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View Full Version : Project #7: Scratch-built wire-frame "Merry Christmas" EL wire sign



HowardB
06-18-2016, 11:11 AM
My 7th in-progress project is the wire-frame "Merry Christmas" sign with EL wire; I wanted a largish sign outside and over our main front window, one that could be seen form the street - neon was an overkill and way too expensive, and LED strips would not bend properly around the curves I had in mind - I ended up getting some red and green EL wire, red for the "Merry" and green for the "Christmas".

This project is still in the early phase and progress was slow, but the hard work of bending the 6mm wire is now complete.

The general supply list for this project was:

6mm galvanised wire
EL wire; 5m of each - red and green with 12v input drivers and 1-to-2 splitter cable
template for the letters bending guide - sourced from MS Word fonts and blown up on a photocopier
aluminium frame bracing - still to be bought - I expect I'll use a 25mm x 4mm aluminium strap and attach the sign words to this - the sturdy frame can then be attached to the wall with 2 screws/hooks and painted the same colour as the existing wall paint to blend in
Black spray paint for the letters
Basic tools included: heavy duty pliers (2 pairs help), bench vise, hammer, bending forms, glue gun, thick gloves for the wire bending process

This was an absolute pain at first - I don't have access to a welder (and am not planning on buying one anytime soon) so bending the 6mm wire into the letter curves I needed was no joke, particularly without a professional form or bender, however I plodded on and managed to complete all the bends using only a vise, two pairs of pliers and a hammer...it took the best part of 3 weekends to do, but now that it's done it looks very promising indeed!

I've yet to spray paint the words black and attach the EL wire, and I've still got to make the wall brace that it will be mounted on, but you get the general idea. The ends of the words will be cleaned up and curled once I have them mounted on the backing frame.

Here's some pictures of the build stages to to date:
32801

32802

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This was a once-off project and I don't expect I'll be making more of these wire-frame letter/word signs - I may try my hand at a few small wire-frame reindeer though!
If you need more pictures or information on the build steps let me know.

Skunberg
06-20-2016, 11:12 PM
Very nice project. The letters look great! How big are the letters?

HowardB
06-21-2016, 03:20 AM
Many thanks Skunberg.
The capital M and C are about 30cm's height ;-)

Sent by mental telepathy.

ukewarrior
06-21-2016, 09:38 AM
Can't wait to see this lit up !

HowardB
06-21-2016, 09:40 AM
Thanks ukewarrior, will post pics when all finished and done!

Sent by mental telepathy.

HowardB
06-26-2016, 11:17 AM
Right, the holding frame is now finished - it was made from aluminium "U" sections and flat aluminium strip for the braces; everything was riveted together, using the wire-frame words as a spacing guide, then primed and painted with the house colour outdoor PVA.
The Merry Christmas wire-frame was also primed then spray painted with semi-gloss black, then attached to the aluminium frame using the smallest black nylon zip-ties I had in the workshop - now I just have to attach the EL wire, which will hopefully be done by next weekend! :)

Here's some progress pics to date:
32854

32855

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Keebler
06-26-2016, 11:59 AM
NICE!
Looking forward to seeing it lit up.

hmmm,
did you consider pixels? that way you can make it do fun things <grin>

HowardB
06-26-2016, 03:15 PM
Thanks Keebler!
I haven't thought about pixels yet, still have a lot of reading and learning before I get to that - will start with static and work from there. It's also very difficult to source things where I'm living and importing them works out really expensive given our terrible exchange rate; however all my projects can be converted/upgraded if I manage to find the right items at the right price ;)

ukewarrior
06-26-2016, 09:08 PM
Nicely done with the frame. Very clean rivet joints.
I too look forward to seeing it lit up.

DrNeutron
06-27-2016, 08:57 AM
I think you may find the EL wire rather dim in comparison to other display elements (on its own it will be fine but no where near as bright as rope light)
As long as you keep it far enough away from other display items it shouldn't get washed out.
I bought some for the kids to play with while camping and it only lasted a couple nights, but they had a ball with it.

HowardB
06-27-2016, 09:15 AM
Thanks DrNeutron, noted. I'll see what it looks like and make changes if the sign's too washed out.

Any suggestions as to what else could be used (if needed), given the tight curves of the lettering?
I tried a test of 5050 SMD strips, but it didn't work well...
The rope light I had was too thick, unless I can find a thinner version ;)

Sent by mental telepathy.

DrNeutron
06-27-2016, 11:13 AM
Yep, there is 3/8" that will make the turns quite easily, the stuff you have is probably 1/2".
Just use black electrical tape to blot out the parts you want dark to separate the letters or even better use heatshrink.
Awesome job on the sign design BTW.

Skunberg
06-27-2016, 11:25 AM
Some tight corners can be made with a loop and tape up the loop to leave a square corner shining through.

HowardB
06-27-2016, 12:25 PM
Thanks guys, noted; will see if I can source some 3/8" ropelight locally.

Just tested the EL wire brightness when I got home and here's what it looks like with garage lights on, then off (almost total blackness) - seems fairly bright, but granted it's still all rolled up together. Will temporarily tack it to the wire-frame as a test first and see if it's bright enough before fastening permanently; else will source an alternative ;)

32889

algerdes
06-27-2016, 03:17 PM
I've been told, by the folks at "Thats Cool Wire", that this EL wire responds immediately. Very important...
I am thinking about making some over-sized string instruments, such as guitars, violins, etc. and using this as the strings. When the strings are "vibrating" the EL wire will be going on and off very fast.

From those of you who have tried this stuff, does it actually handle the quick on and off we ask of some of our displays?

kartingted
06-27-2016, 11:26 PM
Yes it does handle quick on and off quite well
I have played around with some before and really liked it. Just need to figure out where I'm going to use it in my display

MrSmoofy
06-28-2016, 08:22 AM
What about using something like these from Ray Wu? http://www.aliexpress.com/store/group/led-neon-pixels/701799_506965193.html

HowardB
06-28-2016, 11:44 AM
Thanks MrSmoofy, will keep those in mind ;)

Sent by mental telepathy.

HowardB
07-02-2016, 03:59 PM
I managed to get the EL wire onto the wire-frame words using a glue gun - it took some time and my glue-gun technique wasn't the best, however its turned out really well and I'm well-pleased with the results! :)

Here's some pictures of the final project lit up; the first is with the garage lights on, while the second is with the garage lights off (except for the outdoor light - this will be switched off during Christmas, so will be darker)

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32903

Will take a final photo with all lights off tomorrow and post...

Barnabybear
07-02-2016, 06:08 PM
Wow that looks really good; you should be very pleased with how thats worked out.

ukewarrior
07-02-2016, 11:50 PM
That did indeed turn out great.
Have you taken it outside to see how it shows from a distance?
That EL wire would be way easier to use than ropelight.

I managed to get the EL wire onto the wire-frame words using a glue gun - it took some time and my glue-gun technique wasn't the best, however its turned out really well and I'm well-pleased with the results! :)

Here's some pictures of the final project lit up; the first is with the garage lights on, while the second is with the garage lights off (except for the outdoor light - this will be switched off during Christmas, so will be darker)

32902

32903

Will take a final photo with all lights off tomorrow and post...

HowardB
07-03-2016, 03:02 AM
Wow that looks really good; you should be very pleased with how thats worked out.

Many thanks Barnabybear - very pleased indeed ;)


That did indeed turn out great.
Have you taken it outside to see how it shows from a distance?
That EL wire would be way easier to use than ropelight.

Thanks ukewarrior.
Hoping to take it outside today and see what it looks like from a distance tonight after dark. The EL was very easy to bend on the curves and I managed to hide the connecting wires behind the frame - going to clean those up today.

kartingted
07-03-2016, 03:22 AM
It looks amazing, can't eat to see some more pictures

HowardB
07-03-2016, 12:34 PM
It looks amazing, can't eat to see some more pictures

Many thanks kartingted!


As promised, here's some more outdoor distance/mounted photos; unfortunately not the clearest as they were taken with my phone.
This is also not the final placement setting on the wall (as I don't have readily-available 12v power where it will be located yet); I've just hung it temporarily with thick bent wire over the parapet wall, but you get the general idea. The section of wall it will be mounted on is approx. 1m from the top of the window frame to the top of the parapet wall - it will be mounted with 2 L-type hook screws so that it can be moved easily, but will also be stable when mounted.

I think the mounting frame has blended well with the existing wall colour, given it was painted with the same paint colour/type. The frame does stand out a bit during the day (sun shadows), however the purpose of this sign will be to light and use at night.

Onto the photos... each has 3 shots: late afternoon (not lit), dusk (lit) and after dark (lit)
A close-up photo of the sign:
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Medium distance photo - based on how people will see it from our front gate:
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Longer distance photo - you'd have to stand outside our gate and across our street to get this view distance:
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Once mounted in the final position in November, some more photos will follow :)

ukewarrior
07-03-2016, 12:37 PM
O u t s t a n d i n g

beeiilll
07-03-2016, 01:35 PM
That is amazing and very nice work! You should be very proud of it!

I have wanted to try the el wire for some time for a couple of projects and just may have to pick some up if I get some spare change and try it out!

algerdes
07-03-2016, 01:56 PM
1. Overall this looks wonderful.
2. I am amazed at the flow of your solid wire.
3. I am even more amazed at the fact that the EL wire makes such tight and precise turns. Your application of it is above and beyond.

You have every right to be proud of this one!

Thanks for sharing.

HowardB
07-03-2016, 03:37 PM
O u t s t a n d i n g

Many thanks ukewarrior! :thup:


That is amazing and very nice work! You should be very proud of it!
I have wanted to try the el wire for some time for a couple of projects and just may have to pick some up if I get some spare change and try it out!

Many thanks beeiilll! I'm over the moon with the result :happy:
I wasn't going to use EL to begin with, but sourcing something at a reasonable prices/similar was difficult; I'm glad I actually went with EL now - it's fairly cheap and shines much brighter than I expected. If you do use EL in a couple of projects at any stage, I would love to see the results.


1. Overall this looks wonderful.
2. I am amazed at the flow of your solid wire.
3. I am even more amazed at the fact that the EL wire makes such tight and precise turns. Your application of it is above and beyond.

You have every right to be proud of this one!

Thanks for sharing.

Many thanks algerdes, greatly appreciated and you're most welcome :wink:
The wire bends took an age - I'm a perfectionist of sorts and couldn't leave it alone until the curves were just right! It probably took me double the amount of time it should have to get it all looking right.
I was also very surprised at how well the EL bends; pretty much folds over itself if needed - I'm now racking my brains to see if it could potentially be used in any other of my potential projects.

Barnabybear
07-03-2016, 03:49 PM
I'm a perfectionist of sorts and couldn't leave it alone until the curves were just right!
Your wire bending is better than my hand writing :(

HowardB
07-03-2016, 03:54 PM
Your wire bending is better than my hand writing :(

LOL, thanks Barnabybear :blush:
My actual handwriting is utterly atrocious though; my work colleagues always joke that I should have been a doctor!

Gustave_homme
11-11-2016, 09:57 PM
First congratulation on a superb job!!!!:sweet:

I was looking at buy some EL 2 nights ago to make a sign but decided not to since we get some -25 to -35 over Christmas, but after seeing this I'm definitely gonna give it a try. Even if it cant handle the cold I'll just hang it inside the house in the window, or even build it a Plexiglas enclosure with heat.

Again awesome job!!

Question how many feet or meters of EL did it require for this project?

HowardB
11-12-2016, 07:08 AM
Many thanks Gustave! :biggrin:

I'm not sure how the EL holds up in extreme sub-zero temperatures - quick research indicates it should be fine up to -10 degrees C, or in lower temps for shorter periods.

I wasn't sure how much EL wire I'd need for this project, so ended up buying 5m (16.5') of each colour. TIP: I used a long piece of string over the final letters, then measured the string to get an idea of the EL length needed of each colour.
Based on what I have left over, the red used about 4.3m (14') and the green used about 3.3m (11').

I now have a few off-cuts of red (70cm) and green (1.8m) that I *need* to use somewhere - hate wasting things! I've heard that attaching a new connector to EL wire is a bit of a pain (as well as delicate), but I'll give it a shot when I know what the off-cuts will be used for :wink2:

Gustave_homme
11-12-2016, 10:59 AM
Hey Howard,

Thanks for the reply, I noticed the temp rating of -10 as well. But worst case scenario if it doesn't work properly for me in the winter I can always use it for Halloween. I'm going to be controlling the EL display with an Arduino haven't decided if every letter will be on it's own channel or each word.

I found the following shield to control EL with arduino, SparkFun EL Escudo Dos (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10878) gives you 8 channels or a completely self contained 8 channel EL sequencer (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/12781).

I might retrofit some SSR neon for the job, or some dirkcheap ssr size boards and build it into the display...

Have you experimented with controlling, fading or colour shifting the EL wire?

HowardB
11-12-2016, 11:41 AM
Hey Gustave,

I haven't done any experimentation with controllers, etc - planning that for next year, hopefully. I have seen some epic uses for the EL and it seems to react well to fast/slow switching.

Those SparkFun units look very promising! Although I mentioned in my original post that this was to be a once off, I may actually look into making some additional signs/words during 2017 - the possibilities are endless... :wink:

kartingted
11-12-2016, 12:26 PM
Looking at that board from spark fun you should be able to adapt some code that's floating around on here to take a serial input via USB and control the strings. Same setup as using a relay board attached to a arduino
Might have to try and find one in the uk now and it looks perfect for what I want to do :)

Gustave_homme
11-12-2016, 06:30 PM
Only thing stopping from the sparkfun boards right now is the exchange rate and shipping cost. Board will end up costing me 50$ or so and then my government will want it's cut of the sales. I've ordered my EL wire from china today and will just adapt some ssr neon that I will be building when all the parts arrive next month.