, not the char itself. I could cut out a paper simulation and arrange it that way on my desk. But why did I pay big money for a 'smart' phone? It could also tell me that I will be running out of letters trying to do what I want. Our set seems to be targeted at mainstream movie titles, not epic storytelling.
                            Last edited by Carsten Kurz; 03-28-2020, 04:41 PM.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Carsten Kurz View Post
                              There is no font that matches our acrylic sheet metrics - the font metrics itself is irrelevant, the sheet width is the only relevant aspect.
                              As long as the em-box of the font that you use matches the outline of the acrylic sheets that your letters are printed on, it will work.

                              It doesn't even have to be perfect. It only needs to be close enough for visual reference. By the time you go outside and start putting up the letters, you will be doing most of the work visually.

                              Just find any font that has similar sized em-box dimensions as the your acrylic letters. If you can't find a font that has suitable spacing, use a font editor to either modify an existing font or create your own.

                              Originally posted by Carsten Kurz View Post
                              But why did I pay big money for a 'smart' phone?
                              We shouldn't try to find reasons to do tasks with computers that don't need to be.

                              You wouldn't run out to the store to spend a hundreds of dollars on a screw gun and a laser level when you just want to hang up a picture. You'd use a hammer and a nail that cost less than ten dollars.

                              Like I said, this is like shooting flies with a howitzer. It's a job that's done just as easily with a pencil and paper.
                              Last edited by Randy Stankey; 03-28-2020, 05:11 PM.