The topic of “borders” is a hot one these days. It’s shown prominently in the news and is being heavily debated. Though, all politics aside, it can generate a productive and straightforward discussion as well. Apply it to illuminated signage and you’ve got a colorful, useful, highly attractive application that is a fit for many projects. This particular border conversation revolves around LEDs, technology and improvements.
Lighting is an asset that sign users sometimes take for granted. Like electricity in general, lighted signs are expected to work well without much concern. With LEDs now at the forefront of illuminated solutions, a lot of the worries have been tempered. So, with this in mind, sign users should look to maximize their LED investments instead of simply installing them and leaving them as is. Part of this vision includes using LED border tubing in an illuminated sign project, providing an excellent way to frame or enhance a sign.
“LED border tubing can be used as borders around buildings and gas station awnings, to make letters or logos, or in exposed channel letters,” says Colin Woodford, marketing manager, Specialty Lighting Division at GE Current, a Daintree Co. “It can be used anywhere you’ve seen neon used in the past. It can also be used to accent signs.”
As Woodford suggests, there are several applications where LED border tubing is relevant. There are also many benefits to using border tubing in a job, as well as advancements that are making these products more practical in signage.
When discussing LED modules, most professionals will immediately think of channel letters or cabinet signs. With border tubing, LEDs can be used in a variety of different ways; some that are outside of the traditional box.
“Most applications for LED border tube use it to draw attention to itself, when you outline a building, parapet, canopy, free-standing signs and even channel letters,” explains Joe Reis, director-LED Signage, International Light Technologies. “You are adding visual impact to an existing component; in turn, drawing the viewer’s attention.”
The sign’s structure itself is something that can be dramatically enhanced with border tubing.
“LED tube lighting is a great architectural element that can not only be used to replace skeleton neon, but at interesting effects, like RGB and color chasing and changing,” says Bryan Vincent, managing partner at Principal LED.
Because LEDs are so efficient and provide long-lasting light solutions, LED border tubing can be used in a variety of different places. And, as a substitute for neon, some tube products have the ability to bend and appear to have “neon-like” qualities.
“Some LED tube lighting can only bend in one direction, limiting its applications,” shares Woodford. “GE Current, a Daintree company’s Tetra Contour can be bent in two directions at the same time, allowing it work in a wider range of applications and more closely mimicking the functionality of traditional neon.”
With these characteristics present, tubing can be seen in many more sign applications.
“When you introduce bending to the border tube, more applications come into play,” states Bruce Quaal, vice president, product development, SloanLED. “Such as rings around columns, outlines of large letters, arches on entryways, and radius corners on petroleum canopies or buildings.”
With flexible tubing, Quaal explains that even more applications are appropriate today. “It can do all of the above, but can also be used to script letters and tighter bends. (However) the flexible product usually costs more, has smaller profile and is not as bright as the rigid product.”
Bringing the Benefits
Just seeing the many applications where border tubing can be used presents a slew of benefits to the sign maker. One of which we already introduced is the ability to use flexible tubing in a sign project.
Woodford has noticed more unique projects with tubing products such as on the roofs of sports stadiums. He believes, “Increased flexibility also allows sign makers to make entire signs using LEDs, instead of relying on multiple technologies to achieve the desired effect (neon, incandescent, fluorescent, etc.). This allows them to make shallower or more oddly-shaped signs than they would have been able to, using older lighting technologies.”
Because LED tubing technology is being used as a replacement for neon, sign makers can pass along a more reliable, brighter and virtually worry-free solution. In certain circumstances it can be used to directly swap out old neon lighting.
“Flexible LED Neon allows the sign maker to retrofit of existing exposed neon signs as well as manufacturing new exposed channel letters that gives the viewer the impression of neon,” explains Reis. “Flexible LED neon is much more durable than neon, I am not saying durable in longevity, (but) structurally.”
Ultimately, “Flexible border has helped to expand the range of applications of LED border versus simple straight runs around buildings,” says Vincent. ‘’Principal LED plans to unveil a flexible version of its Streetwrap border product in the coming months.”
The benefits of using LED border tubing extend beyond its flexibility. Quaal lists out a number of specific benefits that allow sign makers to ensure this is a strong solution for clients.
Lower cost, with neon bending becoming less common.
Easier shipping, as the product is much more robust and less likely to be damaged during shipping.
More robust on-site, and less likely to be damaged during installation or by vandalism.
Low voltage circuitry, which greatly reduces fire risk. (Even low voltage systems can start a fire if damaged, or not installed properly, but the risk is much lower.)
Lower power consumption.
In some cases, systems can be cut to length on-site to match building features, eliminating the need for an onsite survey.
Installation and wiring is greatly simplified.
Taking a closer look at some of these benefits, clients will easily see how they can save money, time and other resources in the long run using LED products. As Woodford says, “LED tube lighting also offers benefits you can pass on to the end user, your customer. The energy efficiency of LEDs is far greater than that of neon, meaning the end user will save considerable amounts on their energy bills over the lifetime of the sign. Additionally, neon runs at a higher voltage, which exposes those who come into contact with it to greater risk of serious electrical shocks. Lastly, a neon transformer can hum quite noisily, which can be a nuisance to customers in interior applications.”
Even at the point of installation there are tangible benefits to using LEDs over other alternatives. Reis has real-world experience, citing, “When I designed my LED Border Tube, I had ease of installation in mind. The LED border tube is manufactured to size, from two inch up to 96 inches in two-inch increments,” he says. “This really cut down on installation time, no need to cut it down and try to seal the ends. Another time saving factor is that you can power up to 50 feet of LED border tube on a 100-watt, 24-volt power supply.”
Finally, even something as simple as packaging and delivering the product can pose problems—specifically with neon. LED lighting can withstand more of the jostling around that comes with shipping to a location.
“A less-discussed benefit of LEDs is the elevated risk of damage to neon during shipping and installation,” says Woodford. “Even with special care, accidents can happen, and the slightest bump in transit can destroy the hours spent creating a neon sign.”
Vincent adds that, “Since LED border products are made from a rugged LED polymer, installers can expect significant reduction in breakage during transport and installation, as well as protection from hail or other objects that can break glass.”
While benefits of LED border tubing relate to characteristics that make the product a worthy solution, the industry has also seen some tremendous advancements that have given LEDs an even bigger boost in sign projects.
At International Light Technologies, color plays a huge factor in bringing quality and consistency to the client. Border tubes are “designed from the days of carrying that double-sided neon display case to customers so they could see what color neon they would like, plug it in, the buzz of the transformer comes to life, and all of the awesome colors of true neon glass, ruby red, pink, turquoise and much more,” says Reis, further explaining that his product can accurately color match even to a specific company logo.
Color accuracy and selection is an important element to sign users who want to have the final say in the look of their signage.
“With white LEDs being more cost effective, PLED’s Street Gen 2 offers the ability for users to order PMS color matched extrusion backlit with white LEDs in quantities exceeding 2000 linear feet,” says Vincent. “This allows sign companies to choose from an infinite color pallet and match corporate logos and colors.”
In today’s environment, sign makers can offer virtually any color to their clients because of technological advancements among manufacturers. According to Woodford, “You can combine the different colors of Tetra Contour light guides and LED light engines to create a customized appearance.”
“Size can vary as needed,” says Quaal. “Generally, we sell rigid products in two, four, six eight and 10-foot sections. These can all be field cut to adjust to a smaller size as needed. Eight-foot and below is easier to ship. 10-foot has to go common carrier, not express.”
Generally, with border tubing size, the comparative is again made against neon.
“You need to keep it the same, like neon. If it gets too large it loses its neon look,” says Reis.
Vincent gets into the make-up of neon and how LED products can be used best as an alternative. He says, “Most skeleton neon was inside a ‘C’ channel, creating a glow much larger than the neon diameter itself. Older generations of LED border were based upon neon sizes and was directional, resulting in a lack of glow. PLED’s Street Wrap Gen 2 solves this problem by using a full one-inch acrylic extrusion with a full 180-degree glow, creating a better, more substantive look around building perimeters.”
Finally, when looking at the length of tubing being used, features such as flexibility should be considered when adding this product to a sign.
“Flexible product has less limitation on length since it can be coiled up to shop,” explains Quaal. “Length is usually decided on what is commonly used, weight and cost.”
Today’s border tube products are more advanced than their more recent predecessors. This has helped strengthen the product with better materials and dependable elements.
“Older versions of border products used PVC, ABS or other plastics, which can fade over time,” shares Vincent. “Newer systems (like SW Gen2) utilize an impact modified acrylic, resulting in beautiful evenness and output, as well as mechanical and anti-fade properties consistent with acrylic face materials.”
Reis echoes these comments saying, “Durability is much improved for the LED border tube, manufactured from silicone and polycarbonate.”
The materials used to manufacture these products bring great features to the sign maker. According to Quaal, polycarbonate has “higher impact strength” whereas acrylic is “more naturally UV stable, (has) lower bending temperature to allow for more opportunities, and (has a) lower cost than polycarbonate.”
One of the bigger strengths of all LED products is the length of life associated with them. There is no exception with LED border tubing.
“Life expectancy for border systems is as good as other commercially available LED modules,” says Vincent. “Historically, failure points were due to lack of ingress protection, especially when the product had to be field cut. Street Wrap Gen 2 uses a specialty, IP67 linear strip inside. Because the product is coextruded, the IP rating remains the same—even after field cutting, resulting in a highly reliable lifetime.”
Most manufacturers will provide warrantees on their products, and most often the LED product will exceed that warranty.
“Typical warranties for border tubing products are five years,” Quaal says. “Expected life is 10 years plus. We have applications that have been in the field for over 15 years. It is important, however, to inspect the installations as they get older. Cable, wires, connection, mounting brackets and end caps should be evaluated to make sure they are still in good condition and safe.”
With an eye on tomorrow’s challenges, manufacturers are constantly looking to improve their products. This rings true when discussing border tubing—what’s on the horizon that can help today’s sign maker?
“RGB applications have been the biggest growth area for LED border,” believes Vincent. “SW Gen2 is available in RGB and can be coupled with controllers and repeaters to create a range synchronized color effects. Next quarter, we plan to add an addressable version of our SW Gen 2 that can be tied to DMX for full control to add chasing and other optical effects.”
Quaal agrees stating, “More RGB and control options (are available).” In addition, he has seen, “Improvements in flexible product to bring the cost down and reduce the need for so many joints (seen on rigid products).”
Combining LED border tubing with new technologies is also an avenue worth pursuing.
“With the introduction of 3D printing in the signage industry, more impactful signs are easier to create than ever,” says Woodford “Using Contour as an accent allows sign makers to easily create a neon look.”
For all intents and purposes, LED border tubing can also be used with older, more traditional sign components to create a high-quality project.
“I would have to say LED marquee bulbs, S14’s, the combination of the two on a sign or building really look great together,” offers Reis. “The two together gives the sign or building a real retro look, with all of the advantages of LEDs.”
Borders continue to serve as an exceptional way to enhance a sign. Sign makers looking to using tubing should know all of the potential uses, benefits and advancements with the products. In the end, it could lend to a very professional way to frame a project.