Neon signage and lights have been enchanting us and filled our nights with splendid light for a while now, but what do we really know about them?

How about we embark on a journey in which we can learn about neon and why has it been so useful for businesses all over the world up to this point?

The Humble Beginnings Of Neon Signage

It is estimated by historians that experimentation with glass tubes and lighting extends far beyond the apparition of the first neon tube, meaning sometime around the 17th century.

One French astronomer named Jean Picard made an interesting discovery in 1675, observed a peculiar glow in a mercury barometer tube. Due to the fact that the tube was shaken, a phenomena called the barometric light occurred. Technology and knowledge on electricity and static electricity was scarce at the time so people couldn’t quite understand this concept.

Geissler Lit Neon Tube

Geissler Lit Neon Tube

Around the year 1855 a man named Heinrich Geissler (German) who was a physicist and a glass blower invented the Geissler tube. It was a gas discharge tube used to demonstrate the principles of electrical glow discharge, a very early version of the neon. Engineers started experimenting with this intricate invention only after the electrical generators were developed.

One of these engineers was Daniel McFarlan Moore, who, in 1896, invented the Moore lamp which was a nitrogen-based light. This lamp was an extension of the Geissler tube. Thus preparing the grounds for the creation of the Neon lamp.

In 1904 Sir William Ramsay discovered the neon gas among others, fact that won him a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

A few years later, in 1910, Georges Claude, a French engineer had created and perfected the concept of the neon lamp and exposed it in the month of December, at the Paris Motor Show.

The first neon sign ever sold was in 1912, to a barber in Paris, by Georges Claude’s business partner.

Monsieur Claude, in 1923 introduced, through his company Claude Neon, the first neon signs to the US. He sold two to a Packard car dealership in LA. The owner, Earle C. Anthony purchased the signs for a whopping $24,000.

From there on, people got a taste for neon, making it become a very popular fixture in outdoor advertising. The signs were dubbed by the people “liquid fire”, pretty cool, eh?

The Good Old Days

From its beginnings engineers have sought to enlarge the color spectrums and the design possibilities of this truly amazing lighting technology. Over time however, neon technology hasn’t changed all that much, thus usage has declined to an extent that people are now considering restoring the old ones, as they become historical landmarks denoting a vintage beauty and charm.

The glory period for neon, at least in the United States, was between 1923 and 1960. Times Square in New York for example, has an incredible history with neon, most of them being designed by Douglas Leigh. It is estimated that nearly 2000 shops were producing neon signs by the 40’s.

Their main usage was for businesses because they attract attention during the night and the day through powerful color contrast that simply pop out. Their best moment of visibility occurs at night. They were specifically crafted for this purpose and to be clearly seen from a great distance, depending on their size, of course. They can be used both indoors and outdoors, with the condition of keeping them away from any hands and any kind of impact.

Signs are also generally positioned behind protective glass or plastic windows to keep them safe from harsh weather conditions and other potential hazards.

How NEONS are Made

Neon lights are cold cathode gas-discharge light. A neon tube is a sealed glass tube that has a phosphorous coating on the inside, with a metal electrode at each end, filled with one or a number of gases at low pressure. These tubes emit different kinds of colors depending on the chemical element added inside.

Ever wondered what it takes to make a neon sign? As always, there’s a YouTube video for that. check it out:

The Science and Magic of Color

The color of the neon sign is given by the color of the glass used and the combination of gases within it. Neon is a noble gas that by itself produces the well-known orange color. By introducing Helium you get the color yellow, with Carbon Dioxide white, Mercury and Argon for blue, Krypton for whitish green and xenon for bluish-white.

The coloring of the glass tubes, realized with phosphor, influences the colors, as explained in the video above, they used a blue color tube to dim down the light blueness of the argon gas.

These coatings in the tube appear to be white when they are not lit. They become other colors once the tube is illuminated and the phosphors become excited or active. For richer colors you might want to check out  Novial Gold or Ruby Red tubes, because they contain more expensive pigments that alter the color, making them clearer or brighter.

Neon Glass Tubes

What’s Next?

Neon signs have stopped being such an important advertising tool in the past decades. Their main role was to let people know if the business was open or not. It is still a universally accepted and understood form of communication, specifically crafted to convey this simple message.  However, most of its usage, now, comes from artists and architects that incorporate neon into their designs.

It has declined to such an extent that now several cities are taking into consideration the preservation and restoration of local iconic or antique neon signs.

The owners of such neon signs can now attract customers and visitors solely due to it. Those who put in the extra effort of maintaining or restoring their signs will bring great prestige to their businesses, simply because they have a bit of history to show off.

If you would like to buy a neon sign you have to take into account your neighbors opinions, the message you want to convey and whether or not, by adding your sign, you create visual clutter.

The new Neon technology

LED Neon aka Neon Flex

This type of lighting is the replacement of glass neon tubes. It has multiple applications simply due to its flexibility, the ease of installation, cost-effectiveness, resistance, safety, lumens and the fact that you can cut it to the desired lengths. It also does not require electrodes, but a transformer which can help you save up on the energy bills.

Another advantage is that LED neon can be RGB, meaning that you can set it to any specific color. Either to recreate your brand logo or to set a specific mood at your location.

Here’s a demo video of Neon Flex or LED Neon:

Optic Fiber Neon

Optic Fiber Neon

Optic Fiber Neon

This is yet another alternative to classical neon.

Optic fiber has begun to have multiple applications in what lighting solutions are concerned due to the fact that it is extremely flexible, is easier to fabricate, because it’s basically made of a type of plastic, it can have almost any color, comes in a variety of sizes, this referring to thickness in millimeters (2, 3, 5, etc.) depending on your specific needs, it is also clearly less fragile than glass tubing and is much safer.

It can come as a clear cable or a colored on so you can get the desired effect. Optic fiber emits light along its full length, copying the look of neon tubes, but it requires a lower voltage source.

Optic fiber is fascinating because it has multiple applications in and for lighting solutions.  You can create star ceilings, chandeliers, signs and logos, pool illumination, display case illumination, lamps and even incorporate it into fabric. We will cover this topic in a future article because it is amazing!

We hope you enjoyed this brief history lesson and neon functionality and application lesson and that you check out our hand-picked gallery of superb neon signs and art installations, here.

Looking for inspiration & creative neon signage?

We’ve scoured the web for the absolute best creative neon signs & ads and we compiled an eye-candy filled gallery of over 100 neon designs you can draw inspiration from:

100+ Creative Neon Signs & Ads