EL Wire: make it, connect it, power it

[Jeri's] back with a series of videos that outlines the step-by-step electroluminescent wire manufacturing, making EL panels from PCBs, and assembling power supplies for EL hardware. These concepts are actually quite approachable, something we don’t expect from someone who makes their own integrated circuits at home.

The concept here is that an alternating current traveling through phosphors will excite them and produce light. You need two conductors separated by a dielectric to get the job done. For wire, [Jeri] uses one strand of enameled magnet wire and one strand of bare wire. The enamel insulates them, protecting against a short circuit.

But that’s not all, she also tests using a circuit board as an EL panel. By repurposing the ground plane as one of the conductors, and using the solder mask as the dielectric she is able to paint on a phosphor product resulting in the glowing panel.

Finally, you’ve got to get juice to the circuit and that’s where her power supply video comes into the picture. We’ve embedded all three after the break. It’s possible that this is cooler than blinking LEDs and it’s fairly inexpensive to get started. The circuitry is forgiving, as long as you don’t zap yourself with that alternating current.

EL wire manufacturing

Making EL panels from PCBs

EL power supplies

Comments

  1. Hiroe says:

    Did the green pixel move?

  2. kyle says:

    wow a project i can actually understand fully :) thanks [Jeri]

    I am particularly amazed that you can do this PCB’s. I see some really trick motherboards in the future. or hell just add it your your project for even more cool kid points.

  3. sneakypoo says:

    Thanks for taking some of the “magic” out of the analog stuff, I finally understood something. I’ve always been a bit intimidated by “analog” circuits such as these. With micros you know it’s either this or that but with transformers and the like I always feel it’s… mysterious. Hope that made some sense hehe.

  4. Bob says:

    I made the first circuit she showed when I was 8 years old as a shocker. My teacher and classmates were not amused. You can accomplish something similar by using a DC motor instead of a relay. Because the current fluctuates as the brushes make contact with uncharged coils, you can cause an attached transformer to output an AC current. I would use the motor over the relay because the relay won’t last long when used that way.

  5. Sariel says:

    totally amazing! you’re brilliant Jeri, you even explain it in a way I can understand. Thanks! btw hope you get that new camera! just make sure you hack the old one into something cool.

  6. Thanks Hack-a-day for the nice write up! If I could only condense it down that concisely when I ramble in the videos.

  7. Spuds says:

    Okay… I’m not trying to sound sexist… because my default is to NOT be sexist… and I don’t want to take any credit from her whatsoever… because she’s smart. And I love smart girls…

    And I don’t want to sound like a horn dog, because I’m not.. but there is just something about a girl that can make her own PCBs and wire her own stuff up that really gets me going.

    Of course, I had to do all of that stuff for my ex-wife. (Ham Radio operators, always tinkering with something) — So after spending all of those years doing it for her, it may just be the excitement of knowing that there’s someone out there that can do it themselves and is also a woman.

    That being said.. this is a cool project. I look forward to trying it.

    @sneakypoo — Don’t let it baffle you. It’s all the same electrons. :)

  8. jeff-o says:

    I’m with you, Spuds – techie females rock!

  9. JB says:

    DEAD PIXEL!!!!!!!!!!!!
    j/k

    Nice project and thanks. Now to get the “sample” materials and build something.

    Are you sure that is a dead pixel? It looks like some floating EL material :P

  10. Mike Szczys says:

    @Jeri: I disagree. The “rambling” you do in your videos is what make it so easy to fully understand your projects. Being concise isn’t always a virtue when teaching.

  11. dontpanic says:

    On-PCB dot-matrix display! If only I had the time for a hack…

  12. tinkermonkey says:

    I like your posts. I really like the EL phosphors.

    I am curious about the potential toxicity of the phosphors you are using. The rare-earth phosphors in color TV’s is toxic and biologically available. Which is why TV’s require processing as toxic waste. I noticed you do not ware gloves while handling the phosphors. Have you read the CAS supplied with these chemicals? I do not wish to be an alarmist, but knowing if something toxic will help you protect your self if necessary.

  13. Jac Goudsmit says:

    Jeri Ellsworth is probably the only person that I wouldn’t stop in mid-sentence for saying “The VOLTAGE goes into the relay…”. I _KNOW_ she means “The CURRENT goes into the relay” (video 3). :-)

    Awesome stuff! And yes someone should donate a camera.

  14. Oops. Yes. Current. Hazards of making videos by the seat of my pants.

    Toxic – The phosphors are ZnS based, similar to glow paint, but do read the MSDS before handling anything.

  15. Gene says:

    Cool. This gets me thinking about a display built right into a PCB (I imagine you could make display segments with shaped copper pads) but I’m not so sure about switching a large number of high voltage AC circuits. Piles of relays should do it by rather bulky and expensive (even with small reed or solid state relays that are under a buck each.) Multiplexing seems like it would diminish brightness too much. Triacs? Never worked with them, but on first brush seems like it might do the trick and can be had cheap.

  16. Triac’s are a good choice and I’ve done multiplexing experiments. I’ll demo it soon.

  17. svofski says:

    I rather like that green mole, it’s cute.

  18. dbear says:

    A quick question – Can these be made to work with pulsating DC? That is with the positive half of a sine wave or possibly a 0 to 300V square wave. That would make it a whole lot easier to control using mosfets instead of triacs. It appears to me that the EL elements are electrically a capacitor and it shouldn’t matter either way. After all little neon lights work on DC(they just glow on one side).

  19. David says:

    Awesome work, once again, Jeri!

  20. I haven’t had much luck with pulsating DC without an active pull down to return the display back to ground.

  21. Tachikoma says:

    It would be interesting to see a modified Hartley oscillator in action to drive the thing. Cool thing is, you could also tune the oscillator.

  22. Derek says:

    LOL. The dead pixel gives me an idea. Use a piece of software to lace videos with an artificial dead pixel in a different spot each time. It would drive a certain group absolutely nuts.

  23. zeropointmodule says:

    hehe.. nice.
    any ideas if you could make the flexible equivalent using the front coating from a touch screen and spray-on photoresist?

    another thought I had is using spin coated sodium silicate (aka water glass) mixed with the phosphor then dried as a low-cost clear dielectric.

  24. EdZ says:

    If your purpose is to build a compact circuit rather than to experiment with scratch-building a driver, then there are numerous all-in-one SMT EL driver chips available.

  25. George Johnson says:

    So where do you get the chemicals from??

  26. zeropointmodule says:

    another idea i had, connect different value smd inductors to each segment, parallel capacitors as needed then drive from a single PC audio output.
    this should allow individual segments to light up without complicated wiring..

    the same technique with larger inductors and output diodes should allow a VFD to be driven directly from a PC audio out due to the low current draw..

  27. nave.notnilc says:

    I am also curious as to the costs and source of the chemicals.

  28. Hitek146 says:

    I believe Jeri discussed sources for the chemicals in Jeri’s first “Getting Started With EL”(or whatever) article that was posted on Hackaday some time back…

  29. suresh joseph says:

    EL is wonder.

  30. Kevin Elfman says:

    I cannot find a place to buy EL phosphors ? Can you please provide a source for large quantities – I would love to make some of this stuff.

  31. dc says:

    good job self taught also..you rock

  32. This is … well I’m 3 years behind to having found out the nerdy stuff went bisex … I mean, this is awesome. I come from an age where it used to be completely a boy thing to do electrostuff. The future is bright !!! ;) It’s excellent that women will now go into electro design. But I guess that’s another one of my lagging behind idea’s. ;)

    FANTASTIC!

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