Electroluminescence: The Non-Digital Lighted Sign That Could

Posted by on Oct 5, 2012 in Advertising, Hardware

Dynamic digital signage is not the only type of signage out there. Sometimes I feel like that’s all we ever talk about here on the digital signage blog. That makes sense, I suppose, given the fact that this is digitalsignage. com. But I would like to consider us a equal-opportunity signage promoter. It is in that spirit that I would like to discuss some details about electroluminescent (EL) signs along with their applications and resulting benefits.

Just What is Electroluminescence?

Electroluminescence or EL is an optical phenomenon produced by electrical current. In a general sense a sign can illuminate when a electrical current or strong electrical field is passed through a doped material to excite electrons to high-energy. Light emissions results from the phosphorescence that occurs when the strong electric field is passed through the holes of a semiconductor. This is readily seen in the phosphors of an EL display. EL can either use powder or thin film to accomplish the luminescence. In signs, thin film is generally the preferred method.

EL signage is not new. It is also not dynamic. Which means that while the signs can light and draw attention to itself, it cannot change from a Miller Beer advertisement to a Coca-Cola advertisement. You’re simply stuck with the printed sign you choose.

What are Some Common Applications of EL in Signage?

These not-so-dynamic signs are most often found in bars and nightclubs–places where product promotion does not really change. If 90% of your profits are made from a single item or (in the case of a bar) drink then it goes without saying that an EL sign could be installed with much less cost. EL has also been used on shirts and other clothing to promote and give the coolness factor. I had a friend who attended a concert once where EL was being used in the shirts that were sold. He personally felt they could have sold a great deal more of the t-shirts if they had not used the EL.

If you let your brain do a little storming, you will probably notice the hundreds of additional applications where electroluminescence can be utilized. Need I go into detail about it’s potential uses in government, transportation, hospitality, medical and even the restroom? Probably not, I’ll let your mind do the wandering.

Upsides and Downsides

EL’s greatest benefit is the cost, especially for scale. You can get thousands of EL signs manufactured for cheap cheap. Franchised chains can get a boatload of the things produced for a reasonable cost and have their store/franchise owners or managers plaster the things up without having an install crew, saving costs on the sign installation as well.

The downside is the lack of functionality. When you think of all the features that enterprise signage software gives the user, you begin to recognize that what digital signage lacks in costs savings it makes up for in features and functionality. Sure the install, content management, and upkeep take a bit more effort and DOOH, but the long term benefits of digital can also outweigh the costs there as well. Further still, dynamic digital is almost like being able to print your own new EL sign as often as you like at the exact times you want the sign to display–so much better.

EL is still in competition with digital, however. We often forget that static signs are the competitor’s of digital signs. That said, I can promote EL no more and recognize the superiority of digital.

Animated .gif courtesy DIY Trade.

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