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Neon Vs. Fluorescents

Posted by Joliene Harris on

Neon Vs. Fluorescent

A common question among customers is “isn’t neon dangerous”? Neon and Fluorescent lights are actually very close to identical. The common assumption is that neon is dangerous because it contains mercury. Neon does indeed contain mercury but the same amount of mercury is found in every fluorescent light fixture or bulb and should be handled with an equal amount of care.

A fluorescent tube is a phosphor coated glass cylinder filled with Argon and a small amount of mercury with two metal conductors at the ends. A white neon tube would be described in the exact same way. The difference is the size of the tubing. Fluorescent tubes in most cases are about 25-35mm in diameter. The common neon tube size is 10-15mm. The reason for neon tubing being a smaller millimeter is it’s easier to bend into custom shapes in a smaller diameter tube size.

The electrode styles are different because the mechanisms used to add the gas to the tubes very by different manufactures. Fluorescent's are typically a specific size and fit into a standard socket where neon is a custom fixture and doesn’t usually fit into a set of specific variables.

The largest difference between a fluorescent tube and a neon tube is the energy consumption which doesn’t apply to the small diameter fluorescent bulbs (which would be technically neon bulbs if the true difference between the two are the diameter of the tube). The larger millimeter tubes contain more gas. Electrical current travels along a path of least resistance. The more noble gas that is crammed into the container the less space exists between the particles and the easier it is for the current to move from one particle to the next.  A low amount of resistance equals less energy loss which means low energy consumption.

ALN has the ability to make custom larger millimeter tubes. 25mm neon tubes are commonly referred to as cold cathodes. These specialty products are great way to conserve energy in an application when you need exposed lights that may need to fit a custom shape.

The last difference (which may not be that noticeable depending diameter of the glass) is the impact of the light in the different size tubes. In a smaller diameter tube the light is more concentrated or intense closer to the tube. In a larger diameter tube the light is dispersed over a longer period but is not as intense in close proximity. The reason for this occurrence is the electron distribution. Assuming a transformer with equal inputs are used the electron distribution in a cylindrical area would be the same but in a smaller tube would be much more concentrated at the origin and since the tube size is smaller the light would travel a correspondingly smaller distance.

Fluorescent's and neon both have many great applications and are very similar. Neon comes in much smaller tube sizes which are a more intense light but fluorescent light illuminates a larger area because the tube is larger. ALN Signs can help you decide which may be the best fit for the application you need.


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  • This is great information. I had no idea they were basically the same thing.

    Randelle on

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