Fluorescent Lighting
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Fluorescent Lighting

What, How & Why

By SignIndustry.com Staff

With such a wide variety of materials used in the sign industry, different techniques must be employed to put the finishing touches on your sign.

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  • Neon, high-pressure or multi-vapor fixtures, and simple incandescent lights are often used, but the most popular-and perhaps most practical-choice when dealing with these signs are fluorescent lights.

    Fluorescent lights are good to use for a number of reasons.

    First, they're convenient in terms of time and money.

    Second, installation is simple.

    Third, as is the continued use of the appliance, fluorescent lighting doesn't wear out. It is the way to go when in search of a lighting fixture that will last for an extended period of time.

    Fourth, in terms of decoratively design, they adhere to just about any color or design scheme for the sign's surface.

    All of these positive attributes stem from the way the fluorescent light works, and the high-lumen output source that allows it to function in such a convenient, multi-purposed manner.

    Unlike the cold cathode lamps that are used with most neon tubing, fluorescent lights are hot cathode lamps. These lamps are made from wide glass tubes covered in a blend of fluorescent powders. The lamp is filled with a small amount of mercury and a special blend of gasses, evacuated, and assembled with its electrodes. This is not dissimilar to the composition of other neon lights.

    The use of this type of lamp differs from ordinary neon tubing, however, in the fact that the electrodes are heated before making contact with the electrical arc-which is located between the electrodes.

    High voltage is necessary to ensure the contact of the electrodes with the dividing arc. Used to guarantee this connection is a transformer called a ballast. The ballast takes in the regular electrical current and voltage, and releases it with the needed charge. The ballast also maintains the balance of the arc.

    Upon the initial starting of the lamp, the ballast must create a high enough voltage for the arc to move across the air and into its designated space between electrodes. After this starting charge, the ballast reduces its voltage output and supports the arc in that area.

    Although the ballast lowers its voltage release after the arc is put in place, it still provides very high current.

    Regular input current ranges from approximately fifty to sixty cycles per second. In order for the ballast to properly filter this and give the needed turnout, it must turn off and back on one hundred to one hundred twenty times a second.

    Despite this rapid movement, however, the ballast is multi-functional. They can be designed to run anywhere from a single to six lights.

    The ballast that is capable of operating more than one light can also be engineered to run additional lights simultaneously. This is usually up to a set of six.

    The circuitry of the ballast is very flexible, which is another reason that fluorescent lights are so good to use.

    In addition to providing voltage, the ballast also creates a second stream of voltage-when used in high-output and rapid-start lamps-that preheats the lamp's electrodes. This helps maintain brightness and also ensures the contact of the electrodes with the arc.

    After the ballast begins its job, the process involves the other interior parts of the light. Immediately upon contact, the arc expels energy into the mercury. That stimulus charges electrons within the chemical.

    The energy stirs in the electrons briefly, and, as it dissipates, leaves the electrons to return to their normal state. The energy created by this disruption is released. The energy has reached ultra-violet level by this point. In a chemical domino effect of sorts, the UV light triggers the rare-earth coatings and phosphors inside the tube, causing obviously visible light to illuminate from within the glass.

    The color of the light is predetermined, and made to match the colors present on the sign. These are altered by the combination of phosphors and rare earth dusted on the glass during the construction of the light.

    Although the basic process of all fluorescent lights is the same, there are still many different types of fluorescent lights to choose from.

    Factors to consider when deciding what type of light is appropriate for your customer's sign are (1) the environment in which the sign will be displayed, (2) the temperature of the space the light will be in, and (3) the color desired.

    If the sign will be located outdoors, a thermal protection device will be needed to protect the ballast.

    Usually a ballast and fluorescent lamps are constructed to operate in a temperature range above fifty degrees Fahrenheit. For temperatures below this, a lamp will have to be made with those conditions specifically in mind.

    Also central to this idea of choice in fluorescent lights is color-also referred to in terms of temperature. Popular colors in the sign industry are Sign White, Cool White, and Daylight. Other colors can be specially made, however.

    In spite of the complexity of the composition and the internal operation of fluorescent lights, they are simple to use, they are reliable, and they are cost-effective.

    Best of all, fluorescent lights catch the eyes of customers-sign customers.

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