Custom Illuminated LED Sign

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What better motto to highlight everyday than this? I wanted to create a custom LED sign that had a slight halo effect around the outside, but that looked cool during the day.

Step 1: Image Management

I used an X-Carve CNC machine to cut out the letters, which were made with a 19mm Expanded PVC. One of the tricks to this whole thing was setting up the machine to do the least amount of hand finishing after it was done. So in order to do that, I took the image, then mirrored it, so the all the letters were backwards. This allowed me to cut out the inside channel where the LEDs would sit. I settled on a distance of 10mm of depth to cut from the 19mm I had to work with. Cutting too deep in the Expanded PVC will actually have the light shine through parts that aren't thick enough. A good rule of thumb is give yourself at least 5mm of material to work with at the smallest point.

Step 2: Carve Time

Once the machine is up and running, it pretty much does all the hard work for you. When it's done and after a small amount of cleanup, you end up with something like this. Notice there is a small notch at the top of the R, this will need to be hand cut out with a dremel, when you have the LED strip lighting slide inside the channel. I used a 5mm strip light, which has a very thin border, and hid very easily inside the cavity. Each letter I measured out with string first, to see how long the LEDs needed to be, then I cut and soldered some lead wire. PRO-TIP: But don't lay the LEDs in yet.

Step 3: Sand and Paint

Before you embed the LEDs, make sure to finish painting and sanding, as this part gets messy. I routed the outside of the front with a small router bit, to give it a soft little contour around the edges. Then sanded each letter with a 120g sandpaper, giving it a nice texture, similar to wood. Then painted in an off-white color called "Onion Skin" which I found funny. When you go shopping for paint colors, the names they choose are pretty ridiculous... and awesome. If you paint with a bristle brush, you will end up with a little bit of a textured appearance. If you use a foam brush, it will be less textured and more modern. If you add a clear coat, the finish will stay longer, and same thing applies here. If you apply a gloss clear coat, you'll get a slick modern look, but a matte paint and coat will give a more rustic and muted appearance. Neither is wrong, but in the end I went with a matte finish.

Step 4: Finishing

Wiring was not terribly complicated, although time consuming. In this case, each letter was wired separately, and the wiring connected on the backside of the wall. A small standoff 5/8" was used for this, however rather than adding to the edge of the letters, I embedded the standoff inside the channel, so it was only about 1/4" away from the wall when mounted. This gives a really tight halo around the letter. Having the standoff farther away from the wall means a more diffused, wider glow, and doesn't give a very defined glow to each letter. The closer it gets to the wall, the tighter the glow becomes. But you will want to leave a little room, as the heat generated from the LEDs will need to escape. Good luck with the project and have fun!

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