Neon signs are cool, there’s no doubt about it. There’s something about neon that really attracts the attention of passers-by, young and old and says “Hey, come in, see what we’re doing!” However, not everyone knows what causes the neon to glow so brightly, and how it can emit different colour light. With that in mind, we’ve compiled some interesting facts about neon, and how it’s use for signage has developed over the years.
Who invented neon signs?
A French inventor, Georges Claude, invented neon signs in 1910 but neon itself was actually discovered in 1898 in gas form by William Ramsay and Morris Travers. They discovered microscopic quantities of the gas occur naturally in our atmosphere. The first tube to contain neon was made for a scientific study into applying electrical discharges to different gases and various other substances. However, Georges Claude furthered this by discovering that neon gases (when combined with other elements and fed with electrical charges) could display a variety of bright, colourful lights when an electrical discharge was applied to a sealed tube of neon gas.
Claude displayed the first neon lamp that he created to the general public an expo in Paris in 1910, before patenting the neon lighting tube in 1915 for commercialisation. In 1923, Packard motors immediately commandeered two of the inventor’s early neon signs and began to use them for advertising purposes. Thus, the idea of neon signage was born.
What makes neon lights work?
As neon is an inert (or noble) gas, meaning that it is a naturally unreactive element within the Earth’s atmosphere and can be easily stored. Because of this, neon can be placed into a sealed tube, where it will start to drift around without causing any pressure build-up. However, by passing an electric current through the tube with kinetic energy, the atoms in the molecules of the neon become excited and release electrons into the gas. These ions and electrons then spread themselves throughout the entire tube; effectively ensuring that the gas fills the tube in its entirety. When these atoms bounce around the tube they collide with each other, raising the energy levels contained within the neon molecules. When these atoms are restored to their usual energy level, they release a ‘photon’ (particle of light) and emit visible light as a consequence.
The colour we see on signs everywhere today, is created via the different gases combined with the neon in the tubes. A short list of some of the combinations of gases and their colours is below, but there are many more to choose from.
- Neon itself: Red
- Argon: Lavender
- Helium: Orange
- Krypton: Grey or Green
- Mercury: Blue
- Xenon: Blue or grey
Coating and baking into the tubes of fluorescent powders can also help to create different shades of these colours too, and it is also possible to use coloured tubes for this purpose.
Due to the increasing interest in neon, it is not only now used as advertising, but also as a form of artwork. In fact, some artists have even chosen to create one of a kind pieces of art from neon that are able to light up in time with a piece of music. There are many different applications of neon signs and, at Neon Creations, we are passionate about experimenting with different components to create something that is new, fresh and exciting for the industry.