Neon Colors: History and Role in Modern Graphic Design

Fascinating colors are one of the main elements of modern design. We'll share the neon colors history and tule in modern graphic design.

Updated on January 12, 2023
Neon Colors: History and Role in Modern Graphic Design

Fascinating neon colors are one of the main elements of modern design. In some cases, designers use them, especially neon fonts, as a kind of tool: they attract customers, help people with disabilities, retain visitors, and even filter the wrong audience. In this article, we’ll share the neon colors history and tule in modern graphic design.

The uniqueness of neon colors is mostly due to the fact that it is a human creation. In nature, you can find many of the brightest variegated colors, but they do not go beyond the natural spectra.

Neon colors are not present in the traditional digital palette (color wheel). As well and are difficult to convey in print, because specific radiance is achieve by highlighting. However, there are technologies that use special pigments that can render neon light on paper and other surfaces.

Below is a brief tour of the history of neon colors and their implementation in graphic design. But before diving into the topic, it is necessary to outline the differences between neon and fluorescent colors, which are so often hard to get.

Difference between Neon and Fluorescent

The main differences between these types of colors are based on two indicators: the gradient and the saturation of the pigment.

When it comes to the question about what are neon colors, we say that they have a much wider gradient for each of the colors, which are up in a wider spectrum that compares to fluorescent colors ( in almost all shades of the color palette).

Fluorescent colors, on the other hand, usually translate light shades of white and purple, which determines their ability to minimize the negative impact on vision.

Sometimes neon colors refer to as the luminescent version of conventional spectra.

The history of neon colors

The history of bright light, pleasing to the eye and at the same time being a strong irritant of the central nervous system, goes back to the end of the 18th century, when Henry Cavendish notices a hitherto unknown inert gas, which was “Neon”. Moore’s lamps, previously connected to mercury electrodes that glowed with a bright white light, were now reinforced with neon. Like so much in science, the empirical study turned into a beautiful success – the lamps lit up in a bright red-orange color.

However, scientists did not stop and began to try all the noble gases already known by that time. And this is what they got:

  • argon shone in the spectrum from violet to pale blue light;
  • helium – from orange to white, more often pink-red;
  • krypton – in green or yellow light;
  • xenon – gray, blue, white or green.

All of them have become widely used in the lighting of homes and public places around the world. And only radon, which emits bright yellow light, is not for these purposes due to its radioactivity.

Neon colors in graphic design

Neon colors made such a strong impression not only on scientists. But also on ordinary people, that they began to be used wherever possible: road signs, signs in bars. Toys, uniforms, and of course, all types of visual art – from painting to nail art. So, from billboards to graphic design of websites and apps.

The complexity of use, has become minimal with the development of the digital design. Has in no way contributed to a decrease in demand or interest in bright unusual subjects. On the contrary, eye-catching headlines, phosphorescent influencer makeups. Outstanding DIY and fashion art revived the cutting-edge styles of the last century and became the foundation for modern trends.

Usage of neon colors in graphic and web design

From call-to-action buttons to competitor comparison tables. You can use neon colors wherever you need to emphasize contrast with anything (or anyone).

However, this must be done carefully so as not to scare or tire the user and not to achieve the opposite effect.

Here are some tips on how to and not to use neon colors in graphic design.

What to do?

  • Do use lime green. It ennobles any dark background without overwhelming it. In addition, the green color does not create the effect of movement, which is inherent in most neon colors.
  • Do make a bold color statement. Use neon as your screen background, with minimal black text. Try this solution when you need to quickly stand out among others and attract the maximum number of users.
  • Do incorporate neons from branding. Use all the neon elements of your brand (logo, offline store signs, etc.) in the design of your website, vlog or social media accounts. This will help to create consistency and image of your online presence.
  • Do use neon accents. Adhering to the rule of dark backgrounds (preferably black), use neon elements in those parts of the interface that need to stand out or draw attention to. Thin lines on the image of your product will help to emphasize its benefits, buttons will not remain invisible, and decorative accents will not leave aesthetic lovers indifferent.
  • Do make colors “glow”. Adding a subtle glow effect to neon elements, especially animations that move smoothly through a dark background, can help make your design feel cozy, mysterious, and thus attractive.
  • Do use neon imagery. Creating neon images is a win-win option to stand out from the ordinary superheroes. Supermodels with phosphorescent lipstick or eye shadow, neon cups or other dishes for restaurant brands, and even medical devices to help relieve kids’ fear of going to the doctor are some great ideas.

Do not use like that:

  • Don’t use a neon rainbow. Unlike conventional colors, neons don’t look perfect when applied too close to each other in graphic design. Doesn’t matter, what neon colors go together, the glow interferes with the manifestation of the individual spectrum and can create an optical illusion.
  • Don’t use neon on a white background. As mentioned above, white is one of the components of a fluorescent glow, which is very close to neon. Therefore, readability and ease of viewing will be minimal.
  • Don’t combine with other effects. The neons themselves are the main design elements, so any additional items will be redundant. This can be compared to putting on all the jewelry you have at once.
  • Don’t use neon text. Do not design copies with neon colors, because this will immediately alienate even the most loyal user. Glowing text is unreadable, and as noted above, the function of neon colors is to highlight the main accents, not all the content.
  • Don’t set an inappropriate mood. Don’t use neon colors in irrelevant content. For instance, in tragic news, religious or charity campaigns for medical care.

In these types of content, they can help to attract people’s attention, but they will distract from the main goal, switching to an entertainment mood.

  • Don’t force it. You created a perfect design, but after the first usability test, you saw poor results? Feel free to iterate on other styles until you are sure that your design works as efficiently as possible. Remember that it is better to abandon an idea you like than to bury it.


Neon colors are still associated with the fashion of the 80s and 90s, but they are not a cliché. The success of a design that uses neon colors depends on the quality of its inclusion. The ideal foundation is a minimalistic black background, content with a good mood, and the goal of subtly attracting and retaining the user.

In order to understand what works and what doesn’t specifically for you, test the design immediately after launch and don’t delay if you feel that improvement is needed. And as neon colors in modern graphic design have already become immortal classics, it’s never too late to start using them.