Neon vs. LED

We’ve all had the experience of having our eyes pulled toward an exceptionally designed neon-lit sign; it is a nostalgic and classic component of advertising and American culture. Think of early Las Vegas; miles and miles of ornate glass flashing rhythmically and brilliantly, competing for attention. “They’re just cool,” says Skip Wiands, Lead Detailer at Federal Heath’s Oceanside facility. “The shapes you can do with neon just can’t be duplicated any other way; just the incandescence of neon is so unique.”

“It’s that color, it’s that light,” said Kim Koga, an artist who started working with neon in the late ’80s, and is now the director of the Neon Art Museum in Los Angeles. “It’s kind of magical, even though it’s a mixture of a chemistry project and magic,” as quoted in a CNN piece on the subject.

Traditional neon signage has been known for creating a certain degree of “ambiance” – bars and restaurants have used the medium to create a feeling of nostalgia. Motels and hotels loved neon because the signs can be seen from a distance at night; the glow gives a welcoming charm, reassuring customers that the business is “established.”


Neon first appeared in the United States in early 1920s Los Angeles, after nearly two decades of development by French inventor Georges Claude. Claude’s discovery of the process of liquefying air to extract neon and his invention of electrodes large enough to handle the reaction set the stage for neon’s invasion into American culture. Packard automobile dealer Earle C. Anthony purchased two signs in from Claude for a staggering $1,240; but the huge investment paid off. Neon’s brilliance – even in daylight hours – enamored the public with its “liquid fire” appearance. Word about the fantastic new technology spread quickly, and retailers and businesses from coast to coast raced to install bigger and brighter versions.


The popularity of neon signage peaked in the 1950’s at a time when Americans were falling in love with cars and powered mobility. Las Vegas transformed the art with thousands of iconic signs that still light the way for the city’s treasure seekers. But as modern municipal codes changed in the 1960s, public affinity for neon waned and cheaper alternatives began to fill the void.


Below are several factors to consider when considering neon signage:


  1. Cost: Building neon signage is a time consuming process; turning glass into glowing tubing requires the artistic touch of unique craftspeople. From raw material to labor time, neon most definitely takes more time and investment than an LED system. Labor to complete a typical neon sign is estimated to be double that of its LED counterpart.


  1. Reliability: While neon is an eye-catching choice, costs to keep the sign in good working condition must be evaluated. Neon is more susceptible to weather variances and has an increased risk of internal component failure as compared to LED systems.


  1. Energy consumption: LED lighting can produce energy savings of 80.3% (per 100 feet of lighting being run for an average of 12 hours per day). Over the lifespan of the sign, this reduction in power usage can add up to significant electrical cost savings.

Power Savings LED And Neon

4. Aesthetics: LED lighting may provide more efficiency, less maintenance, and prove more reliable in the long term; however, neon remains a classic choice for many industries. The warm, romantic glow of neon – especially at night – is difficult to emotionally duplicate with LED replacement illumination.

Pictured above is after conversion from Neon to LED

Making the choice between LED and neon may appear easy based on practicality and cost savings, but neon remains a nostalgic and popular choice for signage worldwide. Federal Heath’s expert team can help you choose the right type of signage for your business, no matter the industry, budget, or market. Allow our award winning and highly experienced design, production, and installation professionals to guide your project through the myriad of applications available to your brand. We’ve been providing complete signage solutions since 1901 – let our experience bring power to your image.