Neon Backgrounds

The funny thing about neon is that it is found in so many places – and we often don’t even know it. Neon conveys a rather retro and futuristic look – depending on how it’s used. A good neon background will show the dynamic nature of what neon brings to a visual element. Creating neon backgrounds requires the ability to either capture one live from real neon, or to simulate it with graphic design tools. As a wallpaper on a desktop or laptop – the image can also be quite striking, since it is a strong use of vibrant coloring and gradating.

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What is “neon” really anyway?

Neon is a chemical element and noble gas that is colorless, odorless and an inert gas under standard conditions. It is about two-thirds the density of air and uses the symbol NE with an atomic number of 10 in the periodic chart.

Fun facts (Wikipedia and Livescience):

  • It was discovered (along with krypton and xenon) in 1898
  • Is one of the three residual rare inert elements remaining in dry air, after nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide are removed
  • Neon was the second of these rare gases to be discovered and was quickly recognized as new, from its bright red emission spectrum
  • The name neon is derived from the Greek word, νέον, neuter singular form of νέος (neos), meaning new
  • Neon is chemically inert, and no uncharged neon compounds are known
  • The compounds of neon currently known include ionic molecules, molecules held together by van der Waals forces and clathrates
  • Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 10
  • Atomic symbol (on the Periodic Table of Elements): Ne
  • Atomic weight (average mass of the atom): 20.1797
  • Density: 0.0008999 grams per cubic centimeter
  • Phase at room temperature: Gas
  • Melting point: minus 415.46 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 248.59 degrees Celsius)
  • Boiling point: minus 410.94 degrees F (minus 246.08 degrees C)
  • Number of isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 19
  • Most common isotopes: Ne-20 (90.48 percent natural abundance), Ne-22 (9.25 percent natural abundance), Ne-21 (0.27 percent natural abundance)

Now that we have explored what neon is in a scientific sense, we can now see how its used commercially and for design.

Firstly, we can start with the retrospective use of neon backgrounds –  since its commercial use and availability due to technologies which made it more available, it’s been sporadically used up from the early 1900’s until about 1980. In the 1980’s the trend really took off and applications for the lighting technique became more unbound and creatively exciting.

neon backgrounds and wallpaper

Credit: Naveen Annam

An eclectic mix of vibrant, radiating colors made up the theme of neon, which was used in actual neon signs, mock or faux neon designs, and brightly colored clothing and apparel. The colors that defined the decade seemed to have been around fluorescent pinks, light greens, electric blues, highlight yellows, and the accent of cold silver stuck out as idealic and prominent colors that frame the 80’s. While not that different in reality, the modern usage and trending takes those bold colors, patterns, textures and signs into an industrialized and open-space concept (lacking the grid lines, horizontal deviations and robotics found in many 1980’s designs). Neon wallpapers with a retrospective framing can be exciting and convey nostalgia, or rather, a combination of the past and the future. A technocratic design experiment of sorts!

Contemporary trends show the return of neon colors, that were all the rage in the 80’s decade, and just as history tends to repeat itself, seems that the trend has seeped into fashion and decor alike. Most of this is quite apparent on today’s social media platforms (especially instagram). Now, neon trends aim to target a futuristic and stylistic interpretation, where props and physical signage make themselves “instagram-worthy” for photography and the societal interpretation of neon contribution to our experiences and travels. contemporary neon backgrounds can provide an “in-touch” sense of style, creative belonging, and youthful vibe that can fit your space and personality.

Contemporary neon sign - neon wallpapers and backgrounds

Credit: Timothy Paule

Looking for a quick way to use either form of neon in your imagery, promotions or projects? Take a look at the image mosaic and grid below to gather inspiration, or purchase some through a subscription on Shutterstock.


Types of imagery and stock photography, based on Neon Backgrounds you can find above:

  • Stock Pictures / Pics
  • Royalty-free Vectors
  • Illustrations / Cartoons
  • Wallpapers / Backgrounds
  • Abstract Patterns
  • Isolated / Green Screens
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