Neon signs are really cool, but they are also really expensive and big. I decided to develop a method to emulate the effect of neon signs while being cheaper and more accessible to the average person. In total, the project cost less than £20.
I decided to use electroluminescent wire which I bought from EL WireCraft. This stuff is basically multicoloured glowing wire. They require about 160V AC to make them glow but you can buy the driver circuits for only a few pounds – this wasn’t really an electronics project. The wire costs about £2.50 per meter which is enough for one letter.
Here is what I did:
I first found a font that I wanted to use online and produced an image of what I wanted. I moved letters around in GIMP to make the layout a bit better.
The image doesn’t need to be high quality as you only use it to figure out where you will drill holes. I used the laser cutter to cut out 3mm holes from a piece of ply wood where I thought the wire would need support (you could obviously do this with a normal drill) and cut 5mm holes where the wire would poke through the wood. I then painted it black before hammering small 3mm deep washers into each hole. These washers I made out of transparent acrylic on the laser cutter and make the wire stand off the board a bit, like in real neon signs.
On the reverse side I hammered drawing pins such that there was a drawing pin near to each hole.
I then took two strands of wire from a piece of multi-core wire, wrapped them around the EL wire, put them through the hole and wrapped them tightly around the drawing pins. This held the EL wire in place.
I continued this until I had my complete piece.
I like the effect that this created and it’s relatively convincing as a neon sign, except for the fact that the wire is much thinner than the tubes used in neon signs.