Glass Nixie




About: I love electronics and all about DIY.
A Nixie tube is an electronic device for displaying numerals or other information using glow discharge.
But they need about 200 volts to glow and it makes them dangerous and difficult to drive, at least for me.
So i decided to make something similar, a numeric display able to work with low voltages.

After thinking about it i had the idea of making a lightguide display with some glass and copper tape. The result is that ''glass nixie'' wich I'll explain how to make.

Step 1: Materials

To make this ''glass nixie'' you'll need:
-10 smd LEDs (3mm)
-The PCB for the LEDs
-10 glass or acrylic panels (5x3cmx3mm)
-An enclosure for the 10 panels (mine is a glass box)
-Copper adhesive tape
-11 male headers (10+1)
-A resistor (50-330ohm)

Step 2: Making the ''cathodes''

You can make the cathodes from glass as me, or better from acrylic wich is lighter.
The ones i made are 3x5cm pieces from a 3mm panel. If you get smaller LEDs you can use a 2 or 1mm panel wich will rduce the final size significantly.
Once you have the ''cathodes'', using a small drilling mill, draw with dots the numbers (0-9) in the panels.

Step 3: Spacers

Cover the top and bottom edges with copper tape and flatten it.
Then clean all the panels with window cleaner and a soft cloth.
Make sure they're as clean as possible because ten times the dirt of one is too much dirt and it won't look clear.

Step 4: The PCB

Once you etch the PCB, tin carefully all the parts where someting is going to be soldered.
Then solder the LEDs carefully aligned and insert and solder the header pins and the resistor.
Make sure each LED matches with it's panel, if not, heat up the soldering and place the LED correctly.

Step 5: Bonding the Panels

Hold the panels in place with some adhesive tape. Then sloder them together with a powerful soldering iron (mine is 120w).
Once soldered, cover the soldering with more copper tape for a better looking.

Step 6: The Enclosure

You'll need an enclosure for potect the display from dust.
I made mine from another 5 glass pieces and copper tape, i soldered they together making sure the display fits in the box.

Step 7: Closing the Assembly.

Now cover the circuit edges with copper tape.
Put the display in the enclosure and solder it to the circuit.

Step 8: Finish.

Here is the finished ''glass nixie''. It works at 5-12v with the 330ohm resistor.
I'm sure that someone could make something interesting with it like a clock or a counter, but i can't.
if anyone can tell me how to make a simple clock with a microcontroller, I would greatly appreciate the help.

If you like my project, please,vote me for the Lamps & Lighting Contest and the UP! contest.



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    22 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 8

    This is really awesome! I was thinking of building a display for my motorcycle using nixie tubes, but I didn't want to have to finagle high voltage. This is a good alternative. I'm guessing it work with solid lines, but that might obscure the other numbers? What do you think?

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 8

    Yes, i made a solid line prototype before and it obscured the numbers. To make a visible display you need very clear and clean panels, and etch the numbers as ligt as possible.

    I can't watch the youtube-clip here because of copyright-restrictions related to the music. Could you upload one without the music?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This display technology dates back to at least the 1970's, perhaps earlier (although they used incandescent bulbs, not LEDs). I've seen them used as the front displays in a number of vintage instruments.

    But I don't think that the term NIXIE is appropriate here-- that refers to a very specific type of neon display tube. (That's no more appropriate than calling these Panaplex or Numitrons, is it?)

    Edge lit displays-- including yours are AWESOME --it's a shame to sully them by labeling them as though they were cheap knockoffs of NIXIE tubes. ;)

    A couple of links to peruse:

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, it's not a nixie.
    As i've said, it's a lightguide display or edge lit display, and i made it inspired by nixies.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    What a unique implementation! Big Kudos!
    I especially like the infinite reflections aspect also.Very creative! A little wide
    Kapton tape( from Ebay ) would give an amber tint option.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    WONDERFUL idea. Mind if I use it in a clock? I have some 1/16 inch acrylic and a laser cutter at my school. Never thought of doing something this way. Maybe I could make a kit... #tindie :)

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    To make a single digit clock was my idea for this lightguide display, but i don't know how to do it. I would like to see your finished clock, sure it'll be awsome!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    nice idea, you can make a clock out of it with arduino or picaxe, serch here on instructables with keywords clock, arduino, picaxe theres lots of projects on electronic clocks here, an I have an idea for your clock, you would need at least two digits so they could be displayed one on top of another, and the hours minutes could change in display at some interval.

    1 reply
    Charlie 72

    6 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sure they used to use these types of displays in the 60's with incandescent bulbs.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    No quiero ser exagerado, pero esto raya la genialidad. Como siempre hay un esquimal dispuesto a enseñarle a un africano a combatir el calor, me permito hacerte una sugerencia. Tal vez puedas usar vidrio muy delgado, como los que usan en los laboratorios de análisis, poniendo los LEDs en una hilera oblicua para que cada uno pueda entrar en su lugar, o simplemente distribuidos alejados uno de otro. Luego tendrías que enmascarar los bordes de cada placa de vidrio dejando un pequeño agujerito para que entre solamente la luz del LED correspondiente.
    I do not want to be exaggerated, but this borders genius.

    As there is always an Eskimo willing to teach an African to combat the heat, let me make a suggestion. Perhaps you can use very thin glass, such as those used in testing laboratories, putting LEDs in an oblique row that each one to come in their place, or simply distributed away one another. Then you'd have to mask the edges of each plate of glass, leaving a small hole for it among only the corresponding LED light.

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Muchísimas gracias, lo del vidrio fino es buena idea pero la mejor forma de hacerlo pequeño y ligero es usar LEDs de 0,5mm (que las hay) y en lugar de cristal, unos paneles muy finos de metacrilato o similar para reducir el peso. Con algo así tendríamos una lámpara pequeña y ligera.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Gracias, no tenía idea de que existen esos LEDs. Como verás, la electrónica no es lo mío. Tu idea es MUY BUENA, tratá de explotarla. Como opcional, tal vez proveyendo a cada conjunto de una única entrada de corriente, y un selector para encender el dígito deseado, puedas poner en el mercado algo que no existe, un indicador luminoso de precios o de lo que sea, que no requiera computadora conectada. Hace años yo estuve devanándome los sesos pensando en cómo hacer un indicador para los himnos que se van a cantar en las reuniones de la iglesia. Actualmente se usan simplemente casilleros donde se colocan pequeños cartelitos de plástico con cada número, lo cual es un poco laborioso. Si se van a cantar por ejemplo 4 himnos (sería el máximo), y cada himno puede tener hasta 3 dígitos, con 12 de estos inventos tuyos estaría solucionado el problema, y sería rapidísimo armar el programa antes de la reunión.  El selector podría ser una pequeña corredera lateral.


    Thanks, I had no idea that there are these LEDs. You see, electronics is not my thing. Your idea is VERY GOOD, try to exploit it. As an option, perhaps providing each set of a single power input, and a switch to turn on the desired digit, you could provide the market with something that does not exist, a light price indicator or whatever, that does not require computer connected. Years ago I was wracking my brains thinking of how to make a flag for the hymns to be sung in church meetings. Currently used just small lockers where you place plastic signboards each number, which is a bit laborious. If you are going to sing 4 hymns, for example (would be max), and each song can have up to 3 digits, with 12 of these your inventions would fix the problem, and would be very rapid build the program before the meeting. The selector may be a small lateral sliding.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    The transmission of light through layered etched I ever did was in 1968.
    I made a wood box that had a flourescent tube fixture. Box had a 5/16" slot in the top where a 1/4" plexiglass fit. I had ah dorky design etched in the plastic that lit up.