Introduction: How to Solder EL (Electroluminescent) Wire

EL Wire (electroluminescent wire) is a flexible, easy to work with, low power consumption light source that you can use to light up just about anything from skirts to sculptures. The wire is made from two different sets of wires that are coated with phosphor and plastic that light up when you hook it up to an EL wire driver or sequencer.

This Instructable is a collaboration between leonardo ismael (aka Oscar - Instructables' newest intern) and noahw that was made possible by the good folks over at Cool Neon. In addition to the step-by-step instructions that are in this Instructable, you can also check out the easily printable/portable .pdf directions that are attached to this step.

Step 1: Prep the End of the EL Wire

In order to make your El wire light up you will need a driver or sequencer of some sort to power it. No need to be afraid of these terms - the drivers and sequencers just delver power to the wire similar to how a power brick delivers power to your laptop. You can buy a driver or sequencer from the same place you get your EL wire. You will also need either a harness or some kind of connecting wires to attach the EL wire to the driver or sequencer. Assuming you have these components, you're ready to start putting the EL wire together.

Some wire may have its' ends already stripped and prepared for you. If your wire has already had its' ends prepped then just skip this step.

First you will start with the bare EL wire pictured below. There are lots of different pictures in each step so click on each of the images below and follow along with the numbered steps.

Second picture:
Now grab a wire cutter and strip off the colored PVC sleeve around half an inch from the end of the wire. Make sure that you do not cut all the way in, just strip off the colored PVC covering.

Third picture:
Now you will see a thinner clear PVC sleeve covering the core wire.

Fourth picture:
Cut the clear PVC sleeve off, but be very careful not to cut too deep because two very small and fragile wires called angel wires are right underneath it.

Fifth picture:
Now that you have both sleeves off, you will notice that there is phosphor coating on the thicker center wire. This is not a skin so do not cut it off. Instead, carefully scratch or sand it off with some sandpaper or a razor blade.

Step 2: Knowing Your Wires

Now that the end of the wire is prepared you can see everything a bit more clearly. This is how your wire should look after step 1, so if your wire matches the wire in the picture, read on.

Step 3: Soldering the Angel Wire

Now, slip a piece of heat shrink tubing over the end of your EL wire and push it back a few inches form the tip.

Picture 2:
Next, wrap your copper tape around the colored PVC sleeve.

Picture 3:
Your wire should now have the tape wrapped around the PVC. Next, pull the angel wires back and solder onto the copper tape. Make sure you melt the solder against the hot copper tape, not by simply pushing it onto the tip of the hot soldering iron. Make sure you hold the angel wires down with the tip of the solder as the liquid solder dries so that the wires stay fused to the copper tape.

Picture 4:
Now your wire should look like this. If your wire matches what's in the picture, then go on to the next step.

Step 4: Prep the Battery Pack Wire

The wire that connects the EL wire to the driver or controllers has a white harness on one side of it and two different length wire ends on the other.

Now you will have to cut the insulation off of the tips of the wire that connects the EL wire to the driver. Strip about 1/4" from each of the wires.

Picture 2:
Your wire should now look like this.

Step 5: Attach the Battery Pack to the EL Wire

Now you have to twist the core wire from the EL wire with the shorter wire from the black driver wire. It is best to move the longer wire out of the way by bending it back.

Picture 2:
Now, you will need to solder the connecting wires for the driver to the inner core wire of the EL wire cable. Make sure the solder wicks into the wires for a firm hold.

Picture 3:
You do not want your longer wire to touch any of the wires you just connected, so you can use a piece of the heat shrink tubing or some electrical tape to cover the other wires.

Picture 4 and 5:
Now you have to solder the longer lead from the battery pack wire to the copper tape.

Picture 6:
Isolate these wires with another small piece of heat shrink tubing. We used a heat gun to shrink the tubing down but you can use any source of heat such as a lighter or even a strong hair dryer.

Step 6: Shrink the Tubing

Now you can slide the piece of heat shrink tubing that you slipped over the wire a few steps back over the entire area that you were just joining the wires in. Use a heat gun or a hair dryer to blow hot air over the tubing - this will shrink the tubing. The tubes will become a little warm and gooey, but once it cools down, they will be as hard as plastic.

Step 7: Let It Shine!

Now just plug the harness on the battery back into the harness coming from the EL wire and turn on your driver or sequencer.

The El wire should light up and you should be good to go for many hours of El wire fun!

Post pictures of your projects that you make with EL wire in the comments. If you need supplies you might want to check out the awesome folks at Cool Neon which is located just 10 minutes from Instructables HQ in Oakland, CA.

Comments

author
Yonatan24 made it!(author)2016-03-29

Hi, I've added your project to the "Beginners Guide to Soldering" Collection

This is the link If you are interested:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Beginners-Guide-to...

author
69696969 made it!(author)2014-03-29

Hey i was wondering is i can run this off the power from a LED light in my keyboard (i have a razer blackwidow) and i'm plainng to use El wire to back light do you know if it would work from that power

author
JohnBPrice made it!(author)2013-08-21

I thought EL wire was AC? There is no positive or negative.

author
Spiral+Dance made it!(author)2013-02-02

Thank you for this instructable! Great pictures and easy to follow.

author
paperairplanecreator made it!(author)2011-11-14

Heat gun AKA hair dryer! LOL

author
Alturgrey made it!(author)2011-03-27

hello! Where can i by this EL Wire ? and tell me please, what else materials need for execute this work ?

author
-max- made it!(author)2011-07-23

online, and catalogues

author
MakotoKamui made it!(author)2011-05-28

A late reply, but check out http://www.coolight.com/ - I've bought all my el wire/drivers from them in the past, and they're really friendly if you need to call up and ask for advice on a specific project.

author
harvey639 made it!(author)2010-11-18

Can you cut the EL wire to any length?

author
sillyzombie666 made it!(author)2010-12-21

yes, as long as your battery pack can power the length you have

author
TechKid67 made it!(author)2011-07-13

What is the ratio for length and voltage?

author
-max- made it!(author)2011-07-23

the voltage needed is the same. its like 3V led strip in parallel, the more you have, voltage doesn't rise. current draw does.

author
sillyzombie666 made it!(author)2011-07-14

i dont know, i didn't ask the question

author
sillyzombie666 made it!(author)2011-02-15

where do i get copper tape no store seems to even carry it, the guys at home depot had never heard of it and i was talking to people who helped me go through each isle to find it but no results

author
dragonsniper made it!(author)2010-06-29

where can i get EL wire without having to order it or buy it online???

author
rebelgrunt made it!(author)2010-11-14

Well it's been four months since you asked; you've probably already gotten an answer but I'll throw my two cents in anyways...

Have you tried any of the big box hardware stores (homedepot or lowes)???They sometimes have things like that in the electrical section...Or maybe a car parts store that caters to the high end upgrading; EL wire is often used in cars...Then there is always (if you live in a town big enough) an electrical supply store (the kind of place that has plugs and switches that can fit anything)...

If none of these places have what you are looking for...They might be able to point you in the right direction to the place that does...

I hope you have already found your wire and if you haven't I hope this helps...

Happy building and good luck...

author
sillyzombie666 made it!(author)2010-06-06

i just got this el wire dog leash from a friend just the el wire part, so i opened it up to remove some of the extra leash parts and i noticed most of the wire inside is not lit up and if i move it in any way it will short out. so i had to hot glue it all in place so i couldn't move. now my question is if i clip that not lit part off and then solder a wire to the good part will this still work and will it pretty much fix that shorting issue

author
ANDY%21 made it!(author)2010-07-17

some hot glues aren't resistant to electricity

author
sillyzombie666 made it!(author)2010-07-17

so? the wire was still intact and i was just bending it into the right posision, so you comment has nothing to do with what i said

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ANDY%21 made it!(author)2010-08-07

ok. forget and forgive.

author
sillyzombie666 made it!(author)2010-08-07

i did i posted that over a month ago

author
zack247 made it!(author)2010-07-12

now to find some el wire...

author
JJWord made it!(author)2009-05-20

I've read that the other end of the EL wire doesn't need to be terminated in any way, just sealed to prevent exposure to elements. But I've found (with various drivers) that my EL wire will not light unless I short the thin wires to the copper wire, hence closing the circuit. Should I not be doing this? Why wouldn't it work without shorting the end?

author
2ManyProjects made it!(author)2009-05-14

Hey, you beat me to it! lol. I was basing mine off of Kalani's Soldering EL Wire at: http://burningman.rengeekcentral.com/elwire.html. I love this stuff!

author
gamer made it!(author)2007-11-08

where do you buy this wire and its driver? very cool, i have to say! -gamer

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bigfatmamma made it!(author)2009-05-05

try elbestbuy.com

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dwdavis72 made it!(author)2009-02-05

look at: www.elwirepros.com

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leonardo+ismael made it!(author)2007-11-09

you can buy the ELwire at cool neon, 1419 Mandela Parkway in west oakland or go online to coolneon.com

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imrobot made it!(author)2009-04-06

simple question. can el wire get wet?

author
bcnr33skyline187 made it!(author)2008-10-25

how do i make something to make it flash to the sound of my stereo, like for my car, or can i buy a sound controlled potentiometer type thing

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dwdavis72 made it!(author)2009-02-05

look at: www.elwirepros.com

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bcnr33skyline187 made it!(author)2008-10-25

also what voltage should i use

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brandon+borick made it!(author)2008-10-20

next xbox mod

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cyberpageman made it!(author)2008-07-26

Great Instructable! I didn't have any copper tape, so I cut a two-inch (5 cm) piece of multistranded lamp cord wire, and pulled out three or four strands. I wrapped these around the outer insulated jacket with the fine wires underneath, and twisted the wrapped wire in a pigtail so it wouldn't fall off. Then I soldered the copper wire together, and cut off the pigtail. It's not as nice as the copper tape, but it works.

author
i+make+shooting+things made it!(author)2008-07-20

dose it ever burn out?

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Bandgeek made it!(author)2007-12-04

So say I had two pieces of EL Wire and one driver. Could I connect the two pieces together, then connect one end to the driver? Could this be done with two different colors of wire? Very nice Job by the way. I'll definitely use this if I get some for Christmas.

author
T3h_Muffinator made it!(author)2007-11-06

Nice! Congrats on your internship!

author
joejoerowley made it!(author)2007-11-06

Very Cool! Good skill to know. Thanks