complete guide to the C-45 sign installation contractor license in California

C-45 License: Step by Step Guide for Sign Contractors

Table of Contents

View of the welcome to las vegas sign at night time, sign contractors in california design and fabricate an array of electrical and non electrical signs

Sign contractors are creative tradesman that possess a unique set of skills that are always in high demand within the business community

The C-45 license is for Sign Contractors specialize in the fabrication and installation of electrical and non-electrical signs.

Creative and professional signage is a critical aspect of a business’s branding and marketing and can be an equally lucrative opportunity for anyone that specializes in bringing businesses to life in the form of electrical and non-electrical signage. 

This article will provide you with every single detail you need to know about C-45 license requirements, the C-45 license exam, study guides, and even how to fill out the California State License application.

Online Practice Exams and Study Guides

What is a Sign Contractor?

“A sign contractor fabricates, installs, and erects electrical signs, including the wiring of such electrical signs, and non-electrical signs, including but not limited to: post or pole supported signs, signs attached to structures, painted wall signs, and modifications to existing signs”CSLB.GOV

The C-45 license is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid on sign fabrication and installation projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500.

Typical duties of a sign contractor

night time view of A neon sign commonly found on a bar. Neon sign says restaurant and bar and has a blue martini glass and green olive

Sign Contractors that hold the C-45 license may also use a variety of technology and equipment including paint booths, laser engravers, computerized water jet machines, shears, benders, and welding equipment to complete projects

The C-45 license can cover a wide range of areas production or repair of signage. 

Sign contractors often have an acute artistic perspective when creating signs but also the ability to effectively communicate with business owners to bring their visions to life.

The duties of sign contractors typically include:

  • Design and fabrication of electrical and non electrical signage
  • Sign component selection and electrical pre-wiring
  • Fluorescent, LED, and HID fabrication
  • Neon design and fabrication
  • Pole and monument installation
  • Excavation and concrete work for pole installation
  • Painting and illustration
  • Adhering to CAL/OSHA and signage criteria codes
  • Working with cranes and ladders
  • Pulling correct zoning and building permits
  • Bidding, estimating for materials and invoice preparation

Sign Contractors that hold the C-45 license may also use a variety of technology and equipment including 

  • Paint Booths 
  • Laser Engravers 
  • Design Software 
  • Cranes
  • Computerized water jet machines
  • Shears
  • Benders
  • Welding Equipment

To obtain the C-45 license, you will be tested on all aspects of fabrication, installation, and repair of electrical and non-electrical signage.

It will be essential to your success to become familiar with all the areas of expertise that fall under this highly specialized trade

What is a subcontractor?

Sign contractors are generally contracted by small businesses or corporations to create signage.

However,  in some cases, they may work as a sub to a General Contractor that is completing a full construction or remodel project that calls for the services of a sign contractor.

General Contractors oversee that the subcontractor has executed their duties in adherence to code and to the specific requests of a client.

For a more in-depth look at the General Contractor license check out these articles.


The logo of the contractors state license board. Illustration contains paint brush, saw and a cement truck with the words CSLB above

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California.

Their sole responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state of California. 

The C-45 license is issued to contractors by the CSLB.

The CSLB administers applications, exams, and maintains a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers which are public domain.

C-45 License Requirements

To get a sign contractor license in California, you must prove a minimum of 4 years of journeyman level experience and pass a two-part state exam with the Contractor State License Board.

To qualify for an exam date you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is a Journey level experience?

A yellow neon sign that says car rental and then has an arrow pointing right. Sign contractors must have atleast 4 years of journey level experience to qualify to take the sign contractor exam

Journeyman level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full time for a sign installation company, or for a contractor that holds the C-45 License.

  • A journeyman sign contractor can perform all of the duties associated with his or her trade.

The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total. 

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-45 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-45 License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman
  • Union Representative

Filling out the Sign Contractor License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skillset.

The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example:

“Steve is a great guy, he made our banner” is not quite descriptive enough.

The CSLB will want to see something more like:

“Steve has installed grounding, lettering, low voltage wiring, and frames. He has operated laser engravers and done sandblasting” etc.

Proving your work experience for the Contractor License

A large purple neon sign with the words cinema in white. Sign for a movie theatre entrance. The C-45 license is the contractor license required in the state of california to bid on electrical and non electrical sign construction projects over $500

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have. The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

Application Processing, Fees and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year.

Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and somewhere they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 

Contractor License Application Costs

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-45 License. I have personally helped individuals with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses.

The key is, to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis. Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public.

In my experience, they are primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with Fraud, Embezzlement, and Forgery

Case by Case basis

The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis. Remember, the state board's responsibility is to protect the public.  

If your conviction does not fall under some type of Fraud, most likely, you will have no issues when applying for a C-45 license, but you will need to be prepared to submit any court documents or prove rehabilitation at the state’s request. 

In California, you are required to divulge any criminal charges when applying for a state license even if they have been expunged.

C-45 License Exam

The exam will be:

  • 115 Questions on Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions on electrical and non electrical signs
  • 3 hours to complete each portion
  • Multiple choice exam done on a computer
  • Closed Book

For more information on what will be on the Contractor LAW exam click here.

Content of the Examination

The Sign (C-45 license) Examination is divided into five major sections:

1. Planning and Estimation (29%)

  • Sign criteria and codes
  • Plans and specifications
  • Sign engineering and design
  • Sign component selection
  • Electrical requirements
  • Material and equipment estimation

2.    Sign Design and Fabrication (21%)

  • Sign patterns
  • Sign face fabrication
  • Channel and reverse channel letters
  • Sign cabinet fabrication
  • Sign assembly
  • Fluorescent, LED, and HID fabrication
  • Neon design and fabrication

3.    Sign Installation (22%)

  • Prewiring of sign electrical components
  • Excavation and concrete
  • Pole and monument sign installation
  • Building sign installation
  • Electrical connections

4.    Testing, Maintenance, Troubleshooting, Repair and Replacement of Signs and Sign Components (13%)

  • Sign testing and troubleshooting
  • Sign maintenance

5. Safety (15%)

  • Electrical hazards
  • Personal protective equipment • Cal/OSHA safety requirements
  • Hazardous materials
  •  Working with cranes and ladders

Recommended Resources

Blue Print Reading Course

Two construction workers standing up analyzing a blueprint. Blueprint reading skills are very important for tradesman looking to get contractor licenses

Being able to read and understand blueprints is a core skill for sign contractors.

Identifying the structural details and dimensions of a building before installing a sign is very important. Construction blueprints communicate an array of information to builders.

Making alterations to a building or erecting a sign or pole can be potentially dangerous without knowledge of the structure or area around a structure the sign will be placed. 

Being comfortable with construction blueprints is an invaluable skill for all tradesman but is especially important for those looking to get the C-45 license. Learn more about How To Read Blueprints. 

CSLB Test Locations

Currently, there are CSLB testing locations in the following cities:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego

Re-taking the exam and passing scores

The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations.

You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ( $60 per retake ) A 70% score will be required to pass. Learn more about the Contractor LAW exam.

C-45 License classes and exam prep

A white rectangular sign with the words pre owned vehicles written in black, bolted to a wooden pole. To get the c-45 license the state board may request to see documentation of your experience building electrical and non electrical signage

Getting your C-45 license can be a smooth process if you have the right information.

Understanding the difference between how things are done everyday out in the field versus how the state will expect you to perform your trade is a very important part of passing the exam.

Applicants get surprised by how different the subject matter on the state exam is from their years of first-hand experience.

They get confused when they see terms used to describe tools or job site practices. 

Being prepared is the most important thing you can do in ensuring your success on the contractor license exam.

Studying C-45 license practice tests along with explanations and diagrams for as little as 10 minutes a day is a small investment to make, but will increase your likelihood of success

Construction Apprenticeships

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to obtain a C-45 license, not to worry. Your journey begins here.

The sign industry offers an unlimited income opportunity.

Whether you are brand new or may have worked for a sign production company in the past, there are books, certification classes, and courses are available in most cities and online to get you up to speed. 

Usually, someone looking to get into the trade would find an apprenticeship or graphic design program.

Getting hired by a sign company would be your next step. 

After gaining the necessary 4 years of journeyman level experience, you would then be able to apply for the C-45 license.

For information on courses in your area or books to get you on the right path click here.

EPA Certification

Logo of the united states environmental protection agency. When making alterations to a structure built before 1978 contractors are required to have a EPA Certification for containing lead based paint

When making alterations to a structure built before 1978 contractors must know how to contain lead paint if it is present.

Knowing the correct processes and procedures required by the Environmental Protection Agency is critical for those looking to get the C-45 license.

Lead paint can travel miles through the air, rest on soil, and even enter air ducts causing potentially fatal damage to those that come in contact with it.

Sign contractors looking to build a profitable business must position themselves as experts and the authority within their industry.

Contractors must be a source of information for their clients and community if they want referrals and repeat business.

Learn more about the EPA Certification here.


Getting your California Contractor license can be a smooth process if you have the correct information. Follow the steps laid out in this blog post.

Be sure to check back in the future for updates!