How to Make EL Wire Art

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This instructable shows the steps for doing EL wire art, by gluing it onto an acrylic plastic background.

Step 1: The Parts

EL wire, el wire driver - acquired from http://www.neonstring.com

Black Acrylic plastic - acquired (free scraps) from Regal Plastics in Houston

Glue/Adhesive (IPS WELD-ON 3) - acquired from Regal Plastics in Houston

Plasticator squeeze bottle applicator - acquired from Regal Plastics in Houston.

Printed image - from the Internets or your artistic ability

drill

exacto knife

EL wire soldering materials - see: http://neonstring.com/index.php?tasket=solder

Step 2: (Optional) Download Free "Paint" Program From Getpaint.net

If you don't have Photoshop, you can get a scaled down program for free at http://www.getpaint.net . You may be able to just use MS Paint. (To make/edit the picture that will be used as your template.)

Edit: Someone has suggested that I mention GIMP here, which they prefer to Paint.net, and is also free. http://www.gimp.org

Step 3: Pick Subject Matter

Decide what kind of image you want to make. It should be something that would work well for EL wire. If using 2.5mm EL wire, try to avoid images requiring lots of points or sharp angles. 2.5mm EL wire can be damaged by forcing it into a sharp angle, even a sharp 90 degree angle. Once you have the image in mind, you can draw it or look it up in Google Images. Save the image, open it in your Paint program , and adjust it if necessary. Since it will be printed, try to reduce it to simple black lines on a white background, to avoid using a lot of ink. Resize the image to the size you want it to be in your completed artwork. Use Print Preview to see if it is the correct size. I have chosen the biohazard symbol, because it looks cool like a big dog, and I decided to use the angel hair 1.2mm wire because of the sharp angles. Angel Hair EL wire has a much smaller bend radius than the 2.5mm high bright wire. 1.2mm EL wire may not be as bright as the 2.5mm wire, but the biohazard symbol has some very sharp points that would be difficult to create with 2.5mm wire.

Step 4: Tape and Scratch

Once you have a printout that is the correct size, center it and tape it to the front of your acrylic sheet background. Use an exacto knife to scratch the design into the surface, so you can use the scratches as your guide when gluing the EL wire. Be SURE that you are not just cutting the paper, but that you are actually scratching up the surface too. The more visible the scratches, the better they will serve as a guide when putting down the EL wire.

Step 5: Drill Holes for EL Wire

Decide where you are going to drill a hole or holes in the plastic, to thread the EL wire through, from the back, and drill the holes. The holes should be about the same size as the EL wire. For this project, I found that a 1/16 inch drill bit works perfectly for 1.2mm angel hair. (I also discovered that 1/16 inch drill bits can break easily, so that you have to stop what you are doing and go to the hardware store.) Obviously, you want the hole to be as small as possible, while still allowing the EL wire to pass through it, because you don't want the hole to be visible. Some designs may require several holes, such as those requiring more than one color of EL wire. The biohazard project required six wires/six holes.

Step 6: Thread and Glue

(Note: Be sure to cut your EL wire long enough that after you have glued it into place, there is still enough sticking out the back side that you can work with it and solder it.)

Thread some of the EL wire through the hole, from the back side of the acrylic sheet to the front. Hold the EL wire down where you want to glue it, using your scratches as a guide. Start by only gluing an inch or less. Holding the EL wire in place, and pressing it down lightly, use the Plasticator needle to apply a drop or two of glue. Just put a droplet on the EL wire, and it will run down the sides. Capillary action will suck the glue into place, at the point where the EL wire meets the acrylic surface. Using the fingernails of one or two fingers, hold the EL wire in place for 30-60 seconds while the glue melts the acrylic and creates a bond. Then move the next inch of EL wire into place, and glue it in the same way, and so on. If you glue wire onto the shape, and there is EL wire left over, you can simply cut off the extra EL wire with wire cutters or nippy cutters.

Note: The reason for using fingernails instead of the fleshy part of your finger, is that the flesh of your finger will overlap the EL wire, touching the acrylic, and if they get glue on them, they can leave a smudge... and by the way, I always end up with smudges on these projects, where extra glue gets somewhere, or my fingers get in the glue.

Step 7: Solder Connectors Onto EL Wire

I will not detail soldering instructions here, because there are already Instructables on it, and I also have instructions on my website:
http://neonstring.com/index.php?tasket=solder

Solder wire-side connectors onto the EL wire. In this case, I had six wires. So I soldered 6 connectors. From the driver I used a Y splitter to get two connections. Then two more Y splitters, to get 4 connections. Then two more Y splitters to get six connections. I plugged the EL wires into those. If you have 6 wires, you need 5 Y splitters. For however many wires there are, you subtract 1 to know how many splitters you need to power them.

Step 8: Connect It and Turn It On!

Once the connectors are soldered on, and everything is plugged into power, turn it on!

For this project, I used an AC-powered EL wire driver that will power up to 15 feet of EL Wire.
I also connected each wire to a different channel of a 10-channel sequencer. (last picture)

Normally, I would have cut the black plastic into a square, or bent the bottom so that it could stand up, or something, but I was impatient and wanted to submit the Instructable.

Step 9: Additional Notes

THIS CAN HAPPEN:

Often when soldering EL wire projects, I find that when I have it all soldered up and try to turn it on, it won't light up. What happens is that sometimes when EL wire is cut, the little hair thin wires inside can cross over to the center wire, creating a little tiny short circuit. So you just have to snip off the very tip of the EL wire. This happens about 20% of the time, so it is not uncommon. I used to immediately suspect my solder connection, snip off my freshly soldered connection, and redo it, before I figured out what was going on.


PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED

Initially, the plan was to tape the image to the back of a piece of clear acrylic, use the drawing as the guide for gluing the wire, and later remove the printout and paint the back of the clear acrylic black. I have done several projects like that in the past. For some reason, the clear piece I had wasn't working. Maybe it was some other kind of plastic, and not really acrylic. Here are the details from the back of the black acrylic, which actually worked:

Plexiglass MC Acrylic Sheet
Compositional Information:
Methyl methacrylate (80-62-6)
Ethyl acrylate (140-88-5)
Poly (ethyl acrylate/methyl methacrylate) (9010-88-2)

I don't know what any of that means, but this piece actually worked.



Attached are some pictures of other projects I have made using the method outlined in this Instructable.







2 People Made This Project!

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50 Discussions

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Alice Yeah

4 years ago on Step 9

This is an awesome project, I've been lusting after neon art for ages but now I want to use EL wire and do it myself! :)

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bear-

2 years ago

neonstring.com appears to be defunct. Where might you suggest as an alternative supplier? I have a basic soldering kit that I've never used—is there anything out of the ordinary that you would need?

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NeonStringbear-

Reply 2 years ago

Yup I closed NeonString. I would recommend CoolNeon.com as an alternate. They carry the exact same stuff, but in greater quantities.
If you tell me exactly what you're planning to solder up, I can tell you exactly what to get.
Some stuff I used every time:
3/32" heat shrink
3/16" heat shrink
copper foil tape (available from Hobby Lobby, but I think CoolNeon also carries it)

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TimothyI1

2 years ago

Hi guys,
I am just getting into light art stuff. It's pretty fun! I made this project for a dance party we threw. I used 5 mm wire and hot glue. EL wire is a great medium.

Yellow Chakra Light.jpg
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GlowWireGuyTimothyI1

Reply 2 years ago

Woah! Any more pics of that? Looks flipping sweet!

saw come up with a new control system with ipad might be useful for you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8c6u_P4lUM

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I worked on something similar. I prefered to use coroplast as the backing board (think cardboard box material but made out of plastic). This has the advantage of cutting with a box cutter and T-Square and also doesn't require a drill for holes. An awl will work just fine.

I had the toughest time trying to figure out how to bind the EL Wire to the backing. Superglue didn't cure fast enough (it did to my fingers, but not the project). Other glues would be even slower. Hot melt was wayyy to messy/blobby. Rubber cememet was too messy and goobery. Aerosol adhesive required a stencil and didin't bind well enough.

The EUREKA solution was UV-Cured resin. This is used a lot in fly-fishing. This allowed tacking and curing the bond in just 3-4 seconds.

In Photoshop, I was able to get a precise line in the middle of the neon are below. I printed that and transferred to my board with old-fashioned carbon paper and a dead ballpoint pen.

The original is on the left below. In the middle is my rendition unpowered, then powered on the right...

Original.JPGimage1.JPGimage2.JPG
4 replies

Thanks for the kind words. And THANKS (even more) for the inspiration! My sign is using 2.3mm EL wire. I think 5mm would have made the lettering a little too difficult. The lettering is one continuous piece of EL wire that's laced thru holes in the Coroplast backing. When bending and placing the wire, it doesn't like to stay bent or stay in place. This is why I needed an adhesive that would cure on my command. I used a brand of UV-Cured resin called Bondic. Without something like this, getting the results I wanted weren't possible.

I've made other signs as well with the same process. The Raiders sign uses an Arduino and an Escudo Dos to animate the letters individually as well as the logo.

The Dark Side of the Moon logo demonstrates how unforgiving human eyes are on straight/sharp lines and symmetrical spacing. The symmetry you accomplished in your project is quite commendable!

IMG_1059.JPGIMG_1070.JPG

Yes, 5mm wire would be much harder to deal with, and it is not even as bright as the thinner EL wire, in my experience. So you used 2.3mm EL wire with Bondic UV-cured resin... how does that work? Do you spray it onto the Coroplast, and then apply the EL wire? Do you cure it with sunlight or blacklights? I am completely unfamiliar with that. Love the Pink Floyd prism.

They say you're your own worst critic (unless Simon Cowell is around). I'm just not as happy with the prism as I'd hoped. The Bondic product comes in a soft plastic tube with a very precise metal tip -- very much like the tip of a mechanical pencil. You're able to put a very precise drop, (about 1mm-2mm in diameter) wherever you'd like. It cures in about 3-4 seconds when you shine an little UV flashlight on it that comes with the product (like a keychain flashlight). I have a small UV laser from another project that I use that cures in about 2 seconds (sometimes you just don't want to wait the extra 2 seconds - grin). It stays a thin resin until you hit it with the light. So you can easily remove mistakes without the same mess you'd get from glue if it hasn't been cured yet.

In my case, I'd thread the EL wire thru a hole in the Coroplast and then tack into place with the Bondic. I'd continue to tack where needed to hold the wire in the desired shape. So, it's tacked into place; there isn't Bondic under the entire length of the wire. That'd be unnecessary overkill.

I found the Coroplast to be just a little too smooth for the Bondic to hold really well, so I used aerosol adhesive to stick 80-pound black paper (lots of varieties/patterns/colors available at Michael's) to the Coroplast. This gave a superior surface to stick to.

Bondic is just one of the UV cured resins available. There's several others available in the world of Fly-Fishing. I was surprised I'm in my mid-40s, quite technical, and was unfamiliar with this stuff. The Bondic product ain't cheap, but then you don't use very much when making signs like the ones I made.

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valkgurl

4 years ago on Introduction

I think for over the Pond friends that Plexiglass is called PERSPEX also.What airplane cowling is made of---will scratch if not careful but comes in lots of thickness' and colors.

Can this stuff be used outdoors ie could it be used to outline a motorcycle engine? We have a very chrome heavy engine with lots of overhangs--this is NOT a V-6!!!!---and the LED strips we got just don;t do what we want where we want it--and I am NOT spending several hundred for a few strips of "pro installed" LED's!!!!

Any place to get more info or see this stuff in person that anyone can think of? A different maker said Radio Shack sells this but do they have it on display?

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CypherSoarize

4 years ago on Step 9

Nice work. I always wondered how EL wire worked but never got around to looking up the info. Now I don't need to. LoL

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djsfantasi

4 years ago on Step 6

Also see my last comment. Dental tools with a broad tip will work as holders, too. (I love my dentist!)

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djsfantasi

4 years ago on Step 4

I've asked my dentist for any tools that have broken or that he would otherwise discard. They are useful for scratching guide lines in plastic. In this case, I would use a tool whose tip had broken off and I ground/filed to a scribed. Also, I use them for detailing models, sculpting forms for casting, etc...

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phazerave

7 years ago on Step 6

isnt el wire breakable if you bend it at too much of an angle? or am I mistaken. obviously you did it but is there a technique for bending it so sharply?

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GlowWireGuyphazerave

Reply 7 years ago on Step 6

2.5mm and 2.6mm EL wire won't break if you bend it on too sharp of an angle. What can happen is that you can end up with a little area of darkness at the bend, or you could possible break one of the hair thin radial wires. (I think the wire would still light just as brightly with just one of the radial wires intact.)

But for this Instructable, I used the tiny 1.2mm wire, aka "angel hair" wire. It seems to be much more forgiving, because I really pinched the wire to get those points as sharp-looking as I could, and there were no failures, no problems.

I knew getting sharp points with 2.5mm wire would be very iffy. On the Jack-O-Lantern, I used 2.3mm orange for the teeth, and I pinched them really hard to make the teeth look pointy... and the wire failed completely - I had to pull the EL wire off the mirror, wiggle it around until it worked, and re-glue it. So apparently, if you need to make some sharp points, 1.2mm wire is the way to go... although this Instructable here:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Removable-EL-wire-art-panels/

shows a brilliant way to get sharp looking points without actually stressing out the EL wire with any sharp bends.

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drhoff

8 years ago on Step 8

the one with the sequencer is especially sweet!