We needed an open sign for our work, so we made one using materials and tools that we had on hand.
To make the sign, we needed
- a sheet of Expanded PVC. We used a 3/4" thickness sheet.
- CNC of some kind. We use the X-Carve by Inventables.
- Design/vector design software. (Illustrator was used for layout)
- Pixel Free LED TRIM - this is a thin, 4mm wide diffused neon LED strip that's extremely flexible and replicates the look of neon lighting pretty easily. We purchased a reel from this site.
- 20 gauge 2 conductor wire, soldering iron, heat shrink and a 24V power supply. (voltage of your power supply is dictated by the voltage of your LEDs)
I've actually already made a tutorial on soldering LED strip lighting, so we will not touch on that too much in this tutorial. However, if you want to check it out, click on over to that page!
Step 1: Designing the Sign
When designing the signage, it's important to ensure that the channel is consistently 4mm wide, and doesn't have any overly tight bends in the channel path. Excessive bending can damage the LED strip inside the "neon" diffuser. It was also important to ensure no parts of the light overlapped over another part, since (like neon) there cannot be overlapping areas in a light path.
The vector file was dropped into the Inventables X-Carve software that runs inside a web browser on the host computer.
Step 2: "What Kind of LEDs Were Those Again?"
We've used a fair amount of lights from this company in our custom projects. The "Pixel Free LED TRIM" is a really, really thin LED strip that diffuses the light evenly to re-create the look of neon, without seeing the "spots" created with undiffused LED strip lighting. We found that it wasn't necessary to heat shrink over the connection areas, since the wires can be slipped back inside the strip lighting once it's been soldered.
Step 3: Installing the Lights!
Before installing anything, make sure to drill an access hole for the cable to route through to the back of the sign For each individual channel, it will require a small hole for the cable, once it's been soldered to the individual strips.
Step 4: Solder All the Wires Together!
Once we've installed all the pieces cut to length and soldered two conductor flying leads, we need to join them all at the back down to a female DC connector (which connects to our power supply)
I found this is a pretty good tutorial on how to solder multiple wires together for power distribution :-)
Step 5: Admire!
The last and final step is to test your sign, and look at it! It's really bright in darker environments and even is visible in daylight conditions. Neat!