Billboards 101



Media Metals, LLC is a manufacturer of metal sections and accessories that comprise the metal backing of a billboard structure. We are the only section manufacturer that can boast of a history of structure fabrication as well as billboard ownership. While we no longer fabricate standard billboard structures, we have close relationships with several companies that do and also network with a number of other companies that can help supply all of your billboard needs. 

A billboard can be a good revenue generating investment. In recent years, more and more individuals and investment companies have ventured into the outdoor advertising business. The problem is, many do not know where to start. The following includes some of the most basic information to help with getting started in the right direction.

The definition of a billboard is an off-premise sign. In other words, it is a sign that is located on property other than what is being advertised and can be any size or shape. An on-premise sign advertises the business or activity located on the same property. Most people think that a billboard is any big sign. That is not the case. A large sign could be a billboard and a “billboard looking sign” could simply be a large sign.

The first question that needs to be asked is, do you have your permits? If you do not know about permits then you should read on.
In most places, there will be two permits necessary. One will be a state permit and the other will be a local permit. 

In some rural areas, the local jurisdiction has no ordinance or code that regulates billboards, but in most all areas there will be a state permit that is necessary before you can build a billboard. One exception to this rule is any area that is not on a state or federal highway. (Keep in mind, if the billboard is in a smaller community that has no ordinances regulating billboards, and is not on a regulated highway, then the billboard may not be in a good location.)  The state permit is normally the critical permit for which you will have to apply. States are allowed to make the laws more stringent, but all state laws are based on the federal laws that stem from the Lady Bird Johnson Beautification Act of 1965. Because of this, most state laws are similar. Also, because this Act targeted the beautification of highways throughout the United States, it is overseen by the department of transportation of each state. To get the most up to date regulations concerning billboards, you will need to contact your state’s department of transportation. Each state will have it’s own procedure and fees for billboard permit applications. You will find that some are very easy to work with and are very helpful in advising. Others will require you to study the law for yourself and apply, with a fee, before they will advise as to whether or not you will be allowed a permit.

If your potential location is in the city limits then you will need to approach the local building department for guidance. If you are not within corporate city limits, then you will need to check and see if there is a building department for your county or parish.

Each side of a billboard will be a different permit. For a back-to-back structure, you will have to apply for two permits even though you likely have only one structure. A double-decked billboard will only need one permit per side, even though it may have two advertising faces on one side.

A requirement of the federal regulations is that of zoning. A billboard can only be built on commercial property. This zoning is determined by one of two things (1) the property is actually zoned commercial by the local government or (2) it is considered commercial by other uses of the property.  For the property to actually be zoned commercial, the local government would have had to pass an ordinance that makes the property commercial. This is called comprehensive zoning. It is possible that a corporate city limit be zoned comprehensively while the county or parish is not. You will need to determine this before you can apply for a permit. 
If the potential location is not comprehensively zoned then it can still be a positive location if it can be considered Un-zoned commercial property. It can be classified as Un-zoned commercial if there is an active business within 600 feet of your location. For instance, a body shop or convenience store located on a remote road could allow your location to qualify as long as you are within the specified distance required. A more seasonal business, such as a fruit/vegetable stand would most likely not be a qualifying business. Sometimes it becomes a judgment call of the state official in determining the Un-zoned commercial status.

Commercial zoning is a requirement. If you are trying to get your property zoned commercial for the purpose of billboards, you may run into difficulties. The federal regulations consider rezoning, strictly for the purpose of billboards, to be spot zoning. You will need to have other uses for the property, or zone a large enough piece of property that it is not obvious spot zoning to the officials. This, too, could be a judgment call on the part of the official and, sadly, could bring out a bit of politics.

Another key component in determining a valid billboard location is the spacing between other billboards. This component can, and likely is, complicated by additional state and local regulations. The federal guidelines require a minimum of 500’ between billboards on state and federal highways with controlled access. This is measured along the highway and is only considered for billboards on the same side of the road. A billboard directly opposite your potential location would not affect you. 

Local regulations, though, could affect it. For instance, some communities could have an ordinance that requires a minimum of 300’ between billboards. On the outset, this sounds like it would not change your site, but if it included a billboard across the road, it very well could disqualify your location. 

Other federal spacing issues that could affect your potential site include distances from exit ramps and the corporate limits of a city. Outside of a city, one cannot build a billboard within a ramp or a certain distance of the end of a ramp. This makes it more difficult in rural areas because the commercial property that might be available is usually located in this area. Within the corporate limits of a city, the ramp limitations are ignored. In addition, within a city, the spacing between billboards on highways that do not have controlled access is decreased to 100’. Of course, most municipalities have expanded that to a much larger spacing. 

You will have to check with state and local authorities on this and other issues before you can be certain that your location is valid.

Types of Structures:

  • Standard Unipole – An engineered structure consisting of a single pole with the advertising area located at the top. This has become the most popular of all structures. It can be designed for virtually any application, regardless of height, size, or offset requirement. With proper maintenance, this type of structure has an unlimited lifespan.
  • Stick-built – Normally refers to wooden creosote poles with wooden or angle iron perlins (stringers) and face sections. Could also refer to steel poles built in the same configuration.
  • Wall Mount – Refers to the mounting of the face directly to a wall. Because it is installed directly onto a wall it does not require a structure. The most usual application is within city limits.


Types of Faces:

  • Bulletin – Also called a “paint”. This refers to anything that is painted or used to be painted. Now vinyl graphics cover most billboards. Generally comprised of vertical sections. This is the most common of the types. An excellent example is our V Series Panels.
  • 30 Sheet – Also called a “poster” or “12 x 25”. Generally comprised of horizontal sections. If you have ever watched someone put up a billboard message like wallpaper then this is the size. The term poster refers to the size and kind of board as well as the person that applies the message. Technology today allows for vinyl to be installed as well as paper but the size is the same. The area inside of the trim is a standard 12' x 25'. There are several types of trim packages that define the overall size but the “posting area” is still the same. Examples are our H Series and H-250 Series
  • 8 Sheet – Also called a “junior”. This is a standard size that is still posted. The overall size of the board is 6’ x 12’ with a posting area of 5’ x 11’. Some use it with trim for posting while others use it without trim and wrap vinyl graphics for a small bulletin. Example is our J Series.

Standard Sizes:

  • 20’ x 60’ (spectacular)
  • 14’ x 48’
  • 10’-6” x 36’
  • 10’ x 30’
  • 12’ x 24’
  • 8’ x 20’
  • 6’ x 12’ (junior)
  • Custom – There can really be any size of billboard face. The specific needs of the customer and local ordinances sometime require different sizes.


Parts of a Standard Unipole Billboard:

  • Structure – This term is all inclusive of the structural components of the billboard from the ground up. There are companies that specialize in this part of your project and we can recommend them when you get to that point.
  • Head – This refers to the part of the structure, other than the pole, that mounts to the top of the pole.
  • Torsion Bar – The horizontal pipe that forms a “T” with the main pole. It is the center or heart of the head section.
  • Wrap Beams – The I-beams that wrap around the torsion bar and bolt directly to the pole.
  • Saddle Beams – Beams that are cut to “saddle” on top of the torsion bar. By making them longer on one end, one can make the billboard into a “vee” shape.
  • Uprights – Usually I-beams, that bolt to the saddle beams and support the perlins and face sections.
  • Perlins – Also called stringers. The horizontal members that bolt to the uprights and are used to provide an attaching medium for the face sections.
  • Face Sections – The metal sections that the message is painted on or a vinyl wrap attaches to. These are supplied by Media Metals, LLC ( or 877/248-9744).
  • Catwalk – The walkway system on the billboard. This is a must for safe and repetitive maintenance.
  • Ladder – Allows movement from a lower to upper catwalk. Sometimes is installed to the ground as well. Most are stopped 15’ or so from ground to prevent unauthorized people from climbing.
  • Safety Package – Usually refers to cables that are designed for fall protection for those working on the billboard. This is an OSHA requirement for those working on or maintaining the billboard, but is still considered an option for the customer.
  • Vinyl Wrap – The graphic advertising of a particular customer. Most billboards are now printed on a vinyl and then installed on the face sections. It is significantly less expensive than painting and allows for any type of graphic. 


Putting the billboard together on your site can be handled in different ways. All structure companies will deliver directly to the job site for someone to erect. A common method of installation is to allow the structure company to handle the entire project “turn key”. They all have a number of installers that sub out the work. They are experienced and will be, no doubt, able to install the structure more efficiently than most.

You can erect the sign yourself if you have the equipment and knowledge. The structure fabricator can supply you with an engineer’s drawing from which you can build the structure. 

You can also hire your own installer. Some local or regional sign companies can do this kind of work but you will likely need to be careful and thorough when selecting them. Most structures are significantly larger than most sign companies are used to handling and they likely will not have the equipment necessary without renting. 

The least expensive way of building a board is the stick-build method. It is also the least desirable for investors and the least likely to withstand weather and rot. The standard unipole structure will certainly last the longest and can be designed to withstand virtually any weather conditions.

The costs of a unipole structure will vary by location and by fabricator, but the following prices can be used as an estimating tool to determine if it is within your budget to proceed with plans to build a structure. These are only estimates and reflect the cost of a turn key project. Steel prices, desired options, and location of installation can greatly affect the overall cost of the project.


  • 14’ x 48’, 50’ overall height, vee, full package, installed – $45,000 to $55,000
  • 10’-6” x 36’, 40’ overall height, vee, full package, installed – $37,000 to $42,000
  • 12’ x 24’, 30’ overall height, vee, full package, installed - $25,000 to $30,000


After Installation:
Selling the advertising space for your billboards is as easy as visiting your local businesses and offering your services. Your structures themselves will act as sales associates if you provide availability notices and contact information on the empty billboard. To determine the proper rate, most companies use traffic, the number of potential consumers that pass that sign per day, as a major selling point. The higher the traffic, the higher you can charge for that space. If you have several structures located in different areas, you may offer a service that will allow the customer to rotate his advertisement to the different locations. Vinyl can be provided by several companies. Several of these companies will even help with generating the art work for the advertisement. Of course, we encourage you to explore different business plans that will result in great success in your local market.

We hope that this information has been beneficial for you. If you have any further questions or comments, please feel free to contact us at anytime.