Knowledge Base

How Do Neon Lights Work?

If you’ve ever seen the Blade Runner, Drive, or TRON: Legacy, then you’ve seen neon lights in full effect.

Maybe you’ve been to Las Vegas a few decades ago (or seen it in a movie). The stunning, vibrant neon lights that capture any passerby with the old “Welcome To Las Vegas, The City of Lights”.

Neon lights have been shaping lives outside of our homes for generations, subtly glowing in the background (while often unnoticed) on the streets of downtown strips of many cities.

Bud Light Neon Sign

Nowadays, there aren’t as many neon lights keeping cities glowing at night, but every now and then you’ll see an old mom and pop shop that has been around for decades glowing vibrantly at night.

Neon lights are mostly just a blast from the past culture marker that you can find in many movies these days, subtly glowing in the background.

But what makes them so bright and captivating? How are they made?

So How Do Neon Lights Work?

Neon lights are made from glass tubes that are filled with inert gases, which are gases that won’t react when combined with other chemicals.

Commonly used with neon gas, neon lights can be filled with argon and krypton (yes, Supermans only weakness).

After the gas has filled the tube of glass, a few electrodes are put on the end of the tube (electrodes are electrical conductors used to act as a doorway for electricity to to enter into an object and exit the object).

Neon Signs in Street

When the neon light is turned on, electricity rushes from the power source through the electrodes and into the glass tube. At this point, the electricity combines with the gases and the atoms within the glass begin to light up, creating a radiant glow that floods the area.

Once this process was discovered, glass tubes would be bent and twisted (at an extremely high heat of 800-900 degrees Celcius) into words to make up signs, and artistic designs.

This led the way for many storefronts, shops, and restaurants to stand out from the crowd, grab attention, and entice those walking by to come in.

With every year that went by, new shops would hop on the trend and join in, creating the gorgeous “classic downtown” look for many popular city strips throughout the world.

How Do Neon Signs Have Different Colors?

To make different colors of neon tubes, different gases are combined with electricity to form the light, each type of gas produces a different color:

The color of the neon light can also be altered by using colored fluorescent lights within the glass tube.

Or, by using different colored glass tubes, it can create a different shade of light.

How Neon Signs Work

Neon Lights vs. LED Lights… Which one is better?

As mentioned, neon lights are slowly fading away. With the invention of new light technology, the neon glow is becoming a thing of the past for businesses and homes.

When LED lights were invented, they quickly began taking over the lighting industry.

LED lighting, when used in making signs, is made with polymer tubes (rather than glass), which makes it super easy to bend (and cheap to replace). It also occupies much less space than standard glass tube lights that are used within neon lights.

From a power perspective, LED transforms energy into electricity which means it’s able to use 5-10% less energy than typical neon signs.

Neon Bar Signs

The most apparent difference with LED lighting compared to neon lighting is the extremely bright, sharp, powerful light that is emitted from LED lights.

However, neon lighting offers a warmer, subtle light than LED lighting does. You just get a certain feeling when you see a neon light – as they give off a nostalgic, inviting glow which makes them a perfect addition to an old-style restaurant, or even a poker room. 

If you’ve like to know more about the differences between the two types of lighting, check out this article by Neon Creations.

Today, LED lighting dominates the lighting world, but, for now, neon lighting offers a warm alternative to LED lighting. This may not always be the case though, as there continue to be advancements in LED lighting capability.

Especially with new smart lighting sweeping the world with breakthrough technology, LED lights are now able to offer a different, softer, warmer glow (depending on the type you buy).

There are several options for dimming and warming and cooling capabilities. Plus, there’s even a vintage style Edison LED smart bulb that offers an even more nostalgic feeling than a neon light, taking any homeowner back to the 19th century.

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