Introduction: How to Make EL Wire Art
This instructable shows the steps for doing EL wire art, by gluing it onto an acrylic plastic background.
Step 1: The Parts
EL wire, el wire driver - acquired from http://www.neonstring.com
Black Acrylic plastic - acquired (free scraps) from Regal Plastics in Houston
Glue/Adhesive (IPS WELD-ON 3) - acquired from Regal Plastics in Houston
Plasticator squeeze bottle applicator - acquired from Regal Plastics in Houston.
Printed image - from the Internets or your artistic ability
EL wire soldering materials - see: http://neonstring.com/index.php?tasket=solder
Step 2: (Optional) Download Free "Paint" Program From Getpaint.net
If you don't have Photoshop, you can get a scaled down program for free at http://www.getpaint.net . You may be able to just use MS Paint. (To make/edit the picture that will be used as your template.)
Edit: Someone has suggested that I mention GIMP here, which they prefer to Paint.net, and is also free. http://www.gimp.org
Step 3: Pick Subject Matter
Decide what kind of image you want to make. It should be something that would work well for EL wire. If using 2.5mm EL wire, try to avoid images requiring lots of points or sharp angles. 2.5mm EL wire can be damaged by forcing it into a sharp angle, even a sharp 90 degree angle. Once you have the image in mind, you can draw it or look it up in Google Images. Save the image, open it in your Paint program , and adjust it if necessary. Since it will be printed, try to reduce it to simple black lines on a white background, to avoid using a lot of ink. Resize the image to the size you want it to be in your completed artwork. Use Print Preview to see if it is the correct size. I have chosen the biohazard symbol, because it looks cool like a big dog, and I decided to use the angel hair 1.2mm wire because of the sharp angles. Angel Hair EL wire has a much smaller bend radius than the 2.5mm high bright wire. 1.2mm EL wire may not be as bright as the 2.5mm wire, but the biohazard symbol has some very sharp points that would be difficult to create with 2.5mm wire.
Step 4: Tape and Scratch
Once you have a printout that is the correct size, center it and tape it to the front of your acrylic sheet background. Use an exacto knife to scratch the design into the surface, so you can use the scratches as your guide when gluing the EL wire. Be SURE that you are not just cutting the paper, but that you are actually scratching up the surface too. The more visible the scratches, the better they will serve as a guide when putting down the EL wire.
Step 5: Drill Holes for EL Wire
Decide where you are going to drill a hole or holes in the plastic, to thread the EL wire through, from the back, and drill the holes. The holes should be about the same size as the EL wire. For this project, I found that a 1/16 inch drill bit works perfectly for 1.2mm angel hair. (I also discovered that 1/16 inch drill bits can break easily, so that you have to stop what you are doing and go to the hardware store.) Obviously, you want the hole to be as small as possible, while still allowing the EL wire to pass through it, because you don't want the hole to be visible. Some designs may require several holes, such as those requiring more than one color of EL wire. The biohazard project required six wires/six holes.
Step 6: Thread and Glue
(Note: Be sure to cut your EL wire long enough that after you have glued it into place, there is still enough sticking out the back side that you can work with it and solder it.)
Thread some of the EL wire through the hole, from the back side of the acrylic sheet to the front. Hold the EL wire down where you want to glue it, using your scratches as a guide. Start by only gluing an inch or less. Holding the EL wire in place, and pressing it down lightly, use the Plasticator needle to apply a drop or two of glue. Just put a droplet on the EL wire, and it will run down the sides. Capillary action will suck the glue into place, at the point where the EL wire meets the acrylic surface. Using the fingernails of one or two fingers, hold the EL wire in place for 30-60 seconds while the glue melts the acrylic and creates a bond. Then move the next inch of EL wire into place, and glue it in the same way, and so on. If you glue wire onto the shape, and there is EL wire left over, you can simply cut off the extra EL wire with wire cutters or nippy cutters.
Note: The reason for using fingernails instead of the fleshy part of your finger, is that the flesh of your finger will overlap the EL wire, touching the acrylic, and if they get glue on them, they can leave a smudge... and by the way, I always end up with smudges on these projects, where extra glue gets somewhere, or my fingers get in the glue.
Step 7: Solder Connectors Onto EL Wire
I will not detail soldering instructions here, because there are already Instructables on it, and I also have instructions on my website:
Solder wire-side connectors onto the EL wire. In this case, I had six wires. So I soldered 6 connectors. From the driver I used a Y splitter to get two connections. Then two more Y splitters, to get 4 connections. Then two more Y splitters to get six connections. I plugged the EL wires into those. If you have 6 wires, you need 5 Y splitters. For however many wires there are, you subtract 1 to know how many splitters you need to power them.
Step 8: Connect It and Turn It On!
Once the connectors are soldered on, and everything is plugged into power, turn it on!
For this project, I used an AC-powered EL wire driver that will power up to 15 feet of EL Wire.
I also connected each wire to a different channel of a 10-channel sequencer. (last picture)
Normally, I would have cut the black plastic into a square, or bent the bottom so that it could stand up, or something, but I was impatient and wanted to submit the Instructable.
Step 9: Additional Notes
THIS CAN HAPPEN:
Often when soldering EL wire projects, I find that when I have it all soldered up and try to turn it on, it won't light up. What happens is that sometimes when EL wire is cut, the little hair thin wires inside can cross over to the center wire, creating a little tiny short circuit. So you just have to snip off the very tip of the EL wire. This happens about 20% of the time, so it is not uncommon. I used to immediately suspect my solder connection, snip off my freshly soldered connection, and redo it, before I figured out what was going on.
Initially, the plan was to tape the image to the back of a piece of clear acrylic, use the drawing as the guide for gluing the wire, and later remove the printout and paint the back of the clear acrylic black. I have done several projects like that in the past. For some reason, the clear piece I had wasn't working. Maybe it was some other kind of plastic, and not really acrylic. Here are the details from the back of the black acrylic, which actually worked:
Plexiglass MC Acrylic Sheet
Methyl methacrylate (80-62-6)
Ethyl acrylate (140-88-5)
Poly (ethyl acrylate/methyl methacrylate) (9010-88-2)
I don't know what any of that means, but this piece actually worked.
Attached are some pictures of other projects I have made using the method outlined in this Instructable.