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What color do EXIT signs have to be?

EXIT signs require specific colors and/or color combinations. There is leeway, but not much.

Well, you’ve replaced or purchased your new EXIT signs as discussed in our previous post (add a link to that post here). Now, what about the color of the sign itself and the letters? Is there meaning behind these red/white signs or green/white color signs? The color of the signs has more to do with practicality than anything else. Would other colored signs be visible? Yes, probably. Are they as universally recognizable as the red/white or green/white combinations? No, they are not. An EXIT sign has a very definitive purpose. No one can deny that. Does the color of the sign change the meaning? No, it does not. However the color of the sign can most definitely change the clarity with which we see the sign.

Seeing Green

The human eye recognizes the color green with sensitivity. It sees more green and variants of green than any other color. This has to do with where green falls on the bell curve of recognized shades of light that the eye sees. Without getting too technical and “sciency” suffice it to say that green is visible on both sides of the curve. Thus, the recognition of all things green is a bit easier on the eyes. Not only is green more recognizable due to biology, but green is everywhere in nature, making the eye generally more sensitive to green.

Avoid Confusion

Does this mean that green or even red for that matter are readily visible in the dark, the deep, deep dark of night? It hardly means that. Most colors are difficult to see at night. However, apply a bit of light to the subject and you have a different story. Immediately the eye is drawn in to that splash of color! It is easily recognized and familiar. These are both good things when planning an Emergency EXIT strategy or just an EXIT strategy for a building of any kind. The less confusion on the subject, the better. Which leads to another point, the signage in a particular building must be consistent. The Fire Marshall dictates the codes, but for argument’s sake let’s say that the colors of both red and/or green are acceptable in your city. Do you want to put red on one floor and green on another? Don’t be silly. Now that would cause confusion! The very first EXIT sign I see in the building must match the last. No switching colors within the building!

Rumor Mill

As an aside years ago, a rumor surfaced that you should “mix” colors within the building, making intermediate EXIT doors green and final EXIT doors red. Unless you are specifically requested to follow this plan; please do not. Always check with the local Fire Marshall to discuss any exceptions or changes.

Contrast Required

How about the housing of the sign; does it always have to be white? It does not, however it must be a good contrasting color. You mean I can have a red background with red letters? No, I don’t mean that at all. Why would you even want such a sign? Again the purpose of the sign is universal. The letters have to stick out and be visible so that everyone can follow them. The idea is clarity, not confusion. Overall the housing can be any color you like as long as it is in contrast with the lettering which must be either red or green.

Follow the Rules

I hear you! Your foot is tapping and you are ready to burst because yes, there are exceptions to every rule. There are those that for whatever reason choose to be different! That’s ok. ExitExpo has you covered. We are aware of those sneaky little buggers creating different rules! We do our absolute best to keep up with all of them, but you should always check with your local Fire Marshall for the last word on the subject.

Finally, here we are at the exceptions:

New York City (5 Boroughs)

View New York Approved Exit Signs

  • Letters must be Red 8”
  • Metal Housing (“New York City Approved”)


  • Letters must be Red (6" tall, 3/4" stroke)
  • Metal Housing (Stamped “Chicago Approved”)

Los Angeles (downtown – Multi-story buildings and "Sky Scrapers")

  • Letters must be Green (standard size) and dual-circuit relay backup.
  • “City of Los Angeles Approved”
**This is a bit more info on California requirements:

*Note: International “Running Man” EXIT signs utilize green.

UL Approval

In addition to the color requirements we discussed, the EXIT lights must satisfy the Underwriters Laboratory (UL924) 50ft-100ft dark environment visibility tests.

Finally, do not use one of those plastic yard sale signs! It’s not going to cut mustard! These signs to do meet the UL924 certified rating. Stick with ExitExpo for the most up-to-date information and the best quality EXIT signs in the business.

Here’s a chart of the current “state” of EXIT signs.

Remember, rules change. Requirements change. People change… their minds, anyway so always double-check local and state requirements.