LED Light Sign

In this tutorial, you will learn how to create your own unique light up LED signs.

ENT460 students: You will need to be laser trained to complete this project! If you are not, review the upcoming trainings at: www.elon.edu/makerhub and click on Sign up.

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Step 1: Supplies

  • Supplied kit:
    • LED Strip (6 LEDs per strip)
    • 5-inch wooden base plate with a channel routed through the middle
    • 2 x wooden pieces that will hold the acrylic
    • USB cord, cut in half
    • 8x9" piece of acrylic

Step 2: Strip USB Cable

  • Begin by taking the wire cutters (first photo) and remove the outer case of the USB one half an inch from the end.
    • This can be done by finding a slot on the wire stripper (second photo) that is slightly smaller than the cable itself. It should not cut the internal wires but should cut the coating around them. For the supplied USB it should be around an AWG 12.
      • You may need to remove the coating within the cable to access the four colored wires.
  • Separate the internal wires to see the colors. As you can see, we have four: Green, White, Black, and Red.

Step 3: Identify Power and Ground Wires

  • Identify the power and ground wires.
    • This varies wire to wire. Look for a pair:
      • Red(+) AND Black(-) or,
      • Orange(+) AND White(-)
  • Use the wire stripper to CUT off the unneeded wires.
  • Use the wire stripper to strip the power and ground wires as seen in the picture. You should see bare wires.
  • NOTICE: We removed the white and green wire from our USB as we had a Red and Black wire. This means that the White and Green are Data wires. Because we're only using the USB cable to transmit power, and not data, they are not needed. If we had an Orange and White wires with NO Red and Black, then we would keep the orange and white while removing the others.

Step 4: Prepare to Solder

  • WARNING: While soldering DO NOT touch the silver on the soldering iron. It can get up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit once heated! If you have questions please talk to Maker Hub staff.
  • Plug in the soldering iron. It will take a few minutes to heat up. This is the left item in the first photo.
  • Once heated wipe the tip of the soldering iron on wet sponge until shiny silver. Do not hold against the sponge.
  • We will now melt solder with the soldering iron and apply it on each of copper pads on the LED strip and each wire from the USB. We're not connecting anything yet - just leaving tiny mounds of solder.
    • Apply solder with the soldering iron to one of the copper pads on the LED strip. You only need a little amount of solder. Repeat for other LED copper pad.
      • The solder may be difficult when applying to the LED strip. Take your time and make sure to not leave the soldering iron on the copper pad for too long. (Roughly no more than 5s of contact)
    • Apply solder with the soldering iron on the power wire in the USB. It does not need to cover the wire completely. Repeat for the ground wire once finished. See the third photo.

Step 5: Connect the USB to the LED

  • NOTICE: For this next step make sure that there is no contact between the two wires or the solder. If the + and the - side are connected at all when plugged in, the light will not work! This will not break it, but will stop it from working.

  • Using the soldering iron, attach the + wire to the + pad on the LED strip
    • This is your orange or red wire
  • Using the soldering iron, attach the - wire to the - pad on the LED strip
    • This is your white or black wire
  • Plug in the USB to ensure LEDs light up.

Step 6: Glue in LED

  • Remove the adhesive cover on the back of the LED strip
  • Apply craft glue to back of LEDs and stick in the wooden block with the routed channel.
  • Apply extra glue to USB wire to attach to wooden block securely.
  • Let dry for at least 30 minutes.
  • Note: Keep this glue for later.

Step 7: Preparing Design in Adobe Illustrator

  • Open Adobe Illustrator and create a new file that is the: [Custom] 8 inches wide and 9 inches tall.
  • This square represents the piece of acrylic you are cutting your sign out of.

Step 8: Getting Your Image

  • Find an image online or add text within your document. This will be what is displayed on your sign.
  • You can use this site for great icons for your sign!
  • If using an image
    • Make sure it is compatible with the laser cutter. We use these extensions: JPEG, svg, eps, and ai.
    • Download image to the desktop. In Illustrator, go to File, then place. Then select your image.
  • NOTICE: The final size will only by 5 inches wide, not the 8 inches that the black square currently is! This is because your led base is only 5 inches wide. To keep pieces flush, make sure to cut your sign out 5 inches wide.

Step 9: Designing Your Sign

  • Create a rectangle on the screen using the Rectangle tool. Using the top bar, make the width 5 inches as seen in the first image. The height can be any size you would like as long as it fits on the document.
  • Set the color of this rectangle or any cut lines to RGB 255 Red and set the stroke size of the rectangle or your cutting line to 0.001. This is seen in the first picture.
  • Make sure to place your image or text within this red square/cut lines as anything outside will NOT be included.
  • NOTICE: As seen in the second picture, we have a 1/2 inch gap between the cutout and the bottom of our Phoenix. This is because the wood base will be covering the bottom 1/2 inch of the acrylic. Make sure to have the extra 1/2 inch at the bottom so your image is not covered.

Step 10: Final Preparation

  • To cut your sign, go to File and then print. The only printer connected will be the laser cutter. Once you print, click on the red UCP icon in the dock to open the laser engraver software.
  • NOTICE: Our red line is still there and barely visible. Since it is 0.001 points thick, it is near invisible in Adobe Illustrator. Once you print it, you will see it in the UCP software. If you do not see a red line, then return to Illustrator and verify you're using 255 red and .001 strokes.

Step 11: Move Picture

  • Move your image to the top left corner of the window.
    • This can be done by clicking the center red icon on the right side.

Step 12: Enter Cardboard Settings

We're going to practice on a piece of cardboard before using our squre of acrylic. This will help us verify everything is setup properly. If something goes wrong, we'd rather waste a piece of cardboard than a piece of acrylic.

  • Grab a scrap of cardboard in the Maker Hub.
  • Click the settings button on the bottom right corner.
  • Select: Under the Material Database tab, select Natural, then Matboard
  • Then using digital calipers, measure the thickness of your cardboard (in inches). Enter the material thickness in the bottom left box.
  • Click Apply followed by Close on the bottom right.
  • NOTICE: Follow and complete the check sheet for the laser engraver to ensure you've completed every step.
  • Once the checksheet is complete, press Play and cut the sign out on the cardboard.
  • This is your practice cut. Make sure it looks how you like before continuing to the next step.

Step 13: Enter Acrylic Settings

When you're ready to cut and engrave your acrylic piece, follow these steps.

  • Place your acrylic square in the upper-left corner of the laser bed. Leave the paper on the underside of the acrylic.
  • Click the Settings button on the bottom right corner.
  • Select: Plastic > Acrylic > Cast Acrylic > Cast Acrylic.
  • Then using digital calipers, enter the material thickness in the bottom left box (in inches).
  • Click Apply followed by Close on the bottom right.
  • NOTICE: Follow and complete the check sheet for the laser engraver to ensure all rules are followed.
  • Once the checksheet is complete, press Play to cut the sign out on the acrylic sheet.

Step 14: Prepare Assembly

  • Get the craft glue, two wooden acrylic holding pieces and your acrylic sign.

Step 15: Glue Wood to Acrylic

  • Before proceeding, remove the paper backing on the acrylic.
  • Apply craft glue to the side of one piece of wood.
  • Firmly press glue side to acrylic aligning with the bottom edge covering the 1/2 inch made in the "Designing your Sign" step
  • Flip over and repeat process for the second piece of wood.
  • NOTICE: You can use a paper towel to remove the excess glue after pressing pieces together. Make sure edges are as flush as possible and let dry. Glue can hold the weight of the sign while drying, but will not be solid for at least 1-2 hours.
  • If you would like, you may paint or stain your wooden pieces to make a more refined finished look.
  • If you do this, keep in mind that you may sand some pieces and have to re-paint or re-stain the wood.

Step 16: Prepare Base

  • Use a Popsicle stick to apply a thin even layer of the Weldbond glue either side of the routed channel.

Step 17: Final Assembly

  • Press the top and bottom half firmly together aligning the wood as best as possible.
  • NOTICE: Use a paper towel to wipe up excess glue and allow to fully dry. If painting or staining, use masking/painters tape to cover important parts like the acrylic and the wiring.

Step 18: Optional Extras!

  • Add a laser engraved plaque to the front of the wooden base (see picture).
  • Stain or paint wooden base
  • Sand sides to make as flush as possible.
    • Note - sand before you stain or paint otherwise you'll need to do it again.

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