How Do Neon Signs Work?

A neon sign comprises a glass tube containing a small amount of gas at reduced pressure. The reason why neon is used is that it is a noble gas, which is inert. Despite the various uses of neon signs in businesses and homes, it's important to understand how these signs perform their functions. This article will explain how neon signs work. Let's dive in!

How Neon Signs Work 

When you examine any neon sign, you'll notice a glass tube component with a particular design. Now at both ends of the tube is an electrode—one positive and one negative. Within the glass tube is a small amount of neon gas. As mentioned earlier, neon gases are noble gases. This means they only undergo chemical reactions under high-energy conditions, like coming into contact with electricity. Otherwise, it just moves through the tube without taking any action.

When an alternating current is applied to the electrodes, the electricity generates sufficient energy for the neon atoms within the tube to spread out. Some give off electrons to become positively charged ions, which move toward the negative electrode. 

The free electrons are negatively charged and are attracted to the positive electrode at the other end of the tube. While the neon atoms, electrons, and ions are jumping around the tube, collisions among them lead to an increase in energy. 

As soon as the ionized atoms take back their electrons to attain neutrality again (reverting to their original energy level), they give off a photon (light particle), which enables them to give off a coloured glow.

Disconnecting the electricity supply to the signs makes the neon atoms revert to their normal inert state.


How Do You Get Different Colors?

Neon signs use various noble gases in their design, and they are all colourless and odourless. These gases are found in the atmosphere and are safe.

The standard orange-red colour common to many neon signs originates from neon gas. But you're not limited to only one colour; you can create other colours using other noble gases. Helium glows pink, Argon glows blue, and Krypton glows green. A combination of multiple gases can create different colours or a multi-coloured sign.


How much electricity do they use?

Neon signs are energy-efficient and don't consume as much power as one might think because they glow brightly. Many modern signs today come equipped with a 240-volt transformer and consume roughly the same electricity as a single home bulb (60–100 watts).

Usually, LED neon signs will use just 15–20% of regular neon signs' power on a similar job, while incandescent and fluorescent lights will consume significantly more.

How long do they last?

A regular neon sign only lasts long, depending on the degree of usage and maintenance. It's common to see neon signs lasting between 8 and 15 years, and some may even function much longer. If a sign is left on for a long time, it can shorten its lifespan and increase the risk of overheating and damage from electrical surges.


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