The Art and Science Behind Crafting Neon Signs: A Comprehensive Guide

Neon is a fantastic method to make your signage shine, particularly in the evening. The type of sign that you choose to use is easily recognizable and can be seen from Route 66 up to Las Vegas. It is deeply grounded in Americana and its iconic design is appropriate for any urban street. Neon signs are an intriguing mixture of science and art. Let’s take a close examine the process of making them and find out what’s required to make them.


The fundamental principle behind a neon sign is that it’s a tube made of glass filled with gas. The tube is lit when an electric current passes through it. The most common gas used is neon, similar to the name suggests, however, other gases are also utilized. Heinrich Geissler, a scientist in the 19th century, discovered that high-voltage alternating voltage could be passed through a low-pressure gas inside glass tubes to create the light source. All gasses can carry this current and almost all will produce light. However, not all are capable of maintaining light. Common gases like carbon dioxide can affect the efficiency of electrodes, which causes the light to dim rapidly.

Sir William Ramsay, Morris William Travers, and Morris William Travers discovered neon, argon, and krypton in 1898. They could use these gases in glass tubes to produce colored lighting sources. The tubes were able to not hinder the performance of the electrodes. The gas neon would give bright reddish-orange, while argon gas created the color of a grayish blue or violet.

The process of distilling argon and neon remained very expensive and unattainable for a time, but in 1907 Georges Claude of France and Karl von Linde of Germany were working on a method to distill oxygen for hospitals and discovered that rare gases were the result of the process. Claude was looking for a way to make use of these gasses and, based upon the research of Ramsay and Travers, he started promoting lighted neon signs and even displaying one at an exposition in Paris in 1910. He had already completed his first commercial installation in 1912. In 1915, he was able to establish a company, and even 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 traction slowly but surely. They first became visible in casinos in Las Vegas in the 1940s. But neon signs gained a lot of popularity during the 1950s and 1960s as fluorescent tubes were used to illuminate the inside of the signs. However, neon has seen an incredible return in recent years and is now in more places.

How does it get made?

Manufacturing neon signs begins with the tube. The long glass tubes are cleaned and placed in a machine that blows an aqueous phosphor suspension upwards into the tubes and allows it to drain down to be coated. The tubes are then dried in an oven. The tubes are then dried in an oven. It is possible to leave tubes with red and blue uncoated since the neon and other gases argon will create these colors on their own.

Next, the tubing must be bent in a specific shape. A complete template is created using asbestos. The tube is carefully heated and softened by burners. Tubes are individually bent by hand, following the design. Tube benders don’t require gloves as they need to feel the heat and softness to bend the tubes at the correct time. A flexible hose of a short length known as a blowhole is attached to the other end. The bender on the tube gently blows into it to bring the tubing back to its original size.

To eliminate impurities, the tubing must be exposed to blasts. The tube is then heated and then vacuum extracted from the air. The tube will not hold its light if this step is missed. After the tubes cool and are filled with purified gas, and then sealed. If argon gas is employed usually, some mercury is added to improve the quality of the gas.

Once the tube has been filled with the gas that is intended for it, it must go through an aging process, which is known as “burning in the tubes.” This allows the gas to stabilize and function properly. A transformer is attached to the electrodes and runs the tube with a current that is typically a little larger than the current the sign will run on, and then is left to glow for a while. In the case of neon gas, the tube has to be fully illuminated for about 15 minutes, but if using argon, it might be as long as several hours. If there are any issues during the procedure (e.g. flickering or hot spot) The tube needs to be opened, bombarded, and replenished.

After this stage of the process is completed and the custom neon sign is now all set to be put up! The size will determine the length supporting the sign and wiring may be swift and simple, or very complicated, and large signs can require many months to put up, but the luminous and colorful glow of the classic custom neon sign is more than worth the waiting!

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