Quick Edge Lit School Project




About: A Maker since childhood with all the classic symptoms, a robot builder, and an Internet software CTO by day.

My daughter was working on a creative project on cell structures, and of course, every project is better with LEDs, so the obvious choice was to build a quick edge lit LED cell diagram!  We only had a few hours over a few days, so this one is very quick and easy to make.

18" x 12" 1/4" thick Acrylic sheet - we got one twice that size and cut it down.  The 1/4" thickness makes the channel easy since the LED strips are also 1/4" wide, but you could do this differently and use thinner plastic.
18" of 1x4 pine
36" of 1x2 pine
18" of an LED strip - available at many online stores - we used http://www.hobbypartz.com
a 9v battery clip
1 5/8" drywall screws (6 of them)

Step 1: Wood Frame

The frame is made with the 1x4 board on the bottom and the 1x2 boards (18" each) as sides.  We left a 1/2" reveal in the front, then screwed the first 1x2 from the bottom.  We used clamps to hold the board in place, then drilled a counter-sink hole from the bottom - 3 holes and screws in all.

Then we put the acrylic in place to make the gap the right width, and clamped the second 1x2 to the first with the plastic in place.  As before, we used three screws from the bottom.

Now, the plastic slides into the groove we created.  The LED strips are also conveniently 1/4" wide.

Step 2: Acrylic Diagram

The plastic sheet probably has film protecting it - leave one side covered for now to reduce any scratches on the back side.  Working on a clean towel or something will also help.

We etched the plastic by hand with a Dremel tool with a small stone grinding tip.  The metal spiral tips tended to get out of control.  Do some practice on scraps first to get the hang of it.  We drew the diagram with washable markers, then went over the lines with the Dremel tool.  Be sure to leave extra room at the bottom for the frame.

I noticed afterwards that scotch tape on the back lights up too - you may be able to do all of this with tape or glue or something - that could be even easier.

Step 3: LED Lighting

The LED strips can be cut in pre-set places.  We got lucky and 18" was just right.  See this Instructable on soldering a 9v battery clip on the LED strip.  Then the LED strip just rests in the channel and is held down by the plastic - no need for glue or anything.  The LED strips have an adhesive back, but we did not use that.

That's it!  We have extra plastic - maybe make a light up grave stone next!

LEDs, the bacon for Makers! :-)

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    8 Discussions


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks - first time for me too :-) The cell diagram part was all my daughter - I have little recollection of learning that.

    We haven't had time to test, but certain glues may light up as well as the etching, which would make these even easier, esp. for kids. Scotch tape does light up, and we used a sharpie to get a black on green label effect.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    It would be interesting to see how well inks work with that since it really would make it easier for kids to make and you can erase it and re-use it.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting idea - the Navy uses (or used) something like that for navigation boards that they would update.

    I tried a few things (more than you suggest, but for the sake of documentation):

    White Glue: Sort of works, takes a long time to dry.

    CA "crazy" glue: Messes up the plastic, with a fog like coating. Does not dry rapidly.

    Hot Melt Glue: This worked OK - it did show up some, and can be removed easily. This was the best of the glue approaches. Plus you can peel it off and it stays intact - hmm, maybe some other project idea there...

    Soldering iron: Might work - mine was not very hot, but a wood burning one might be good. I guess you would want to do this with ventilation. The grooves are not as rough as a Dremel stone, so they reflect less light.

    Highlighters: They don't really show up, unless you use a black light. I guess that could be useful if you want an otherwise transparent surface, but not that interesting for this project.

    Sharpie: It does not glow, of course, so you are just writing on plastic. :-)

    Water cleanup markers: This is what we used to draw the diagram - they do not cover very well, and do not light up.

    So, the Dremel works best so far, unless you use a Sharpie on tape for the reverse effect.

    I should do a test board and post it :-)

    Of course, as with most of the other Edge Lit Instructables, having a laser cutter to etch, or making a mask and using sand blasting etc. would work great too.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    That is some very thorough research. The laser cutter would be the best you could make some pretty cool stuff with that, too bad they weren't more readily available.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I remember drawing stuff in biology lab in High School and coloring them with crayons. This is truly amazing.