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Electroluminescent wire – EL wire how to

Yes, it looks impressive that is for sure! But it might seem a bit daunting to newcomers…… it is not. There are only a view things you need to know.

In the past, you needed to be quite skilled to use lighting to set moods, use in displays, in home decor and so on, now it became easy. In this EL wire how to you will learn everything you need to be an expert in electroluminescent products and it will take you no more than 15 minutes to learn.

Some quick technical stuff

el wire how its made

It is actually quite simple to understand. By introducing very low alternating current (but high voltage) to a layer of phosphor the phosphor will glow. Phosphor when glowing has an aqua blue colour.

To get different colours of EL wire a coloured plastic sleeve is used on the outside of the EL product. This is how EL product manufacturers can produce different colours

el wire colours

The colours are limited to 10 colours: Aqua (fluorescent blue), Lime (fluorescent green), red, blue, green purple, orange, yellow, pink and white

The way to introduce electricity to phosphor can be seen in the first picture above, you take a  piece of copper wire and coat it with phosphor, then you take 2 very fine wires and turn it around the phosphor coated wire like a spiral over the whole length of the wire. You now put the one wire of a power supply and connect it to the phosphor coated copper wire and the other wire of the power supply you connect to the 2 thin wires.

The power source – inverter

One of the reasons we did this how to is because there is a lot of confusion around the power requirements for electroluminescent. The first thing to know is that EL products operate best at a Voltage of between 80V-140V (120V is optimum).

WHAT? Electroluminescent (EL) PRODUCTS OPERATES AT 120V, THAT CAN KILL YOU!!! LUCKILY THERE ARE NEARLY NO AMPS SO IT IS SAFE. 

If you touch bare open wires you might feel a very slight shock – so the connection points should never be exposed. Later in this how to you will see how to make your own connections (if you do not get pre-made el products with connectors already on them) and cover the bare wire with heat shrink tubes, We sell both types in our shop here.

The power source alternates the voltage at around 800 Hz. That simply means it first sends + voltage to the one EL wire and negative voltage to the other side and then switches the – and + voltages around, what is impressive is that it does this switching 800 times in a second, That’s fast!

To make this long story short – you need an EL inverter.
IMPORTANT. Inverters have different power ratings. The lower the power rating the smaller the length of EL wire it can handle. A small inverter is usually able to handle about 3 meters. You do not have to turn it into rocket science, you just need to be “nearish” to those specs, All inverters have a description on what length of EL wire it can drive

So be careful with this though, don’t use a short piece on an inverter that is meant for longer pieces, your EL product’s life expectancy will be drastically shortened. So basically if you have 3 meters or lower use a 3meter inverter rather, it will last longer

Power efficiency, heat and life span.

How long will it run from a battery and how many hours of light will it produce. EL products are very power efficient because of the low amps (current) it uses. There is no other light source this efficient.

Two AA batteries driving 3 meters of EL wire will last 10 hours plus!
No heat is produced at all, cold to the skin
EL wire life span is about 8000 hours, if you have it on every night it will last 1000 days

Using EL wire

El wire can be shaped any way you like. You can also cut it shorter and if you like you can put on connectors on the offcuts (more about that soon)

Becuase the EL wire got a plastic casing you can use PVC glue to glue it anywhere. For wearables like shirts and hats, you can sew it to the wearable by sewing a “loop ” around the EL wire and the piece of fabric. There are no hard and fast way on how to stick it to stuff, above is only ideas

Cutting and putting connectors on EL wire.

Easy as pie. Below is a video that shows exactly how to do that. You will need a soldering iron, solder and a wire stripper (or Stanley knife) we sell an El solder kit here that include the connectors, shrink wrap tubes and end caps. They use a heat gun in this video to shrink the tubes but a lighter will work great as well.

It is important to note that when you cut EL wire the end that is cut of must be isolated in any way you like so that the copper wire and 2 thin wires do not touch each other.

 

 

And that concludes this EL wire how to. So, head over to our EL wire shop category here, get some EL wire and accessories and create some fun stuff.

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