DIY Neon Sign - How Our Sign Shop Builds Them

We are rolling out a new product shortly that is a DIY Neon Sign Kit.  It have been a bit of a journey getting the DIY Neon Signs going so here is what we have been doing so far in preparation for releasing the sign kits:  

Neon Signs

Neon signs are cool, they have been popular since the 1920's and can still be seen (and are still made) pretty frequently.  We wanted to make our own DIY Neon Signs but unfortunately we don't have the ability to bend glass or have the time to learn how in addition to working with all of the inert gases AND MERCURY involved, and if we wanted to buy a custom neon sign the price is WAY over our budget.  So we set about to make our own sign that LOOKS like a neon sign but that is more reliable, doesn't break easily, doesn't use a lot of electricity, and uses readily available materials.  Here is what we did:

Show Me the Light - EL Wire DIY Signs

Ever been to big the Burning Man Music Festival?  

Burning Man DIY LED Signs

Well we haven't, but these people have: 

Burning Man DIY El Wire Signs

They are "wearing" EL Wire.  After reviewing articles on wikipedia and the like, EL wire is pretty cool stuff.  EL wire is a thin flexible cable that radiates light at a 360 degree angle. Most traditional lights.  EL wire produces a constant stream of light the runs across the entire length of the cable. The EL wire is surrounded by a transparent or colored PVC outer sleeve which determines the light’s color.  EL wire is great because it is safe, flexible, bright, and inxpensive (compared to neon).  Now that we found our "light" material we began to think about the next step - incorporating it into a nice, professional sign.

DIY EL Wire Neon Sign

DIY Sign Supply is not the first ones to begin using EL wire to make signs.  There are plenty of pinterest articles on the subject and they have produced a number of great signs.  The most popular DIY Neon Sign with EL wire is to bend wire into whatever word you want, then superglue the EL Wire onto the wire and viola, you have a cool DIY Sign!  We really like this look and are selling DIY kits to achieve it.  Contact Us and we will let you know when we get more in stock!  

DIY Neon Sign for Businesses

Our approach is going to be a little different.  The DIY signs mentioned above are great and fit a nice need within your home or for an event but we wanted something that really looks like a NEON sign - one that has straight, thicker letters, and one that won't look out of place with being hung in a retail store, a restaurant, or a bar.  Here is what we did:

Do It Yourself Neon Sign Supplies

First we went to our local plastic supply store (Denver is convenient that way, we have local plastic supply stores), and picked up clear acrylic tubing.  We wanted the ability to make small 6" tall signs and larger 12" high signs so we picked up a .5" ID clear acrylic tube for the 6" letters and a .625" ID tube for the 12" letters.  We also picked up an 1/8" thick acrylic board (for the back of the sign), some medium thickness acrylic glue, and some "Chicago posts" that we could use to connect the letters to the acrylic board.  I do realize the irony that our website name is "DIY Sign Supply" but that we had to go to another supply store to pick up DIY neon sign materials!  

Fabricating the EL Wire DIY Neon Sign

After we purchased our materials we were ready to beging production of our first prototype DIY neon sign. The plastic supply store had offered an "acrylic cutting knife" that appeared to be no more than a straight razor blade attached to a cheap piece of plastic so I ended up passing on that cutting tool and decided to stick with my Dewalt Compound Miter Saw  I originally started with my "normal" wood blade but now that we are fabricating these signs more frequently I went out and bought a circular blade with about 90 teeth on it as recommended for cutting acrylic.  Now that we have our correct saw blade it is important to note that you have to find the "sweet spot" in cutting the arylic.  Cut too fast and you may "catch an edge" and spur some of it off.  Cut too slowly and you may melt and eventually burn the acrylic.  Try cutting some "spare" acrylic as tester pieces before you dig right in!  For our signs we decided to miter the clear acrylic tubes at each end and return it back to the acrylic backing piece.  We did this becuase it creates a nice, clean return to the back and will allow us to eventually cut a hole through the back acrylic and return our EL wire back behind it.  After the letters were cut we used our acrylic glue to attach each of the returns to the main letters and they we were ready for final assembly of the signs Here are some examples of what our letters look like:

DIY Neon Letters

Assembling the DIY Neon Sign

After the letters were fabricated the last step was to assemble the DIY EL Wire Neon Signs:  First we traced out exactly where the letters were going to go on the acrylic.  Luckily the acrylic sheet came with a protective layer of paper on both sides so we could draw right on the acrylic.  After laying out the letter we drilled small holes in the center of each return to allow the EL wires to be strung back behind the acrylic backing sheet.  After the holes were drilled and cleaned up we then attached the letters back to the sign.  We ended up using the acrylic glue for each return but another option, and what we will be sending in our DIY Neon Sign Kits are the clear "Chicago Posts".  These Chicago Posts will be nice because you will not have to glue any acrylic to acrylic if you don't have to, they are a "snap" fitting that allows you to just pop the letters onto the backing acrylic board!  One final decisiion that you will have to make it whether you want the sign to be hung at a window with the letters pointing out the window or if you want the sign hanging on a wall with the letters toward a room.  Depending on your specific configuration you would either install the "stand-offs" on the same side as the letters (window) or on the opposite (wall).  

Inserting and Turning On the EL Wire

After the DIY neon sign was fabricated the last step for us was the EL Wire.  We ended up measuring the letters with string to gauge how much wire we needed.  Then we ordered a length of EL Wire (cut to size) and also ordered a battery powered transformer.  Please note that the EL Wire can be cut to size to whatever size you want so we recommend that you make sure to buy more than enough and then you can always cut the wire size down later.  Please ALSO note that DIY Neon Signs with EL wire must be installed with AC current transformers - trust me I found this out the hard way by trying to connect DC batteries to an EL wire for about AN HOUR before I got start and read up on wikipedira that it wasn't going to work.  We chose battery operated but you also go the "plug in" route as well - just be careful when ordering becuase a lot of the "plug-in" types are made to convert AC power to DC power and you want to keep it AC power!  

Once the wire arrived then we threaded it through the letters, hooked up the wire to the transformer, turned on the light, and BOOM!  We had a DIY NEON SIGN!  One nice effect of threading the EL wire back behind the acrylic backer is that there is a "backlit" look at the sign as well!  

We are currently in the "protoype" stage of our DIY Neon Signs but please Contact Us if you want us to let you know when we begin selling our DIY Sign Kits for this product!

 

 

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