How to Make a DIY Neon Sign in Any Shape – Even a Cactus!

May 26, 2015 separator Cactus Crafts

Tutorial: It’s surprisingly easy to craft a diy neon sign in any shape — even a cactus — from EL wire. And it’s flexible, safe, and cool to the touch.

DIY Neon Sign Shaped Like a Cactus

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You know how custom neon lights are super expensive and totally impractical?

Yeah, not anymore…

I’m going to walk you through step-by-step to make a light-up neon cactus, but this same concept would work for and shape of DIY neon sign! The secret is in the electroluminescent wire (EL wire). It’s a thin copper wire coated in phosphor so that it glows when a current is running through it, giving you that bright neon light effect.

Unlike true neon signs, however, EL wire is flexible and totally non-breakable, so you can play around with designs at home. Plus, it’s CHEAP. The EL wire complete with battery pack for this project cost me less than $5.

P.S. Clearly I’m a bit hooked on neon for summer…

DIY Neon Cactus CostumeDIY Blinking Neon Cactus Light TutorialFront & Back of Cactus DIY Neon Sign in Plant Pot

How to Make a DIY Neon Sign

DIY Potted Neon Cactus Light DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial Supplies


DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial Step 1

1. Bend a piece of copper wire around the handle of the hammer to create three cactus “arms.” You could also use something perfectly round, like a broom handle or stair rail, if you find that easier.

Don’t overthink this part. Part of the charm is that it’s going to look a little wonky and abstract.

DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial Step 2

2. Take the wire cactus outside, and place it on a concrete surface. If you have a bench block, that’s even better because you get a much quicker result and more even hammered finish. Now, just hammer the heck out of the wire until it isn’t round anymore. You don’t need it to be pancake-thin, but you definitely want to kind of flatten it out.

Hammering serves two purposes here. First, it hardens the wire, helping it to maintain the cactus shape instead of bending easily. Second, it gives you a flat surface to affix the el wire. Plus, it’s pretty, and that’s important, too. ;)

DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial Step 3

3. Trace the top edge of the pot onto a piece of foam board. This will end up serving as a “lid” to finish off the project and hide the battery pack.

DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial Step 4

4. Cut out the foam board, cleaning up the edges a bit as you go, since they’ll be exposed.

DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial Step 5

5. Gently poke the ends of the cactus through the foam board. Make sure you’ve got the shape centered so that it’s balanced when it’s all put together. Remove the cactus once you’ve got two even holes.

6. Thread the el wire up through one hole in the foam circle, pulling it all the way up so that the battery pack is just underneath the circle. Thread it down into the other hole, and then add the cactus back into the holes.
DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial Step 6

7. Starting at the hole with the battery pack, begin super gluing the wire to one side of the cactus. Secure it with little bits of tape as you go to hold it in place while it dries. You can pull the end of the wire further through the second hole as you go to keep everything tight.

8. Once the whole cactus is glued with el wire, you can just snip off the excess el wire with a pair of scissors. Tape the el wire to the cactus wire at the end on the underside of the foam circle. Turn on the button on the battery pack (which has three settings – constant on, slow blink, and fast blink), and then simply place the foam circle over the top of the pot, concealing the battery pack and the bottom of the wires!

DIY Neon Cactus Light Tutorial 333

The best part is that when you don’t want the neon light to show, you can simply turn the pot around to expose the copper side of the cactus, which is like its own little piece of art!

DIY Copper Cactus Scultpure


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    1. Hey Heung! I’m not sure about the diameter as I don’t think the packaging said it, but I’ve linked to the one I used in the supplies list! I hope that helps!

  4. This is an awesome idea! Where did you find your heavy copper wire? Also, is there any reason why it has to be copper wire in particular?

    1. Thanks, Emma! I got the wire at Home Depot, I believe. You could use any kind of malleable wire, but copper is a good one because even a really heavy gauge is still flexible. If you make it, be sure to share pics on Instagram! #shrimpsaladcircus

  5. Does the wire shock if touched when on? Normal wire will shock you if there is no rubber coating on it and I’m wondering if this does too.

  6. I love this idea! I’m thinking of making a sign for my dorm room. I’m a little confused about the EL wire, though! You’re supposed to glue it to the copper wire, and then just cut the EL wire? Doesn’t it use a battery pack? And wouldn’t that mean that the rest of the EL wire is useless?
    Thanks for posting this tutorial, it’s a great one!

    1. Hi Rebecca! So glad you like it, and thanks! You’re right. You just cut off any excess EL wire, using only the portion that you need (the portion attached to the battery pack).

      If you know how to solder, you can attach the leftover wire to a new battery pack, but otherwise, it would indeed be useless. You can get different lengths on Amazon so that you don’t have too much excess, but the price difference isn’t very large. I hope that answers your question!

  7. There’s no mention of the battery pack under “supplies,” is it just a standard battery? They appear to be $20+ on Amazon, so just trying to make sure I find the right thing. I have no idea what I’m looking for, thank you!!

    1. Hi Liz! The battery pack is actually already attached to the wire that I link to under supplies. :) You just need to pop two AA batteries in, and you’re good to go!

      1. Oh geez! I looked at it but didn’t realize that’s what it was (obviously didn’t read through the listing). Thanks for your reply! I have a friend that totally needs this :)

        1. No worries, Liz! It’s always frustrating to buy something and realize you’re missing a key piece, so it’s good that you checked!!

    1. I’m so glad you like it, Trish! I’d love to see pictures on Instagram if you make it! You can tag @shrimpsaladcircus and #shrimpsaladcircus :D

  8. Hi, I’d like to know what size El wire you used? There is an option to chose from 3 or 5 meters on Amazon. I’m not quite sure how much wire I will need for this project. Thanks!

    1. Hi Melissa! Three meteres will be plenty for this project. I even had some excess that I cut off afterward. Be sure to share pictures on Instagram with #shrimpsaladcircus if you make it! <3

  9. Oh my goodness this is too cute and SO clever!!! I totally want to do this with wall hanging typography or something.

  10. This is awesome! So many different shapes you could make. You could totally use it for halloween as a ghost too ;)

    1. My husband said the same thing! I think we’ll definitely be having some little window ghosties for Halloween! :)

  11. wow this is amazing!!! So super cool and so much cheaper and easier than I would have thought! I am definitely going to add this to my to make list!

    1. So, so easy! The EL wire would probably be super fun for kiddos to play around with, too. There aren’t any exposed wires or sharp bits, so it seems like a fun thing to make shapes with in the dark!

  12. We have a cactus obsession and I need to add this to our office! Thanks so much for sharing, I’ve included your post in my Five on Friday roundup. Have a great weekend :)

    1. Thank you so much, Emily! If you make it, definitely share on Insta with #MyShrimpSaladCircus – I’d love to see!!

  13. Absolutely brilliant!! I’m loving that EL wire – the possibilities are endless! I love that you did a cactus shape – so flipping adorable :)

    1. Dooo it! SUCH a fun, easy project! :D :D

      If you make it, definitely share on Insta with #MyShrimpSaladCircus – I’d love to see!!

      1. Does the EL wire get hot? I am thinking of making a light up quilt, so I need to know if it could be touching the fabric. Thanks….

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