Edge-lit Nixie tube is sheer brilliance

It’s not often that we see something so brilliantly simple we’re left reaching for our checkbooks while wondering exactly how we never though of that before. [Jürgen]‘s edge-lit Nixie display is one of those builds.

[Jürgen]‘s modern take on a Nixie display uses ten laser-engraved pieces of acrylic to emulate a Nixie numerical display. In the base of the display are 10 LEDs, each shining onto the side of a piece of acrylic. When an LED lights up, you can clearly see the corresponding number. Edge-lit displays are old hat, but talking about the possibility of an RGB Nixie-style display is really neat.

The build was inspired by an antique edge-lit display that performed the same function as the ever-popular Nixie tube with 10 miniature light bulbs and light pipes. The ancient edge-lit displays came in a rectangular enclosure that worked very well for panel-mount uses, but [Jürgen] stuck to a more traditional cylindrical orientation. All we want to know is when a manufacturer in China is going to start building these. Check out the demo of the edge-lit Nixie after the break.


  1. svofski says:

    This is very beautiful and very cleanly executed.

    I protest against using the name “nixie” for these indicators though. Nixies are gas discharge tubes, nothing else.

    • Hirudinea says:

      Well if you don’t want to call them Nixie how about E-Lixie (Edge Light ixie.) Still this display is cooler than the other side of the pillow. Next project, visual braille E-Lixie display.

  2. Trash-anger says:

    Bad ! better use real “Nixie tube” !

  3. Japala says:

    The concept was introduced back in 2008 here:


    Jürgen made a very nice use of the technique. It is great to see that this often “just” beautiful light show is put to a real use. :)

  4. st2000 says:

    The concept is way older then that. On this web page there is an NLS Edge-Lit Display part that probably dates back to the 70’s (maybe even eariler):


    I must say though, this build HAD posted looks as clean and nice as any I have ever seen. Really nice work.

    • Japala says:

      Nice find. I didn’t realize that this had already been done This only shows how hard it is to come up with something truly unique these days. Everything is either something old that peole don’t remember about or combination of different concepts, items etc. to form something “new”.

  5. Gerrit says:

    Nice modern take on an old technology. Edge-lit displays were made popular in the original digital meters of the 1950’s (http://www.hp9825.com/html/dvms.html). I have a set of displays used on the Univac II console. Soon to be making a few more of same for a digital clock. Using leds in place of 328’s makes life so much simpler.

    Congrats on a well done update.

  6. grenadier says:

    This. This is not orange.


  7. Michael says:

    This technologie has been invented in the late 1960s – see this article


    (scroll to end to see the display modules)

    • Tony says:

      Older than that, apparently started on Russian submarines. Entirely possible God told Noah to add it to the Ark so he knew when feeding time was.

      All the same, it’s a very nice build.

  8. denis says:

    really really well done, a clock of these would be stunning.

  9. I’d love to pick up a set of these to build a kit clock, but forget “made in China”! China builds the mass produced spew that makes vintage nixies so special.

    • mjrippe says:

      Actually, I have some Nixies that were made in China. Not sure about the dates but probably late ’70s. I do agree their current manufacturing standards prevent me from wanting to buy anything they make.

      • qwerty says:

        You can get really well made stuff from China as well as the worst possible junk, it all depends on how much you pay and from whom you buy. They simply have a lower low quality limit than ours, which doesn’t mean they always stick to it.

        Generally you get what you pay for.

  10. Prof. Geisst says:
  11. NewCommentor1283 says:

    i JUST LOVE the prototype! it looks awesome!
    im going to make 1, or 4

    the following is not inteded as an attack on any staff, just a reminder of who the audience is… or sadly was, or was-shouldbe?

    “All we want to know is when a manufacturer in China is going to start building these.”
    WHAT ???

    you actually WANT sum1else to rip your design off and take away YOUr design profits?

    i hate it when people think of something so cheap to make and actually HOPE to buy it for 20 or 50 times the price.

    a set of 4 for a clock will cost you 200$ or more…

    is it still copyrighted? if it isnt, then why not make/sell it locally for a quarter of the price? making it in china would only be to skirt copyright, right?
    … overseas shipping = shipping costs …
    we already have plexi locally, dont we?

    hopefully we can get 2$ worth of plexi and MAKE it for very little effort instead of paying 50$ plus for each.

    the plexi could be obtained for free. (ive been offered scrap MANY times but was more interested in all the free electronics i could carry) after all, the display is like 2 inches by 3 inches,,, most scrap/free plexi is bigger…

    for the engraving try a drill, at an angle.

    for the cutting try a hot knife? but in a well ventilated area. EDIT: outside

    do NOT buy a hot knife, they are easy, cheap, and quick to make.

    buy a 5$ knife and make it electric by using solid-core copper wire to “twist-tie” a high-enough-wattage soldering iron to the side of a knife with-OUT plastic handle.

    PS: i hate to have to troll and i hope i kept it friendly and constructive, but hoping to pay more on this website… nuf said

  12. Sweet says:

    All it needs is a PolarIzing filter and it’s done

  13. Leigh says:

    This reminds me of the Japanese hacker who made his own magic-eye tube: http://www005.upp.so-net.ne.jp/y_kondo/MAGICEYE2.HTM

  14. AussieTech says:

    Let me be the “n”-th person to say these (very cool looking displays) aren’t “Nixies”.


    NLS Edge-Lit Display (Non-Linear Systems)

    I can tell you for certain that these were in use in counter/scalers and cash registers at least as far back as 1965.

    A major advantage of this hack is that you can make the digits as big as you like.

    An earlier and similar display was an “RP” – Rear Projection made by IEE, also with ten lamps but back-projected the image of a digit (or any symbol actually) onto a frosted front screen.
    One is shown here;


    (down page to “The Shape of Clocks to Come”

    and here;


    There was also a cathode-ray version (shown at link above).

    And of course with both of these you could filter the display to any colour(s) you wanted, ‘tho LED’s would be the go today.

    Another even earlier form was a vertical row of lamps with a digit in front of each.

    (Braille pin “displays” have also been done in pre-history :))

  15. Mr Name Required says:

    Fantastic idea and beatiful execution, very nice indeed. There seems to be a bit of color bleed from one digit to another, perhaps if the base piece was black (oranyopaque) acrylic istead of clear this would be taken care of.

  16. Kelvin says:

    You can’t see it much, but doesn’t the furthest number away get really dim from all the plexiglass in the way?

    • Mr Name (required) says:

      Good observation. Perhaps all the LEDs except the farthest back could have a few hundred ohms current limiting resistor in series, the ones at the front being the highest resistance? Not sure how to determine the resistance scale, but maybe using a photographic lightmeter could objectively determine brightness.

  17. bothersaidpooh says:

    Interesting idea *2.
    Use the RGB LEDs and diffuser assemblies from old HP printer/scanner scan heads.

  18. heatgap says:

    I really like this idea. I’d like to use this project to expand on some things Ive been trying to do! Well done!

  19. Tylon Foxx says:

    Lovely idea, i’ve been wanting to make a nixie clock for a long time just for shits&giggles, but i’m on a bit of a tight budget especially considering the cost of the nixie tubes and the fact that LEDs most likely last a lot longer.

    NewCommemorator1283 above mentions using an angled drill for engraving the numbers, a further tip for that process would be to cover the plexiglass sheet in masking tape to prevent the drill from slipping, the tape can then be removed and the sheet can be cleaned with water. Making shallow and careful holes with a vertical drill should do the trick also.

    Some kind of acid + a good stencil or sandblasting could probably give it a more realistic nixie look, or maybe a small (1-2mm) CNC mounted drill. :)

  20. t-bone says:

    …is sheer brilliance

    I see what you did there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 97,790 other followers