DIY Neon sign using EL wire

Neon signs can be a cool way of expressing yourself or pass a message to someone. Neon signs can be found in places ranging from shops to bars but they can add some touch to your living space as well. Neon signs can be difficult to make and they require some serious skills and equipment! Electroluminescent wire or simply EL wire on the other hand is a cheap and simple way to create cool signs. They are often powered by batteries and a controller circuit.
EL wire neon sign

Parts List

To get started with making your own neon looking sign, you will need to get the following:

  • EL wire with battery-powered controller
  • A4-size sheet of glossy black perspex
  • Bare copper wire (Diameter of 1mm or less)
  • A4 “deep” photo frame (optional)
  • Drill or dremel
  • 1 mm drill bit
  • 3 mm drill bit

We bought the pink EL wire with the battery powered controller for £5.29. The blue one was £1.99 for 1 metre. The A4 sheet was also purchased from eBay for £2.61. The A4 photo frame was from Ikea 🙂

Perspex EL wirecopper braid

Inspirational phrase!

So, first of all, you need to think of a message for your sign. Ours was “La Vida es rosa”; which loosely translate to “Life is good”. The literal translation is Life is pink…

Print your sign on A4… we added the “speaking cloud” around the text. And finally we taped the printed A4 onto the A4 piece of perspex.

A4 perspex

Drilling

Get your 3 mm drill bit out and fit it in your power tool/dremel. Decide where you want the EL wire to enter through the perspex and where it will exit. For instance, for the first “L”, we drilled the entry hole at the start of the letter and the exit hole at the end.. see below. If this does not make too much sense, keep reading and you will understand.

EL Wire Drill holes

So once you have drilled your entry and exit holes, you need to think of how you will hold the EL wire in place on you are ready to shape and bend it to overlap on the black text. Some people suggested that superglue might be a good option and others suggested hot glue. We did not think that they would be suitable and thought these methods would be messy.

We opted to hold the EL wire onto the perspex by drilling holes on either side of where the EL wire will sit and tying copper wire around it. So we put up our 1 mm drill bit on our dremel and started to drill holes on the edges on the black text.. and yes, it was tiresome.

1mm holes Perspex

With all the holes drilled and the A4 paper removed, this is the outcome:

Perspex sign

Feeding and Shaping EL wire

Find a comfy chair, a pair of pliers to twist the copper wire braid and then start feeding the EL wire through the back of the perspex.

Perspex EL Wire

Shape the EL wire into the shape of the letters using only your fingers! Pliers can damage the EL wire. Then, tie the EL wire down with the copper wire braid.

EL Wire sign

This process of feeding and tying can take hours and you may loose your patience with this. Do take some break and go back to it when you are rested! 🙂

EL

At the end of this process, the back of the perspex will look like this:

Finished EL sign

Finishing touches

Solder the blue and pink EL wire together and then fit your EL wire perspex sign into the photo frame. We used hot glue to hold the perspex in the frame. We also glued the EL wire controller to the frame.

EL wire sign in frame

This project took over 24 hours to make. I would recommend that you try to make a small sign if you are not very patient with that kind of project. The end product is however very cool!

DIY EL wire sign in frame

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