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Fiber Optics in the Sign Industry

Applications rise with the neon tide

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Invariably, new and alternative technology is perceived as a threat to established interests. Sometimes that threat is real, and traditional methods rapidly become obsolete. In the case of neon and fiber optics, however, it seems evident that what’s good for the goose is equally good for the gander.

Although neon is clearly ascendant in the sign industry today, its unparalleled success has created new opportunities for fiber optics. Each technology involves a colored light source that can be molded to a variety of custom shapes and forms; this core concept has strong appeal to retail designers. Given the basic differences between neon and fiber optics, the vast market for malleable lighting obviously presents many instances where fiber optics represents a sensible and desirable alternative. In view of neon’s unabated boom , fiber optics shouldn’t be perceived as a threat, but as an enhancement to a vigorous sector of the industry.

Applications

Both end-lit and side-lit fiber optic (FO) cables are utilized in signage and accent lighting applications. Smaller enclosed channel letters can be illuminated with end-lit cables installed through the letter backings. Large channel letters and plastic-faced signs are internally illuminated with side-lit cables arranged in rows like neon tubes. Side-lit cables can also be used in place of neon border tubing for cove lighting, or to accent building outlines. Bridges, towers and other structures can also be high-lighted with side-lit FO cables.

End-lit cables are also used in exposed applications to form letters, or to create star-field displays. Inwave Corp. (Eugene, OR) has developed a fiber optic matrix where individual end-lit FO cables are employed as pixels in a full-color display. The non-electrical nature of illuminated FO cable makes it suitable for many applications where neon may not be possible or desirable. The following are some examples:

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