What is neon?

The concept behind neon signs was first conceived in 1675, when the French astronomer Jean Picard observed a faint glow in a mercury barometer tube. When the tube was shaken a glow called barometric light occurred, but the cause of the light (static electricity) was not then understood. When the principles of electricity were discovered, scientists moved forward towards the invention of various forms of lighting. By 1855, there was the geissler tube named after Heinrich Geissler, a German glassblower. Gas in the tube was placed under low pressure and electrical voltage was applied, the result was that the gas glowed. After electrical generators were invented, many people experimented with applying electric power to tubes of gas.  The French engineer, chemist, and inventor Georges Claude, was the first to apply an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon gas (circa 1902) to create a lamp. The word neon comes from the Greek "neos," meaning "the new gas". Georges Claude displayed the first neon lamp to the public on December 11, 1910, in Paris. In 1923, Georges Claude and his French company Claude Neon, introduced neon gas signs to the United States, by selling two to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. Earle C. Anthony purchased the two signs reading "Packard" for $24,000. Neon lighting quickly became a popular fixture in outdoor advertising. Visible even in daylight, people would stop and stare at the first neon signs dubbed "liquid fire."  


What are the benefits of neon?

Neon gets attention! Not only is it highly nostalgic, but it has an eye appeal and unique spectral properties that incandescent lamps cannot offer. It comes in many colors and is flexible in design.  Neon is affordable and power efficient, costing just pennies a day to operate. For an affordable one time cost a neon sign will advertise you business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for many years to come. Put the brightness and attention grabbing power of neon to work for you!


How does a neon tube produce light?

Electrical current bombard the inert gas atoms with electrons knocking neon's atoms out of their orbits. The electrons collide with other free electrons sending them back toward the atoms. As the electrons are absorbed into the atom, energy is given off as light.


How do you get the colors?

The initial color source is the inert gas, which emits a characteristic color when electricity is applied. The two most common gases are neon, which emits a fiery red, and a mixture of argon and minute particles of mercury, which emits a subdued blue. Clear glass allows you to see the characteristic colors emitted by the gas. Fluorescent powders may be painted or baked to the inside walls of the glass tubing and the source light is then converted into a multitude of shades such as pink, turquoise, and green. By altering the mixture of elements, subtle differences are possible. For example, white is available in a wide array of color temperatures from warm to cool.

Tubing is also produced in colored glass. Deep clear reds, blues, and greens for example produce the richly saturated colors referred to as Classic glass. Colored glass may also have a fluorescent coating, which can change both the quality and color of the light.


Is neon dangerous?

Neon and argon gas by themselves are not. They are inert gases that can be found in the air we breath every day. 

The minute mercury in neon signs is no more dangerous than what is presently housed within the run-of-the-mill fluorescent lights that have been lighting our businesses for many years.

Neon is powered by voltages in the 2,000 to 15,000 volt range. Even though the current is in the milliamp range, all neon sign power supplies use safety features such as ground fault interruption & over voltage protection. These  UL2161 instituted safety policies protect the public from any shock or fire hazards.


How long does neon last?

Neon can last decades. In practical terms the expected life span is between 8 to 15 years for a neon sign powered on 24 hours per day.


Where can I place my neon sign?

You should not, under any circumstance, place your neon sign outside. Outdoor placement is considered misuse of the product and would void the warranty. Your sign is constructed for indoor use only and can be placed virtually anywhere in your home. When determining where to place your sign, please keep these tips in mind:

  1. In some instances, a neon sign can cause interference with radio equipment. If you are experiencing interference,  try plugging your sign into a different outlet away from your television or radio. Try to avoid displaying your sign within the path of your remote controls. This will eliminate any possible interference with an infrared remote control. As with any electronic device, you should never operate your sign in or near water.


If I hear a high pitched tone, what does that mean?

Your neon sign operates at a 20kHz radio frequency. A high pitched tone could be audible to some, and not to others. This is normal.


How do I clean my neon sign?

Be sure to always unplug your neon sign when handling. Next, use a feather duster or a very soft cloth to dust off your sign. Never use a cleaning solvent or water to clean your sign.


What size letters should I get on my neon sign?

As a general rule of thumb, your letters will be legible up to 38 feet away for each inch of letter height (Hence, 6 inch lettering would be readable up to 200 feet away. Red neon letters are most readable, and account for its popularity in open signs.  Purples and yellows are least readable and are usually recommended for borders. Black backings will also increase the visibility of your  sign.


How long will my transformer last? 

Your transformer is included with your sign such that you simply hang your sign up and plug it in. Generally the transformer will last from 5 - 7 years. Some will fail earlier, and many will easily last 10-15 years. Things that affect transformer life are heat, and electrical surges/consistency of your electrical supply. 


Can I get a dimmer for my sign? 

You may order your sign with a dimmable transformer. These transformers have a knob next to the on-off pull chain which allows you to adjust the brightness of the sign.

It is important that you
do not use any other dimming device (such as a light dimmer you can buy at your hardware store) as it may damage your transformer, cause your sign to fail, and possibly create a fire hazard. Your neon sign requires special dimming circuitry (to limit the current but not the voltage - most commercial lamp dimmers simply limit the voltage), which is contained in these dimmable transformers.


Can I make my sign flash (on and off)?

You may order your sign with a flashing transformer, which allows you to either have the sign on all the time, or have it flash. It also allows you to adjust the flashing speed.  If you have a larger sign with multiple transformers you will have to purchase an external flashing box (call for quote and details). 


How much does it cost to operate my neon sign?

Neon signs are extremely efficient. The reason they look so bright is because all of the output is focused within a small wavelength band of light. On average a neon open sign uses less than power than a 75 watts light bulb. Average cost to operate your neon sign is only about 20 cents per day (if you operate it 24 hours per day).