Video: A day in the life of a master neon sign artist


I thought only the orange ones were neon signs.

An enormous number of colors can be created by combinations of different gases and fluorescent coatings in the tubes, but it is all referred to as neon signs.

Strictly said, yes. But the name spread to other related types. The argon-mercury with phosphor blends will give you much wider palette of colors (see the subset of choices there).

Note the rubber hose he is using to blow air into the tube when it is shaped. This provides controlled positive pressure that counteracts the glass’s tendency to collapse the tube. Note how he uses varying the pressure to expand heated pieces of the tube when needed.

Glass is a fascinating material. Its viscosity strongly depends on temperature, over a quite wide range, from rock-hard to oily liquid. With a bit of skill (this has to be learned, though theory will help to shorten the learning somewhat) you can manipulate how soft the glass is at which part, and do quite some magic.

Check also various videos of making vacuum tubes (very similar, glasswork-wise, to this, with less bending) and chemical glass (this tends to have fancy shapes, and is a good show of state-of-the-art of manual glassmaking).

Such videos are maker porn. Pure maker porn.

There are only few gases used on their own, in clear glass tubes. Neon is the chief one as it shines the best, helium is yellowish, argon/krypton/xenon are different shades of whitish. So not much choice. There are other gaseous emitters but they are usually rather poor. So most common is using phosphor, and excite it with ultraviolet light from mercury vapors, with argon used to strike the arc. (Helium is added for easier ignition at lower temperatures, forming a Penning mixture.)

Lots of details here:

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I took a weekend neon class. It was probably the best 16 hours of pure awesome I’ve ever had in Brooklyn.

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Really beautiful - the way the film is put together as well as the subject.

Always a treat to see these kinds of craftsmen/artists who talk less about their amazing work than your typical abstract painter, yet produce work that lives on for generations and becomes part of a city’s personality.


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