Electronic Signs, LED Signs and Neon Signs

Electronic Signs

Electronic signs, also known as moving signs, moving media, electronic signage and electronic displays, LED signs and electronic billboards are fast becoming more popular and more cost effective, with the great advances that have been made in high speed electronics and LED lighting technology. Electronic signs are illuminated advertising media in the signage industry. Major electronic signage include fluorescent signs, high intensity displays ( HID), incandescent signs, LED ( Light-emitting diode) signs and Neon signs. Because of new display technologies, electronic signs are able to present more clear, colourful, and vivid images. Animated electronic signs gradually replace traditional static signs and increasingly take signage market share.

The advent of digital technology, and most recently, the advances made in LED lighting, has seen explosive growth in the size, type and effectiveness of electronic signs. Where electronic signs were once limited to a single colour moving line of text, commonly found in banks or places where long lines (queues) occurred, the advances in LED technology means that electronic and LED signs have now progressed to where these signs have become equivalent of massive TV sets (as seen in sports stadiums) and huge moving building size signs that are animated, being able to more than flash and rotate. For what is probably the worlds best example of large electronic signs one has only to look at Time Square in New York.

In many cases the electronically programmable signs are actually a medium, rather than a 'sign', with the content being able to be easily updated from a remote location using cellular technology and / or the internet, making electronic and LED signs a popular 'property investment' amongst 'media' businesses. An example of Electronic and LED signs as a medium is the large signs commonly found today on many street corners. These signs run adverts and provide information for all passer's by to see.

Not all large signs are seen as electronic and / or LED signs, although they may run using electronic components. There are still a number of large - single brand and / or single message signs like "Drink Coca-Cola" - that adorn large buildings in many cities. These signs can be made from either one or a combination of neon and / or fluorescent tubing and / or LED lights. The final choice between these is normally a calculation based on required light output, component capital cost, cost of installation, cost of running, cost of maintaining as well as projected energy consumption and heat pollution.

Illuminated Signs (light box signs)

Front lit or front illuminated signs as the name implies is the opposite of back lit signs. The big difference is that light is reflected onto the face - as opposed to light being projected through the face. These signs tend to not be as bright as internally illuminated signs (though this can be a contentious issue depending on the light source for either type of sign) and the colours are not as "clean". The cost advantage of front illumination makes it a popular choice for a number of signs, especially large billboards or where illumination is necessary, and the client is on a limited budget. The disadvantage of front lit or front illumination is that it is not always easy to get the light intensity correct. If there is too little light the sign is difficult to read, and if the illuminate is too intense, you cannot read the sign at all, only seeing a blur of light. Common examples of this kind of sign are billboards, advertising billboards and large building signs.

Internally lit or internally Illuminated or rear lit or rear illuminated signs can use a number of different types of illumination. What is common for all types of internally lit or internally illuminated or rear illuminated signs is that the light travels through the face of the sign to be seen by the viewer.

The greatest advantage of rear illumination is that light being projected from the rear gives a rich and vibrant image that goes beyond just illumination - it adds value to the sales message, often also bringing the message to life. For example, if fluorescent tubes are used to rear illuminate a picture of cascading or running water, the light source may make it look like the water is in fact moving.

Internal or rear illumination is the illumination most commonly used for light boxes (a light box being a single or double sided "box" shaped sign with a marketing message on the face(s) and a source of illumination inside), with the most common, and generally cost effective source of illumination being fluorescent tubes. Modern fluorescent tubes running off electronic ballasts, use less electricity and generate much less heat than the 'old style' magnetic ballasts of days gone by. One can also use neon, (which is fairly energy efficient, but not very green friendly), or normal incandescent globes, which are not only 'green' unfriendly, but also produce a great deal of heat which impacts on the efficiency, design and structure of the sign or LED lights to internally illuminate signs.

More and more LED's are being used to replace neon and now also fluorescent tubes (as the LED's are being designed to project their light in more general patterns), and can easily change colour. LED's also have a long life and the costs have come down over the years making them a very cost efficient lighting option. Common examples of internally lit signs are found outside institutions like banks, inside shopping malls, hospitals, fast food signs, in fact anywhere and everywhere where rear and / or internal illumination is used to advertise products or services.

LED signs

As advances have been made in the development and improvement of light-emitting diode (LED) semiconductors, the use of LEDs indicator lamps in many devices has increased substantially, to the point where today LED's are used in products as varied as the light source for slim line televisions to stand alone lighting. Initially appearing as practical electronic components in 1962, the early LEDs only emitted low-intensity red light. Today however, modern versions are available across the visible, ultraviolet, infrared and light spectrum, all with very high, and ever increasing, brightness. LEDs have a number of advantages over 'traditional' incandescent light sources, amongst these advantages being lower energy consumption, less heat emission, longer lifespan, smaller size, faster switching, more 'green' friendly, and of late, lower cost.

LED signs allow for HUGE television screens, as seen in many modern sports stadiums - where the fast switching speed means that the projected images can be updated 'live' with no, or very little time delay. LED's have also opened the door for new functions such as signs, lifts and store fronts with changing face colours.

Neon Signs

Neon signs are made using high voltage electrified, luminous tube lights that contain rarefied neon (red) , carbon monoxide (white), helium (yellow), mercury (blue) and other gases for other colours. Neon lighting is most commonly used for neon lighting, illuminated signs that can be shaped, and which was first demonstrated in it's modern form in December 1910. While they were used all over the world, for many the highest impact made by neon signs would be the 'strip' at Las Vegas, which was made popular by Hollywood in many films from the 1950's till today.


Electronic signs and LED signs, also known as Moving signs, LED signs, electronic billboards The advent of digital technology has seen quite a substantial growth in the size and effectiveness of electronic signs. Once limited to single colour moving lines of text (banks, queues) this has now developed to signs that are equivalent to massive TV sets and massive building size signs that flash and rotate. We have a veritable Picadilly Circus in every major city!

In many cases the electronically programmable signs are actually a medium, rather than a sign. In many cases - like the signs on street corners that run adverts as well as some information - the sign is a medium.

In contrast to this, the large - single brand/message signs like "Drink CocaCola" - that adorn large building in many cities are generally a combination of neon,fluorescent tubing and/or LEDs. The final choice between these is a calculation based on required light output, component capital cost, cost of installation, cost of maintaining and projected energy consumption and heat pollution.

Neon Signs also know as Strip lettering, neon lettering, glowing letters Neon lettering is a special kind of illuminated sign, where the lighting source IS the sign. You are probably familiar with the glowing signs in shops that say "open", "vacancy" in motels, or the retail outlets name written in glowing letters. These are all examples of neon letters.

Neon has the advantage over fluorescent tubes in that it is brighter and can be formed into a variety of shapes. Where required - as in signs that need to be seen from a distance - neon can be doubled (doubling the light output). It is often used to outline lettering (called double neon) and used to illuminate signs - both from the inside and outside.

Traditionally it was only neon that could supply a wide range of different colours - achieved by varying the relative percentages of gasses within the neon tube. More recently LED lighting has challenged this dominance and is technically more flexible than neon. At the time of writing, LED and neon lighting are about the same price (in South Africa) but the price of LED lighting is falling rapidly and looks set to be cheaper than neon.

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