In this instructable I will show you how to make a neon sign (from LEDs).
I apologize in advance any grammatical errors as it is not my native language.
Normally, to make a neon sign, you got to have a pretty good glass bending skill, knowledge about different gases and the colors they give off, and you got to be able to calculate the power requirement for the transformer (definitely not an easy task).
On top of that, a neon sign transformer converts line voltage 120 - 347V to high voltage 2,000 to 15,000V (Yikes!, you don't want to be touching that.)
By the end of this instructable you will be able to make your own Neon sign in any design, shape, color, 2D/3D, whatever you can dream up!
Step 1: Things You Will Need
You will be needing the following items.
NOTE: If possible you should buy the NeonFlex as a kit, as it comes with items 1-5.
NeonFlex, 12V or 24V (can be purchased from EBay, Amazon, or your local hardware store).
2-pin NeonFlex Connector.
Aluminum mounting channel (normally 5cm or 2" long).
12v or 24v DC Power Supply.
Flat metal bar, 1/8" thick, 3/8" up to 1/2" width. The width will depend on the height of your NeonFlex.
Steel Epoxy glue.
Electrical tape or shrink tube.
Primer and Spray paint.
Clear silicon glue.
Step 2: Create Your Design
For this step, instead of drawing my design on a large piece of paper, and doing a lot of drawing and erasing. I found a piece of power cord (wire) laying around, so I used it to draft out my design. Once satisfied, I taped together 6 pieces of paper and placed it under the sign and traced it.
In hindsight, I should have made the draft with the wire directly on the paper to start out with as it will save re-taping the design.
Once done, I measured the length of the wire, which was 11'6". We will need to use this number later on.
Step 3: Making the Frame
For this step, I am not an expert working with metal, so I had my friend helped me. You will need a flat metal bar about 1/8" thick by 3/8"-1/2" wide as you will need to fix the NeonFlex mounting clip to the flat side of it after bending it (please see photo).
Although, it is much easier to bend a round metal rod, you won't be able to easily fix the clip to it. Unlike the neon light which is omni directional, the NeonFlex has a beam angle of around 270+ degree, so you got to make sure that it is front facing for maximum brightness.
Beside bending the flat metal, I have asked my friend to make a weld at each intersection of the metal frame, so that the sign won't be floppy, and weld 2 pieces of metal wires to the back which I will use as hanging hooks.
The mounting clips that came with the kit is about 2" long, I saw it down to 5 little pieces, so it can easier to attach to the metal frame around the curves.
NOTE: Be sure to install the clips on the correct side of the metal frame. The clips are usually install only on one side of the frame but because of looping and bending it will seem that it is on both sides.
Once the frame is ready:
- Mark the location where you will place the mounting clips (normally more around corners, and less on the straights).
- Sand both the metal frame, and the clip, wipe both surfaces clean.
- Apply the mixed epoxy glue.
- Place the clip.
- Wipe off excess glue.
- Place the remaining clips.
- Let dry for a few hours just to be sure.
- Paint the frame with primer paint.
- Let dry some more.
Step 4: Installing the NeonFlex
This step is pretty easy but you will have to be careful.
NOTE: Not all NeonFlex are the same. First, they are available in different types of voltage (12VDC, 24VDC, 100-240VAC). Second, there are variety of sizes and shapes. Third, the color of the NeonFlex when the light is OFF.
When you buy it make sure to get the LOW VOLTAGE type, 12V will be the best as you can cut it into shorter sections than other voltages.
For example, if you buy a NeonFlex with a cut section of 6", and your design is 5'4", you will have an excess of 2". So you will have to adjust your design to either 5' or 5'6". If you happen to cut it at 5'4", the 4" will not be lit, as you have broken the serie, the voltage going through the LEDs can't reach ground, so the LEDs in that serie won't come on.
The NeonFlex which I have used is a 24V with a cut section every 2" (every 6 LEDs).
Remember in the beginning that I used 11'6" of NeonFlex. Typically, NeonFlex consumes 2Watt/Ft. So let's do some power consumption calculations, for 11'6", lets say it is 12', the power consumption will be 12' x 2W/Ft = 24W. Wasn't that easy? Just take whatever length you are using and multiply by 2. The power supply that I got is 2A (Amp), so the available power is 48W (P=VI, 24V x 2A = 48W).
The reason that I used a power supply twice as big is because I don't want put my power supply at 100% load all of the time. With a 24W supply, if you keep the sign ON continuously for a long time, the power supply will get HOT, and it is a little dangerous. Better to be safe than sorry.
By using a 48W supply, the NeonFlex only draws 50% of its maximum load, so it can work comfortably 24 hours a day.
Installing the NeonFlex:
- Carefully install the NeonFlex into the clips, making sure that the side of the NeonFlex is flushed against the frame. You might need to apply some glue to make sure that the NeonFlex hugged the frame tightly.
- Once done, cut off the excess NeonFlex, make sure that you cut it at the CUT mark.
- Install the power connector: line up the 2 pins to the 2 holes in the NeonFlex, and push in firmly.
- If you install the connector with wires coming out of the bottom, the red wire will be positive (+12) and black wire will be ground (GND). But if you install it with the wire coming out on top, the wires are reversed.
- Connect the wires to the power supply, make sure that you connect it to the right terminals. But if you happened to make a mistake and reverse the wires, nothing will happened, as LEDs are diodes, and will only conduct (come ON) when you connect them to the right terminals.
- Plug in to test the NeonFlex.
- Once everything is ok, unplug the NeonFlex.
- Solder your connections, wrap them with electrical tape or use the shrink tubes. Make sure the positive and negative doesn't short, now or in the future.
- If your End Cap is a bit long you can trim it down with a blade. Since our sign will be used indoor, we don't really need it to be water proof. The end caps are there for safety, so people don't touch the ends of it or short it out with a piece of metal.
- Inject a little bit of clear silicon glue inside the cap, place the cap onto both ends of the NeonFlex, press in firmly and wipe off excess glue.
- And... You are done!
Step 5: There You Have It!
Thank you for reading my instructable.
I am eager to see the sign that you have come up with! if you need any help please let me know. I know a bit about LEDs and electronics (but not that much).
If you enjoy the project please vote for me in the LED Contest.
Thank you again!