November '20

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4 0 G R A P H I C S P R O N O V E M B E R 2 0 2 0 G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M S I G N A G E & P R I N T I N G I believe that in order to understand the fu- ture, you must look at the past. This is my 18th year devel- oping products spe- cifically for the electric sign industry and there has been tre- mendous change. When I started developing LEDs for commercial signage in 2003, I made a state- ment to a newspaper reporter that neon was a dinosaur. I was subsequently lectured by a few sign makers and tube benders that I was way out over my skis and that this LED thing was a flash in the pan. Early LED systems were bare PCBs with wire in between. There were various volt- ages and power sources (everyone who has been around a while remembers the GE dip switches that set the volt- age depending upon the col- or). As with most disruptive technologies, early systems were overpriced and under- performing; however, unlike their neon predecessor, they had the potential to adapt and create new form factors. LEDs stuck. EARLY YEARS If you look back at the early years of LEDs in signs, the mission was simple: replace neon. Between 2000 and 2005, product development was focused on replacing the incumbent technology with modules in channel letters and rigid tubes in border ap- plications. Between 2005 and 2010, flexible light tapes came onto the market to address needs in indoor signage, and flexible neon was developed as an alternative to exposed neon script. This second period really was around reducing costs, and around 2008, LEDs surpassed neon as the new lighting medium for the sign industry. With LED manufacturers now in the pole position, they set their sights squarely on T-12 fluorescents and again, everyone was skeptical. Just like during the heyday of LEDs in channel letters, there were a lot of systems out there for sign cabinets that varied from lattice to rail and mod- ule systems. What changed the cabinet market, particularly for sign retrofits, was when Principal LED came out with Stik that went straight into a socket. This prod- uct was preassembled in the USA, which allowed for a range of products "just in time" at a cost point that tipped the sys- tem. By the end of 2015, LEDs surpassed T-12 fluorescent lamps as the preferred technology of sign makers. In 2015, however, technology develop- ment started to change, and between 2015 and today, direct material of LEDs and power sources began to be a smaller and smaller piece of the overall cost. It was now about system costs, and two major trends started in the industry. LIGHTING TRENDS in ELECTRIC SIGN MANUFACTURING B Y J . B R Y A N V I N C E N T Lines between tradition- al architectural lighting and signage will contin- ue to blur and systems will continue to be more integrated. (All images courtesy Bryan Vincent) - dip switches that set the volt their neon predecessor, they had the potential to adapt and create new form factors. LEDs stuck.

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