Neon signs are composed of narrow, curvilinear tubes lit by excited inert gas electrons hitting a phosphorescent layer on the interior of the tube. These lit tubes create bright light with moderate glare and have a narrow aura of light reflected from the sign surface. To draw the glowing light effect of neon signs in Adobe Illustrator, you will need to create a dark background layer and alter duplicate layers of your line art.
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Open Adobe Illustrator and click "New" under "File" to create a new Illustrator document.
Draw a black rectangle over the drawing surface with the "Rectangle" tool on the toolbar. Alter the colour of the rectangle using the "Stroke" and "Fill" swatches at the bottom of the toolbar. The black rectangle creates a dark background, so you will easily see the neon sign drawing.
Select the "Create New Layer" button on the "Layers" panel to create a new active layer and draw your neon sign using the "Pen" tool in the toolbar. Use only lines to mimic the neon tubes and choose bright colours for your sign using the "Stroke" swatch on the toolbar. Ensure the "Fill" swatch is empty, with a red diagonal line passing through it.
Select the "Type" tool in the toolbox if your sign has text and choose an appropriate font for the sign, such as "Arial Rounded". Select "Create Outlines" in the "Type" menu, and adjust your "Stroke" colour and remove the "Fill" colour, just as you have with the sign line art.
Click the down arrow in the upper right corner of the "Layers" panel and click "Duplicate Layer". Then, click the down arrow in the "Layers" panel again, and re-click "Duplicate Layer". You now have three layers exactly the same.
Highlight your first neon sign layer and toggle off the other two duplicate sign layers. Select the lines and change the "Weight" in the "Stroke" panel to "9 pt." The line thickness will change. Ensure the rounded "Cap" and "Join" options are selected in the "Stroke" panel.
Click "Blur" under the "Effect" menu and select "Gaussian Blur". Change the blur to "6.0 px" and press the "OK" button. The line will become blurry, mimicking the glow of the neon.
Toggle off your first sign layer with blurred thick lines in the "Layers" panel. Select and toggle on the first duplicate layer. Lighten the colours of the sign line art by selecting the line art, double-clicking the "Stroke" swatch on the toolbar, selecting the "S" button and moving the selection in the vertical bar halfway to white. Press "OK" and adjust the "Weight" in the "Stroke" panel to "4 pt." Ensure the rounded "Cap" and "Join" options are selected in the "Stroke" panel.
Toggle off your first duplicate sign layer in the "Layers" panel. Select and toggle on the second duplicate layer. Change the colour of this layer's sign line art to white in the "Stroke" swatch on the toolbar and press "OK". Adjust the "Weight" in the "Stroke" panel to "1.5 pt" and ensure the rounded "Cap" and "Join" options are selected in the "Stroke" panel.
Toggle on all of the layers in the "Layers" panel and view the neon sign Illustrator drawing. Adjust the stroke blur and weight by selecting the elements and double-clicking the "Stroke" and "Gaussian Blur" attributes in the "Appearance" panel.
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