Introduction: Low-Cost Illuminated Signage for Todays Responsible Citizen

About: I made weapons for the British government for over thirty-five years. Now that I am retired, I have gotten involved in outfitting graffiti writers and street artists with state-of-the-art technology. I hope my…
Low-cost, illuminated signage for todays responsible citizen courtesy of the GRL and the Eyebeam OpenLab. This tutorial will explain the tools and processes we used to combine LED christmas lights, plexi-glass and rope to make our own low-power signage on the cheap.

Step 1: Peep the Vid

Step 2: Tools and Materials

To build your own signs you will need a short list of materials and tools.


Hand drill or drill press
Size T or 23/64 plastic drill bit
epoxy designed for plastics
duct tape


1/8 acrylic sheet (colors optional)
LED Christmas lights
we used LED christmas lights from Rite-Aid.
Twisted/Braided Nylon or Cotton Rope
Beefy Wire ties


(you should probably use Krylon Fusion or a plastic primer)
Laser cutter
Hammer drill for mounting and hanging

more in LED christmas lights:

Step 3: "So Little to Say... and So Much Time"

First you need to decide what you want your sign to say. I'll leave this up to you and yours, but may I suggest you check out this and this for inspiration. And double check your spelling stoners.

We decided to tackle the much needed civic service of telling everyday new yorkers and graffiti tourists that they are currently more at risk than anywhere else in the United States according to the Dept. of Homeland Security. Who knew?

Step 4: Colors

For our Homeland Security Advisory Facade we needed to rearrange the multi-color LED christmas lights into individual red, yellow, blue and green LED strands. We had to do some red and yellow color mixing to get orange.


DO NOT remove all the LEDs at once, organize them into little color piles and then re-insert them into their respective single color strings. You'll plug them in. They won't light. You'll have to painfully debug every string one bulb at a time to find which LED isn't fully set into its socket. This may seem obvious but it was a harsh lesson for the lab. In restrospect, I would suggest that if you need a strand of red LEDs, you should just buy that single color. If you are buying out all the christmas lights at rite-aid like us, and your forced to use multi-color strands, just buy extra and slowly bubble sort through each string removing only one LED at a time and replacing it with the right color from the surplus strings. Mark troublesome LEDs with a paint pen so you can look at the likely culprit if your string suddenly goes dark.

Step 5: Making the Acrylic Frame

Use the attached files or design your own hole patterns in order to trim down and drill the features you will need into the acrylic sign frame. The basic idea is to cut the acrylic sheet into ~10" x ~ 10" squares and drill a number of .36" holes in acrylic in the shape of a letter. Other holes are for connecting letters. In the next step we will show you how to insert the LED bulb and socket into these holes to create letter forms.

Design Rationale:

We decided to make each letter a separate acrylic section in order to allow us to assemble a flexible sign from modular pieces. This design has hole patterns that create letters and hole patterns that are used to connect the squares and secure them to the building. The resulting design allows your signage to bend around corners and fold easily for travel. We will explain how to connect these individual squares in the following steps.

Constructing the Acrylic Squares:

The attached files can be used as a starting point for you to create your own design that can be produced using a 50 W laser cutter or by hand.

1. To cut with a laser cutter you will need to adjust the Corel, Illustrator or EPS file to match the settings and bed size of your laser cutter. These files were made in Corel Draw for a V-460 60 Watt Universal Laser Cutter with a 18" x 24" bed.

2. Cutting thin acrylic by hand can be difficult. Normal drill bits will grab and lift the acrylic. Use a plastic drill bit and penetrate the material very slowly. If possible use a drill press and anchor your work very securely. If you're cutting by hand, I've found the best way to increase your chances of cutting and not shattering your sign is to sandwich the acrylic using clamps between two pieces of plywood and drill through the wood and acrylic.

After drilling the sign squares, we added a white fill to each letter using spray paint and a stencil.

more info on plastic bits:

Step 6: Put the Pieces Together

How to Assemble the Sign:

Layout the letters you need to create your word. Tightly tape each letter together with a strip of duct tape on the back side of the sign. Lace down wire ties through the attachment holes provided in the design. Finally, loop lengths of > 70 lb. load cotton or nylon rope through the holes provided on the letter squares. You will need two ropes attached to the top of the sign to hang it and two on each side to tension it. We attached an extension cord to one of the tensioning ropes and wire-tied it in place for strain relief.

Step 7: Pimp My Sign

How to Insert the LED Christmas light bulbs:

Now you can insert the LED bulbs into the letterform hole patterns in the individual sections of acrylic. Mix a batch of two part epoxy and apply it to the LED socket and the back side of the sign. I used the Loctite brand 7-minute plastic epoxy. You may need to skip certain bulbs in order to reach a given letter's holes or to skip between letters. Use duct tape to cover the LEDs in the unused sockets. Keep the string tension free. The LED sockets should press-fit securly in the holes. If you use different size LEDs you may need to change the hole diameter in the file.

Step 8: Hanging LOW

How to Hang the Sign:

This will depend on your particular location and architecture. To hang our Homeland Security Advisory Tower signage, we began by getting access to the roof of the Candle Building at 11 Spring. We decided to hang the signs individually so we could more easily vertically space each word. We lowered each letter, starting with the lowest first, over the side of the building. Once the sign was at the right height, we would use a Mr. Longarm telescoping paint pole with a makeshift hook on the end to grab the looped lengths of rope and extension cord on either side of the sign. We pulled the tensioning ropes through the nearest window on the facade of the building and tied them off to brackets we installed on the interior of the building.


Each sign unit was individually plugged into 120 VAC power outlets using extension cords run along the tensioning ropes. Connections between extension cords and christmas lights were duct taped to protect them from water and wire-tied to relieve mechanical tension. To make the "HIGH" sign blink we used a Winker Lampholder Adapter. You can get these on Canal street in NYC or online here. They will blink about 20 times per minute. The only catch is that they require a load greater than the LED christmas lights provide in order to start blinking. To hack this, we plugged a power strip into the Winker and then plugged in both the christmas lights and a conventional 120 VAC light bulb to the strip. This put the final dynamic touch on the Advisory Tower. Realtime terror awareness had been achieved.