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How to Make a Neon Sign

Posted: August 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Illuminated Signs | Tags: | No Comments »
Making a Neon Sign

Making a Neon Sign

Ever wanted to know how neon signs function? A neon sign is a lighted display built from glass tubes which have been filled with a gas and bent into the shape of letters or decorative designs. When a high-voltage current passes through the gas, the tubes emit light. Although neon gas was originally used in neon signs, many other types of gases are used, too. These gases, along with assorted tints and phosphor coatings for the tubes, create an array of over 50 colors. These neon signs may be as basic as a modest beer sign, or as complex as a 50ft tall structure on the roof of a casino.Right after their heyday in the 50’s, neon signs took a backseat to less expensive signs made from plastic that were lit up from the inside with fluorescent tubes. In recent years, neon has experienced a revival in both commercial signage and as an artistic medium. The Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles features both historical and contemporary neon creations. It also conducts monthly tours of noteworthy models of neon displays around the city.

Neon Sign Making Equipment

Neon Sign Making Equipment

Today, neon gas is actually only used to create red and orange colors. The majority of contemporary neon signs incorporate argon or some form of neon-argon mixture. In order to intensify the illumination, mercury is combined with the argon, which causes a powerful blue light. With the assistance of the materials that are coated inside the glass tube, it works to create loads of distinctive colors. Depending on the desired color, optical tints may be used, or the glass tube may be kept clear if a bright blue light is required. Some other gases such as xenon, helium, and krypton may sometimes be used for effects purposes.

Soft lead glass that can easily be re-formed is what is used to create the glass tubing found in neon signs. Each end of the sectioned illuminated tubing contains electrodes which are typically made out of very high-purity iron that are encapsulated by a glass jacket or open-ended envelope. The metal electrode is fastened to a wire which is passed through the end of the envelope which is then sealed into the end of the tubing leaving the open part of it protruding into the tube.

Constructing neon signs is as much an art as it is a mechanical process. With a few exclusions just about every neon sign is unique and needs to be designed to fit the desired display while staying within the confines of the space that is available. Special considerations of the diameter of the tubing, the minimum bendable tubing radius, and the entire length of tubing the transformer can power can all limit the final product. For instance, the smaller the diameter of the tubing that you’re working with, the brighter the light will be. A smaller diameter tubing needs more electricity, which limits the over-all length of tubing a single transformer can effectively handle.

The actual manufacturing of neon signs is largely a manual process. It consists of shaping the tubing and attaching electrodes while removing impurities that might be found inside the tubing itself, and then evacuating the air inside and replacing it with gas.

To get the tubing ready for the manufacturing process, long pieces of soft glass are cleaned thoroughly and then inserted into a coating machine. The machine coats the inner surface of the tubing with liquid phosphor by sending it upwards into the tubing and then permitting it to drip out from the bottom. Right after this process, the tubing is set in an oven to ensure that the coating will dry. Color tints are also coated in a similar way. The tubes which are going to be filled with neon for reddish/orange coloring or argon for the bright blue coloring are not spray-treated with any color tints.

bending the glass

The following step is bending. The bending involves the glass being manipulated into the shape required by the design specifications. To facilitate the bending, the tubing must first be heated. A lot of the bending is done by hand, and no protective gloves are worn. This is due to the fact that the benders have to be capable of feeling the minute adjustments in the temperature of the glass tubing so that they can know the precise moment that they should make their adjustments. It’s crucial that during this process the tube does not collapse, since tubes with restricted diameters will not properly function.

Once the bending is done, the process of bombarding is next. Because sometimes impurities may remain in parts of the structure, this process is truly essential in ensuring that the sign will work properly. Basically, a vacuum is used to extract all of the air from inside the tubing. After vacuuming, air is steadily accepted back inside the tubing until a specific pressure level is achieved. To ensure that the electrodes are free of any impurities, a high-current transformer heats the electrodes to as high as 1,400 degrees, which subsequently forces any and all impurities out.

Now it is time to fill up the tube. Once it has finally cooled down, gas is then inserted under minimal pressure. The previous step of bombarding will see to it that the gas will function as it is meant to and last for as long as it possibly can. The open end of the tube that is used to insert the gas is then heated and sealed off.

The last steps in neon sign creation process sign include aging and final assembly. In order to make sure the gas inside the tube stabilizes properly, it is granted an aging period prior to its final assembly. When it looks to have become stable, the bent glass is ready to be affixed to its sign. In general, neon signs are hooked up to something like a dark acrylic backing. It’s very important that backing doesn’t distract from the sign.

Hopefully this article has put to rest any inquiries you could have possibly had about the manufacturing of neon signs!

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