Making Your Mark On Neon

By Morgan Crook

Posted with permission of the Author and SignBusiness

You've just finished installing that beautiful window sign and you're damn proud of it. The owner is ecstatic; just raving about how brilliant you are and about how much more business he's going to have. You take the check and drive away. And you've just wasted one of your best advertising opportunities - the sign itself.

We all get referrals from satisfied customers, but many people are not bold enough to walk into a strangers business and ask who made their sign. Without resorting to taping your business card to the sign (which rarely lasts and always looks bad) how can you mark the sign in some relatively permanent way so that anyone checking it out can identify it as yours.

Another good reason for marking your tubing is quality control: dating the tube to validate warranty service or to track changes made in equipment, materials or technique.

In researching this article we tried a lot of crap that was supposed to last on glass and didn't. If you know of materials that work other than listed here, please write. If you want to experiment on your own here are some things that we wasted money on that didn't work that you can strike off your list: "lab markers", ceramic inks, and those stickers you see on some borosilicate manifolds.

In the What Does Work Category we have several different materials. I can't say that there is one of them that is best for every application; the complete shop will need several of these products depending on the situation. So here are my favorites:

1) All- Stabilo-Pen (Wale Apparatus 610-838-7047)

This is like an extra-fine point felt tip pen except that it stays on glass. This can be applied before or after bombarding. The fine point writes VERY well. It dries almost instantaneously (not smearing when handled). It can be rubbed off if necessary, more easily before heating than after; holds up for 1 - 2 years exposed. A great all around, easy to use, quick and dirty marker. Cost: $2.00

2) Pilot Gold Marker / Berol Prismacolor Art Marker (Gold)
(available at most art supply stores)

This is an enamel based pen where the paint flows out the nib while writing; with practice it works pretty good. It takes about 30 seconds to air dry and is possible to scratch off at this time but no problem in normal handling. The beauty of this material is that after it is heated (in a flame or during normal bombarding where it changes from gold to dark silver) it becomes very hard. It is possible, but very difficult to scratch off after heating. People that have been using this for a long time report it lasting 2 to 5 years. Like the Stabilo it's fast, versatile identification. Cost: $4.00

3) GE Black Monogram Ink (GE Chemical Products 216-266-4611)

Now we get to permanent. This is the stuff that most tubing manufacturers mark their glass with. It has the consistency of screen printing ink (which is the method that Technolux uses to identify their glass - although the US importer didn't want to talk about exactly what ink they were using). To mark the glass you use a felt stamping pad and a common rubber stamp that you can have made to your specifications just like EGL and old style Voltarc. In our shop we have also used a changeable date stamp. The ink does not air dry which makes it difficult to use; GE says bake for 6 minutes at 350 degrees C. I have found that heating in the fires works well (stamping a logo near a bend or splice just before heating the glass). We have also stamped the tubes just before bombarding and had good results; this is not following the manufacturer's instructions and I cannot attest to how long the stuff will last doing it this way, but I cannot scrape it off the tube.

Overall this stuff is less versatile than some other materials here, but it is permanent. It is also kind of expensive: it only comes from GE in approx. 16 oz. jars. This is a lifetime supply. There may be some neon supply companies who are going to market smaller amounts - look around. Cost: $120.00 for 16oz.

4) Stickers (Dan-Russ Enterprises 803-794-0891)

These are the same kind of stickers that auto dealers put on trunk lids and football team supporters stick on their back windows: this stuff doesn't go away. Exposed life is over 5 years. Obviously this is best used as logo / advertising, and it is great at that: the screened on letters or logo can be any color(s), shape, whatever. The best we have tried is screened on a backing which is slightly frosted. Obviously they only go on after the tube is finished, but placement can be optimized. They can be removed. Cost: a 12" x 18" sheet (this is probably a couple hundred logos) is about $75.00 including first time setup.

Morgan Crook is a mechanical engineer, tube bender, and president of Neon Design, a wholesale, retail and consulting firm in Columbia, S.C.