LED vs. Neon

When it comes to illuminating your new sign there are two options that are popular in the market right now. Neon is the traditional and time proven option. LED has a higher upfront cost but consumes less energy and is more reliable because while individual LED modules might burn out, they do not require immediate replacement whereas neon failures must be replaced immediately.

Improvements in technology have brought down the price of LED’s and now the majority of today’s signs are made using LED’s. LED’s are low maintenance and use 1/20th the electricity of neon. LED is also low voltage (12 volt) as opposed to high voltage neon (120 volt) which means that LED installations are less invasive, preserving your building’s aesthetics and integrity. Because neon is a little more bulky than LED lights, neon signs tend to be a little wider and taller than their LED counterparts. That usually is not an issue for most business owners hanging signs in their windows or on their walls. The biggest difference is depth. An LED signs can be as little as 1 inch thick whereas a neon sign must be at least 3-5 inches deep because the the glass tubing must extend away from its backing.

Existing neon channel letters can be upgraded to LED for longer life and reduced energy consumption. The result is a sign that is not only green and eco-friendly, but budget friendly, brighter, and maintenance free.

LED Conversion before & after

Channel letter being converted from neon to LED. Even in the picture notice how much brighter the LED’s are.

The energy savings from choosing LED over neon are easy to quantify:

NEON vs. L.E.D. – Power savings
Power Usage per foot 20 watts 1.2 watts
# of feet for sample 80 80
x Power Consumption 20 watts 1.2 watts
= Total 1,600 watts 96 watts
x 12 hours per day 19,200 watts 1,152 watts
x 365 Days per year 7,008,000 420,480
/ 1000 = annual kilowatt hour 7,008 420.48
x Cost per kilowatt hour (Dominion Power, Richmond) $ .11 $ .11
Total annual energy cost $ 770.88 $ 46.25
Savings over neon ($)   $ 724.63
Savings over neon (%)   94%

For perspective, in our example above, our neon sign draws as much power as (20) 42″ flat screen TV’s. Our LED sign is the equivalent of one television. That’s a big difference! From an environmental perspective, the neon sign would consume 7,500 pounds of coal per year while our LED sign consumes just 450 pounds. LED channel letters are also “greener” than neon, as they have no mercury content. This environmental friendliness can be a helpful factor in the permitting process.

One of the most important features of LED signs is their brightness and clarity. LED technology produces a sign that is very bright yet clear and easy to read from a distance. Neon signs, however, tend to look a little blurry from far away. The clear glow of an LED sign is therefore more appealing to customers and leaves a sharper image in their mind as they drive by your business. LED-lit signs are an excellent and effective form of advertising. And, LED signs are bright and easy to see even in direct sunlight, whereas it can be hard to tell if a neon sign is on or not in the daylight.


Neon failures take out the entire letter. On cold days, neon might not light up as brightly.

LED signs are also virtually maintenance free. There are no gases, no glass tubes, no argon or mercury problems and LED lights don’t run out. Neon signs will eventually lose all of the neon inside the glass tubes which means you have to replace the gas by taking it to a professional neon sign manufacturer or simply buy a new sign. Of course this process takes 10 years or more but eventually it will happen. Neon signs also get dimmer over time while LED’s retain their brightness for the life of the module. LED is also far less sensitive to weather extremes. Another added bonus of LED signs—they are easier to clean than neon signs because there are no tubes to clean off. LED signs are also durable and last up to 100,000 hours (11 years), even if left on 24/7. When they do fail, LED modules are far easier to replace.

Contact one of our sign professionals today to upgrade and start reaping the benefits of LED’s for your current sign.