Glowing El Wire and Acrylic Pour Art

Make art that looks great during the day and even better at night.

This dolphin piece is my favourite I have made so far.

They are actually really easy to make with the right tools and cost under $20 in materials.

Let me show you how to make them :)

p.s. i sell these: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/InterestingLightsAU

$5 off all pieces for 1 week only. Use code 5INSTRUCTABLES at checkout.

Step 1: Overview

Overview of steps:

  • Prepare materials
    • You will need a CNC machine for best results
  • Create the design
  • Export and drill the design
  • Acrylic pour
  • EL wire insertion
  • Results :)

Step 2: Materials & Tools

Tools:

To make these the best they can be, a CNC mill is required. My one is a cheap one off eBay, probably cost $250AUD. There are other methods (i haven't tried) that you could use as a substitute. These include:

  • Using a handheld Dremel or similar tool to carve it out manually
  • Just not cutting a groove and having the EL wire stick out (looks bad, hard to glue and not recommended)

Materials:

  • Plywood (MDF works too and is cheaper, but plywood gives a much better finish and doesn't have the risk of warping due to the moisture in the paint)
  • Acrylic Paint in whatever colours you want, in this case, I used
    • Blue
    • Cyan
    • Black
    • White
  • EL wire in whatever colour you want, in this case, I used 'ice blue'
  • EL wire inverter (battery, 5v, 12v, whatever you choose)
  • Super Glue - I recommend Loctite Gel super glue
  • PVA glue (the cheapest is fine)
  • Plastic cups for paint mixing & sticks for stirring

Step 3: Preparing the Design

To create the design, I first loaded up an image of a dolphin into Illustrator. I then used the pen tool to create the paths that the CNC would take. I also used the smooth tool to smooth out the edges. Make sure when designing this, there aren't tight corners as the EL wire won't be able to bend and might break.

Then export this as an SVG, and load up Easel. Easel is a website by inventables (a large company that manufacture CNC machines) and is free for what we are doing (some features are paid, though).

Then import the SVG using the import button. Make sure your settings are right in the top right corner. I use a 2.4mm bit and find it works best for the typical EL wire width.

The next step is to make the drill holes to feed the EL wire through. To do this, you can do it two ways.'

Manual Method

Manually make circles at least 0.2mm wider than the drill size (2.6 for me), place these at both ends of each line segment. Make these a depth of the thickness of your plywood/MDF minus 1 or 2 mm.

OR

Semi-Auto Method

Under the 'Apps' tab, there is an app called 'Holes on a Path', select a line segment (or multiple) and select the app. Enter the hold diameter at 0.2mm more than your drill size (2.6 for me), with the depth the thickness of your plywood/MDF minus on or 2 mm.

Select 'Number of Holes' repeat type, and make the number of holes 2. Press import to import the drill holes. This app doesn't work very well, and only places about half of the circles in the correct positions. This means you have to manually move some of them so that there is one on every line ending. There should be the exact amount required though, so that's a plus.

I am hoping to develop my own plugin in the future for making this fully automatic, however, I cannot seem to find any guidance on how to develop apps for easel.

Step 4: Drilling the Design

Now is the fun part. To export the gcode from easel, select 'machine' and then 'advanced'. Press generate g-code and it will download the gcode for you. You can then load the gcode into whatever software your CNC requires to control it. I use a simple chrome app called g-code sender, this app can run on most machines.

Plug in the CNC and set up whatever you need to for your machine. I use a 2.4mm slot cutting bit. Simply align the wood panel to wherever you want the design to be, and then start drilling!

Once done, use a bit of sandpaper to sand off any burs left from the CNC. Also consider using a vacuum to remove sawdust from the grooves.

Step 5: Acrylic Pour (part 1)

I love acrylic pour art, but it actually is harder than it looks. It is a lot more than just dripping paint everywhere. Acrylic pours require practice (albeit less than other forms of art). Consider practising if you have never done it before.

First, think about your design - what colours are you aiming for? how will you position them? should they fade or should there be sharp lines? These questions will determine how your piece comes out in the end.

I'm not going to go into specific acrylic pour techniques, because there are many out there that are better than what I could explain. But basically, this is a rundown of what I did.

  1. Wear gloves & an apron, and use a tarp, lots of newspaper - the paint will go everywhere.
  2. Prepare plastic cups for each of your colours
  3. Pour the desired amount of paint into each cup, mixing colours if necessary
  4. Pour about 1/4 PVA glue into each cup - what this does is change the consistency (and is also just a filler to save $$$ on paint)
  5. Pour a very very verysmall amount of water in. Mix together, and keep adding small amounts of water until the consistency is not watery, but runny.
  6. Prepare the plywood/MDF sheet by placing it on 4 plastic cups upside down at each corner. This lifts it off the ground so that the paint doesn't stick. It also helps when picking it up and moving it about.

Step 6: Acrylic Pour (part 2)

  • Now that you have your separate colour paint cups, now it's time to pour.

Pour however you see fit. I like to mix some colours into one cup and then pour, but sometimes I pour them each individually. Various tools to add different effects to your pours could include:

  • Using a straw to blow air in specific parts, spreading it out in a circle
  • Using a blade or knife to carve into the paint
  • Using toothbrush bristles to flick small splatters on in different areas.
  • Or just go all out and use a dustpan.

Whatever way you choose, make sure paint covers all the canvas (including going over the edges!)

Finally, when you are satisfied with the design, use a small pencil or the end of a paintbrush (the non-bristle end) and slowly drag it around where the grooves are to remove the paint. If you can't see it, refer back to Easel for the design. Once all the grooves are clear of paint, let the pour sit for a MINIMUM of 24 hours before even so much as touching them. (i made this mistake...)

Step 7: El Wire Amazingness

Now that your pour has set, you may choose to seal it initially with a sealant. I would recommend using a non-alcohol based hairspray, or other similar product. Although that being said, if you are feeling a bit risk you can just use the cheap home brand hairspray - keep in mind that it can cause the paint to dissolve. I have had this happen a few times. I do recommend sealing it BEFORE gluing down EL wire.

If you didn't drill your holes all the way down, just use a cordless drill to drill them all the way through.

This step is pretty self-explanatory. Using the Loctite gel super glue, feed the El wire through the holes created, using super glue on the bottom of the groove and holding the EL wire down until it sets. I use Loctite gel super glue specifically for many reasons.

  • It sets quicker than any I have used (like under 5 seconds)
  • It requires less (a tiny drip at best)
  • It doesn't go everywhere - gel superglues are just that: gel.

Once it is all fed through, chop off any excess with scissors and use some tape or heat shrink to seal the end.

Step 8: Done!

You could paint the back black or white, but it is not necessary. Your piece should not be done and you can give it a final sealing spray.

I hope you enjoy your new piece, remember you can also buy them from my Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/InterestingLightsAU

Thanks for reading!

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    2 Discussions

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    seamster

    13 days ago

    Great results!

    In step 5, there don't appear to be any grooves at that point. Were those done after painting, or did they just fill up with paint so they're not showing at that stage?

    1 reply

    Yes the grooves were there I just hadn't dragged the brush along to remove the paint from them. Unfortunately I didn't have any photos of the paint with the grooves :(