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Five Facts About Neon Signs

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You might have a neon sign in front of your business, but how much do you really know about this specialized type of sign? Whether your sign is old, new, or somewhere in between, knowing some basics about neon can help ensure you take good care of the sign and make the proper repairs as needed. To that end, here are five interesting facts about neon signs.

1. They are named after the chemical that makes them glow.

People conventionally use the word "neon" to refer to any bright, glowing color. But in fact, neon signs contain a very specific chemical called neon, and they are named after this chemical. Neon is an elemental substance with the atomic number of 10. It's a gas at room temperature, and it does not have an odor or color. The color you see in the neon sign is generated when an electric current is passed through the neon. 

Neon is a noble gas, which means that it does not readily react with other chemicals. This is why sign manufacturers can fill the chamber of a neon sign with neon gas and not worry about it corroding or reacting with the materials that keep it contained in the sign.

2. The first neon sign was made in 1910.

Neon signs are not new—by any means! The first one was made over a century ago in 1910 by an inventor named George Claude. It was presented at the Paris Motor Show, and Claude intended his invention to be used on vehicles. However, theaters and other businesses that remained open after dark soon took on the neon sign as their sign variety of choice. It allowed potential customers to read their signs at night.

3. Some so-called "neon" signs contain other gases.

True neon signs have a characteristic orange-red glow. This is the color that neon turns when electricity is passed through it. If your "neon" sign is yellow, red, green, or another color, it is not a true neon sign. The sign chamber instead contains a different gas—perhaps xenon, argon, or a mix of the two—which lights up a different color in response to electrical current. If you need your neon sign repaired, make sure you tell the neon sign repair company what color it is. This will help them determine what gas it contains so they can make the right choices as they make repairs.

4. Defective tubes are the cause of many neon sign failures.

If your neon sign stops lighting up, here's the good news. Most failures are simply due to faulty tubes. The tube may not be lining up properly with the electrical component that is supposed to pass current through it. Your sign repair company can quickly fix this by realigning the tube, or in the worst-case scenario, they can replace the tube for you. This is almost always cheaper than entirely replacing the sign, especially if your sign is custom.

5. Reduced gas pressure can cause a sign to flicker.

Over time, neon signs can sometimes leak gas. This happens most often with older signs, in which the tubes were not made to seal as tightly and permanently. If the tubes aren't tightly sealed, the pressure inside the tube can drop, which will cause the sign to flicker in various areas. When this happens, you might need to have a tube—or even the whole sign—replaced.

If you have questions about your neon sign or need to have it repaired, reach out to a sign repair company in your area. Most signs can be rehabbed quite easily and safely.