Neon signs are a great way to catch people’s attention. Their bright colors really encourage everyone to grab an eyeful. They are used in a variety of different places and contexts. Although most of us are used to seeing these delightful signs around, much fewer of us know what exactly goes into the process of making these signs. Let’s investigate this interesting technology.
What is a Neon Sign?
A Neon sign is a type of electric sign. Once hooked up to power, it becomes illuminated in a variety of delightful colors. They are used for all sorts of purposes from advertising to architectural designing. Today a very similar technology to the original neon signs are used in plasma panels and television screens.
History of Neon Signs
The neon sign we know and love today is actually related to an earlier technology known as the Geissler tube. These tubes were very popular during the late 1800s. It was not until 1898 that neon was discovered. At first neon tubes were used primarily for scientific tools and novelties. Starting in Paris around 1902, neon took off in both availability and popularity. Then in 1923 the French introduced neon signs to the US via a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles, California. Since that time, the technology has developed from the mere two dozen color varieties of the 1960s to nearly 100 distinct color choices.
The Science of Neon Signs
All neon signs depend on three major elements: a glass tube, electricity, gas. Glass tubes are made of various sizes and shapes. Inside these tubes are any of a number of different gasses. Depending on what type of gas, other elements, such as mercury will be added to the tube. At the end of the tube, an electrode is attached. When electricity is added given to the electrode, the gas in the tube becomes ionized. This is what causes the famous bright colors which make neon signs such a standout. The particular colors of these electrified tubes depend on what type of gas is in the tube.
The name neon is derived from the name for neon which is a noble gas. Signs made with neon produce a red light. Other colors such as yellow, white, and blue can be produced with helium, carbon dioxide, and mercury respectively.
If you are interested in a more in depth discussion of the science behind these fascinating lights, check out this article from the Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-neon-lights-work/
Creating the Shapes of Neon Signs
Neon signs can be made in a variety of different shapes. Typically the tubes are made through a glass blowing technique. There is a high level of artistry in this process. Most often the tubes are made to replicate the shapes of letters. Some of these are made from one continuous tube while other letters are produced with a series of smaller straight tubes. Although this is a common use of neon lights, there are numerous other possibilities. For example, Vegas Vic is a forty feet tall neon sign hanging in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was made in 1951 in order to promote the Pioneer Club. This sign features tubes in a variety of different shapes and patterns. You can learn more about this particular sign here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegas_Vic
If you are interested in a neon sign, you will want to make sure that you are working with professional artisans. Neon signs stand out a lot, and you need a true artist to make it look good.
Although you may not notice it at first glance, neon lighting is very related to fluorescent lighting. This technology was developed approximately twenty five years after the first neon tube was developed. In fluorescent lights, the light from the gas is used to excite fluorescent materials which are coated throughout the tube. As a result of this excitement, their own, typically white, color become visible. You can also use these fluorescent materials for neon signs. However, most seeking a neon sign prefer other color options.
Watching the Process
If you would like to see the neon sign making process, check out this site: