Introduction: Cheap Alternative for EL Wire!

Picture of Cheap Alternative for EL Wire!

Howdy there!  El wire is way cool, but the problem is I have never had any of it, or even seen it in real life.  I live in the jungle, and am an extreme cheap skate when it comes to buying things.  To order something and have it sent here would be expensive and take "forever" for a young inventor excited about a project. Thus, I resorted to my brains to come up with something similar.  I knew from pictures and reading that EL wire is an amazing flexible tubing that mysteriously glows.  Well, I was sure I could come up with something similar - and cheaper. 

EL wire is amazing, but as is the case with a lot of amazing stuff, it can be a "pretty penny".   That is the case with EL wire.  Its a little too expensive for a jungle boy like me.  Eight feet of quality El wire for 20 dollars!  I could make something cheaper than that!  And I did.  

How about instead of 20 dollars for a eight foot piece, I could make it for less for five dollars.  How about less than 2 dollars.  How about $1.68 for a eight foot section.  Here is how I did it. 

Now, first of all, my simple El wire solution is not exactly like El wire.  It has some benefits and some disadvantages. 

Cheap (really cheap)
Easy to make
Doesn't have to have a complicated and inconvenient power converter to run it.
It has good battery life

Isn't quite as flexible and easy to shape as real El wire.
Doesn't quite have that soft glowing look that El wire has. 

In my circumstances, I decided to take the disadvantages and save a chunk of money and do it my selfLet's get busy!

I am not responsible in any way for injury or hurt you may obtain from making or using this product.

Note:  electophobia beat me to it back in 2008!  I had no idea somebody had posted an instructables on this until I was ready to make mine.  He was the first to post it on instructables -  - Mine is similar. 

Step 1: Round Up a Few Supplies

Picture of Round Up a Few Supplies

(1)  LEDs - this is the important part and the most costly part.  I got mine from  They were the best deal to me, but you could find them for really cheap on Ebay.  I bought 100 at a time for a single led price of around 7 cents.  (Just to get a picture of how hard it is to get parts where I live, it took me about six months to get them.  Country sent them back as suspicious articles and everything.  :)

(2)  Resisters for your leds

(3)  Straws - clear plastic ones.  Mine were about eight inches long. 

(4)  Wire - thin

Tools:  Glue gun (optional),  soldering iron, 

Step 2: Soldering the First Led.

Picture of Soldering the First Led.

Alright, the first thing to do is to wire up an led.  It is very simple.  First of all, a one inch piece of a larger wire is striped from a piece of wire and slid over the + end of the led.   A  small insulated wire long enough to reach the length of your straw is soldered to the positive end of the led (the longer side of the led is the +). Next, another small wire (or in my case a small strand of wire) is soldiered to the negative side of the led. 

Step 3: Adding the Magic Straw

Picture of Adding the Magic Straw

Now it's time for the straw.  Length doesn't really matter.  The shorter the straw the brighter the effect.  I have made them five inches long or joined two together and made them over a foot.  It is up to you on the length.  Once you have the straw ready, a little hot glue (or any glue) is smeared on the led with the wire and inserted into the straw.  Next, the second led without anything on is glued in the straw the same way.  Be sure to line up the sides of the leds the same. 

Step 4: Wiring in the Secound LED and Resistor

Picture of Wiring in the Secound LED and Resistor

As you can see from the pictures this step is very simple too.  Basically we are soldering the negative wire from the first led to the negative terminal of the second led.  The + wire is also soldiered to the + terminal of the second led.  Another important step is to solder a wire to the negative terminal to bring in - power. 

My habit is to run my led's in parallel.  If you are doing that it is good to add a resistor to the + terminal of one of the leds.  I generally use whatever appropriate resistor I have on hand.  In this case I am using a 100ohm resistor.  The resistor is very important or else you will blow your leds.  

If you are running your leds in series you will have to do a little different wiring.  In that case positive goes to negative. 

Step 5: Testing and Expanding!

Picture of Testing and Expanding!

Now you have a small section of a functioning light strip.  The only thing left is testing it! It is tested by hooking the negative wire up and the resistor to the + power supply.   The nice thing about this alternative EL wire is the fact that it accepts a wide range of voltages.  I usually run my LEDs at six volts, but 3.5v to 12v would also work.  For voltages over 6v, I would recommend using a 5v regulator such as this: 

If you want a long strip of lights like those on my bike, it is necessary to hook up multiple leds sections.  This is done by soldiering the led sections together on the - and + terminals.  It probably would be necessary to remove the resistors in that case. 

Step 6: Done!

Picture of Done!

Now you have a EL wire substitute for a fraction of the cost.! Have fun with it and be creative.  As you can see it is extremely simple.   I have a habit of writing too much.  Although this project is simple, the results can be simply amazing. 

P.s  An instructables completely about the bike is coming! 


Yonatan24 (author)2015-12-09

Nothing can really beat the awesome glow of EL, Bu diffusing the tube will make it look a lot better

Silence (author)2013-10-29

Wonder... if you were to fill the tube with a salt water solution and stopper it with the LEDs would they conduct the light better ? It would add a little weight though of course.

rickharris (author)Silence2013-10-30

If you want to spread the light put water in the tube with a drop or two of milk in it.. This gives a slightly cloudy liquid that diffuses light very effectively.

Yonatan24 (author)rickharris2015-12-09

But it also wouldn't last long because it would spoil

It probably would work. I didn't want to worry about keeping a liquid in my straws, but it might work better. Thanks for the suggestion!

IsamuKusanagi (author)Silence2013-10-29

or maybe highlighter ink and uv leds

130lgg (author)2015-08-08

I love your idea, but could you put something like water or whatever into the straw? Maybe you can add more "effects" to your lights?

СергейС6 (author)2015-06-14

Very cool design! noteper light show can be made steeper controlled ipad

jholland3 (author)2013-10-29

Voted for you. VERY cool project. I've often thought of EL projects, and this is a WAAAAAY cheaper way to get similar results. I happen to have about 8 feet that I might just use, but this is awesome. Well done. When you first wrote that you "live in the jungle", I thought it was a reference to just being far away from a big actually mean you LIVE IN A JUNGLE, right? That's pretty cool by itself. :)

Thanks comment! I am glad you like it. It is super cheap. :) Cheap is my kind of project. :) I do live in the jungle - just north of the Amazon basin. If you took a walk in our back yard you would be right in the midst of a wild rain forest. I attached a picture of my dad holding a snake some one caught downstream of the creek that runs behind our house. It was a monster. :) Thanks for voting for me!

That is one gnarly snake!!... My wife would have dropped dead over that one!....

Jose EribertoP (author)2014-08-18

To th3_jungle_inv3ntor: Try using Petroleum Gel to put inside the straws. it diffuses the light further. Made myself a DIY using an old 10ft. clear aquarium tubing back in '96. I placed white acrylic paint inside the tubing for the translucence. Once dried, I injected it with 1 pint of Petroleum gel inside. The on/ off switch is attached on the handle post. Then I even made turn signal lights ( using 10 LED's shaped into an arrow/ side) & attached it by the seat post lock. Button switch attached on the lock of each hand brake (left & right, of course). As for my headlights, I just attached a mini Maglite. My BMX bike was stolen after a month of riding in the night, though. I'm planning (if I still got the time) to rebuild the same with a dynamo with a capacitor (and the works) to power it, using a mountain bike! I'll attach an old used tire to cover the other end of the dynamo & set it lower to run on the rims! Spray the sidewalls of the tire with invisible ink (from ebay) that lights up using four (4) UV LED's (one on each side & for the front and rear tires). Another project for you to build. If you do this, post it here and in youtube & share to the world (kudos to me, though.)

husamwadi (author)2013-10-30

while it's true that electrophobia made the glowsticks back in 2008, you use a fairly different method. See, his, if I remember correctly, used hot glue sticks and melted the led's into it. While that's great and awesome and whatever.

YOU managed to make the idea even better by extending the distance the led light can be used (diy "el wire", not diy "glow stick")!

This is an innovation in idea, not a copy. Using clear straws is freaking genius haha, never would have thought of that.

I'm thinking about using this technique, but modding it a bit.

First, I want to test this with clear silicon tubing:

then, since this is bendable and light may not refract as well over bends, I'm going to try to fill it with clear silicon juice.

and maybe a drop of coloring to capture some of the light refracted.

Now, the tube will be flexible, durable, refract light well, and cost 3-4$ per 10 feet.

Thanks man, I subscribed and voted you up, hope you win! 

Kogalskaben (author)husamwadi2014-04-26

How did your projekt go?
did it work with the silicone?

best regards.

Thanks to you too, man. I am glad you like my idea. I hope yours idea works well. Thanks for voting and subscribing for me! Thanks!

P.S. - I like your chopper bike!

Kogalskaben (author)2014-04-26

awesome looking bike lights!
just hard to find proper straws.
thanks for it.

bhvm (author)2013-11-23

Simpler,Safer and Power efficient. Voted for you.
Is there a dynamo on the bike somewhere?

th3_jungle_inv3ntor (author)bhvm2013-12-04

Thanks for the comment and the vote! I once had a dynamo on there, but now have it off since it kinda gets in the way and was wearing the tire. It would be a good idea to put one on there to power the lights, and it could be easily done. Thanks.

DustySeven7 (author)2013-10-30

I sugesst learning about series led connections. You get more leway with voltage input because of voltage drop across the LEDs. It takes some math but it does allow better battery options

Thanks for the suggestion. Running them in series is better in some circumstances. Thanks!

Kuberkoos (author)2013-10-31

OK, I'm telling you to hurry up on the complete bicycle instructable. Would really like to see what a Jungle Joe can do to a bicycle! Really enjoyed this one.

ootsae (author)2013-10-29

Love it, nice job.


jaxboy (author)2013-10-29

Excellent! Very brilliant to come up with the straws and leds. I agree with the others that sanding the straws, or finding translucent ones, might spread the light better, but pieces of end-lit acrylic also work really well, too. Other ideas includes slightly bigger vinyl tubing, very thin wire (like the individual strands of copper stranded18 gauge wire). Go to" led wizard" and enter in the voltage, led specs, how many leds you intend to use, and it will tell you how to wire them. Then string them down the length of the tubing every 6-8", and depending on how many you use and the power source, you can make quite long strings. Good sources to consider for parts are "dx extreme" for batteries. I just bought 100 miniature 1,1 volt batteries for less than $5, with free shipping! there are a lot of Hong Kong led companies that include resistors for excellent prices. I bought 6 volt AA and AAA boxes with on-off switches on them 5 for about $5, on ebay. Keep up the good work, and remember, don't stop at the first place that offers what you want. I always have ebay list the items by cheapest first, then compare the first 10-20 in the price range. You'd be surprised how cheap you can get some stuff. I bought an entire top-grain, vegetable-tanned, vat-dyed cow hide for $25 once, complete with shipping. How many people do you know that have a pool table cover made out of a single cow hide? So what if it has a slightly funky color? It just adds to the charm. I also have an $87 queen leather comforter, complete with 2 full-sized pillow covers and a body pillow cover, all zippered, and in a beautiful rich chocolate brown. A real babe magnet! I got a bit off the subject, but it just shows what you can get when you keep your options open, like you did with your refusal to pay retail for EL wire.

Thanks for the comment!

madvic (author)2013-10-30

Inorder to be more smooth ( I mean the overall decreasing brilliance in function of the leght) I suggest to play with refraction index. How..¿?
Well just add water.
(or any other liquid , play with them, oil, water etc...)

Also a good thinking would be to paint the interior tube with white paint or GLOW IN THE DARK PAINT...!!! mand connect two UV-leds...!

Just my two pennies.

Thanks! Your two pennies are valuable!

HostileHST (author)2013-10-30

Clear fish tank tubing is what my brother and I did several years ago. Pretty cheap stuff, just don't use the new oxygen tubing because they have a ribbing inside that can make it tough to add the LED's in, though still doable. Also, I seen on YT about other types of projects using either mineral spirits or oil instead of water because it transmit light better. Pretty sure it was mineral oil, just not 100% about it.

Thanks for the suggestion!

silvertank (author)2013-10-30

A great idea, since EL wire is also quite fragile and the power source often shorts out. You have essentially created a light pipe. As most light pipes use a solid core, you may want to add a clear gel to your pipe for better light bounce. You could also add some lume power, so the glow will intensify and last after the power is shut off.

Thanks for the comment and suggestion!

TSJWang (author)2013-10-29

You are brilliant (no pun intended)


gerflash (author)2013-10-29

Blue AND red ones? How'dja do it?

I added a blue LED to one end and a red LED to the other end.

amadawn (author)2013-10-29

This is total genious. And soo simple it almost seems stupid. I love solutions that are soo blitheringly simple that almost nobody thinks of them.

I have actually used this type of effect with acrylic sheets (there's a great lighted Address sign instructable here somewhere with some great tips for that) but never considered straws as a cheap EL wire replacement.

Good work there, I am impressed.

Thanks! It is totally simple! I guess that is what makes it so nice. :)
I would love to try LEDs with acrylic sheet if I every have a nice piece of acrylic. Thanks!

Mig Welder (author)2013-10-29

Awesome! Got me thinking - for a few extra dollars, you could probably get better light diffusion and way more flexibility with some vinyl tubing that has an ID that matches with an LED. Just a thought.

Thanks for the suggestion! Vinyl tubing would probably work great. Thanks!

industriald (author)Mig Welder2013-10-29

Vinyl tube is a great idea, I have heaps left over from other projects.

It would also be cool if you put colour changing LEDs on each end that way the colours would fade into each other.

LesB (author)2013-10-29

Vinyl tubing might work too. It would be even more flexible than the EL stuff. You could sand the surface to get the frosted finish for good light distribution.

But in the jungle you might have a time of it getting vinyl tubing unless you have a hardware store there.

Do you know anyone who got eaten by a tiger?

th3_jungle_inv3ntor (author)LesB2013-10-30

Thanks for the suggestion. I probably would have a hard time finding vinyl tubing here. There is no designated hardware store here, but some of the shops have a little hardware stuff. I don't know anybody who has gotten eaten by a tiger. If I did, I wouldn't really know them. :) Tiger attacks are very rare. Wild cats are around, but they try their best to avoid humans.

Davak72 (author)2013-10-29

Very nice job! I'll have to try that sometime. I have tons of LED's sitting around haha.Just FYI, your link to electophobia's instructable is missing a colon after the http.

Thanks! Thanks for letting me know about the link!

SantasTinker (author)2013-10-29

Just a few words about the power supply would be nice. A battery with how much voltage? What is the power demand for each LED and how much power for a dozen?

Thanks for the suggestion. I will see what I can do. The voltage can vary greatly - anything from 3.5v to 12v will work. I am using 6v to run all of them on my bike. I hope this helped. Thanks again!

kscience (author)2013-10-29

acrylic rod works better- you just need to sand it as the scratches show the led light.

Thanks for the suggestion!

rimar2000 (author)2013-10-29

Very interesting!

How many volts is your battery?

Thanks! The nice thing about this alternative for EL wire is the fact that it can be used with a variety of voltages. With the resistor I used, I can run 3.5v through 12v to them. I would recommend something more to reduce the power if you are using 12v, though. I hoped I answered your question. Thanks!

About This Instructable




Bio: Jungles my home _ College now my life _ Mechanical Engineer to be _ An adventurer at heart
More by th3_jungle_inv3ntor:Cup, cup holder - simple, unique and usefulPrinter Rock Tumbler - with adjustable speed, leds, and different jar sizesHow to make a RC Air Boat for videoing and fun
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