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Electrical Connection: Neon isn't just for store signs anymore

Electrical article index page

Consider neon for your lighting needs

by Jessica Riggs, of  Phoenix Neon

Neon isn’t just for store signs. Other applications include neon for cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, business signage, residential/architectural lighting. The only real limit to the number of possibilities for using neon is your imagination. (Which is why Phoenix Neon's slogan is "Illuminate Your Dreams!"

You’re probably most familiar with neon in the form of store signage. It does have a certain appeal, characterized by its ability to set off one store from the next. This is odd, in a way, because homeowners purchase neon for its ability to merge with a huge array of decorative themes. How can neon lighting do both jobs—stand out in the one application and blend in in the other? The secret is in the style of neon lamp. You can get the lamp style you need to do the job.

Twenty-five-millimeter (25 mm.) cold-cathode is mainly for interior (architectural) lighting. It’s becoming a phenomenal trend for many well-known buildings such as the Transamerica Building in San Francisco not only for the amazing flare in which it sets off, but also for its cost efficiency as compared to the fluorescent lamps or "hot-cathode." You can also see a fantastic neon display at O’Hare International Airport.

One big advantage of neon is cost. For example, you can run 72' of neon for about the same price you would pay to run 8' of hot-cathode (fluorescent).

Another big benefit is customization. You can choose what lamp shape you want, what colors you want, what size, etc. This allows you a great degree of design control, as opposed to running standard fixtures and lamps for other technologies.

An advantage that combines both of these two advantages—and adds further improvement—is the ability to purchase that special sign or art pieces at wholesale prices. This is now possible thanks to technological advances in distribution, warehousing, and order tracking.

Since neon is highly customizable, it makes sense that you'd want custom work. And you'd want a good shop to do that custom neon work for you. But, how do you tell a good neon shop from one that isn't so good? Here are Five Tips for selecting a neon shop to do custom work for you:

  1. Check for solid references. When choosing a neon company, make sure they have some referrals from satisfied customers. This is especially important if you are doing a large lighting job.
  2. Go beyond pictures. Pictures are obviously an important tool for selecting a proficient neon company, but pictures can be deceptive. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to determine if the bends in the glass are solid, strong bends or if they are flat. (You don't want flat bends in the glass. You want them 'blown-out' and consistent.) The pictures also don't let you see whether the neon is even and steady or if it is lopsided and uneven. Anyone or any company can go take a picture of a sign and claim they manufactured it. And, it has been known to happen. Use pictures as part of the overall evaluation process.
  3. Know your bends. What types of bending is the vendor capable of? Do they bend 25 mm. cold-cathode, 18 mm., 15 mm., etc.? Above 18 mm., glass gets difficult to bend. Twenty-five millimeter (25 mm.) is most difficult. Many companies claim they can bend 25 mm., but that doesn't mean they will do so. Get them to commit in writing.
  4. Demand consistency. It's critical that the diameter of the glass, in the bends especially, is consistent. The more a bend decreases the diameter, the weaker the bend. And the neon will probably break or create a high-pressure hole at that particular bend where the glass is thinner (smaller in millimeter). This particular problem also generates a 'hot spot' which results in more resistance in the tube. An example of a 'hot spot' restriction is trying to take the water pressure from a fire hose and putting it into your garden hose--it just doesn't work! Water will shoot everywhere. So, in the case of 'hot spots' where neon is concerned, your sign would cease to operate.
  5. Pump properly. Know what type of pumping system the company uses. Some examples of good pumping systems able to produce good work are: Eurocom, EGL's Maxivac, and Transco. Most homemade manifold systems have problems somewhere down the line whether it is the vacuum pump or just leaks in the system. We are not stating that all homemade manifolds are incapable of producing good neon, but most simply do not "make the grade."

Bonus tip! Every company makes mistakes. Ask your potential vendor for an example of how they stood behind their warranty.


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