The famed neon light designer Douglas Leigh once said, “From the beginning of time, darkness has brought on fear. Lighting lifts the spirits.” Leigh’s New York designs, which incorporated whimsical images such as capering horses and cats playing with balls, almost certainly did lift the spirits of onlookers.
Very few things are as central to human life and activity as communication and light, and neon signage offers a great way to incorporate both into your marketing.
Business signs provide an appealing way to communicate with local community members and draw them into your business as potential clients. And business signs do more than communicate with passersby.
When businesses add new signs, the retro appeal of neon can be an excellent choice. Its warm glow and throwback vibe provide an attractive allure to many clients. Take a look at different uses for and benefits of neon signs for your business.
What Is Neon?
Neon is an element on the periodic table: Ne, with atomic number 10. It is the fifth-most-abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen, helium, oxygen and carbon. It is rare on earth, however, making up just .00018% of the atmosphere. The word neon comes from the Greek word neos, which means “new.”
Because of its relative rarity, neon can be expensive to procure. Neon must be captured and separated from the air with a process known as fractional distillation. During this process, scientists chill air until it becomes a liquid. Then they slowly warm the liquified air. As the air warms, its elements turn back into gases one by one at specific temperatures. Scientists can capture these gases individually as they change phase. It’s not always an efficient process, though — it takes 88,000 pounds of liquid air to produce one pound of neon.
Neon is a noble gas: colorless, odorless and not chemically reactive under standard circumstances. It is safe for people, animals and the environment to come into contact with.
Who Did the First Work With Neon?
Two British researchers, Sir William Ramsey and Morris W. Travers, discovered neon in 1898. Suspecting the existence of noble gases beyond the ones already discovered, they cooled air until it became liquid and then warmed it to collect the gases given off while it boiled. One of those gases turned out to be neon. When the two researchers ran an electric charge through their new gas, the tube with the gas in it glowed crimson. For his work in discovering neon, as well as argon, helium, krypton and xenon, Ramsey won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1904.
In 1902, a French engineer, Georges Claude, began to experiment with creating neon lights from the neon he had leftover from air liquefaction. In 1910, he displayed his neon-lit tubes at the Paris Motor Show. As early as 1904, American scientist Perley Nutting, of the National Institute for Standards and Technology, had also showcased neon lighting at the World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Though Claude wanted to use neon in glass tubes for indoor lighting, the brilliant color of the lights made them a tough sell. So instead, in 1912, he turned his neon tubes into advertising lights. This time, he found success. He first sold his neon lighting to a barbershop, and by 1919, his neon signs illuminated the Paris Opera. In 1923, neon advertising spread to the United States when a California car dealership hung up two neon signs to advertise its vehicles.
Current Research on Neon
Neon is at the heart of some exciting new research about stars and the way planets form around them. In massive stars, neon is typically created when the tremendous pressures found there squeeze carbon into neon through nuclear fusion. Neon can also be detected in the discs around young stars in which planets are forming. Researchers are attempting to track the gas content of these discs to learn more about how planets form around young stars.
Scientists have also been analyzing the neon found in the earth’s mantle in an attempt to learn more about how our planet formed. Because neon is an inert noble gas, it does not change with biological and chemical processes the way most other elements do. For this reason, it may have preserved a record of the conditions from four and a half million years ago when the earth formed.
How Do Neon Signs Work?
Neon lights are also known as cold cathode fluorescent lamps, or CCFLs. To make these lamps, vacuum discharge tubes are filled with neon or other fluorescing gases. Then an alternating current flows through the tube via two electrodes placed on either end. The current ionizes the neon atoms, causing electrons to detach from the atoms, float away briefly and fill the tube. When the ionized atoms recapture their free electrons, the emission of neon light is the result.
When an electric charge runs through it, neon typically emits a brilliant reddish-orange color. So, many “neon” signs are not made of neon at all. Reddish signs usually contain neon and a little added argon. Neon signs of other colors typically contain other gases, such as helium, argon, krypton, xenon and mercury. Mercury or an argon-mercury mix usually produces blue lighting in a neon sign. Helium creates pinkish-red colors, and xenon helps to produce purple hues. Engineers can also use different coatings to change the colors of neon lights.
Uses of Neon Signage
Historically associated with establishments such as motels, bars, theaters and nightclubs, neon is versatile enough for many modern uses:
- To indicate open hours or vacancies: Businesses often use the iconic neon sign to indicate that an establishment is open for business or that a hotel has a vacancy. Colorful neon helps you communicate this information in a way that stands out.
- To mark a location: This feature is essential when customers are driving and have much time to decipher cryptic fonts and signage found up and down a street. Neon stands out from the crowd and alerts distracted clients to your business’s location.
- To highlight a name: Imagine a hometown trolley car diner with its name spelled out in colored neon letters. It’s a classic American image that also has the practical value of increased visibility.
- To emphasize a specialty: Imagine the diner above is famous far and wide for its meatloaf and shakes. It’s a good bet that it also has those comfort foods highlighted in neon on its signage. The vibrancy of neon makes it perfect for emphasizing the best of what any business has to offer.
- To create fun pictures: Neon tubes can be bent, twisted and arranged in a variety of ways to create colorful, whimsical images. These neon images grab clients’ attention and invite them in. A surf shop could design a colorful surfboard and bright yellow sun, or a pet-grooming shop could make cute neon dog and cat faces. Fun images are a sure way to get people stopping in the street to admire your signage. And later on, they’ll be sure to remember your business and its neon art when they need it.
- To announce sales: If your business has a huge sale or seasonal promotion going on, what better way to call attention to it than with bright, vibrant neon lettering? You want your clients to be able to take advantage of your special offers and deals, and neon is a great way to draw attention to them.
- To foster a festive atmosphere: For businesses like restaurants and wine bars, neon lights add a wonderful contribution to the ambiance. Colored neon graphics and signs help infuse rooms with a warm, cozy glow that’s perfect for enjoying with friends, family or significant others.
- To create seasonal decorations: Around the holidays, neon offers an excellent way to add seasonal touches to your business. When the cold, dark days of winter are upon you, brighten things up with neon signs shaped like steaming beverages or cute, glowing snowflakes that will bring smiles to your shivering patrons. When the first signs of spring start to appear, celebrate spring fever on by adding vibrant neon flowers to your storefront. Clients will appreciate the personal touches and see that you care about creating a fun, engaging aesthetic and impression.
- To light up entertainment venues: The neon-covered Las Vegas casino or nightclub is an iconic example, but you don’t have to venture to Vegas to see neon at its brightest. Theaters everywhere can use neon to light up their marquees and advertise their newest films and shows.
- To add accents: Maybe you already have a whimsical outdoor sign — say a cartoon cactus with a sombrero at a Mexican restaurant — and you want to give it a little extra color and pizzazz. Using neon lights to accentuate the hat or smiling face would be a great way to enliven the sign and make it stand out even more.
- To add motion: Blinking neon lights can help give your sign the appearance of movement. By lighting up different neon lights in quick succession, you can create the illusion that an arrow is moving or that, say, a neon cowboy is twirling his lasso. Because there are no complicated moving parts to deal with, using neon to simulate motion for an engaging, dynamic sign is easy and cost-effective.
Benefits of Neon Signage
Neon signage offers many advantages to businesses. A few reasons to choose neon are:
- It’s eye-catching: Neon signs, with their bright, vibrant colors, draw attention like nothing else. On a street full of printed signs, neon lights immediately stand out with their dramatic, engaging visual effect.
- It lights up the night: Do you want potential clients to be able to find you easily, even at night? In that case, neon is a perfect choice for signage. Its colorful lighting makes any business visible in the dark, even from far down the street.
- It helps drive sales: In a recent survey, businesses that had lost their illuminated signs to usage restrictions reported sales losses that ranged from 16.6% to 26.6%. Stylish illuminated signs like neon signs attract clients and make them more likely to patronize a business.
- It’s customizable: With neon signs, your options are virtually limitless. You can use neon to spell out any message, you can create unique designs and you can add different colors to create a custom glowing look.
- It stands out: LED and digital signage may be flashy, but there’s nothing quite like the retro appeal of a neon sign. Even on a street full of spotlit pole signs and scrolling digital displays, the warm, homey glow of neon stands apart from the rest.
- It enhances readability: Some business signage is difficult to read. It makes use of small fonts, or it’s too cluttered with words, or it’s visible only in bright daylight. The brightness of neon helps make your sign more legible.
- It appeals to nostalgia: Though there was a time when neon might have seemed outdated or low-budget, its appeal is rising once again. When they think of neon signs, many people imagine the signs in an old-timey diner or the signs illuminating the cheap, cozy motels on the road trips of their youth. They may also think of New York in the 1930s and 1940s, where Douglas Leigh’s elaborate neon lighting displays transformed Times Square. Or they may imagine the ’50s, when Las Vegas was at its height as the neon-lit Entertainment Capital of the World. Modern neon signs can tap into this sense of nostalgia for their appeal to clients.
- It helps promote your brand: When you associate engaging neon signage with your brand, you create a positive, memorable association in clients’ minds. Clients may not immediately need your products or services when they pass by your store. But sooner or later, they probably will. And the strong, memorable brand your signage creates will help them remember you and feel good about becoming patrons of your business.
- It provides continuous advertising: Neon signs can work for your business day and night, seven days a week.
- It turns your business into a neighborhood landmark: Neon signs provide a constant, familiar beacon in any residential or commercial landscape. When you have a prominent, stylish neon sign, you’re not just an address on a street corner any more — you’re an integral part of your neighborhood.
Historically, neon signs have come with a few drawbacks. They can be heavy and their glass tubes can be prone to breakage. Signs containing argon are particularly susceptible to cold weather and signs containing mercury pose environmental risks. Neon signs can also be expensive because neon is relatively rare on Earth. Alternatives to neon, such as LED lights and digital signage, help resolve some of these issues. However, for businesses willing to invest in neon signs, the return is a bright, colorful, beautiful glow whose allure is hard to resist.
Create Custom Neon Signs With SpeedPro
At SpeedPro, we’re dedicated to creating quality custom signage of all types. With our consultation services, you can talk to our experts and get help figuring out the best neon sign design for your business’s goals, aesthetic and budget. We also offer quick turnaround times and beautiful, quality signs that will work and hold up well for many years to come.
Use our online tool to find a studio near you. Then contact us today to make us your neon sign company.