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How Do LED Neon Lights Work?

Neon lights hold a nostalgic place in the collective conscience of anyone who’s walked down a metropolitan street at night in days gone by, but most people don’t really know how neon lights work. Traditional neon lights get their name from neon gas. They were discovered in an experiment in 1898, when William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers discovered its light-emitting properties by conducting electricity through the inert noble gas in a tube.

In the early 1960s, the first practical devices using a new light technology, LED (or light-emitting diodes) were invented by James R. Biard and Gary Pittman at Texas Instruments. This came out of observing efficient light emission from tunnel diodes built on GaAs substrates. They were first used as replacements for bulbs in small electronics, like seven-figure displays and indicator lamps.

This efficient technology only improved with time. Nowadays, it’s one of the most energy-efficient lighting options for cars, buildings, outdoor venues… and as an alternative to neon signs. So how well do neon signs work compared to the new neon? What sets them apart?


Energy consumption is one of the biggest differentiators between traditional and LED neon. You do not have to know how neon lights work to have an idea of the all-around efficiency and reliability that LED lights are known for, neon or otherwise. The reason for this efficiency is the fact that LED lights are smaller, and can be pointed in a given direction, so you’re not wasting energy on reflectors or diffusers. 

Even if you’re not interested in reducing energy consumption, the economic and logistical benefits of LED neon lights are undeniable. Whether you’re just looking to decorate your room with a musical neon light or a business looking to stand out with a massive customized neon sign, you’ll be saving a lot more time and money with LED.


LED neon lights are incredibly simple in how they work, which means owners don’t have to do much to keep them up and running without any problems. Since LED neon lights up using small individual bulbs, cleaning them or even swapping them out is easy and risk-free. Even if you’re working with a bigger sign, you won’t have to worry about it heating up the same way neon gas signs do thanks to PVC tubing that doesn’t get hot even after days of continuous use.

A small but significant upside to this is how business owners can focus on their work without having to worry about customers (especially kids!) getting injured by touching hot neon signs, nor about the historically high cost of repair. 


Switching out lights regularly can be a huge hassle, both in terms of manpower and for your pocket. LED neon lights do not have to be swapped out for a long time after installation, due to how efficiently their design works. LED lights have a lifespan of around 40,000 hours. That’s about 4-5 years, at which point they blink out and have to be replaced at a minimal cost.

And how does old-fashioned neon sign degradation work? Well, their gas pressure gradually decreases, and their light starts fading and changing color as it does. This means that owners have to either contact a professional to replace the gas, or have the sign replaced entirely. This recurring cost, along with miscellaneous electrical and glass work, can compound significantly in the long run.  

The Future Is Neon

Radikal Neon creates premium neon signs powered by efficient LED lights that are designed to last. Find the sign that fits your vibe in our diverse, funny, and heartfelt collection, or even make your own! Got questions? Hit us up and we’ll give you a hand.