How to Make Electroluminescent Panel

By Richard Bigge

Updated September 26, 2017

Electroluminescent panels are sheets of plastic material made to emit light through exposure to electric current. They are useful in illuminating designs or displays, particularly in ads or LCD displays in computer monitors or TVs. Setting up your own electroluminescent panel requires designing images on an acrylic sheet, on which you can then attach electroluminescent, or EL, wire and connect it to electricity.

Design your image on a piece of paper. Alternatively, look up an image in Google Images and save it to your computer. Open it up in your Paint program and modify it as you wish. Given that it will be printed, reduce it to simple black line on a white background. The image should allow the EL wire to bend without breaking. For instance, if using 1.2-millimeter EL wire, avoid images with sharp corners or angles that can break the wire during the processing of gluing it around your image’s outline.

Re-size the image as necessary, to the size you wish it to appear once completed, and print it out.

Center your image at the front of your black acrylic plastic sheet and hold it in place with adhesive tape. Scratch the design into the surface of your image using your Xacto knife so you can use the scratches as your guide when attaching the EL wire.

Score marks on the attached printout using a faint pencil to indicate where to drill holes essential for threading the EL wire to the acrylic plastic. Note that if using six EL wires, you will need six holes. Ensure that the holes you drill are of the same size as that of the EL wire. The holes should not be visible at the end of your project. For instance, use a 1/16-inch drill bit if using 1.2 gauge angel hair EL wire.

Thread the EL wires through the holes. Insert them one after the other through the backside to the front of your acrylic plastic sheet.

Position each wire where you want to glue them. Use the scratches you made in step 3 to guide you in this process. Press each EL wire, one inch or less, gently in place, then -- using your plasticator needle -- apply a drop of glue to the wire and allow it to run down the sides of the wire.

Hold the EL wire in place with your fingernail and allow the glue 30 to 60 seconds to melt the acrylic and bond together. Move an extra inch of your EL wire and attach it, the same way, until you have run it around the shape, or outline, of your image. Snip off the left-over EL wire using wire cutters once you have completed running them throughout your image.

Solder the wire-side connectors to the EL wire to attach them together. If you glued six EL wires, you will have to solder six connectors. Turn the acrylic sheet upside down to expose the 12 terminals of the EL wires.

Position the exposed end of the EL wire to be connected to the wire-side connector. Plug the exposed ends of the EL wires to the "Y" splitters from your AC-powered EL wire driver. Because you have six wires, you will need five "Y" splitters to power them. Thus, use "Y" splitters from your driver to get two connections and two more "Y" splitters to acquire four connections and another two to attain six connections.

Hold your soldering iron close to the EL wire ends and the splitters. Touch the soldering iron’s tip to the end of the solder and allow the solder to drip onto the El wire and the splitter connection until the solder covers them in a small pool. Allow the solder one minute to harden. Repeat the same process on the remaining connections. Connect the AC-powered EL wire driver to the power source and turn it on.

Items you will need

  • Paper

  • Pencil

  • 1.2 millimeters of electroluminescent wire

  • EL wire

  • EL wire driver

  • Black acrylic plastic

  • Adhesive tape

  • Glue

  • Plasticator squeeze bottle applicator

  • Printed image

  • Drill with 1/16-inch bit

  • Xacto knife

  • EL wire-soldering materials