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What is Electroluminescent Wire?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Electroluminescent wire is a decorative, flexible wire that glows much like neon. Other names include EL wire, EL fiber, EL cable and glow wire. It generates no heat and can be taped or glued to almost any surface.

Electroluminescent wire is copper wire covered with a phosphor then wrapped with two thin transmitter wires, sealed in a plastic skin. It requires AC and inverters or drivers can be purchased for use with DC. There are many different models of drivers available. A 9-volt inverter will brightly drive about 14 feet (4 meters) of electroluminescent wire, while a 12-volt inverter will brightly drive up to 120 feet (36.5 meters). The longer the wire, the less brightly the length will glow at a given frequency. Connecting less than 3 feet (about 1 meter) should be avoided as it might overload the driver.

Other power sources can also be used, with a limiting resistor to step down the power, or a transformer to step it up, as in the case of using a low-powered amplifier.

Electroluminescent wire comes in ten basic colors but some colors will vary depending on the frequency used to power them. Different colors can be spliced together with wire cutters. Since this wire runs on a parallel circuit it only needs to be properly terminated when trimmed. This can be accomplished using super glue, epoxy or other types of sealers to protect the wire from moisture. Be sure to unplug wires before splicing!

Since you probably won't want your electroluminescent wire to start at the power source, but at some distance from it, you can also splice regular wire as a lead to the point at which you want the design to start. The length of regular wire does not count towards the total length that your specific inverter will run. In other words, if you have a 9-volt inverter, you can hook up several feet of lead wire before running the 14' (4m) of electroluminescent wire. Regular wire can also be spliced within the design.

After a period of time electroluminescent wire will become dimmer, which happens quicker when powered by a higher frequency. One vendor suggests that at 4000hz it will burn brightly for about 66 continuous days, while at 400hz it will remain bright for about 237 days.

Electroluminescent wire can be used for any type of room decoration. Wrap it around your lampshade, make original wall art, write out your name or put it around your mirror or headboard. You can also spruce up your bicycle, motorcycle or car interior. It's also great for advertisements and signs.

Electroluminescent wire is generally sold by the foot and prices vary widely. Most vendors will help you to get the right equipment for your specific application. It's fun, it's attractive and it uses very little electricity at just 1 amp per 120 feet! What better way to add a little light to your world?

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Discussion Comments

By anon130085 — On Nov 27, 2010

can 2 el wires be run in parallel off one inverter?

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