Think IN18s Are Cool? Get A Load Of This Must-Have Custom Nixie Tube

Us: “I’ll take Retro style displays we absolutely have to have for $200, Alex.”

Trebek: “This nixie tube is unlike any conventional tube you’ve seen before, handbuilt and NOT numbers or letters.”

Us: “What is FriendlyWire’s new logo tube?”

Trebek: “Heck yeah.”

Nixie tubes are the vacuum technology that manages to do far less than a graphic LCD while looking about a million times cooler. Generally speaking, these tubes are no longer manufactured, and the old stock you can get your hands on usually contain a set of filaments shaped like numbers. But @FriendlyWire’s tweet of this Nixie tube by [Dalibor Farny] breaks both of those rules. This handmade tube isn’t just a numerical display or a colon display (the punctuation mark, get your head out of the gutter). It’s a custom logo, and it’s beautiful.

A Brief History of Custom Nixie Tubes

[Dalibor Farny] has done it again. In Fall 2013, we covered [Dalibor]’s hobby of making DIY Nixie tubes and admired how professional they looked. Then in 2016, we found out [Dalibor] escalated the craft, making custom Nixie tube manufacturing his actual profession, with a video of the process which is itself a work of art (seriously, stop reading and go watch it if you haven’t already). We checked our calendar, and now it’s Fall 2019. Which means only one thing. Well, probably lots of things, but it definitely means it’s time for an update. And update you, we shall.

The big problem with the 2016-2019 version of [Dalibor]’s nixie tubes is that they were still just numbers being put into clocks. The price of vintage, tested IN18s is anywhere from $35 to $100 USD on eBay, but [Dalibor]’s custom numerical displays, while bigger than IN18s, are more like $150 each. It’s a deluxe tube, but that’s undeniably a de-luxe price for something that is essentially an IN18.

Custom Nixie Tubes are Custom

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[Dalibor] has finally given us a reason to consider going the deluxe route — customization. The world is our oyster now, nixie tubes can finally be whatever we want them to be. You could get a Nixie tube with a cat-shaped element, or your face, or a ghost. Or a ghost of a cat with your face. We won’t judge.

It’s also worth pointing out that this example is just one layer. A normal, numerical display tube has ten layers (0-9). So, you could theoretically build a tube with 10 different custom shapes or build in animations. Holy cold-cathode, Batman!

While this option isn’t published on or publicly announced, it clearly exists if you ask nicely. The proof is in the Twitter pudding. Could we be on the brink of another nixie tube revolution? Look for our article in Fall 2022 and find out.

38 thoughts on “Think IN18s Are Cool? Get A Load Of This Must-Have Custom Nixie Tube

  1. The thing is, if nixie tubes were that popular, larger entities would be cranking them out and the price would go down. The fact is they are not that popular. The thing that drove many people to digital displays in the first place was the fact they are easier to read. Nixies are to a small extent like a self inflicted CAPTCHA without the negative political overtones of assisting google in training their self driving car AI.

    If nixies were better, in almost any way, they would be popular, you would see them at Walmart, and some large entity would make them and they would be relativity inexpensive.

    I am not saying they are not neat from a historical perspective, and it is neat to see them being re-purposed for interesting things, but to me they fall more in the area of art pieces.

    1. The need for a high voltage power supply was a big part of their downfall. The world was marching towards ICs, which couldn’t easily drive a nixie at the time. Part of the modern revival that is being seen is due to more advanced ICs that can handle the voltage requirement.

      You’re not wrong, though. They are very much used as art/novelty pieces these days.

      1. They had 7400 TTL chips that were quite capable of driving nixie tubes back in the day, and discrete transistors capable of driving them have been around since what the 60’s?

        1. True! Most Nixie projects used a 7441 to drive each tube, since this was what the 7441 was made for. But with the demise of Nixie tubes, there was no market for the 7441.

        2. Microchip I think it was has a range of 32x open collector serial latch driven chips that can go up to a good 180V or so to drive tubes like these. They certainly aren’t cheap as the 7400 chips or discrete trannys but they sure are convenient.

  2. I was expecting some lame imitation like a piece of EL wire stuck up in a gutted tube that doesn’t hold vacuum anymore. But this is neat! I want new vacuum fluorescent devices to be manufactured and preserved, ’cause they cast light in a unique way that defies imitation. The slight persistence, the fuzzy halo that defies understanding even when you get up close, the flicker, the subtle gradient of color. CRTs and neon should be continued too, they’re way cooler-looking than modern displays and lighting in their own way.

    1. Especially clear-tube neon signs. Nothing else looks like those! Even most real neon signs these days use fluorescent coated tubes, which look almost the same as the modern LED imitations.

      1. Yes! The coated tubes just have that flat featureless look you get all too much of these days. With clear glass, you’re looking straight at raw PLASMA. A cloud of atomic scale particles with electric current ripping right through it. None of this light come from behind there stuff.

      1. Quoting the article: “Generally speaking, these tubes are no longer manufactured, and the old stock you can get your hands on usually contain a set of filaments shaped like numbers.”

    1. So yeah, an inverter and depending on sophistication of your “neon-gas-i.c.” a time base or just mains yet who knows how far someone with a physics degree can eliminate discreet components or just do some film screening?

  3. I feel sure that there are at least some folk out there who would love Klingon nixie tubes.
    (Though looking on the web, the Klingon digits are not necessarily that well suited to glow-discharge)

    1. You can make the filament whichever shape you want so in the end the shape of the digits shouldn’t affect how easy they are to make a tube out of, especially if you only make the outline of the digits.

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