Neon or LED Signs for Your Bar?

Bar owners and managers face plenty of difficult decisions, so what type of advertisement sign they use probably isn't at the top of their list. But choosing the right sign in the beginning is important because it absolutely can affect your bottom line. So here are some considerations to make when choosing between neon or LED signs. First of all, check your local laws. With outdoor or window advertising, you may not even have a choice. Often property managers and local laws lean toward using LEDs, so your decision between neon and LED may already be made for you. Neon signs are gas-filled glass tubes that give off beautiful bright light. They stand out incredibly at night, especially red, white, or yellow-lettered ones. When uncovered, neon signs are brighter and typically are considered to stand out better than LEDs. The downsides are that neons burn more electricity and they don't stand up as well in winter (depending on the temperatures and how the sign is made and installed). Neons are not as durable as their counterpart either.

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. LED is a lower voltage compact system that is generally easier to maintain and uses less electricity. LEDs are considered to be better overall than neon because they provide the best long term cost savings. They are also more durable and operate at lower temperatures. LED Flex and Neon-Flex are newer kinds of LED lights that are said to save up to 70-80% of energy costs when compared to neon. They are housed in flexible plastic and can be bent or cut. They are lower temperature, are almost or as bright as neon (depending on color and other factors), and are very durable. Also noteworthy is that as LEDs are taking over many aspects of lighting, neon signs are being considered vintage and are becoming collectibles.

LEDs are becoming more mainstream. Traditional neon is said to use roughly 2-3 times the wattage per linear foot, though neon advocates maintain that you get more for your money with the extra light output. Depending on the size of your business and how much light you're using, some claim you could save hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year by using LED; however, the savings may not be worth it to you if your sign is too dim and it draws in less customers. There is conflicting information and LED technology is always changing, so I recommend comparison shopping between different brands. Seek out the voltage numbers and compare brightness. Ask different sign companies who manufacture both neon and LED what would be better for your needs. If the brightness of the LEDs satisfied me I'd probably go with them. But if the sign wasn't bright enough, I wouldn't be comfortable skimping. Also consider decor. There is a noticable difference between LED and neon bar signs and secondary lighting and the overall brightness of the room will come into play. Believe it or not, both neon and LED have staunch supporters and reasons for choosing the signs they do. As with most of your future business decisions, ultimately the choice is up to you.

Neon Sign Regulations

Depending on local city laws, there can be many technical regulations on indoor and outdoor neon signs. This article is meant to give you an idea of what to look for when seeking the go-ahead to put up commercial neon signs. You must contact your businesses township or city for your exact specifications. The brunt of this article addresses mostly outdoor regulations, as indoor regs are fewer. Again, you must practice due diligence.

Assuming that your locality allows new construction of neon signs, a permit may be needed along with details of the sign such as the color, the design, the dimensions, and the height hanging off of the ground. If attached, the sign's structural and electrical standards need to meet local building codes. The sign's pole or rigging standards must meet the codes as well. Some local laws are more strict, such as when placing multiple neon signs, you may need to provide a site plan of the small area including roads, driveways, parking lots, buildings and landscaping. You may also need to provide details of existing signs like colors, construction, elevations, type of illumination, lettering sizes and styles, and dimensions. Signage cannot be allowed to interfere with traffic volumes or line of site and primary or secondary lights cannot produce glare on the road. The signs cannot resemble street signs or mislead or disrupt road traffic in any way. Lighted signs cannot be too bright for the same reasons. Often signs will be permitted from posting on trees, rocks, utility poles, fences, lamp posts, in rivers or streams, and other certain of public property. Be aware as well that signs may not be accepted for obstructing natural views. Generally pre-existing signs cannot be built upon or enlarged without approval. Some local laws require a commercial sign to be used for advertising purposes for a certain amount of time or be removed. This may not affect neon signs per se, but you may be required to keep even neons lit for a consecute number of days (use it or lose it). Learn the specific rules and laws regarding neon signs with moving parts as well.

Also remember that commercial neon signs must be properly maintained by their owners. Despite the number of signs you see with lights out, they are usually legally obliged to keep them working and in neat order. And more important than operating correctly for visual reasons, they must be properly maintained for safety. You may be required to clear overgrown vegetation beneath your sign as well. It's also very important to remember to keep signs out of the way of access to utilities for repairs. If unsure if your sign would be acceptable size-wise, find out from your township or city what size limits there are to commercial neon signs as well. They can give you a maximum square footage as well as any height or dimension limitations on the pole.

This list can seem pretty intense and detail-oriented but from I read and hear, the process, while still very important, is less formal and intense as detailed regulations would have you believe. But don't take this too lightly. Just down the road from me I saw a large beautiful restaurant neon sign taken down at great expense to its owner because the sign was too tall and was overly visible to the parallel highway. I imagine the owner did not research the local laws well when getting the permit (or maybe he never actually got a permit?). Fortunately for many bar owners, interior neon bar signs are far less formal. They must still conform structurally and electrically to building permits and follow window and exit sign regulations among others, but compared to outdoor signs, it's simpler (also most commercial interior neon bar signs used are SGS approved or have proper certifications). Again, understand that I am not a regulatory or legal expert. This information is meant only to keep you aware of what is necessary to study in regards to neon bar signs. Please consult your local regulations and read the sign specifications or contact the sign manufactors directly to make sure you are okay.

History of Neon Lighting

In order to appreciate neon bar signs more fully, it's helpful to learn about the history of neon lighting. In the mid 1800's engineer and glassblower Heinrich Geissler, inventor of the first glass thermometer, developed the Geissler tube, the forerunner of the flourescent lamp. The Geissler tube was a glass cylinder that contained combinations of air, liquids, minerals, and argon. The electric current runs through the tube through two electrodes, and the glass tube glows.

Neon gas was discovered in England in 1898 by Nobel Prize winning Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay and English chemist and founding director of IISc, Morris Travers. Ramsay and Travers liquified air in the cold and then captured the boiled off air when it warmed again (fractional distillation). The gases given off were xenon, krypton, and neon. Neon is a colorless gas unless electrically charged under precise conditions in the tube, when it gives off a reddish-orange glow. Neon, abundant universally but more rare on earth, is a very light noble gas. While other gases were used in neon sign making, the term neon became universally accepted. At this point in history, lighting with neon was not yet imaginable.

It wasn't until 1910 that French inventor and chemist Georges Claude makes a lamp with neon gas. Claude was fascinated with the process and formed a business, Claude Neon. He brought neon signs to the United States in 1915, the first buyer a Los Angeles car dealer, early signs that neon lighting was more a commercial advertising purchase than a general illumination purchase. In the 1950s neon sign maker Artkraft Strauss dominated the large signmaking market. Artkraft Strauss was originally Strauss signs when Benjamin Strauss merged his engineering firm with Ohio neon sign maker Artkraft co. They became famous for their New York smoking camel sign, the Bond Clothing waterfall display, and their managing the New Year's annual ball lowering. Today Artkraft Strauss still consults and designs beautiful corporate signs, theatre marquees, historic restorations and more.

Ever since the 1970's smaller neon signs became collector and display items in parlors, bedrooms, and basement. The dimmer lighting in pubs and bars are perfect for neon lighting and advertising and neon bar signs are still extremely popular. In the 1990's neon colored glow sticks became the rage. While glow sticks had constructive purposes such as for diving, camping, and emergency situations, people to do this day wear glow sticks on their hands, wrists, necks, and ankles at concerts, fairs, amusement parks, and dances (and no, breaking open a glow stick and pouring it on your skin will not cause cancer). They actually contain no neon however, as they have no electrical charges. Neon lighting began to die out commercially in the 1980's as electronic lighting was considered less obtrusive.