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Neon Survey

Neon Glossary

Like the pracitioners of any profession, neon sign makers have developed their own vocabulary to describe their work. This glossary contains words and terms used to describe neon signage. This page has a list of terms used by sign designers complied by Josh Cannaday.

Scan this list or jump to a particular category:

Types | Physical Elements | Architectural | Design | Lighting | Text

To search for a particular term, press ctrl-f

1. Types of signs

Animated sign: A sign that shows motion or changes in copy or color, most often through electric or electronic means.

Architectural sign: A sign whose design is actually integrated into the architecture of the structure.

Backlit sign: A sign consisting of a cabinet containing a light source surrounded by on or more translucent faces.

Back to Back: Two or more sign faces mounted on a common structure, but facing in opposite directions

Building-Front Design: Usually associated with the Las Vegas's Freemont street. They may be two or three-dimensional signs which project up and or out from the building itself. Building-front designs also utilize the luminous properties of neon to create a canvass of light as the buildings façade.

Canopy sign: A sign which is suspended from and forms part of a canopy or marquee and which does not usually extend beyond the limits of the canopy or marquee.

Cantilever construction: A sign mounted on the end, often called a flag or end-mount.

Changeable copy sign: A sign on which the copy can be changed, either manually through the use of attachable letters or electronically using incandescent bulbs or light emitting diodes.

Directional sign: Signage used to provide direction to travelers.

Electronic changeable copy sign: A sign that utilizes computer generated messages or some other electronic means of changing copy. These signs include displays using LED, LCD or a flipper matrix.

Fascia sign: A flat sign that is mounted on a wall and whose face runs parallel to it.

Fiber optic display: A type of sign that transmits its message utilizing light directed through thread-like fibers of glass or plastic.

Ground sign: A free standing sign that is mounted on poles or braces, without any secondary support.

Hanging sign: A double face sign that hangs from a bracket or support and projects from a wall, building or pole. Projecting sign.

Internally illuminated: A sign which is lighted through the use of internal electric fixtures or lamp banks.

LCD (liquid crystal display): A type of electronic changeable copy sign utilizing liquid crystals that become opaque or clear when exposed to a controlled voltage. They are sometimes used in time and temperature displays.

LED (light-emitting diode): A type of electronic changeable copy sign that utilizes hundreds of light-emitting diodes - electronic ship and colored lens assemblies - in single and tri-color matrixes. LEDs are physically flexible and inexpensive to operate when compared with other message centers.

Marquee: A projecting structure permanently attached to, but not a part of, the roof. Also, known as a canopy.

Message center: Any sign that displays changeable copy (or that portion of a given sign.)

Monument sign: A mounted ground sign, sometimes affixed to a base or a pedestal. A freestanding sign that is a low rise with a base or pole cover.

Pole sign: A free standing sign, usually double-faced, mounted on a round pole, square tube or other fabricated member without any type of secondary support.

Porte-cochere: A passage way used to allow vehicles to pass from the street into the interior courtyard.

Projection Sign: A sign which projects off of the structure of the building usually a 90 degree angle.

Pylon or Sculpted Pylon Sign: A sign usually associated with the Las Vegas Strip, a pylon sign high-rise tower usually with several forms of signage integrated, designed to attract the attention of motorists and or distant viewers. Sometimes they are flanked to create an entrance or gateway.

Super-Pylon: Associated with large strip resorts, the super-pylon is simply a pylon style sign that is of immense size. The term was first associated with the MGM Grand's original super-pylon design

Upright Sign: A higher narrower version of of the projection sign mounted at right angles to the exterior wall.

2. Physical elements of signs

Base: A) A thin trim beneath the bottom molding of a sign or bulletin, B) The background color in screen printing, C) Platform on which a ground sign rests.

Cabinet: An electric sign not including the components and structure. A cabinet is made up of a face and back along with the edge.

Channel: The outline of a letter, border or similar object with a vertical sidewall to confine the lighting on the face either to restrict vision at an angle or to prevent light spillage over adjacent areas.

Chase: 1) The illusion of movement in neon tubes or incandescent bulbs created by turning the light sources on and off in sequence. Chasing is more closely related to animated signs than to flashing. It is achieved by using a "chaser", and electrical component which can be programmed to provide the on and off sequence.
2) To decorate metal, typically by engraving or cutting.

Component: One of the parts or pieces that together make a complete system or design. Reference is often made to design components or electrical components of a sign.

Cutouts: Lettering or graphics that are cut from another material, then attached to the sign face to provide depth.

Dominance: A term used to describe a neons signs ability to take prescedence over the surrounding environment.

Edge: The part of the sign that encloses the back and face or faces. The frame.

Encrustation: A covering or inlaying ( marble , mosaic lighting, etc..) or attatched masonry with cramp irons.

Extension: Additional display area beyond the normal edge of the bulletin (outdoor advertising sign.) They are used to gain extra attention or add design flexibility and are limited in size (e.g. Projecting no more than 2') Embellishment.

Face: The decorated surface of a sign; the area on which the copy and art is placed.

Fascia: Any facing, most often refers to the surface on which a sign is mounted (brick, wood, etc.)

Finish: The surface quality.

Footing: The projecting base of a sign pole or pylon, including the porting that is buried in the ground.

Graphics: A term used to describe any images on a sign. Usually associated with materials other than neon or an LCD display.

Header: A separate board above the rest of a sign that gives it a headline or contains a different message.

Illustrative design: Term used to describe a pictoral design which is represented on the sign itself. The illustration can be composed of neon ar any other resources conducive to the creation of the sign

Multimedia: The use of a combination of moving and still pictures, sound, music and words, esp. in computers or entertainment

Pedestrian Environment: The area or element of a sign which is designed to gain the attention or interact with pedestrian traffic.

Periphery: The external surface or boundry of an object. The surrounding space or area beyond.

Veneer: 1. A thin sheet of wood used as a facing material. 2. An outside wall facing that provides a decorative, durable surfaceVault -- An arched covering in stone or brick over any building.

3. Architectural terms

Arc: A line segment that is deflected at a certain angle to form a curve.

Awning: A shelter constructed of non-rigid materials on a supporting framework which projects from and is supported by an exterior wall of a building

Balustrade: An entire railing system (as along the edge of a balcony) including a top rail and its balusters, and sometimes a bottom rail

Canopy: A permanent roof structure attached to and supported by a building projecting over public property, but does not include a projected roof.

Capitals: The crowning feature of a column or pilaster

Coffer: To create a surface using recessed panels in ceilings, vaults or domes.

Column(A): A vertical support. Decorative columns usually consist of a base, circular shaft, and spreading capital.

Dome: A curved roof structure, more or less hemispherical in shape, covering an area.

Facade: The front or principle entrance of a building.

Pediment: In Classical architecture, a triangular piece of wall above the entablature.

Statuary: A collection of statues

Vault: An arched covering in stone or brick over any building.


4. Design Terms

Balance: A term used to describe the aesthetic or harmony of elements, whether they are photos, art or copy, within a layout or design. The relationship between the design elements so the opposing forces have equal distribution of weight in the layout.

Composition: The assembly of characters into words, lines and color to guide the viewer's eye for a visually pleasing design.

Design: At its simplest, a synonym for layout. Also, the process involved in creating a sign.

Flush: Having the surface or face even or level with the adjacent surface.

Hue: A particular variety of a color, such as a shade or a tint.

Intensity: The density or opaqueness of a color. Also, the amount of light put out by a lamp.

Line Quality: This deals with the width, value, shape and feel of a line.

Legibility: The quality of a sign's typefaces that allows it to be easily read and understood.

Logo: An often stylized group of letters, words or symbols used to represent a business or product.

Opaque: Not clear or translucent. Not allowing light to show through.

Translucent: The property of a material to allow the passage of some light through it without being transparent.

Volume: the amount of space that is enclosed within an object or solid shape.


5. Lighting terms

Chase: 1) The illusion of movement in neon tubes or incandescent bulbs created by turning the light sources on and off in sequence. Chasing is more closely related to animated signs than to flashing. It is achieved by using a "chaser", and electrical component which can be programmed to provide the on and off sequence.
2) To decorate metal, typically by engraving or cutting.

Column(B): Vertical rows of lamps in a lamp bank, or a vertical row of light emitting diodes in an LED matrix.

Cove lighting: A type of indirect decorative illumination that is created by placing either neon or fluorescent tubes inside a light box to produce a halo effect.

Double Neon: Each letter is formed with two lines of tubing, to give the appearance of varying strokes of letters.

Exterior illumination: Illumination that is provided from a source separate from the sign itself, such as a spotlight. Indirectly illuminated.

Fiber optic display: A type of sign that transmits its message utilizing light directed through thread-like fibers of glass or plastic.

Flash: to shine (a light) suddenly and usually brightly, but only for a short time

Flasher: A mechanical device designed to interrupt the electrical current in a sign at regular intervals, turning the light source on and off.

Halo: A ring of light. In sign making, the effect achieved by reverse channel letters, which appear to be ringed by light because the light source is reflecting on the background from which the letters are pegged out.

Incandescent bulb: An electric lamp consisting essentially of a glass or quartz bulb, evacuated or filled with an inert gas in which a filament, commonly of tungsten, gives off light when it is heated to incandescence by electric current.

Intensity: The density or opaqueness of a color. Also, the amount of light put out by a lamp.

Internally illuminated: A sign which is lighted through the use of internal electric fixtures or lamp banks.

LCD (liquid crystal display): A type of electronic changeable copy sign utilizing liquid crystals that become opaque or clear when exposed to a controlled voltage. They are sometimes used in time and temperature displays.

LED (light-emitting diode): A type of electronic changeable copy sign that utilizes hundreds of light-emitting diodes - electronic ship and colored lens assemblies - in single and tri-color matrixes. LEDs are physically flexible and inexpensive to operate when compared with other message centers.

Matrix: The number and amount of lighting units in a changeable message sign.

Neon: A tasteless, colorless, inert gas. When an electric current is discharged through it, neon produces a reddish-orange glow. Neon is also used synonymously with a type of luminous tube sign where a glass tube is bent to a desired shape, fitted with an electrode at each end, the atmosphere is pumped and burned out, and the resulting vacuum is filled with a rare gas, such as neon, helium, argon, mercury vapor or a combination of gases.

Oscilation: To move repeatedly from one position to another. A wave or an electric current which oscillates changes regularly in strength or direction.

Pulse: A pulse is also a short burst of energy which is repeated regularly, such as a brief loud sound or a brief flash of light.

Radiate: to produce (heat and/or light), or (of heat or light) to be produced. to spread out in all directions (from a central point).


6. Text

Arms: Those elements of letters that branch out from the stem of a letter such as K and Y.

Boldface: Any type that has a heavier stroke, which makes it more conspicuous.

Channel Letter: The outline of a letter, with metal sidewalls into which a neon tube is placed. A channel letter's sign prevents the neon from having a run together appearance. The depth of the channel letter may vary. Variations include: open channel letter, reverse channel letter, and front and back lit letters.

Condensed Type: A narrow, elongated typeface. A font in which the proportion of the letters numbers and symbols has been altered by reducing their width.

Expanded Type: Type with width greater than normal producing a rectangular effect.

Font: Refers to the style and width of a particular design of letters, numbers and symbols. Such as Helvetica Bold or Times Roman, etc.

Legibility: The quality of a sign's typefaces that allows it to be easily read and understood.

Logo: An often stylized group of letters, words or symbols used to represent a business or product.

Open Channel Letter: A channel letter which has no face and in which the neon tubing is visible.

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Last modified Monday, 05-Apr-2010 11:24:46 PDT