Neon lighting dates back to the 17th Century. A French astronomer noticed sparks of light in a mercury-filled glass and decided to make it his own. This idea was developed over many years until neon lighting was created.
Neon lights are very popular today, but they can be difficult to understand if you’re not an expert in lighting. What is the mechanism behind them? What makes them different than normal incandescent and neon lights?
These are the most important questions. We also have a step-by guide on making custom neon sign.
Step 1: Get the Right Neon Light Supplies
A neon light is a sealed tube made of glass with electrodes that are filled with, a noble gas. Neon is the most commonly used noble gas. These three components work together to emit light when molecules of noble gases are activated. This is how the illumination process works:
- The power supply supplies electric current to the electrodes within the glass tube.
- As electric current flows, the molecules of the gas inside the tube vibrate or get activated.
- The marks of these molecules vibrating against one another emit neon light.
Step 2: Preparing the Glass Tubes
Glass is fragile. It is the only transparent material that can withstand heat well and is therefore fragile. However, not all glass can be treated the same way. Some types of glass are stronger than others. Neon lights are made from soft lead glass tubes that measure between 4-8ft. Borosilicate glass is sometimes used as it can withstand heat well. As follows, the glass processing is:
- Cleaning– The glass tubes are first cleaned to make sure they have a clear neon light and then dried in a kiln.
- Phosphor coating If you’ve ever wondered why neon lights glow, then the phosphor coating is it. The coating is applied to the dried-clean glass tubes. They are then placed in a vertical position in the kiln for drying. This is where some neon light manufacturers might tint the glass tubing with a color.
Some neon lighting tubes may not be coated with phosphor. This is a technique that produces interesting neon colors or a glowing effect. Because phosphor coatings come in different colors, this is possible.
Step 3: Placing the Electrode
An electrode is a conductor used to make a circuit in a neon tube using noble gas. It is made from iron, which is a good conductor of electricity. Glass is used to protect the core of the electrode. However, each electrode contains 2 conductor wires which extend beyond the glass.
An electrode is placed at the end of each length of the neon light tube. The power supply source is connected at the tip of the electrode that faces outside the tube. When the power source is switched on, current flows through it and into the noble gas molecules inside the neon tube. Before the gas is added to the glass tube, electrodes are used to prevent leakage.
Step 4 : Bombarding the Glass Tubes
The air in the tube must first be evacuated before it can be filled with pure noble gases. It would cause the noble gas to ‘dilute’ and produce poor neon lighting. Bombarding refers to the process of removing air from glass tubing. This is what it looks like:
- The glass tube’s air is removed until it reaches a vacuum.
- To build pressure, dry air is introduced to the glass.
The length of the tubing determines how much current is required to pass through the electrodes. The tubing is heated to 400°F.
This further removes any impurities from the glass tubing that could cause gas to be compromised.
- The glass tube’s electrode is heated to 700°C.
- The tube is again evacuated into , a vacuum below 10 Torrs.
Step 5: Adding the Noble Gas
Noble gases have the same overall characteristics but they are not identical. For this reason, each of them is filled with a unique pressure. The amount of pressure used also depends on the diameter of the glass tube; the larger the diameter, the more pressure is required.
Different noble gases are used to produce different colors of neon lighting. Neon, which is the most common and inexpensive, produces red-orange hues. Helium is great for pink to red hues while xenon and krypton glow in lavender and yellow-green colors respectively. Finally, argon is used to make blue neon signs. However, its lighting is very faint and it is therefore tinged with some mercury to enhance the glow of its light.
When the gas is filled into the glass tube, and the level of pressure is right, the tube is sealed by heating the tubular port until it shuts. Over 100 colors of neon lights can be realized by combining different noble gases and different glass tube coatings.
Step 6: Annealing the Glass Tube
Glass can become stressed from all the different processes it goes through. The glass tube becomes tense and could break if it is lit. The neon-filled gas-filled glass tube is heated slowly and allowed to cool. This is called annealing.
Annealing plays a vital role in ensuring that the gas settles properly into the glass tubing. The tube expands when heated and allows the gas to spread evenly. The lighting inside the tube will be consistent along its length.
The neon light should be ready to go once all the components are in place. Once the power source has been turned on, the neon light should be lit. Because noble gases have different densities, a neon light with Argon may appear thicker than one with Neon. Because the molecules of denser gases are closer together, they vibrate at a higher rate. They vibrate faster and produce light earlier, so they vibrate at a higher speed.
It is possible that the neon light is not lit up, does not flicker, or has an unlit spot.
- The bombardment was ineffective and there are still some impurities within the glass tubing, hence the flickers.
- The glass tubing was not properly filled with inert gas, resulting in dimmed or unlit spots.
In each case, processes might need to be re-done.
Is it possible to Make a Neon Light At Home?
You might want to try making your own neon lighting equipment. This is especially true because the cost of this type lighting can be very high. This is not something you should attempt at home. Although it sounds simple, you cannot do this in an uncontrolled environment due to the extreme pressure and temperature conditions. It is expensive equipment that requires specialized knowledge. Any attempt to improvise could lead to disaster.
pros and Cons of Neon Lighting
- It produces a unique, glowing color that is almost impossible to replicate with other lighting sources
- It’s great for signage because it commands attention
- It is costly to buy and make neon lighting.
- Neon signs can become louder over time.
- Leakage of gas, particularly in neon lights with mercury can pose health risks and could also cause lighting problems.
- Neon light tubes made of glass are fragile and can be damaged. This could limit their lifespan.
Alternative Types of Neon Lighting
LED neon signs flex lights are a better choice if you want to use neon lighting that is more durable, less fragile, and easier to operate. To create a strip of lighting, they are created by joining Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs). To protect them from damage such as water, impact and other types of damage, they are covered with flexible silicone covers.
LED neon signs flex light emits neon light that is just as bright as an ordinary neon lamp. They work better than other lamps that rely on unpredictable noble gas molecules for illumination. Their lighting is also more consistent and brighter.
Multicolored LED neon signs flex lighting is still possible. You will need or RGBW lights to do this. They have color diodes that allow you to create different colors. You can also install this type neon lighting yourself and adjust the brightness to your liking.
Pros and Cons of LED Neon Flex Lights
- These lights are more cost-effective and easier to make than neon lights.
- They can be easily installed wherever you want them to be flexible
- They are eco-friendly, their production and operation have low carbon footprint
- LED neon flex light offers a wider range of colors than neon lights.
- LED neon flex light lacks the classic appeal of neon lighting.
- Poor installation or power supply can lead to malfunctions and poor lighting
The classic glow and buzz of a neon light are reminiscent of a homey diner or an inviting jazz club among other familiar places that have stood the test of time. Perhaps this is why, despite the rigors of production, neon lighting is still popular. That said, it will be interesting to see how it stands up to newer neon lighting inventions from LED neon signs flex light manufacturers.