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Neon Q & A
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions regarding Neon
Where do the different colors in Neon come from?
How does a luminous tube (Neon) produce light?
How do you bend Neon tubing?
Is Neon bent freehand or with a pattern?
How is the gas put into the Neon tube?
Are the gasses in Neon dangerous?
Does Neon get hot and can I get burned?
How long will my Neon sign last?
Can Neon be repaired?
What is a transformer?
How do standard transformers work?
Are transformers used for Neons different than transformers used for other electronics?
Q: Where do the different colors in Neon come from?
The initial color source for luminous tubing is an inert gas, which emits a characteristic color when electricity is applied. The two most common gases are neon and argon/mercury. Pure neon emits a fiery red color, while the argon/mercury emits a subdued blue color. A variety of fluorescent powders (phosphors) may be painted or baked to the inside walls of the tubing to produce different colors and shadings such as pink, turquoise and green in cool to warm shades.
Luminous tubing is also available in colored glass such as deep clear reds, blues and greens. The lavishly saturated colors produced in this type of tubing are sometimes referred to as "exotic" or "Euro" glass. The quality and color of the light may be altered with the addition of fluorescent phosphors to the colored glass.
Q: How does a luminous tube (Neon) produce light?
The idea behind a neon light is simple. Inside the glass tube there is a gas like neon, argon or krypton at low pressure. At both ends of the tube there are metal electrodes. When you apply a high voltage to the electrodes, the neon gas ionizes, and electrons flow through the gas. These electrons excite the neon atoms and cause them to emit light that we can see. Neon emits red light when energized in this way. Other gases emit other colors.
Q: How do you bend Neon tubing?
Generally when bending luminous tubing four gas burners are used. The burners use a gas and air mixture to raise the flame temperature. The glass tubing is rotated and rocked in the burner flames to affect the bends. Crossfire and fishtail burners are used to produce most angled bends and splices. Ribbon burners are used to produce curves and sweeps. Hand held torches are usually used for splices or tapering or tipping off electrodes.
Q: Is Neon bent freehand or with a pattern?
Both. In artistic work the tube may be bent freehand or with a pattern. In commercial applications such as signs, channel letters, etc., the glass is usually bent over a fire resistant pattern.
Q: How is the gas put into the Neon tube?
Luminous tubes are capped off by two glass electrodes which have wire passing from outside to inside. The tubing is sealed to the pumping system or manifold. The manifold has glass stopcocks or valves that allow sections to be selectively opened or closed.
A very high vacuum pump draws the air out of the tube while a high voltage-high amperage transformer bombards and heats the remaining air to produce temperatures in excess of 500º F. This allows the tube to achieve a higher degree of purity. When a very high vacuum is reached and the tube begins to cool, a small amount of inert gas is introduced from a flask or tank. The tubing is then heated and as it is pulled it the glass tube is drawn in and creates an airtight seal.
Q: Are the gasses in Neon dangerous?
Neon and argon are inert gasses and pose no personal or environmental threat by themselves. Argon/Mercury filled tubing contains a small amount of mercury, which poses no danger as long as the tubing is in tact. EPA approved disposal methods must be followed for disposal of argon/mercury filled tubing. Check with your local Environmental Protection Agency offices for instructions on proper disposal of tubing containing mercury.
Q: Does Neon get hot and can I get burned?
No. The lit Neon tubing is cool to the touch. It does not give off heat in any way. The transformer does give off some slight heat but this is minimal and safe.
Q: How long will my Neon sign last?
Many factors play into the life span of luminous tube including the environment in which it is placed, the quality of the power feeding the transformer, quality of installation, and acts of God (lightning, storms, etc.). Luminous tube may last decades in the perfect environment, but in sensible terms most luminous tube signage should last from eight- to fifteen-years.
Q: Can Neon be repaired?
Yes, luminous tubing can be repaired and/or recharged.
Q: What is a transformer?
A transformer is a device used to step up or step down (transform) voltages by magnetic means.
Q: How do standard transformers work?
Alternating Current (AC) flowing through an input coil (the primary) creates an alternating magnetic flux in the core. When another coil (the secondary) is positioned on the core near the primary coil, the magnetic flux will travel through the core magnetically linking the secondary to the primary coil. This magnetic coupling to the secondary coil will induce a voltage across the secondary coils output terminals. The voltage present at the secondary terminals will be determined by a ratio of the number of secondary coil turns to the number of primary coil turns. Coil turns are sometimes referred to as windings. A larger number of windings on the secondary coil than the primary coil will result in a step up in voltage while fewer windings result in a step down in voltage.
Q: Are transformers used for Neons different than transformers used for other electronics?
Yes, luminous tubing transformers, sometimes referred to as high leakage reactance transformers, differ from power transformers. Power transformers are designed to have good voltage regulation over varying load conditions where the output voltage varies only slightly from no load to full load conditions. Luminous tube transformers have deliberately poor output regulation due to magnetic shunts designed into the construction of the transformers. Poor regulation is necessary to limit the current for proper operation of luminous tubing. The reason for this is because luminous tubing requires a high voltage to start the flow of current, but the transformer must maintain output load current within a narrow range.
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