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How it’s made: from de-sign to neon sign

March 10, 2015 3 min read

Neon signs have been around for some time, and although initially as the result of scientific experiments, this type of signage has been displayed all over the world; from small pub signs and household decorations, to the huge entrance signs for Las Vegas Casinos. With this in mind, we look at the process by which neon signs are made, and show you exactly how we bring our clients ideas to life in the form of our bespoke neon creations.

Step 1 – Design

Before anything else, practical designs of the neon sign must be drafted up to outline the structure of the glassware when fixed to a backboard, but also identifies where the glass needs to be bent in order to achieve the overall desired effect.

Step 2 – Preparing your tubes

Although the straight glass tubing used in our Neon Creations is bought in, we thought that it’d be best to give you a full overview of each step involved in the neon sign making process.

The glass tubing for your neon sign needs to be cleaned to make sure there are no obstructions for the light. They are then coated with liquid phosphor by being placed vertically into a machine, where the phosphor is blown upwards and then drained out in a special coating machine. They are then positioned vertically in an oven, until the coating is dried. If tints are required for your sign, this will be done in a very similar process. However, tubes that should be filled with argon for blue light and most colours, or neon for orange or red should be kept clear.

Step 3 – Making shapes

Heat proof matting is laid down and the design of the sign is usually laid out on this whilst being put together. Heating and softening of the glass is usually done with different burners to shape the glass tubes into the pattern needed for the design. The tubing is bent by hand, with no gloves involved either! This is because the operators need to ensure the glass is of an optimum heat to make the bend, but appliances needed can be anything from gas powered ribbon burners to small hand torches. When bending the tube, the operator needs to ensure they retain the diameter of the tube in order to keep the light sufficient in every bit of the tube. They do this by blowing into the glass tube whilst the glass is still soft.

Step 4 – Bombarding

Bombarding, when making neon signs means removing impurities before the tube is filled. This is done by use of vacuum pump that also lowers the air pressure by vacuuming out the tube to insure a completely empty tube. A transformer with a vary high current is then inserted, and connected to electrodes, which then heats the tube to around 420° F to force the impurities out before being sucked out by the vacuum.

Step 5 – Filling

The cooled-down tube is then filled with gas at a low pressure. Once it has been filled, it is heated and then sealed off, and then the tube is aged in order to stabilise the glass so the light works properly. This works by attaching a slightly higher rated transformer than for the tubes normal operating current to the electrodes, and making sure that the light emitted comes to full fruition within a certain space of time. With neon this is 15 minutes, but for argon this can take a little longer. If this doesn’t work properly, the tube must be reopened and bombarding and filling must take place again.

Once this is done, the neon sign is ready to be mounted and installed. Whilst smaller signs can be done quickly, larger ones can take quite some time to install, so the process isn’t a quick one! However, despite this process being fairly time-consuming, it’s evident that the finished article will make all the hours spent seem much more worthwhile. Get in touch to find out more.