DIY Neon Lights

June 14, 2021

Project Overview

Neon lights are a great addition to any art project — recently, after painting some watercolor, I decided to overlay my art piece with some EL wire for a unique effect. Here’s my process below.

Paint some watercolor on a canvas! Additionally, acrylic or any other kind of medium should work just as well.

After the paint dries, sketch lightly where the EL wires will be attached to the canvas.

EL wires are generally very flexible, but I tried not to have too many tight turns, as that could cause the smaller wires inside to break and short the connection.

I measured the amount of EL wire I needed by tracing some string over the penciled word. After cutting the EL wire to length, I stripped the wire’s vinyl cover, used an Exacto knife to cut through the PVC inner plastic coating, and stripped the phosphorous coating from the core wire. Finally, I soldered the core wire, and 2 corona wires to a polarized connector that I could attach to the inverter and power source.

This took a couple of times given how fragile the 2 corona wires are, but these two guides (1, 2) were very useful in learning the anatomy of the wire.

With the EL wire soldered, the last step was to hot glue the wire directly onto the canvas where the sketched line was.

I hot glued in short bursts to ensure that the wire was firmly attached to the drawing.

To add some firmer backing, I also glued some green cardboard to the back of the watercolor piece itself.

Final Reveal

All in all, this was a fun project that incorporated both hardware / electronics practice, as well as a more traditional art medium of watercolor. The juxtaposition of analog and digital in one piece allows for a more interpretive and modern twist on more familiar styles. In the future, I want to work on more complex EL wire projects (multi-color, sound controlled), as well as more versatile mediums (clothing).

Other Neon Projects

Some other DIY neon projects I’ve created below:

If you’d like to create your own, here’s a tutorial reference that I found helpful!