EL Wire workshop

I did a couple of EL wire workshops at the Newton Free Library yesterday. It was a great time, and I think everyone left quite happy. Here’s how I prepared, and what we learned during the workshop.

If you aren’t familiar with EL-Wire, or Electro Luminescent Wire, it’s a plastic coated wire that lights up when fed a fairly high voltage (~100V) high frequency AC signal of about 1000hz. (There’s a little more to it, check the wikipedia entry for a nice diagram of the internals…)

I ordered 55 Units that each had 3M of elwire, prewired, and a control unit that runs off of two AA batteries. I got them from an ebay seller (Sure Electronics) in order to get a good price. You can also buy them from domestic sellers like Sparkfun, but they end up being about 2x the cost. It’s good if you can talk to the Seller, as Sure told me that they sold two types, a less expensive one that was dimmer and a more expensive one that is brighter. I’m not entirely sure which one I got! The different colors were definitely different brightnessEL-Tie, with Greenish yellow being the brightest, and red/pink being quite dim in roomlight.

I wanted to create an example, so I sewed a segment onto a tie.

A couple of pointers here:

  1. Figure out where you want the battery pack to go.
  2. Start your layout from the battery end. It’s easy to cut off the other end (and safe) but it’s hard (but not impossible) to reconnect wires to the driver end.
  3. Scissors aren’t really strong enough to cut the el-wire, you should have some wire cutters on hand
  4. You can either attach as you go. or tape down your design. Most people felt that this created a more fluid design, but may make it difficult to properly lay out a complex design.

Methods of attachment:

  1. Tape. One kid used a type of very sticky first aid tape to tape his design (the Pi sign in the gallery below) to the back of his shirt. It made a really conforming design with a flat background. This wouldn’t look very good on the front of the shirt.
  2. Hot Glue. Be careful here, but it’s good, especially on things it’s hard to poke a needle through. Lower temp glue sets more quickly, but high temp is useful for attaching to some surfaces. If you are sloppy, it shows, but you can unglue the wire (still leaving a blob) by using a heat gun or hair dryer
  3. Sewing. This is the most invisible and elegant, but also the slowest and most work. If you use transparent thread, it’s even more invisible, but you’ll need to know your fisherman’s knots.
  4. Cable Ties: This is useful for attaching to, say a bike frame, or other tubular structure.

EL-Party time!

Last, make sure you turn off the lights at the end! We also had a dark closet available to test before we turned off the lights!

Here are some examples of the creations the kids made.