When you want a sign to make a real impact, especially at night then you should make it neon. The neon sign style is instantly recognizable- from Route 66 up to Las Vegas, it’s deeply grounded in the images of Americana However, the style is also completely timeless and can be incorporated in even the most urban cities of today. The process of making neon signs is an interesting combination of art and science So let’s take a closer look and appreciate what goes into making them.
The neon sign is made up of a tube of glass filled with gas. The tube lights when an electric current passes through it. This gas is usually neon, but it can also be made by combining other gases. Heinrich Geissler, a scientist from the 19th century discovered that an alternating voltage of high voltage could be transmitted through a low-pressure gas inside a glass tube to create the light source. Most gasses can conduct a current such as this, and the majority produce light, however, not all can hold that light. Common gases like carbon dioxide would interfere with the effectiveness of the electrodes, causing the light to die quickly.
Sir William Ramsay, Morris William Travers, and Morris William Travers discovered neon, argon, and krypton in the year 1898. They could use these gases inside sealed glass tubes to produce colored light sources. The tubes could not compromise the effectiveness of the electrodes. Neon gas could produce a bright reddish-orange color and argon gas produced a grayish-blue or violet.
The process of distilling neon and argon remained expensive and inaccessible for a while, but in 1907, Georges Claude of France and Karl von Linde of Germany were working on a process to make oxygen for hospitals and discovered that these rare gasses were a byproduct from the process. Claude began looking for a way to make use of these gasses and, based upon the work of Ramsay and Travers and promoted lighted neon signs and even displayed one at an exhibition in Paris in 1910. In 1912, he created his first commercial installation and in 1915, he was good enough to begin the business and to sell franchises.
In 1923, Los Angeles car dealer Earle C. Anthony bought two of Claude’s signs for his Packard dealership and brought neon to the United States. Slowly, but surely, the signs gained popularity, hitting the casinos of Las Vegas in the 1940s. However, during the 50s and 60s true neon signs suffered as plastic signs lit by fluorescent tubes from inside were more popular. In recent years, however, neon has been getting more popular and can be seen all over the world.
How does it get made?
Manufacturing custom neon signs starts with the tubing. The long glass tubes are cleaned and then placed in a machine that blows the liquid phosphor suspension into the tubes. It will let it drain down and cover them with. The tubes are then dried in an oven. If a tube is to be colored other than red, orange or blue, tints of color are added to them similarly to the coating machines. It is possible to leave the tubes with red and blue uncoated because the neon and other gases argon will create these colors on their own.
Then, the tube must be bent to form. A large-scale template is constructed out of asbestos. The tubing is carefully heated and softened by burners. Each tube is bent by hand to match the template, and the tube benders don’t need to wear gloves because they need to be able to feel the heat and softness of the glass to be able to complete the bend at just the right moment. A flexible hose is referred to as a blowhole and is attached to the other end. The tube bender uses a gentle blow to return the tubing to its original dimensions.
To get rid of contaminants, the tube must be exposed to blasts. The tube is then heated before being vacuumed to remove the air. If this process were not completed and the tube was not heated, it would not be able to hold its light for very long. Once the tubes have cooled, they are filled with gas purified, and sealed. When argon gas is employed, typically an amount of mercury is added to improve the intensity.
After the tube is filled with the intended gas and is then refilled, it has to go through an aging process, which is known as “burning in the tubes.” This will allow the gas to become stable and perform its function. An electrode is connected to a transformer which can run a current through it. The current is typically a little higher than the one on the label. The tube is then allowed to shine for some time. The tube is supposed to be lit for about 15 minutes using neon gas. However, argon can be used and can last for many hours. Any issues that are observed during this procedure like an unresponsive or hot spot, mean that the tubing must be opened, bombarded, and then filled.
The custom neon signs can be put up after this stage is completed. Depending on the size supporting the sign and wiring could be fast and easy or extremely complicated for large signs. Large signs may require some months to construct, but the luminous and colorful glowing glow of the classic neon sign is well worth the waiting!