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Clients Don’t Want to See the Cables of Neon Signs – Here’s How to Hide Them

Sign pros can use these tricks to satisfy the visible-wires-conscious customer.

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Neon signs need ample cables, particularly gas, tube and oil (GTO) cables, in order to work. Neon signs need ample cables, particularly gas, tube and oil (GTO) cables, in order to work.

MAYBE IT’S JUST me and my obsessive-compulsive attention to detail regarding sign design and fabrication, but no matter how many times it happens, I’m always shocked when A) people realize that neon has a lot of cables and B) how much they don’t want such cables to exist. Yikes! How did you not see the cables before in all of your reference photos of neon, or in all of those window storefronts? So, what to do? As far as I’m concerned, Alexa doesn’t bend wireless, Bluetooth/voice-demand, freestanding neon — yet.

Acceptance is a good first step to take when designing and selling neon signs. Gas, tube and oil (GTO) cables, transformers, neon tube supports, caps and the rest of the neon components are part of the aesthetic of neon whether customers like it or not, but it doesn’t have to stop there. By putting more thought into our signs, we can continue to strive for excellence. Honestly, sometimes I’m far more impressed by a small, one-word neon sign with a clean, smart placement of a transformer and distribution of GTO cables that don’t distract from the artwork than the inside of a 15-ft. blade sign that looks like the room you quickly throw dirty laundry into when you get an unexpected visit. You know what room I’m talking about.

Small, clean neon signs often feature efficient distribution of the transformer and cables.

Small, clean neon signs often feature efficient distribution of the transformer and cables.

There are ample ways to hide GTO cables during a neon sign installation. However, the reality is that the budgets aren’t always as extensive as our creative minds. So let’s KISS! (Keep it simple, stupid — a design phrase formulated by aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson.)

I’ve noticed that even-numbered neon units work to my advantage most of the time, whereas an odd number of neon units often leaves me with one awkward GTO cable just trying to fit in. I do my best to design accordingly, but in complex cases, simply think of how to run the GTO wire in a discrete way that makes certain your eyes stay focused on the sign. Also, make sure you’re aware of which side the transformer will plug into ahead of installation, which will avoid having to run a cable to the opposite side of the outlet on the day of the install. A common backing for neon signs is black, white or clear acrylic sheets. These colors allow you to blend your GTO cables. Sometimes I’ll paint tube stands and block out to match the color of the wall or backing, too.

GTO cables can be run in discrete ways to keep the focus on the neon sigange.

GTO cables can be run in discrete ways to keep the focus on the neon sigange.

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Aside from those simple tricks, it’s important to remove attention from what we don’t want to see in a sign not only by hiding, but by creating around it. The neon sign elements are part of the package, but we’ve seen enough rectangle pieces of acrylic cut exactly to the size of the neon letters and outlines with little to no breathing room. I’m not hating on those “OPEN” or “Pizza by the slice” signs hanging in the window — I actually love seeing the words “open” and “pizza” in the same window right around 10 p.m. — but with today’s advanced CNC routers and laser cutting machines, I encourage you to break away from the lazy rectangles into contour shapes, ovals and circles. They’re more satisfying and refreshing in a visual sense. If your client isn’t ready to “KISS,” then budget for professional sign installers to run the wires through the wall.

Mars Bravo is a sign designer and owner of Signs from Mars (Los Angeles), which designs and produces illuminated and non-illuminated custom signage. Contact Mars at [email protected].

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