Inspired by neon works of the well-known contemporary artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Dan Flavin or Bruce Naumann, we set out to make neon popular in the design world. Neon is a wonderful medium, with which you’re able to combine typography, bright colours, local craftsmanship, individual and creative thinking, and of course light!
With sygns we want to keep the traditional, skilled craft of making neon alive. Of course there are modern and more efficient ways of production, but none carries more passion and true craftsmanship than bending glass with your rough hands.
Every neon installation is crafted by hand, individually for every customer. Therefore every sign we manufacture is a one-off piece, not like any other. Our glassblowers blow every design above ribbon fires, burn corners, and weld connections. There is no gift that contains more handwork, passion, and respect for the arts.
Who manufactures our neon
Since glassblowing is a dying craft, there is an ever-decreasing number of glassblowers left who are still able to bend glass. In fact, there hasn’t been a single apprentice to learn glassblowing in Germany since 2009. That in turn means that we had to get creative. We have built a network of glassblowers from all over Europe.
With our large network it makes it easier for us to be flexible to sudden order increases - we have a solid network we can rely on to manufacture neon to the highest quality standards, no matter the size or quantity.
How the glass tubing is bent
Although glassblowing seems like a simple process, it actually is quite complex. There are different fires and tools used for different bends and welds. A simplification of the necessary tools and materials is explained below.
The most important input is of course the glass tubing. Glass tubing can have different diameters and also different colors. The natural color of neon gas is bright red when electricity flows through it. If you want different colors, either you need to choose a different gas (Argon lights up in a very pretty blue, for example), or the glass tubing itself needs to be altered.
There are two options to alter the glass for other color options. The first option is using powdered glass. The glass tubing can be powder-coated from the inside for certain colors. From the outside, the glass appears white when the sign is turned off. Once turned on, the glass will glow in the specified color. The second option is to use colored glass. In this case, the glass will have a color even when the electricity is switched off. An example of red colored glass can be seen below.
Another important component which needs to be connected to the glass is the electrode. In the image above, you can already see the electrodes added to the endings of the neon units. Every neon unit has an electrode attached on each end so that the electricity can flow from one end of the neon tube to the other (and in the process light up the gas inside the tube). Once the tube is bent, the electrodes are added on the two openings.
To heat up the glass tubing there are multiple tools you can use. The hand torch is normally used for welding multiple glass tubes together because it only can heat up a small, focused area, while ribbon fires are mainly used to bend the glass because the ribbon fires can heat up a larger area, allowing a smooth bend. There is no exact method to follow for glassblowing, each glassblower has his/her own style.
None of the aforementioned tools explain why the handicraft is called “glassblowing” though - so far, there has been no mention of blowing. If you watched our video on the homepage, you will see that the glassblower has a plastic tube in her mouth. It is called a blowing hose, and is connected to the glass you are currently bending. On the other end of the glass a cork is popped in so that the air you blow in cannot escape.
Here is the video again:
The blowing hose is necessary because when the glass tubing is bent, the walls of the tube would collapse without any pressure from within. Thus, but blowing into the plastic tubing, the glassblower can create a bit of air pressure within the tube. With air pressure from within, the tube keeps stable and gets a smooth bend without change in diameter.
Using the neon pattern of the exact neon they should produce, glassblowers can bend neon in exactly the right places to get the curves and hooks they want. A neon pattern is a lifesize (1:1) template of the neon. That is because neons need to be bent a lot, so the glassblower returns to the layout again and again to compare his/her work directly with the template.
In the example of a neon pattern below, the doubled strokes signify that those parts are on the back side of the sign. Glass needs to go over and under each other in order to reproduce the correct shapes. These bends should happen on the back of the neon, so that the front shows the correct signage.
The last step is the dipping. There are a lot of bends on the back of the neon, and most of them should not light up. For example, if the logo of a company has letters which do not connect with each other, the glass tubing connecting one letter to another should not light up when the neon is switched on. Since the glass tubing cannot be interrupted, the glass tubing is simply painted black (or white) to cover the light. The picture below illustrates this step quite well.
Some neons are intentionally dipped in the front as well (called “front dipping”). By dipping only the front side of lettering, for example, the letters glow from the back areas which are not covered. It’s a very nice effect which we also offer.
What happens once the neon sign is ready?
Once the glassblower is satisfied, the neon sign is packed and shipped to our warehouse in Berlin. Once it arrives, we check that the neon is intact and according to the specifications given to us. If we are then also satisfied, we repackage the neon to include an installation manual and other items necessary items for installation depending on what mounting method was chosen, such as wiring and caps. Finally, we send it on its way - all across the globe to light up another location with its pretty glow.