Edge Lit Acrylic Sign




Introduction: Edge Lit Acrylic Sign

Edge-lit LED signs are an attractive and innovative way of advertising your businesses and products. They are energy efficient and are easy to assemble from acrylic panels and LED tape or strips. The key to a good sign is how you laser the image or lettering on the acrylic sheet and how you mount the acrylic panel so that the edges are brightly lit with the LED's . Colored LED's or multicolored LED strips and tapes enable you to choose the color of the light in the sign. The engraved parts will light up while the rest of the sign stays dark, producing the illusion of floating letters or images.


Step 1: Things You Will Need:

1.) Acrylic sheet: size to your preference- www.tapplastics.com  example of cost: a piece of Acrylic  12 inches x12 inches x 1/2 inches cost $20.50.

2.) Edge lit profile,end caps,and spring loaded pins and screws all sized to your piece of Acrylic- www.harborsales.net
Example of cost 12 inch profile 2 end caps and 2 pins cost $19.78

3.) Access to Co2 laser cutter- if you cant access one at a local area shop you can visit www.ponoko.com
to purchase acrylic and upload design to have it lasered into the acrylic.

4.) LED strips or light tape- www.superbrightleds.com or visit you local auto parts store advance auto or even wal-mart. usually cost about $18.00 to $25.00.

5.) Design software- Any design software Corel draw, Adobe Illustrator etc.

Optional items

6.) Bernzomatic torch starter kit- www.bernzomatic.com used to polish edge of acrylic cost 39.99 to 50.00.

Step 2: Prepare the Design:

1.)  Decide on the size and design of your sign. Prepare the text and image using a computer graphics program. Choose a design that looks good in black and white, since the engraving cannott give any shadings.

2 .) Get a mirror image of the design, using the horizontal flip or mirrored feature of the graphics program that you will be using, so that it can be engraved on the back of the acrylic panel and viewed from the smooth front. If the design contains color or shading, change it to black-and-white format.

Remember: Engravings cannot have any shadings, they must be in solid black and white.

Step 3: Laser the Acrylic Panel:

Acrylic awards, plaques and gifts can be engraved on the top viewing surface or on the back surface so the engraving can view through the acrylic. The latter is the most popular method for engraving acrylic.

1)  When reverse engraving on the back side of the acrylic: the graphic and text should be mirrored to make it ready for reading from the front. The mirror function is easily accomplished using the mirror tool in Corel DRAW or Adobe Illustrator, or the program of your choice.This function usually has an icon displayed on the top of the page or it can be accomplished by pressing Alt + F9.

**Forgetting to mirror the graphic is a common mistake and one I have certainly made more than I admit. As a check of my layout skills I will use a green tinted polyester mask over the top of the acrylic piece and engrave at very low power *(5% power, 100% speed on a 40 watt laser system) adjust accordingly. After I am sure the graphic is correct and engraving in the right position, remove the mask and engrave at the right power for acrylic.

Step 4: Assemble the Sign:

1) Obtain white, colored or multicolored LED's, depending on the effect you want. Measure the thickness of the LED tape, usually about 1/8 inch. Get the aluminum frame pre-cut to the size of the acrylic sheet, plus twice the thickness of the LED tape, plus 1/8 inch. Assemble the frame.

2) LED tape and strips usually have 3M tape along the back side remove tape backing and secure in place in middle of profile channel. Connect the power supply according to the manufacturer's instructions and switch the LED's on and off to check operation.

3) Place the engraved acrylic panel inside the frame with the smooth surface toward the front.

4) Clean the back and front with a soft cloth.*** Do Not Use a Paper Towels, or any Ammonia Based Cleaners

5) Switch on the LEDs to view the sign.

Step 5: Cleaning and Polishing and Edge Burning Acrylic

1.) To polish acrylic sheet edge:  you must use propane torch. Butane does not burn at the right temperature. Simply pass propane flame torch over edge in a slow and steady pace. This step is optional.

2.) Once a piece of acrylic has been cleaned, its brilliance can really shine through with engraving While cleaning acrylic can bring out the its quality, sometimes the acrylic can be damaged in the cleaning process. Knowing the proper cleaning techniques is extremely important as it retains the desired qualities of acrylic.

** Key Points in Cleaning Acrylic:
Never use paper towels, the fibers in the paper towel act like fine sandpaper and  make the surface cloudy.
Do not use window cleaner or any other alcohol or ammonia-based cleaners as they will react with the acrylic

Photo credits: www.tapplastics.com

Step 6: What I'll Do With the Laser Cutter If I Win!

If I were to win the laser cutter; I would expand my business, Strange Fruit. The laser cutter would allow me to remove the middle man and reduce the cost to my customers. The laser cutter is a crucial component in the advancement and continuation of my business. The business which is the face of my inner-self. Having the laser cutter would give me the opportunity to immediately create and produce the ideas from my unconscious and conscious thought. Additionally the laser cutter would give me the ability to create for myself and others within the parameters requested. 

Photo credits: www.hurricanelasers.com

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19 Discussions

Can this be done on an already formed acrylic piece, i.e.: motorcycle fairing windshield?

Back before lasers were available to the public, that's how we etched our plexi type products. I've done several projects this way and it's easy just using a cheap siphon feed blaster. I run at about forty-five pounds and just use good contact paper for my reist.

I second this, I have a vinyl cutter and sand blaster. I don't see why it wouldn't work but curious if anyone has any input?

I know you can get little sandblasting airbrushes, and you mask it off as usual with slightly sticky stencils, as you would for paint? that's a similar concept

Those little sand blasting airbrushes are ok in their way but removing any depth will be a bit of a chore.
I now use the gun that came with the cabinet but turn the pressure down for delicate work.

Can you make this and have 2 different colors of lights?


2 years ago

Love this idea! I'm trying to make "glowing" panels and I'm wondering if I diffused the entire sheet, would the light spread evenly? The panel size would be about 6'ft y'all by 3 or 4ft wide. What do you think?

Can you do it with a router and stencils like you would with wood signs?

Now heres a thought and I havnt done this yet.
Check the stores for end of stock xmas led lights, they should be cheap.
Get a string that has coloured pattern changing.
Discard the wall wart for another project maybe, open up the little box with the circuit board and look for the diode.
Bypass the diode so you can use a set of batteries of the correct voltage to drive the circuit. For long life I will be using 6V lantern batteries in series.
You now have a colour changing sign.
It may be beneficial to place the led frame all round the perspex,
I wont know till I try it.

So. What DO you use to clean it?? You tell us what NOT to use, but what's recommended???!!!

I've done little and simpler signs with a hand engraver, so I think for more complicate designs if a CO2 laser isn't available could be done with a CNC router.

I have made a few edge lit signs. This is a great Instrucable. I think the price of the acrylic is a bit high. Take a look at www.inventables.com. They may be lower price. Not sure about pricing on the LED strips. Seems there are a lot of suppliers out there. Buy American, if you can.

1 reply

Tap plastics is American, if you live on the west coast you can go into one of their stores and dig through their scrap bin for super cheap acrylic. You buy that by the pound so if you want to experiment with anything on the cheap thats the way to do it.

I've never done this, does the depth of the etch matter, or do you just need to break the surface? Also does the viewing angle of the LEDs matter?

1 reply

The depth of the etch only enhances the edges of the design. simply put the deeper the better. the viewing angle of the LED's doesn't matter just make sure you do not get strips with LED's that are Side Emitting . Hope this helps and would like to see your sign when your done.