NEON SIGN SUBSTITUTE GLOWS ON MARKETERS

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Call it discount neon.

Neo-neon isn't likely to take over Times Square, but several big marketers, including Walt Disney World Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Motorola, are taking a shine to a more cost-efficient type of illuminated sign from Toronto-based Luminart.

Luminite signs can be used outside or indoors; they're made from a translucent acrylic compound that requires only one-tenth the electricity needed to power neon.

Disney is using the signs for point-of-purchase displays at Walt Disney World, while RJR has used them for Camel cigarette in-store signs in Europe. And Motorola has bought about 200 signs for the U.S., said Luminart VP Ed Newell.

Luminart President Michael Ivezic said McDonald's Corp. is considering the medium for in-store displays and illuminating its trademark arches outside company-owned outlets in Canada.

Luminite has the look of neon when illuminated by fluorescent or ultraviolet light. It was developed by Canadian inventor Harold Sykorka in 1992.

Another company, Sign Max Enterprises in Montreal, since last year has offered a similar formula called Neon Look, which is even more economical than Luminite. It's currently testing an outdoor formula.

These new signs are created by a computer-operated machine that squirts gel onto a sheet to form lettering or a logo. The gel hardens when exposed to ultraviolet light.

Cost-effectiveness is the big attraction: Mr. Ivezic said the price for a typical Luminite sign is $185; its neon counterpart would cost almost $400.

Also, because Luminite uses fluorescent light, it conserves energy, costing $50 in electricity a year vs. an eye-popping $500 for neon.

Although Luminite has non-illumination applications such as creating braille and automotive parts, Luminart plans to focus on point-of-purchase signs for now.

"There are many more dollars coming into POP advertising as marketers try to get more value," said Dick Blatt, executive director of the Point-of-Purchase Advertising Institute. "There has been a greater focus on permanent display these days."

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