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Traditional Neon vs LED: What's a “Real” Neon Sign?

The Reality of Traditional Neon

First, some history for context. Traditional neon had its heyday in America during the middle of the 20th century. First introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 1910, neon signage spread to widespread use, but declined after a few decades. By the 1960s, most businesses went away from neon signs because they were so expensive and fragile. 

Then, there was a revival in neon signs being popular during the 1980s as a temporary trend. Now, it’s generally understood that traditional neon is expensive and has issues concerning safety and inefficiency. Traditional neon signs are definitely still around, but there are nowhere near the numbers that there were in the mid-1900s. That’s because there’s a much better alternative: LED neon signs.

The Basics: Traditional Neon vs LED

Let’s compare these two types of neon signs to see what the differences are. One of the biggest is safety. Made with neon and/or argon gas, traditional neon signs are fragile and easily shattered. They make a buzzing sound, are hot to touch, and the pieces are dangerous when they get broken. LED neon, though, makes no noise, has only mild warmth, can be made shock-proof, and is really hard to break. Also, traditional neon uses almost ten times the power consumption as LED neon for a very similar lighting effect. That means that LED neon is way more eco-friendly.

Since LED neon doesn’t require special glass bending and other manufacturing techniques, making one requires less resources and energy as it would to make a traditional neon sign. LED neon signs also can have adjustable brightness, which is much more difficult to do with traditional neon. Actually, all maintenance is more complicated with traditional neon, as is general usability (such as shipping complications). Overall, LED neon is safer, cheaper, more reliable, more versatile, and lasts longer than traditional neon.

So What’s a “Real” Neon Sign?

Strictly traditional people might say LED signs aren’t “real” neon signs. But they definitely look like “real” neon signs, and that’s what really matters. It’s super hard to tell LED neon signs apart from traditional neon signs. In one famous example, David Dobrik confused his own traditional neon sign for an LED sign in his Architectural Digest tour video. So if you get an LED neon sign, probably no one will ever notice that it isn’t “real” traditional.

Get Radikally Real

Now that you understand the value of LED over traditional neon signs, you’re ready for yours. Get radikally real with a neon sign from Radikal Neon. Browse our inspiration gallery, top picks for signs that are already designed, or use our custom neon builder to make your own unique sign. All of our neon signs are custom-made for each order. Let’s bring your idea to light! 

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