Building EL Displays On A PCB

ELElecrolumiscent displays have seen a huge swing in popularity recently, but only in limited forms like EL wire or flat EL panels. You can, of course, cut and bend these wires and panels to suit any purpose, but custom shaped EL displays are just the bee’s knees. They’re not hard to fabricate, either: with cheap custom PCBs, all it takes to make custom EL panels is just a few chemicals.

[Nick]‘s method of fabricating custom EL displays uses an exposed copper layer on a PCB you’d pick up from OSHpark or any of the random board houses in China. The process consists of designing a display – be it a few letters, pixels, or a seven-segment arrangement. The display ‘stack’ is a layer of painted-on dialectric, a phospor, and finally a translucent conductive ink that connects the display segments to ground. It looks like an extremely easy process, and from the pictures it looks like [Nick] is making some EL displays of reasonable quality.

[Nick]‘s work was inspired by the grand poobah of homebrew electrolumiscent displays, [Jeri Ellsworth], who managed to make a similar EL pixel on a PCB. [Nick]‘s display looks great, though, and with a little work some custom segment displays should be very possible.

Laptop Keyboard EL Panel Backlight


[nullpointr] wanted a backlit keyboard for his Asus Transformer Prime so that it would be a bit easier to use in low-light situations. He considered a few different options and ended up adding electroluminescent panels behind the keys.

Those paying close attention might wonder why we called this a laptop in the title. Well, it’s a tablet with a keyboard dock and that’s a mouthful. This actually really helps to simplify the modifications because the motherboard and other bits are all in the screen portion of the device. EL panels are also a nice choice because you can cut them to size and they still function. With a bit of case work, three panels were made to fit side-by-side.

The part that just isn’t going to make it in the original enclosure is the inverter that drives the panels. It’s the black box to the left. [nullpointr] added a USB-form-factor jack to the side of the case that allows the inverter to be disconnected quite easily. This way the Transformer Prime can still go with him on the road, it just won’t light up unless he also hauls around that add-on.

Way way back we saw someone do this with fiber optics and an LED. Unfortunately that project link seems to be dead so we figure it’s about time someone revisited the concept.

How to build a Tron bar that Daft Punk would hang out at


Sure, the bar in this image looks pretty neat. But the video showing off its synchronization with the music brings it to the next level. The flashing lights and EL wire put on a quite a show that may make the bartenders feel like they’ve already had a few too many.

The most amusing part of the project is that it all started from that half bookcase mounted on the wall. [Alexander Givens] and his roommate decided to augment its usefulness as a liquor cabinet by building a bar around it. But why stop there? LED Strips and 120 feet of elecroluminescent wire give the bar its inner glow. The illuminated lines are obvious, but the LED strip locations may not be. Several of them light the shelves hosting liquor and glass wear. The bartop itself is made of glass, filled with 75 pounds of marbles, and lit from underneath by the rest of the strips.

An Arduino Mega with an EL shield drives the system. The guys built a rudimentary control interface that looks partially spill tolerant. It’s located just under the inside lip of the bar.

Their costumes came out pretty well too. But with a built-in centerpiece like this they may want to upgrade to a more accurate replica.

[Read more...]

Tron costume fits nice and snug

We’ve seen our fair share of Tron costumes and props, but much like [Sean-h] points out, they are usually pretty bulky and baggy. He’s gone a slightly different route by starting with a wetsuit instead of bulkier items like leather jackets. The lighting is done in the same manner we’ve seen before, copious amounts of EL wire and EL tape. The additional layers of this costume were made from foam, so they could be fairly form fitting as well.

[Sean-h] points out that there are some downfalls to his design. The wetsuit, while looking great, gets pretty hot while indoors and the foam layers have a tendency to detach if you move around too much. We think it looks great though. Good job [Sean-H]

Building a sound reactive EL panel and learning something in the process

We’ve seen a lot of builds using electroluminescent wire, usually in the realm of costumes and props. Unfortunately, most electrical engineers don’t deal with blinking and dimming EL wire and panels and any tinkerer trying to control electroluminescence doesn’t have a lot of resources on how to control EL stuff. [ch00f] wanted to fill this knowledge gap, so he build a sound reactive EL panel driver and learned a lot in the process.

Nobody really knows how electroluminescent wire and panels work on a molecular level, but [ch00f] did know that changing the direction of an electric field will cause the EL material to glow. Changing the frequency of this electric field will change the EL material’s brightness, so all [ch00f] had to do was make a variable-frequency EL driver – something that’s a lot harder than it sounds.

We won’t bore you with the details because we  couldn’t do [ch00f]‘s write up any justice. We will skip to the end and tell you [ch00f] was able to make a sound reactive EL panel after a month of work that included making his own transformers and doing a whole bunch of math. You can check out the video of [ch00f]‘s [Tony Stark]-esque EL panel after the break.

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EL wire piping on a party couch

If you’ve been putting off that reupholstering project here’s a little incentive to get started. Adafruit now has some electroluminescent wire which is perfect for use as piping. They’ve outfitted a small sofa with the glowing material and we think it looks great whether switched on or not.

The installation process is really quite easy. The EL wire is covered with clear material that provides a continuous tab running the length of the wire. This can be stapled on like you see in the image above, or sewn into a fabric seam. So you could take an existing sofa cover, remove all the stitching, and sew it back together with the EL wire replacing the original piping. The video after the break shows how simple the process is.

This will be a nice complement to that Daft Punk table we’ve been meaning to build. [Read more...]

High Voltage Hacks: All About Electroluminescence

Although many might not know it, electroluminescent materials use high voltage, and thus qualify for our featured topic. Many may assume that these sheets work in the same way as LED lights, using low-voltage DC power.  This, however, is not the case, as they need around 100 volts of AC current to allow them to light up.

For a battery-powered solution, this means converting the battery’s DC power to AC. Adafruit has a good tutorial about working with EL wire and powering it up using a portable inverter. One should obviously be careful to properly insulate any clothing using this material as being shocked is generally not fun.

The video after the break is pretty long, but is well produced and will give you a good background of EL use. If you don’t have 30 minutes to dedicate to this, be sure to at least skip to 2:43 to see one of the coolest EL shirts we’ve seen. [Read more...]