Bent PETG Fills A Nixie Gap

Have you ever thought that Nixie tubes are cool but too hard to control with modern electronics? And that they’re just too expensive? [david.reid] apparently thought so and decided to create his own version of a Nixie tube, and it doesn’t get much cheaper than this.

PETG Nixie Tube

While working on a 3D printed locomotive with his son, [david.reid] used clear PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) 3D printer filament to move light from LEDs to various parts of the locomotive. He found this was a success, but roughed up the outside of the filament to see what would happen. Lo and behold, a warm glow appeared on the surface of the tube! Like any good hacker, his next thought was of Nixie tubes, as you have seen in many clocks.

His basic idea is that with a little heat you can bend the filament into any shape that you like ([david.reid] uses custom molds). You then use some sandpaper to roughen up the outside wherever you’d like light to show, and add an LED at the bottom to light it up!

[david.reid] isn’t the first person to modernize Nixie Tubes. Over the years, we’ve seen them combined with Wi-Fi boards, individual LED segments, or even laser cutters & WS2812s!

Now’s a great time to get started on a project for the Hackaday Prize! If you’re looking for somewhere to start, we’d love to at least see your own take on a clock!

21 thoughts on “Bent PETG Fills A Nixie Gap

    1. Or put a reflector on the end?

      This type of tech is frequently done in injection molding to create light pipes for when you need a circuit board at one location and an indicator light at a different location (typically visible to the user).

  1. Don’t they make 3D printers to lay the filament down in interesting shapes? Also the strand looks a lot thicker than the wire in a nixie tube. I am not sure how the numbers are ordered in a nixie tube, but it would be more telling if at least some of the other non illuminated digits were in front of the 7. Might be useful for much bigger than your typical nixie display. Electroluminiscent wire might be neat for that as well. Have not seen many uses of that on here.

      1. Yes, I tried printing numbers…but the diffusion is too great. Perhaps by writing Gcode you could make the printhead lay down the filament in a good pattern…not tried that yet

    1. i’d say the layers would cause to much diffusion in a 3d printed version. you want the inside of a light pipes to be as clear as possible for long transmission after all

  2. I would equate this trick to be more like EL wire or a regular neon sign tube than a nixie. I’ve seen neon art done with tubing as small as 3mm (Rudi Sterns at The Light Fantastic)..

    1. They just use the word nixie because people are obsessed with those silly ol’ things.

      Like these seven-segment LED nixie retrotrons I have here on my crappy plastic alarm clock. Those are nixies. Sure.

  3. I did a similar project a few years back using clear plastic tubing and filling it with black light paint, draining and letting it dry and then sticking a U.V. led into both ends. It glowed evenly up and down the length of the tubing which I wound into a coil shape like a cfl. More like a florescent tube light than a nixie I suppose but, you could make the tubing into any number shape you wanted…I did not do that though.

  4. It’s not a Nixie tube unless it is a vacuum tube illuminated by cold cathode gas discharge around a cathode shaped like the digit being displayed, just like a LCD display isn’t a CRT just because it’s displaying a raster image and mounted in a game cabinet so it looks like a CRT.

    1. Nor is recording audio and video digitally “taping” or “filming”. Plaid is a blanket, part of traditional Scottish military uniform, not the *Tartan patterns* woven into plaids. “Mohawk” hairstyles are really Iroquois, unless said hair is an approximately 3″ square pulled into three short, decorated braids on the back of an otherwise bald head. Because of “Drums Along the Mohawk” people have been calling traditional Iroquois male hairstyles “Mohawk” for 69 years.

      Now with the latest airline incident, we have all sorts of media incorrectly saying the passenger who died was partially sucked out the airplane window. Blown or sucked depends on if the pressure involved is artificially above or below the natural ambient pressure. Whether the observation is made from the ambient or other side of the pressure gradient is irrelevant.

      For a decompression incident, think of a skyjumping airplane with a jumper who doesn’t want to jump. The other jumpers want to get out but that one guy is in the way. So the other jumpers all get behind him and give him a big shove. Would you say the reluctant jumper was *pulled* out of the plane?

      Now switch the other jumpers for a large amount of air molecules under pressure. They all push or *blow* the person and other loose objects out the hole.

      When a tire fails and comes apart, it’s a blow-out, not a suck-out. When you elevate the pressure inside your lungs then release it to extinguish birthday candles, was the air sucked out of your lungs? Did you suck out the candles?

      Does air blow into the bottom of a vacuum cleaner to carry dirt out of carpet? No, it’s sucked or drawn.

      When you drink through a straw, the air doesn’t blow it up into your mouth.

      So why are people always getting this wrong when it comes to pressurized airplanes and spacecraft?

  5. Interesting hack, but nothing like a Nixie tube. The effect is nice enough to stand on it’s own, you don’t need to make half-baked comparisons with other tech to get the idea across.

    1. This is true… to some extend. I started with the idea to make a nixie clock…and thr nane stuck… if you look functionally at the devices they do the same function….

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