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Most EL wire displays are static (and boring) because they use constant-on inverters. Of course, there are inverters that can flash the EL wire on and off at a fixed rate, but that's not very exciting. Another option is to use a sound activated inverter, but most of these are single channel, so they turn the wires (no matter how many colors you have) all on or all off. If you really want to make your EL projects lively you have to use an inverter with multiple output channels, but many of these cost $80 and up! Luckily, I've found that you can use an inverter taken from a "graphic equalizer" T-shirt (aka T-qualizer) to create an inexpensive five channel, sound activated EL wire display.

I've used this idea to create a musically animated gift box from EL wire, a T-qualizer inverter, portable speakers, and an MP3 player. I call this gift box an ELF box which is short for ElectroLuminescent Fun box. The ELF box is a very cool way to give someone an electronic device that plays music; just substitute it in place of the mp3 player and have the gift animate its own gift box! Of course, if you don't want to make a gift box, this instructable works equally well for making a musically driven display. Finally, an optional step gives instructions on how to modify the inverter so that it responds to an audio signal instead of sound, which will enable you to precisely control the animation with a custom audio file and make speakers unnecessary.

Materials and Tools
gift box or other suitable substrate
portable speakers
MP3 player
5 strands of EL wire (I used 20 ft for an 8x11 in box. metric: ~6.1 m for a box approx. sized 21x28 cm)
T-qualizer inverter (not exactly the same as the one I have, but similar)
7x1 ribbon cable (around 6 in or 15 cm)
7x1 crimp terminal housing
7 female crimp terminals
electrical tape
crimper or pliers with knurled jaws
medium phillips screwdriver (for poking holes)
soldering iron
solder
knife (for removing phosphor)


Step 1: Attaching the EL Wire

There are many varieties of musically sensitive EL panel T-shirts. The one I have looks like a graphic equalizer display with five different levels. Since the T-qualizer is meant to display levels, the line which drives the lowest level (quiet music) will stay on more often than the line driving the highest level (loud music). For the remainder of the article I will use line and level mostly interchangeably. You should keep in mind how often a line stays on compared to the other lines when choosing which color to assign to a line. For example, if you are you want your display to be a Christmas tree with flashing ornaments then you should put the color that will outline the tree on the lowest level because it will remain the most static. I chose to use five different colors of EL wire. There is no reason why you can't use fewer colors, but every line need an EL wire connected.

To connect the EL wire to the inverter I simply copied the same type of connector used by the inverter. This connector uses ribbon cable with female crimp terminals in a 7x1 housing. The downside to this approach is that all of the EL wires have to be grouped together where they meet the ribbon cable so that the corona wires can share the common connection. If each EL wire had an individual common connection then the ribbon cable could be split and the EL wires separated. This would allow two EL wires to be used on opposite ends of the display without wasting EL wire to cover the distance from the shared common to the desired location. I'm using the shared common approach because I'll be reusing the wires and inverter in another project where the shared common is preferrable. If you'd like to use the individual common technique then you'll need to rewire the inverter with a ribbon cable that has ten lines, with common connected to every other line.

My EL wire came pre-stripped, but I did have to scrap the phosphor off the core wire. The picture above shows a razor blade, but I think a regular pocket knife works better for removing the phosphor. Here's a link to a tutorial on EL wire which includes instructions on how to properly strip it. Please read it if you aren't familiar with how to work with EL wire. The main takeaway is to be careful not to cut the corona wires when removing the insulation and to run the inverter only when the EL wires are connected. The outer wires of the ribbon cable are soldered to the corona wires which are further back than the core wires. Therefore you should make the outer wires of the ribbon cable longer so they will reach. I used electrical tape to isolate the core wires once they were soldered to the ribbon cable. You will probably have an easier time with heat shrink tubing. Then I hot-glued the termination to insulate the corona wires/common and core wires. This made a nice, rigid connection that I'll need when I reuse the EL wire in another project. You may want to use a large piece of heat shrink to insulate the connection while preserving more flexibility than you'd get from hot glue.

To construct the connector, first examine a single female crimp terminal. The set of tabs at the edge are meant to wrap around the wire's insulation. The other set of tabs near the middle are meant to contact bare wire. Insert one strand of ribbon cable in to the connector to determine how much insulation you should remove. Remove that much insulation. Reinsert the wire and line it up so that the tabs will grab the proper part of the wire when they are crimped. Normally a crimping tool is used to press down the tabs but you can use pliers with knurled jaws to do the same thing. Here's a link to a very detailed article explaining how to attach female crimp terminals. Once all the terminals have been attached you can insert them in the housing. The terminals have a metal catch that springs out when it reaches the hole on the side of the housing. Therefore you should make sure all the terminals are facing the same way, that you insert them into the housing the proper way, and that you insert them far enough. Wrap some electrical tape around the housing to insulate any exposed metal since EL wire is driven by high voltage.
<p>Very ingenious.. Can you let me know in Step 1 how have you connected the positive, ground and the 5 EL wires to the ribbon cable? Basically i would like to know all the 7 pins on the ribbon cable correspond to which cable. My understanding is as below -</p><p>1. First Pin - Red Cable - Positive</p><p>2. Second Pin - Green Cable - EL Wire</p><p>3. Third Pin - Blue Cable - EL Wire</p><p>4. Fourth Pin - Yellow Cable - El Wire</p><p>5. Fifth Pin - Pink Cable - El Wire</p><p>6. Sixth Pin - Red Cable - El Wire</p><p>7. Seventh Pin - Cable - Ground</p><p>Let me know if my understanding is correct.</p><p>Thanks.</p><p>Amitabh</p>
<p>I am wanting to start a project very similar to this, only on a larger scale. I want to have enough EL wire to light up a bicycle. Does anyone know how much this inverter would be able to drive? Is there a stronger option out there?</p>
Hy there <br>Would it be possible to place solder a cable to the ribbon cable which then leads to the el wire ? So I can make the common share like you did and then run each cable to its destinated EL wire ?
Hi, could you tell us where you order your bulk EL wire from? I am trying to build costumes for a group of boys, and your instructions are a great idea. I have the T-EQ modules, I just need the EL wire. <br>Any info will be appreciated. <br>Thanks.
http://store.glowire.com/ <br>I don't recall why I chose them. I think their prices are alright. The wires came prestripped but not terminated (not a big deal).
I have to say that this is an awesome idea. I have 10 of the t shirt drivers laying around and am trying to incorporate this idea into a halloween costume. I am experienced soldering EL wire but have some questions on the driver unit. It looks like the two outer cables (of the 7) are the grounds? Could I potentially connect 5 ez connect connectors to the flat cable with one end soldered to the power, and ALL the 2nd wires soldered to one ground? I would like the option of adding wire later as I don't have my costume designed yet. <br> <br>I'm sorry if you covered this in the guide but I didn't see it!
Where should I get the crimp terminals and the terminal housing? Would the local Radioshack have them? I can't seem to find them on their site.
Radio Shack doesn't have them. Most electronics suppliers will. I bought mine from electronix express. <br>terminals, part number 2404FCP, http://www.elexp.com/con_4fcp.htm <br>housing, part number 240307, http://www.elexp.com/con_0303.htm
how many different outputs come from the EQ shirt inverter you used.
Five.<br><br>Even though the EQ shirt's EL panel only uses four colors, it has five levels. The ribbon cable has seven wires. Five outputs and two grounds.
Looking good!
Thanks! What great luck that this weeks challenge is <strong>Box</strong>!

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