Although neon was first discovered by British scientists in 1898, it was Paris that first showed the world the possibilities of this new technology. By 1913, Cinzano the drinks company had a large sign advertising their vermouth and lighting up the Parisien sky at the same time.
Of course, it is Las Vegas that is perhaps the most closely associated with neon lighting. Sometimes gaudy, sometimes glitzy, but always brightly lit, Vegas is and has been home to some of the most impressive neon signs ever. The first neon signs in Las Vegas appeared from 1928 onwards at the Overland Hotel, the Oasis, and the Boulder Club.
However, neon has seen the glory days come and go, and it is being replaced in many areas by another type of lighting. LED lighting and modern technology have allowed neon to be replicated, but is this for the better, or does neon still have a home?
What are neon lights?
Neon is a gas and is one of the most abundant elements on the planet. It was discovered at the tail end of the 19th century and used commercially in neon signs for the first time in 1910.
Normally, a neon light would be made of glass tubing and would contain a small amount of neon and would glow orange-red once energy is applied to it. To make other colors, different gases need to be mixed with the rarefied neon.
What is LED neon signage and lighting?
LED or light-emitting diodes are often found on rope lights or strips and will come in different sizes and colors. They can also be used in traditionally shaped bulbs and feature in a vast amount of lighting solutions today.
LED neon signs and lights are slightly different. Although they use light-emitting diodes they use modern technology to produce better results than in the past. Bright neon colors are available to replicate the neon signs of the past along with more luminous lights and far more flexible strips to shape as desired.
Smart lighting can be combined with LEDs and although they may not have the same atmospheric appeal as neon, LED lights have many other benefits.
What is so great about LED lighting?
One of the biggest advantages and differences LED neon lights have over traditional neon is the power savings. In fact, LED lighting is good for energy saving against other forms of lights too.
LED lights aren't just good for signage, they can be used for security lights and in the home too while at the same time, saving money on utility bills. 12 inches of traditional neon will consume around 20 watts of electricity every hour compared to LED which will use just over 1 watt in the same period.
When it comes to the environment and energy savings, The Department of Energy states that if the US switched over in numbers to LEDs then this would amount to a $30 billion saving on power. LED lights use less than 25% of the power that incandescent lights need and they last up to 25 times longer.
What are the differences between neon and LED?
LED neon signs are longer lasting than traditional neon ones, not least because of the materials used. Glass breaks, and LED lights are housed in modern polymers which flex rather than snap. LED lighting can be shaped as a customer wants much easier than neon tubing can.
Neon lighting consists of gas that sparks and this is why the lighting doesn't have a constant smooth stream of light. This, for many, is one of the most desired effects of neon, and LED cannot replicate it. However, LED lighting is brighter, more luminous, and with today's technology, can be controlled remotely.
LED lights can change brightness and color at the press of a button. This means different effects can be achieved with only one set of lights and there is less need to update them when it is time for a change.
Are neon lights safe?
There is a myth that traditional neon lights have dangerous and toxic gases in them, but this isn't true. Neon comes from the earth's atmosphere and air, and to be dangerous it would have to be available in huge quantities. Neon lights only contain small amounts of gas and they are unlikely to cause any problems.
However, this type of lighting still needs to be handled carefully. Neon lights are made from glass so they need to be installed where they cannot cause an accident. They need to be disposed of carefully, and in the past, there were risks of electrocution from neon lights. They can also get hot whereas LED lights do not.
How are LED neon and regular lights being used now?
New technology has meant that LED lighting has gone from simple diodes used in remote controls and other electronics. Nowadays, there are smart LED lighting options to add atmosphere and mood to your home. Smart bulbs can outlive up to 60 incandescent bulbs according to some reports, and their luminance is ideal for security and other outdoor uses.
They are also very versatile and the world's thinnest LED is thinner than human hair but is still energy efficient and strong in lighting. They make an excellent alternative to neon lights too. When you think of LED lighting you may well be reminded of thick, fairly flexible, rope lights. The type that people wrap around gazebos and trees in gardens to give some lighting and color at night. But, these days LED lighting is more versatile.
Neon signs are being replaced by LEDs due to their longevity, brightness, and eco-friendly credentials.
Are LED neon lights environmentally friendly?
LED lighting doesn't contain any harmful gases or materials such as mercury, so they are perfectly ok to be thrown out in the household waste. However, they do contain recyclable parts so to get the most out of them and protect the environment they need to be disposed of properly.
As far as energy is concerned, you have already read that they are extremely efficient with power consumption, and their life span makes them very eco-friendly. It is said by some that LED neon signage can last over 10 years on average. This alone makes them an eco-friendly choice when it comes to lighting options.
What now for neon?
As LED neon signs appear in restaurants, above doors, and in bars, there will no doubt be less traditional neon to be seen. The power savings and long life of LED lights mean that many businesses will switch over as their old lights fade or they seek a new look for their establishment.
The technology allowing for control of color, flashing, fading, and other effects will also appeal to many businesses that normally use neon signs. However, it would be hoped that the two types of lighting can both have their uses. It would be sad to think that iconic neon in places such as Vegas, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Japan, and Bangkok's Soi Cowboy would completely disappear.
LEDs are truly revolutionizing the way lighting is being made and used. They are being made in increasingly impressive ways and there is now LED lighting technology that can be applied like paint. It is these advances that are seeing traditional neon lighting being revolutionized with long-lasting, energy-efficient LED strips.
While neon gives a much-loved effect and provides a certain atmosphere, LED lighting is here for the long run.