CMU School of Drama

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Forge Your Own Neon Signs With EL Wire

Hackaday: Neon tube signs radiate an irresistible charm, which has been keeping them alive to this day. The vintage, orange glow is hard to substitute with modern means of illumination, but never trust a neon sign that you didn’t forge yourself. [NPoole] shows you how to build remarkably realistic faux neon tube signs from plastic tubing and EL wire.

8 comments:

Lauren Miller said...

It's always entertaining to hop onto a "Do it yourself" website and poke around. My first step whenever I receive a project that I simply have no clue as to where to start (especially in costumes) is to jump into the DIY community and look for similar project/ideas. The community as a whole is incredibly creative in it's solutions, and, with a few, often simple, changes, the process can be applied to a long-lasting product. This applies to maker spaces as well. It's a collection of people who come from very different backgrounds who all develop different skills (often involving technology) and are very eager to share information and help. Due to the diverse backgrounds, each "maker" can provide a different view and solution to a problem, while we, in theater, tend to all come from the same backgrounds and, especially at Carnegie Mellon, all have roughly the same knowledge from department to department. Just last week I was talking to a friend with a computer science from home who works at a makers space in Ann Arbor. She has helped me countless times with understanding drafting and how CNC machines work, while I taught her how to use a table saw or what materials/treatments might be best for a project. It's vital to maintain relationships outside of the theater. Our industry can quite often be far to isolated for our own good. I think it's very important that videos and tutorials such as this one continue to appear on the blog.

Brennan Felbinger said...

This technique is very interesting! I've seen the idea of using EL wire to replicate the effect of Neon signs, but introducing the plastic tubing to essentially create the same aesthetic as a typical neon sign in terms of thickness of the tubes (which I feel like has a lot to do with the retro feel) and increasing the glow by being able to encapsulate multiple strings of EL wire together. Not to mention, traditional methods of using EL wire usually involve mounting the EL wire on a hard surface because it doesn't have the integrity to stand alone, so this definitely introduces some advanced and realistic looking applications because of the fact that this style of design looks very different than the somewhat just-okay looking style of using EL wire to create Neon-esque designs that have been more popularly used. I'm interested in trying this out for myself and seeing how difficult it is to use a heat gun without damaging the wire itself while still making the plastic tubing hot enough.

Alex Fasciolo said...

As a person who has worked with EL wire, I can say that this particular material is a big pain in the ass to work with. The way the wire is designed makes it really hard to segment and re-solder together in an arrangement friendly to the design extremely difficult. Another issue is that in order to power the wire, you need an inverter, which is a fairly bulky piece of equipment that you need to deal with hiding in order to put this in scenery. And after all that trouble, most wire that is reasonably priced doesn’t get anywhere near as bright as a neon sign. But I guess whether or not this is an effective solution depends on the application. Certainly it provides a shatterproof and realistic equivalent to a neon sign, but if you’re going for something that has the brightness and saturation of the ambient glow that you would expect to come with neon, you’ll be disappointed with this product.

Ben Vigman said...

Wow this is so cool, except for the part where EL Wire is literally Hitler. I still have nightmares from Milk Like Sugar making that stuff work at all. And at the end of the day, it totally wasn't bright enough to do a thing. With stage lighting on, it was simply impossible to tell that they were even on at all. Even in the pictures embedded in this post, you can barely tell that EL Wire is turned on. Absolutely a high effort, low yield endeavor. There are just so many other products out there that use LEDs to emulate Neon tubing, and are way more effective than EL Wire. EL Wire just screams, "HEY MAN IT'S 2006 AND I WANT TO BUILD AN UBER WICKED SICK COMPUTER!!!!11!!". Products such as NeoFlex and such are brighter, more robust, and less of a technical headache. I'm usually pretty impressed with the crafty ideas that Hackaday.com posts about, but I just really disagree with EL Wire.

Chris Calder said...

Having some experience with el wire I can honestly say it can achieve some very cool things. This is definitely an innovative way to use the light source, even though neon signs are from the early 90s designers and theatergoers still love the look that it can achieve. After working with traditional neon signs earlier this summer I got to learn that they are extremely fragile and storing them can be a huge problem. Having the ability to achieve virtually the same look with a much cheaper and easier manufacture process. A down fall that I could potentially see is having a faulty pieces of wire that cant be accessed once you have enclosed it in the plastic tubing. Also I wonder how the el wire will handle the heat that it takes to bend the tubing? Those heat guns can release large amounts of heat possibly burning off the phosphor. All and all this is a very cool idea I look forward to seeing it being used in future shows.

Evan Smith said...

Doing an effect like this looks good. I know what we tried to do for Milk Like Sugar didn’t quite work out the way that was expected. I partially believe that the way the EL wire was attached to the table wasn’t thought through fully. I know part of the aspect was not being able to see how it was adhered, but there becomes a certain point in time that you’re going to have to see something. Since the wire didn’t want to stick to the table, it began peeling off. I think that because there was nothing to contain the wire that it distracted from what was happening on the stage. With the price of neon increasing overtime, this process would make a great substitute with practice and increase the various designs that you’d be able to do. Are there downsides? Sure, I’m not sure what the intensity would be, but it makes it a much more cost effective system.

Galen shila said...

What a fantastic way to create a portable and energy smart neon tube. Flushing the tubing with acetone to make it distributed the light better was smart but to buy prefrosted tubing might work a bit better. EL has a problem with how bright it is but i feel with adequate power sourcing to could create a convincing glow of a vintage sign.

Claire Krueger said...

This looks so cool and I really want to do it but I think that it would be just like every other Pintrest. You can buy this for $3 or make it with $73 of craft supplies. Totally a cool concept if you already have most of the material or you need something highly customized but other than that I don't think it would be worth the effort to make one yourself.