People have always been curious about neon signs. While some have shown interest in figuring out its mechanism and how it manages to produce those wonderful light effects, some have expressed safety concerns over the use of neon signs.
Neon signs are generally safe if used properly, however, misuse could cause them to be dangerous for a few reasons. If there is a gas leak the small amounts of mercury could cause poisoning. Also, there is a small risk of being electrocuted if not installed properly.
Before we get to fully understand whether they are safe or not, let us try and understand what neon signs are.
What are Neon Signs?
Neon signs are produced by bending glass tubing into different shapes. This activity is performed by skilled professionals known as glass or neon benders. The neon tube is carved out of 1-meter-long sticks made of glass tubing. The process of creating neon signs has become no less than a small-sized industry today. It is also a modern art form that very few have mastered.
The neon sign is an improved version of the classic Geissler tube. The Geissler tube is a tube that is made of glass and runs on electricity. The glass tube is filled with a specific type of gas that is much below the regular atmospheric pressure.
When electricity is made to pass through the electrodes which are present inside this glass, it results in a ‘glow discharge’. Geissler tubes came to prominence towards the end of the 1800s. The colors emitted by these tubes reflected the color of the gas inside them. These tubes were not recommended for regular lighting because, the more you used them, the more the gas inside them became empty.
In a lot of ways, the Moore tube served as the predecessor for the neon tube lighting. These Moore tubes utilized carbon dioxide or nitrogen as the gas and a specialized mechanism that was patented by its parent company to regulate pressure. In the early 1900s, Moore tubes were sold in the commercial market for some time.
How Do They Make Neon Signs?
For more than a century now, neon signs have helped several businesses promote themselves and reach out to their prospective customers in a more prominently visual manner. Neon signs are most commonly seen in restaurants, clubs, and bars but many other businesses use them too to stand out in a crowded physical market.
Most neon signs are built with glass tubes. These tubes could be produced by a company in a factory in bulk or made by a master glassblower. First, they need to be heated up and then molded into different shapes or forms skillfully.
Once a vacuum has been created, two electrodes are inserted inside the tube at two opposite ends. In the next step, one of the gases is put inside the tube and the tube is sealed. When electricity runs through the electrodes, the gas gets illuminated and light is produced from the tube.
What are the Five Gases Used in Neon Signs?
Xeon, Neon, Krypton, Helium, and Argon – these are the five different gasses used to fill up the Neon tube. The choice of gas is driven by the kind of color you want the neon glass tubes to produce. If you prefer red, you could use Neon gas. If you want the glass tubes to produce light soaked in blue color, you need to fill them up with Xeon gas.
When you go about deciding the color, you need to keep in mind the reason or the purpose for which the neon lights will be used for. One of the most important things is the fact that most of these gases will not function properly when the weather is very cold.
You might have noticed that a lot of restaurants and bars use red neon signs to advertise themselves. The reason behind this is that neon gas does not fluctuate frequently with a change in temperature.
Are Neon Signs Dangerous?
The gas that goes inside the glass tubes is not harmful. As is the case with regular fluorescent tubes, the very tiny droplets of mercury that are found in some of the colors prove to be safe as long as the tube is in good condition and no leakage happens.
As long as you ensure that the tube is intact, you do not have to worry about any safety issues. Handling the tubes properly is of utmost importance. Because of the threats associated with leakage of gas, most neon shops refuse to fix or repair argon-mercury tubes that are broken.
To light up a neon tube, you have to pass electricity in the range of 2,000-15,000 volts. Even though the amount of electricity provided is not very high and is in the milliamp range, if the neon piece is not properly placed, it could cause a fire hazard or shock.
You have to ensure that it is mounted, wired, and insulated correctly. If you are extremely careful while installing it, you would not have to face any major issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that we have answered the most important question with regards to neon signs, let us address a few more that pop up quite frequently.
Can you display neon signs in an outdoor location?
Yes, you can display neon signs outdoors but you need to cover the tubing with a high-quality plastic material to ensure that it remains protected from external elements like dust, dirt, rains, and so on. There are many electrical components inside the glass tubes and you need to be watchful about their safety.
Are neon signs visible during the day?
Yes, neon signs are prominently visible during the day. Any neon sign except for the ones colored in white will allow you to advertise your business in daylight too. While neon signs are quite energy-efficient, most business owners keep them switched off during the day for two reasons. One, to conserve energy, and two, they are best utilized during the night.
Can you dim neon signs?
Yes, it is possible to dim down the lights coming through neon signs. The brightness or the vibrancy of the neon signs can be regulated by controlling the amount of electricity that goes through the electrodes inside the glass tubes.
Neon signs are far from being dangerous. If there was some major safety issue associated with them, millions of people across the globe would not be using them. As is the case with any electrical device, you have to be a little careful and keep all the necessary precautions in mind while using them. Neon signs are bright, colorful, and attractive pieces. So there is no reason why businesses should not be using them.