When you want a sign to have a significant impact, especially at night, you make it neon. The type of custom neon signs you choose to use is instantly recognizable from Route 66 to Las Vegas, it’s deeply embedded in the culture of Americana However, the style is timeless and would fit right into even the most urban city streets today. The process of creating neon signs is an interesting intersection of science and artistry Let’s explore the process and discover the processes involved in crafting the signs.
The basic principle of neon signs is that it’s a glass tube that is filled with gas. If an electric current is carried through the gas the tube glows. This gas is most often neon, but it can be created by combining other gasses. Heinrich Geissler, a scientist from the 19th century, realized that high-voltage alternating voltage could be transmitted through a low-pressure gas contained in the glass tube to produce a light source. Nearly all gases can conduct a current such as this, and a majority emit light, but none of them can sustain the light. Common gasses such as carbon dioxide could interfere with the effectiveness of the electrodes, which causes the light to fade quickly.
In 1898 Sir William Ramsay and Morris William Travers discovered the elements neon, argon, krypton, and xenon, and were able to use these gasses in sealed glass tubes to make different colored light sources that did not compromise the efficiency of the electrodes. As a result, the tubes were vibrantly colored and could sustain their light. While neon gas creates a bright reddish-orange color while argon gas produces violet or grayish blue.
The distillation process for neon and argon was expensive and unattainable for a while, but in 1907, Georges Claude of France and Karl von Linde of Germany were working on a method to make oxygen for hospitals and found that these rare gases were produced as a result from the process. Claude began looking for ways of making use of these gasses. He took inspiration from the work of Ramsay and Travers and promoted lighted custom neon signs. One was even featured at an exhibition in Paris exhibit in the year 1910. In 1912, he constructed his first commercial display and, in 1915, he had been in good enough shape to launch an enterprise and sell franchises.
In 1923, Los Angeles car dealer Earle C. Anthony bought two of Claude’s signs for his Packard dealership and introduced neon to the United States. The signs gained popularity slowly, but steadily. They first appeared at casinos in Las Vegas during the 1940s. However, neon signs gained a lot of popularity during the 1960s and 1950s as fluorescent tubes were used to light the interior of the sign. However, neon has made a strong return in recent times and is now being used in more places.
How does it get made?
The process of making neon signs begins with the tubing. The long glass tubes are cleaned and then put in a machine to blow a phosphor liquid suspension inside the tubes. Then, it will let it run down and then coat them with. The tubes are then dried in an oven. The tubes then dry in the oven. The blue and red tubes could be left clear since the gases argon and neon create these colors on their own.
Next, the tubing must be bent to form. A full-size template is made using asbestos. The tubing is carefully warmed up and softened with burners. Tubes are then bent individually by hand, following the design. Tube benders don’t require protective gloves since they have to be able to feel the heat and softness to bend the tubes at the correct time. A short flexible hose called a blowhole is attached to the other end. The bender of the tube uses a gentle blow to restore the tubing to its original size.
To eliminate impurities, the tubing must be bombarded. The tube is then heated and then vacuum extracted from the air. The tube will lose its light when this step is not completed. After the tubes cool, they are filled with purified gas and sealed. To increase the intensity of the gas argon, a small amount is usually added.
Once the tube has been filled with the intended gas and is then refilled, it has to go through an aging process known as “burning in the tubes.” This will allow the gas to become stable and perform its function. The electrode is attached to a transformer which can run a current through it. This current is usually slightly larger than the one that is shown on the sign. The tube is left to glow for a certain amount of time. In the case of neon gas, the tube has to be illuminated to full for approximately 15 minutes, but if argon is used, it might take as long as hours. Any issues that are observed during this procedure like a flicker or a hot spot, indicate that the tubing needs to be opened, bombarded, and then filled.
The sign can be mounted once this step is complete. It is contingent on the size of the sign. Large signs can require a long time to put up. But the bright glow and vibrant colors of classic neon signs are worth the effort!