21st Century Neon Signs: Retro Designs with a Modern Twist

Olympus-on-Broadway-Newsletter-March-2021_800px-1Neon signs make a bold statement, lighting up a dark sky with a radiant glow. Architecturally, neon can make a space feel cosmopolitan and modern, but with a retro vibe. To appreciate neon in all its glory, architects and designers must first explore its history and understand how neon works and how it can be used today in a cost-effective way.  

History of Neon

Neon, which means “the new gas” in Greek, is nothing new. In fact, neon sign technology is steeped in history, pre-dating even the age of electricity. Georges Claude, the father of neon lights, was a French engineer, chemist and inventor, who first applied an electrical charge to a sealed tube of neon gas. His first neon lamp was displayed in public on Dec. 11, 1910 in Paris. Five years later, in 1915, Claude filed a U.S. Patent for the neon lighting tube. In 1923, Claude Neon introduced the first neon gas signs to the U.S., selling two signs to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles for $24,000. (Today, that would be more than $367,000!) 

Neon signs quickly grew in popularity, lighting up cities across the U.S. like Las Vegas and Times Square in New York. The 1920s to the 1960s is considered the “Golden Age of Neon.” In the 1990s-2000s, we began to see the neon trend shift downward as the market became entirely saturated with neon signs.  

Resurgence of Neon

Today, neon is making a comeback, largely in part to the nostalgia associated with neon signs. For many adults, seeing a neon sign sparks memories of the past. Mike Richardson, Director of Operations at FSGS, shares his own favorite memory of neon. As a young boy, just four years old, Mike and his family stayed in a Holiday Inn while traveling. Mike remembers standing in front of the sign, complete with chaser lights, in awe. “It was just a gorgeous sign,” Mike recalls. “I can remember listening to the buzzing of the neon and the blinking lights.”  

It’s that same nostalgic sentiment that is sparking a resurgence of neon signs. Perhaps most unique about neon is that the process of creating a neon sign has changed very little in the last century. The creation of a neon sign is purely an art form, Mike says. “It’s still the same artisan process of heating glass tubes and bending them into the right shape. It’s not something a computer or machine can do. It takes the finesse of a human being.” 

The brilliant glow of neon is eye-catching, especially in the dark. Neon signs are a true masterpiece and sure to make your business stand out in a crowded marketplace. While the cost of producing a neon sign isn’t much different than that of any other lighted sign (the cost per foot of materials and cost of power supplies are generally about the same), the increased electricity required by a traditional neon sign, and the fragility of glass neon tubes can be a deterrent. 

Today, architects and designers looking for a modern take on a retro aesthetic that is more cost-effective and low maintenance have the option of an LED alternative to neon: LED neon flex, a flexible product designed to mimic glass neon. Here are the key differences between glass and LED neon. 

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Differences between Glass and LED Neon

Durability of materials. LED neon flex lights are made of flexible, non-breakable tubes that can be used in indoor and outdoor applicationsimitating the industrial, artisan look of glass neon in a more manageable form. 

Available color options. LED neon provides a vast array of color options unavailable in glass neon. Customers can choose LED neon flex in a single, static color; color changing for multiple colors; or with visual effect capabilities, like chasing.  

CostCompared to glass neon, LED neon flex can stand up to harsh weather, is far more energy-efficient and cost-effective. Unless shielded by protective plastic casing, glass neon is susceptible to damage, and broken glass tube must be replaced, a cost incurred by the owner. For this reason, businesses considering an outdoor installment of a neon sign might prefer the durability of LED neon to traditional neon.  Manufacturing process and timeline. Glass neon is a true art form, and art takes time. Each glass tube is heated, blown and formed into the desired letter or shape. It is a work that must be done by hand. The LED alternative provides a much faster turnaround time from finalization of the design to installation.  

There’s just something about a neon sign that draws the attention of onlookers and customers. While there is certainly a place for true glass neon signs in today’s landscape, LED neon provides the look and feel of neon at a more affordable price.  

The fabrication team at FSGS has a combined 50 years of experience manufacturing signs of all types, including neon. Most recently, we completed a glass neon sign for the Olympus on Broadway, an apartment complex in Carrollton. The glow of the Olympus’ four by 40-foot “Broadway” neon sign can be seen from I-35 in Dallas and harkens back to an old marquee sign outside a Broadway theater. The sign creation brought together multiple artisans to achieve the final result.  

If you are interested in a glass or LED neon sign for your business, our experienced team will walk you through the process, step by step, ensuring your final product is nothing less than stunning. Give us a call at 972-267-3100 today to learn more.  

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