Posted by Nikki on 20.04.2012

I don’t know if this ever came across your mind, but where have all the neon signs gone?!

We see less and less neon in shops and streets these days. Neon signs have become more an installation or art feature rather than common thing in public places. Is it that they are considered outdated and reminiscent of an age which is no longer relevant, or are there other reasons for their disappearance? Other, sinister reasons?

Imagine Route 66, Vegas or even countryside petrol stations during the forties. Those colourful neon tubes that formed letters or images; such a great memory! 

Where have all the neon signs gone? The real question is; who took over? LED did, for many reasons; price, longevity, flexibility, and maintenance are all improved with LED. Neon lights have obviously lost the battle against LED, one of the prominent results of advances in technology. As price has come down, the quantity of these signs has soared.

To make things clear, I am not talking about those mini LED lights that are installed in your TV remote or radio; here, I’m discussing the high-powered LED that has the fantastic attribute to light and illuminate.

Neon lighting made its first appearance in late 1910 at the Paris Motor Show, and then became extremely popular in the United States from the 1920’s to 1960. However, the neon sign industry has severely declined in the past few decades.

LED arrived a bit later. The first LED was developed by Nick Holonyak Jr. in 1962 through General Electric Company, but its use was very limited. The use of LED for general lighting use has only become feasible about ten years ago! And as a result, almost every single sign we see now uses LED as its light source.

So, is it really that the neon sign era has come to an end? I am not quite sure. And I really hope not.

I still do think that neon signs have their own charm that can not be replaced by LED. Its handcrafted characteristic, its vintage look and its, sometimes, flickering light (which is actually caused by the leaking of the gas inside the tube) are always special to me. Imagine Melbourne’s iconic skipping girl in perfect motion, none of the antiquated stutter that neon animation provided. Sure, it’s less realistic, but the character and charm are missing.

The phrase 'NO IMAGE YET' as a neon sign in a park

Maybe, the best way to look at this is by appreciating both the beauty of neon and LED signs. LED is a handy solution for mass-manufacturing purpose signage that is too valuable to overlook and appreciating we had neon signs for so long around, and hopefully we are able to preserve the ones still out there!