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.
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…
How to Make a DIY Neon Sign
- Lime green EL wire – I used this one.
- Heavy copper wire
- Bench block – totally optional but helps with hammering
- Plant pot – This a great set for a group crafternoon!
- Foam board
- Super glue
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.
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. ;)
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.
4. Cut out the foam board, cleaning up the edges a bit as you go, since they’ll be exposed.
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.
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!
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!