LEDs

Retrofits continue, even as color-changing choices challenge regulations.
Tech Review: Chris and Kathi Morrison address LEDs, focusing on retrofitting, color-fade channel letters and neon replacement.

It’s 2018 and by now every shop producing lighted signs knows about the virtues of LEDs. Truth is, electric signshops quickly jumped on the LED bandwagon, but some experienced pain along the way – inconsistent brightness, non-uniform face lighting and weather effects (heat can be a problem). Luckily, the lighting industry has addressed many of these issues. Some, however, remain – retrofitting existing illuminated signs and matching client color requirements, for example. Fortunately, we see innovations that may correct such concerns, but first we have a question: 

How many fluorescent-lamped sign cabinets remain in use today? 

We don’t know, but it’s surely a bunch. 

RETROFITTING

Regarding retrofitting with LED luminaires, originally, the process was to either rip out the sign guts and rewire everything, or just replace the entire signbox. Now, you can offer many clients an upgrade by simply ordering LED-lamped tubes as a retrofit for the original fluorescents. Refitting a maintained, fluorescent-lamp illuminated sign is easy and, in many instances, you can reuse the same receptacles. Your client receives the benefit of longer lamp life and reduced power consumption. An easy sell, right? 

Also consider LED replacements for high-intensity discharge (HID) or high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting, with similar cost savings for your client. 

COLOR-FADE CHANNEL LETTERS

We’ve all enjoyed the full-color animated billboard displays that we see in Times Square or Las Vegas, and on a lesser scale at car dealerships, malls and casinos. What we don’t often see are channel letters that cross-fade with smooth, transitional color changes. Cool signage in the right environment is great, but beware of zoning laws that dislike signs with color changes or what some define as “movement.” Still, installing RGB LED luminaires with programmable color-change modules offers clients a unique signface and certain city entertainment districts may allow such innovations. The control unit installs just as would a standard white or solid-colored module. Instead of a white lamp, you install RGB. The real magic comes with the addition of a control console.

Controller? Sure, a controller allows you to go simple or crazy, depending upon your client’s desires and budget. A basic controller offers an uncomplicated color palette, but allows you to program transitions and hold durations. It could also change the signface color for daylight and night viewing. 

What if your client wants more? Wireless systems allow you to control the lighting from smartphones and tablets. And, remember that addressable RGB arrays can produce thousands of colors – your home television is RGB-based – as well as different patterns, from transitions to races. This can truly make your customer’s sign eye-catching. These controllers are obviously much more expensive than the simple manually configured ones, but such innovation could be the “WOW!” factor your client desires.

NEON REPLACEMENT

Another LED application is neon tube replacement. Neon offers a classic look, but it requires a designated neon shop that’s manned by glass tubing artisans. Of course, LED-rigged rope lighting can somewhat mimic neon, but frankly, the result may not be suitable for all applications. We recommend that antique neon signs, if restored, must use actual neon to preserve the originality. In other applications, the LED neon-type products appear similar and offer the benefit of low voltage and brightness.

We’re encouraged to see LEDs become even more innovative, especially in the field of color signage. And, again, note that it’s easier to find and sell retrofit solutions to clients with existing incandescent and fluorescent lamped signs. Offering a conversion as opposed to a new sign can save your clients money in the long run. Clearly, LED lamps are here to stay and a new generation of brighter, more colorful signs has arrived.

Signs of the Times November 2018

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