Introduction: Backlit Sign

About: I am a maker of objects with a background in art, theater and design. I work in many materials but my most common are, metal, wood, and ceramics. I hope to use the skills I have to enter the field of exhibitio…

I was commissioned to build a sign for a friend. I was given the text, (Strong Independent Woman Needs No Man) and a price limit of 100$. I had recently bought a Silhouette Portrait and wanted to use it to create the text. I also wanted to work with the flexible LED strips I had found. I pulled together some acrylic and MDF I had sitting around and built this sign. I was actually very surprised with how well the LEDs diffused through the frosted acrylic.

Materials Needed:
Vinyl- I used black but I suppose you could use what ever color you wanted. The only thing I might worry about is other colors might not be as opaque and allow some light bleed.
Vinyl Transfer Paper
Acrylic- I used what I had sitting around .071". The main requirement is that it will slide into the kerf created by the table saw
MDF- I used 1/2" but 3/4" would work fine. It just depends on what kind of proportions you want.
LED strip lights- You can find them at a good price here.
Power source- Wall Wort type, get the kind that fits the power requirements for your lights. I used 12v DC 1amp
Extra Wires
Power Plug- To plug the power supply lead into the sign. Sometimes the lights come with them otherwise you can get them at Radio Shack
Hardboard- Or other backing product to form the back side of the sign .
Three Way Pull Switch- I got mine from Menards where it was listed for use with ceiling fans. You can also just get a basic on off switch which looks basically the same.


Table Saw
Band Clamp
Silhouette Portrait- Or other vinyl cutter. I also realized that you could go to a local graphics shop and have the vinyl cut for you.
Xacto Knife
Soldering Iron

Step 1: Cutting the Vinyl

Unfortunately I do not have photos from this step. However follow the directions for your vinyl cutter and you will probably be better off since each one is a little different. Another way to get around this would be to just go to a local graphics shop and have the vinyl cut for you there. I have no idea how much it would be.....Maybe someone could throw in a comment if they know?......This would also get around dealing with size requirements. The sign that I made was as wide as I could cut and limited me a bit in what I could do.

Make sure to do plenty of test cuts before running your final cut and making sure your size is correct. If anyone has trouble with their Silhouette just ask in the comments and I will help out as much as possible.

After the vinyl is cut weed out the parts you dont want. You can buy special tools to do this but I have found that a xacto knife works just as well. Then carefully place your transfer paper on top the the image and stick it down. I got a lot of wrinkles but if you go slow and slowly rub across the image you can eliminate most of them.

Step 2: Frosting the Acrylic/Transfering the Image

The next step before transferring the vinyl image is to frost the acrylic. The best way to do this would be using a sandblaster, but I dont currently have access to one so I used plan B and sanded both sides with a variety of grits. I used a random orbital sander so that I did not get any repeating patterns and lightly roughed up surface until it diffused the light evenly. Then I washed that acrylic. This is very important. the acrylic needs to be completely clean or the vinyl will not stick, you might even want to wipe it down with a microfiber cloth.

Now to transfer the image. The biggest advice I can give here is line everything up and go as slow as possible. because the acrylic has a rough pattern from the sanding it is hard at first to get the vinyl to stick but keep slowly rubbing the vinyl down and eventually it will stick. Once the image has been transferred but the vinyl so that the adhesive is evenly stuck down. This will make the display side look better.

Step 3: Cutting the Frame/Board Prep/Frame Assembly

These are the only photos I have of the assembly of the frame. I used MDF since I had that sitting around but you could use any wood depending on what kind of look you want. I thought Baltic Birch Plywood would look really nice.

To cut the frame set you table saw to the width you want your frame to be. and cut the board down to size. next drop the blade so it is an 1/8"-3/8" high and set your fence to the size of the lip you want between the edge of the sign and the acrylic. and run your boards through creating the the spot the slide the acrylic into.

Then paint the inside white to better reflect the light and coat the outside of the board with your choice of sealant, I used polyurethane. By doing this now it means you do not have to deal with trying not to get paint on the acrylic after you assemble the frame.

Finally cut the boards down to size. I figured out my lengths by putting two parallel sides together and measuring that length and doing the same on the other side. I cut my angles on the table saw.

To assemble the frame I used a band clamp at the top and quick clamps at the bottom to pull everything to square. I decided to just glue it and not bother with nailing. After the glue dried I gave it a light sanding at the corners and touched up the polyurethane.

Step 4: Light Installation/Final Bits and Pieces

I do not have in process photos for this part, but it is very simple. I just cut strips of the lights and soldered them together. I drilled two holes, one for the pull switch and the other for the power plug. Following the diagram for the switch I soldered the connections. I used the adhesive attached to the LED strips to stick them down to the back. For this sign I used a three way switch which allowed the "No" in "Strong Independent Woman Needs No Man" to be turned off and on. To isolate the light I built a simple box made of cardboard around the "No."

To finish it off I added 2 eye hooks and and some chain to hang it, but it could also just be set on a desk.

Thanks for looking at this Instructable. If you have any questions about what I did just ask in the comments. Unfortunately I cannot take any photos of the inside since I already mailed it off, but I can try to explain further if anyone needs more clarification.

I am including the video I took of it working where I demonstrate how it works to the buyer I hope this helps show how it works.

If you like this but dont want to build it yourself I am going to do a small production run of these with custom text/imagery. Email me at if you are interested.

If you like this project see more of what I do at
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