Introduction: Wearable Custom Light Panel (Technology Exploration Course - TfCD - Tu Delft)
In this Instructable you will learn how to make your own lit up image that you can wear! This is done by using EL technology covered with a vinyl decal and attaching bands to it so you can wear it around your arm. You can also change parts of this project to use your own image or change the location of the light on your body, by using a different mounting system.
This project was done to explore the possibilities of EL technology for wearables lighting products for the Technology Exploration course part of the Integrated Product Design master of the TU delft in the Netherlands.
This Instructable has been setup in three phases:
- Sticker / decal
This should help you in case you want to only do parts of this project.
Step 1: Gather Electronics Materials
For this project we used an EL panel powered by a 9V battery.
The components we used:
- EL panel 10x10cm
- EL inverter
- Slider switch
- 9V battery connector
- 9V battery
Also you will need basic soldering supplies, such as:
- Soldering iron
- Soldering tin
- Wire cutters
- Wire strippers
Most components can be acquired easily from a local or online electronics / prototyping shop. The EL panel and inverter can be somewhat more difficult to find, however these are often sold together. We ordered ours from AliExpress for a relatively low price (and low quality?):
Other possibilities are:
Before you begin modifying the EL panel make sure it works by connecting the EL panel to the inverter and simply put the power leads on the 9V battery to power it.
It should light up with an even glow in the color you chose; this is a yellow EL.
Step 2: Gather Sewing Materials
To make the light wearable, we need to do some (simple) sewing. We used 2 elastic bands to mount it to our arm, but you can change this out for something else.
For this you will need:
- Needle and thread
- A hole punch (used for leather belts etc)
- Elastic bands or similar material
- Fabric to make the pouch (we used an old laptop bag)
Step 3: Gather Sticker Materials
We covered parts of the EL panel with a vinyl decal, making it glow according to our own design. This is not necessary to do, but does add an extra effect. We did this using a vinyl cutter / plotter, but if you do not have access to this, it is also possible to just do this by hand using an X-acto knife.
The materials we used:
- Vinyl cutter with required software (we used a GCC i-Craft)
- Self adhesive vinyl (available at hobby shops or online)
- Squeegee (or creditcard)
- Pointy pliers
Step 4: Cut EL Panel to Size
One of the interesting aspects of EL is that it can be cut in (almost) any shape or size. As we wanted to mount this light on someone's arm, it needed to be a bit smaller.
In order for the EL panel to still work after being cut, a connection to both the inner and outer electrode is required. If you have an EL panel which already has a cable attached to it, do not worry about this as these wires are already connected to each electrode.
In the case of pre-attached wires, you can freely cut the rest of the EL panel to your liking, just remember that the EL panel needs to be connected to the the wires, in order to light up.
Before you cut the EL panel you can draw your design on the back of the panel. Afterwards use a pair of sharp(!) scissors to cut the panel. If the scissors are dull you will end up with some delamination as seen in the pictures.
SAFETY NOTE: In some cases we read we read about the possibility of the cut edge to give a little shock/tingle. Although we did not experience this ourselves it is a good thing to stay on the save side, therefore seal the cut edge with some tape, glue or nail polish. This should prevent it from shorting or shocking you.
Step 5: Fit All Electronics Together
As this project was meant as a wearable, the electronics needed to be as small and compact as possible. Therefore we tried to pack all the components in a small bundle which can be carried more easily. However you are free to do this however you want, depending on your project.
Step 6: Solder All Components
Cut and strip all the wires to according to your placement of components.
Remove the cover from the 9V battery connector (only needed if you want to glue this part to the inverter or something else)
Now solder all components together. If you are new to soldering, check out other Instructables to get familiar with soldering in general.
Step 7: Glue Components Together
In order to keep all components together we used epoxy glue. Since this can be quite nasty stuff, use it in a well ventilated area and preferably use disposable gloves.
This is a two-part glue, which you need to mix before using. Squeeze some of both parts on a scrap piece of paper or cardboard, then use a small stick to mix it and apply it to the parts. As it does not dry immediately, use tape to hold everything in place until it dries.
Tip: keep the leftover glue and check when it is dried up nicely . As once this is dry, the glue inside your project should be cured as well! This prevents you from removing the tape to check on the glue and potentially harming the glue joints.
Step 8: Attaching Elastic Bands
In order to make it wearable, we used two elastic bands on either side to attach it to our arm. This was done by making some holes in the EL panel with a hole punch (normally used for belts etc.) and sewing the elastic bands to this using a needle and thread.
Step 9: Making the Pouch
Start by placing the electronics on the fabric and making a plan how you it should fit together. We salvaged an old laptop bag for the fabric and kept the nice edges it already has for our pouch.
After you are sure how you will make it, cut the fabric and sew the flaps together creating the pouch shape. We left out a small part to keep the slider accessible.
To make sure the electronics pouch can be carried easily, a belt loop was added by cutting a small strip of fabric and sewing this to the back of the pouch.
Step 10: Prepare the Image for Cutting
In order for the cutter to be able to cut an image it needs to be a vector file.
We used a vector file from The Noun Project https://thenounproject.com. Here you can find vector icons with Creative Commons rights. We used "Lightning" by Vladimir Belochkin https://thenounproject.com/search/?q=lightning&i=...
Here you can find a good tutorial on how to prepare your file for cutting: https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Use-Adobe...
Step 11: Cutting and Placing the Sticker
Now the file is prepared, we can load some vinyl in the vinyl cutter. You can choose the color yourself, however black is the best in blocking the light from the EL. Now it's time to send the file we prepared to the vinyl cutter and watch it go!
When the image is cut, we need to peel away all the negative space using the pliers. In our case this was the inside of the bolt.
Once this is done, you can remove the vinyl from its backing and place it on top of the EL panel. Now by using your squeegee (or creditcard) go over the vinyl to remove all the bubbles and make sure it adheres everywhere.
Now cut the excess vinyl on the edges using scissors or an X-acto knife.
You are done!