While most of our site is focused on LED signs, LED signs actually wouldn’t exist without Neon. Neon was the original “illuminated” sign, and LED signs were invented largely to address some of the common shortcomings of neon, like weight, energy consumption, and the fragile nature of glass tubes. Neon signs are illuminated, like LED signs, but are constructed from glass tubes filled with a specific type of gas. The glass tubes are heated and bent into shapes, words, company logos and other types of decorative advertising designs.
The light emitted from neon signs is created by the high-voltage electricity from the sign’s transformer. Originally, only neon gas was used in the signs. Nowadays, however, quite a few other types of gases can be found in the signs, and used along with coated and tinted tubes, can produced 60+ different colors…one advantage Neon continues to have over LED signs.
Neon signs come in a variety of sizes: from small windowfront open signs up to enormous, hotel and casino marquees. Even with the growing popularity of the scrolling led sign, signs made from neon continue to be enormously popular.
Today, old-school “neon gas” is only used to produce red and orange tones in a sign. Signs that need other colors leverage argon or an argon-neon mixture. In order to intensify the light, mercury is also introduced into the tubes. With the help of the materials that are coated inside the tube, the number of distinct shades is quite high. Yellow, for example, cannot be directly created from the gasses, but yellow-tinted tubes get the job done.
The tubing used in neon signs is formed from a type of glass with a high lead content and is easily bent and formed with the help of high-temp torches. Electrodes on either end of the illuminated tubing allow the electricity to pass through the trapped gasses.
Neon sign artisans perform an involved technical process, but they must also have an artistic tough. Special care and attention to detail must be used, particularly because neon signs are quite fragile, and because of the high-voltage, potentially dangerous!
You might wonder, with all of this high voltage, fragile glass, and heavy manual labor…Why is neon still popular? Why hasn’t every switched over to LED? Well, while LED signs do use less energy, are easier to produce, and are usually cheaper, Neon still holds some advantages:
- Higher variety of colors
- More intensity, especially for colors like orange and purple
- The “nostalgic” and artistic appeal
- More readability in smaller signs, as a continuous glass tube doesn’t have the “dotted” or “stippled” effect of letters made with LED dots.
You can now officially consider yourself educated on the unique appeal of neon signs. The next time you are asked about neon signage, don’t just go right into your LED sign sales pitch…Neon could be the right answer!