Intro: Glow in the Dark & Back-lit Sign
Turn your logo or favorite design into an awesome glow in the dark sign! You can even supercharge it to glow in the light by making it back-lit with UV LED's.
A long while back a friend sent me a link to the Instructables article by mikeasaurus. The Glow Table... I almost immediately found some photoluminescent powder online and had a small amount on the way.
Since I planned on putting the sign in my shop and I generally work in there with the lights on, I decided that I would need my sign to glow in the light more often then I would need it to glow in the dark. (Go figure...) I quickly found some low powered UV LEDs and planned on back-lighting my sign with them.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- Router - Plunge or Small Trim
- I used the DeWalt 611 Trim Router since it was small and easy to handle
- Spiral Up Cut Router bit(s)
- 220 grit at a minimum
- A finish of your choosing
- I used Watco Danish Oil
- Spray Adhesive
- Face Mask or Respirator
- You could probably get by with 3/4-Inch stuff but thicker might be better. I used 4/4 (1-Inch) walnut.
- Photoluminescent Powder
- I got mine from http://www.technoglowproducts.com. I didn't even need half of the 2 oz pack I got.
- Ultraviolet LED Strip
- 12V DC Power Supply
I'm sure there are a few minor miscellaneous things like a container to mix the epoxy in but you should have something around the home that'll work.
*The above links are from my Amazon affiliate account. If you need any of these items you no way obligated to use these links but they'll help me out if you do.
Step 2: Prepare Your Template
If you haven't already prepared your wood, you'll want to do so before transferring your design. Of course you can ignore this if you got your wood pre-finished from a home center but you'll probably still need to cut it down to size.
Transferring your template to the wood can be done multiple ways. If you're using a lighter colored wood you may want to use carbon copy paper or even do a laser printer toner transfer using lacquer thinner.
Since I was using walnut, the toner transfer paper didn't show up so well and I figured the carbon copy method wouldn't either so I didn't even give it a try. Instead I printed my logo out and adhered it to the wood using spray adhesive. (The remaining parts of the logo can easily be removed using a heat gun or hot blow dryer.)
Step 3: Carve Out the Design
Using the router, carve our your design in multiple passes. If you plan on back-lighting it then the deeper the better but I wouldn't go more than 1/4-Inch at a time. For my sign, I went to about a 1/2-Inch deep in two passes. (This is probably where you'll want to use that optional face mask or respirator.)
At this point you'll need to make a decision if you have the option between a plunge or trim router. The plunge router will make it ease to dive straight down into the wood but the trim router is smaller and easier to manipulate for this delicate work. I have both and went with the trim router since I feel like I have much more control over it.
This is also where the method you used to apply your template might help or hinder your progress. Since I applied mine using paper and spray adhesive, I had little pieces that would peel up from time to time and get stuck on the router. It was never enough to throw me off but it would have been more calming if it were drawn right on the wood.
Step 4: Complete the Front
Now that the entire design is carved out, it's time to fill it with some awesome glow in the dark epoxy! Mix up a batch large enough to fill the entire design (following the manufactures instructions) and mix in some of that photoluminescent powder. I only used 2 teaspoons of glow powder but the more you use the greater the effect. Fill in the entire design and work out any bubbles that may form. Most manufactures will give suggestions to remove the bubbles but most involve either a heat gun, blow torch, blowing or a little vibration. (I used a heat gun and had decent enough results.)
After the epoxy resin has cured you'll probably find that it has made it onto the top and many other places where it shouldn't be. You can remove the excess epoxy using sandpaper but it might take a short lifetime. I recommend starting off with a hand plane to get the highest spots and then running it through a powered planer if possible. Then come back and give it a nice sanding with 220 grit to smooth up the face.
Step 5: Prepare the Back and Install the UV LEDs
If you really want to make this sucker pop then you'll back-light it with some ultraviolet LEDs. Plus, the UV light supercharges the glow powder and makes it even brighter after the LEDs are turned off. Otherwise you'll have to let the glow powder charge up in the light for a while before it'll glow.
Now that all of the floating parts of your design are locked in place by the epoxy, you can carve our most of back side of the sign exposing the epoxy from both sides. You can use the same spiral up cut bit or something larger to speed up the process if you have it available. You'll also want to leave a small border around the sign to try to contain most of the ultraviolet light. (You'll really want to that respirator now.)
After the epoxy is exposed from the back side, grab your LED strip and decide the best way to route it around your design to get the most exposure. I ended up going around the entire thing and then zigzagged through the middle. Solder your power supply to the LED strip and then use some small scraps of wood and hot glue to set your LEDs in place.
Step 6: Finish and Glow!
Give everything a final sanding and soften the corners and edges however much you feel is necessary. Remove any dust by blowing, vacuuming and/or wiping it off and apply your favorite finish. In my case I used Watco Danish Oil because I've always loved the results on walnut.
If you want the ultraviolet light to only shine through the epoxy, hang it on the wall right now and start the enjoying process. If you want a little of the ultraviolet light to shine out like I have, you can add some small feet on the back to raise it off the wall a bit.
Now that you have an awesome glow in the dark/light sign, you'll be showing it off to every new visitor!