Introduction: Light Up Costume

This brief tutorial will walk you through how to make a light up costume using electroluminescent wire (el wire).  This costume in particular was custom made for DJ performing around the world. I worked closely with the designer and the el wire supplier to produce this piece in about two weeks' time.  With these simple steps, you too can customize your costume with el wire to light up the night!  Built in 2007 (my first el wire project ever!) , it's still in use today.

Step 1: Planning

Since this was my first foray into the world of el wire, I had no supplies in stock, and no idea what exactly I would need.  I did extensive research to determine the most cost-effective way to achieve the design, and decided to go with, whose products were both affordable and well-reviewed.

After securing a supplier, I needed to determine just what and how much el wire I would need.  I went with 4.0mm el wire for the main body and 2.2mm el wire for the glove details, both in 'Power Green'.  You'll find that different suppliers stock different weights and colors of el wire, so it's worth doing the research to find exactly what you need.

This design required too much wire to be lit by a single battery pack that the performer could wear, which meant that I needed to cleverly design a lay out that would neither exceed the capacity of each battery pack, nor be disruptive to the designer's vision or the DJ's performance.

I started by roughly pinning out the design with yarn onto my old beat-up male dress form.  By no means accurate, it was a good way for me to figure out which wires would connect, where to place battery packs, and how many I would need.  Talking with the el wire supplier on the phone about the capacity of the different battery packs apropos the lengths of wire I would need was extremely helpful.

Step 2: Mock-Up

To get a more accurate idea of what supplies I would need, I applied the layout I'd created to the actual garments.

I chose a black jumpsuit (which had to be significantly modified*) , black carpenter kneepads, a helmet with face cage which I covered in black stretch fabric, large headphones, and gloves to act as the base of the costume. 

With the help of my trusty assistant, I was able to put the base garments on a body and mark out a second rough draft of where the wires would go.  After doing this to each piece of the costume, I was able to call my supplier back and let him know exactly what I would need.

He was able to work with his team to put together a package of el wire cut to the lengths I needed and attached to the connectors for the battery packs, saving me the precious time it would take to learn how to customize them myself (which I later learned with the help of this diagram) .  

*modifications included sewing the front of the suit closed, sewing the collar closed in a standing position, adding a full length zipper to the back, adding spats to cover the shoes, and attaching the kneepads

Step 3: Layout

After the wire configuration was mocked-up with rope, I used chalk to outline the traces.

Next, I put it back on the form and began laying on the el wire and taping it in place.  This allowed me plenty of wiggle room to change my layout or tweak the design.

Once I was pleased with it all, I was ready to sew it down.

Step 4: Securing the El Wire

I used a variety of things to secure the el wire to the different elements of the costume.

For the main body (jumpsuit and gloves), I hand-sewed the wire (way too thick to go under my machine!) using a whipstitch with quadrupled thread (meaning it ran through the eye of the needle four times instead of just one) in a light color so that the weight of the thread would not interfere with the line when the wire was lit.  It's essential when doing a project as large as this to knot off the thread every few inches.  The reason for this is that if one area breaks or snags, you don't want it to affect the rest of the costume!

For the helmet, I sewed the wire onto the black stretch knit fabric which I used to cover it.  Since the fabric was a sports mesh, it was easy to see through, but impossible to see into.

The headphones were glued onto the helmet, and the wire glued to the headphones with Krazy Glue.  I tried several different epoxies and adhesives, and Krazy Glue came out to be the clear winner.

Step 5: Details

I blacked out certain areas of the wire with matte black tape, since that provided less interference than running the wire inside the costume.  I needed to make this suit as user-friendly as possible.

The helmet was set up to have its own battery pack.

The gloves were laid out so that the wires would run off the edge of the gloves and join to connector wires on the sleeves.

The battery packs were secured to the back of the suit in a surprisingly easy manner - I simple cut slits in the fabric and hooked the clips of the battery packs into the slits.

It was essential that the battery packs be on the outside of the costume for a few reasons.  They needed to be hidden from the front view, they needed to be accessible by the techs who would turn them all on before the show, and to facilitate the necessary battery changes between shows. 

Of course, I finished it off with a custom label I made with an iron-on printer transfer.

Step 6: Turn Me On

The only thing left is to connect all the wires, turn it on, and hope it works!

Oh yeah, and dance.


Kryptonite made it!(author)2010-01-12

Whoo! 5* and faved! Amazing, you've outdone yourself you really have.

colinrobot made it!(author)2016-03-02

Thanks for a fantastic tutorial walk though.. About to start a project and was looking for tips and found your Instructable.. Thank You!!

Inasshahin1 made it!(author)2015-06-20

Hello dear, this is very well written, really beautiful, I am an art director and stylist, we have this show coming up and I'd love it if you could kindly give me your contact details so I can get in touch? Thank youu

scoochmaroo made it!(author)2015-06-29

Hi! I no longer have this costume, but if you're interested in creating a new one, you can PM me.


_Move_ made it!(author)2016-01-13

Hi! I'm wondering if I could use this tutorial to make a dance costume for myself - will it be okay to use a costume made from this instructions for a full out dance competition or is it just for things like slow-move homecoming parties?


Now you can make a light show steeper controlled ipad

porcupinemamma made it!(author)2010-01-13

what does "tron" mean?

Suleymankutluer made it!(author)2015-02-02

Uww Tron mode. I want to try.

teetzelk made it!(author)2010-07-13

TRace ON (now I'm showing my age)

xwx made it!(author)2010-01-13

Tron is an movie from the 80's they're re-making it too! :D <New trailer

porcupinemamma made it!(author)2010-01-13
Oh :0) thanks for teling me. I had my kids in the '80's and that decade is all a big blur lol ;0)

xwx made it!(author)2010-01-15

I wasnt even alive in the 80's :p

hellonfire30 made it!(author)2010-06-20


diy+master+13 made it!(author)2014-07-02

May I have your contact info willing to pay for one to be made for me

Tempest2 made it!(author)2014-10-31

I make this too

amandaggogo made it!(author)2013-08-13

Very cool!!

naught101 made it!(author)2013-01-27

Nice. How much wire did you use for this suit, approximately? How many battery packs and inverters?

J-Teck made it!(author)2012-01-04

What helmet did you use

McNoodle made it!(author)2011-10-08

Where did you get the helmet?

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

I think its just a regular moto-cross helmet.

Win+Guy made it!(author)2011-10-10

Funny, this costume kinda reminds me of Team iLuminate from America's Got Talent!
Awesome job, scoochmaroo!

Win Guy

McNoodle made it!(author)2011-10-08

How many feet of el wire did you get?

xbabygirl14xo made it!(author)2011-09-12

i was wondering if you would be able to make me one for my boyfriend he likes the design alot.

harry+potter+rules made it!(author)2011-09-04

what colour top should i put the glow in the dark paint on
black or white

harry+potter+rules made it!(author)2011-08-31

please help me scooch because i ordered gow in the dark paint from amazon but i also found el wire. i can't buy the el wire because i already ordered the paint.
will the paint do the same job as the el wire

scoochmaroo made it!(author)2011-08-31

Glow paint will give you a different effect and will not be as bright. That said, it's what you have, so go with it!

harry+potter+rules made it!(author)2011-09-01

thanks for the reply

harry+potter+rules made it!(author)2011-08-31

is el wire safe

harry+potter+rules made it!(author)2011-08-31

hey scooch
could u use glow in the dark paint

justin.jackson made it!(author)2011-08-03

scooch- you should see this:

seems someone took this costume one step further.

I saw their first performance a while back and new I recognized that idea from somewhere, it wasnt until I stumbled upon this instructable again today that it hit me. EL wire costume+microcontroller+music+choreography= one of the coolest performances i have ever seen.

I think a call to NBC for your cut of the royalties is in order. lol

As for everyone else, this is a video from America's Got Talent of the dance group Team iLUMINATE performing in the quarterfinals showing what can truly be done with this costume.

kristylynn84 made it!(author)2011-06-08

omg is there a video of this suit dancing? that is so beautiful! i love anything that lights up. :) now, to learn how to make things light up! :D

joehudy made it!(author)2011-06-05

a good place to buy el wire is its like a $1.10 a foot

numbuh132 made it!(author)2011-04-18

If you were to create one of these to sell to someone, how much would you charge?

CrazySheep made it!(author)2010-11-07

This is very impressive! :D
Reminds me somewhat of the movie 'TRON'.
Very well done! ^^

spectacular made it!(author)2010-12-09

I know!

FrozenIce made it!(author)2010-11-23


aterese made it!(author)2010-11-04

could you also use fishing wire to sew with? It would be clear then both in the daylight and dark and extra sturdy...

scoochmaroo made it!(author)2010-11-04

Absolutely! I don't knot fishing wire well, so it wasn't a great option for me. Really, even thread is invisible from the distance of a few feet.

idogis1 made it!(author)2010-10-29

"You will be deleted!!!"

musicalbee2003 made it!(author)2010-10-31

I was thinking it...

enteraction made it!(author)2010-08-06

I would suggest a compartment on the back for the battery packs. You could use the same fabric and create a velcro panel to keep them safe.

1of3 made it!(author)2010-07-22

That is excellent work. Did you ever post the video for this anywhere?.

scoochmaroo made it!(author)2010-07-22

You know, I did, and I linked it here, and a lot of people didn't like it because it was shaky and a little weird and I think someone took the video from their phone (I wasn't at the event to take the vid). When I get back into town, I can post it on my personal YouTube page and provide a link if you're interested.

1of3 made it!(author)2010-07-22

Yes please. I would love to see the video. I used EL wire about 10 years ago around the dashboard in my car and never thought of putting it on clothing.

mg0930mg made it!(author)2010-03-03
Very cool effect. I have a few questions, as I want to try this, too, and they will help me.
  • How tall was the model?
  • How much had the final costume cost?
  • How long did the batteries last?
  • Do you have an exact list of what you used?
scoochmaroo made it!(author)2010-03-03

I don't have a list of what I used exactly, as it was 2 years ago.
The model was about 5'10".  They changed the batteries before every performance and swapped those into other devices, just to make sure he was never going on with low power.  I charged $2000 for the costume, which included design consult, and sewing expertise, but I couldn't tell you how much materials might cost if you were starting everything from scratch. 

Call Andy!  He's my go-to man.  If you know what you want to make, you call him and he'll make it happen.  Talk about a time and money saver.  I didn't waste an inch of wire!  Tell him Sarah sent you. 

bowmaster made it!(author)2010-05-12

Daft Punk paid you $2,000! That's cool. I wish Daft Punk would pay me. :-(

mg0930mg made it!(author)2010-03-09

Oh, thanks anyway. :)

noahh made it!(author)2010-04-05

 Someone may have already asked this, but how much wire did you use?

cardigans made it!(author)2010-03-14

this is rad!

About This Instructable




Bio: Former Living &amp; Food editor here at Instructables, now running! Follow me @sousvidely
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