Electroluminescent Wire – EL Wire to the Seasoned Squint


Have you ever heard of electroluminescent wire – or EL wire, as it’s affectionately called?

EL wire is layered around a core copper wire, and each layer performs a different task.  From center, EL wire contains a copper wire as the core, which is coated with a phospor material.  Copper and phosphor are the first two layers.  Add two very thin wires wrapped around the phosphor-coated copper core, acting like an igniter of sorts – then cover that whole thing with a plastic layer.  The first plastic layer might also be tinted or corrected to show a color – as you would assume things that emit light might have – like a color filter.  The whole assembly is also covered with a second layer of plastic, as a protector.  So, from the center, we have a copper core, a phosphor layer, a layer of two wire leads, a plastic layer, and a second plastic layer for protection.

What is cool about this electroluminescent wire is the electroluminescent part.  Current is applied to both the copper core and the two wires wrapped around the phosphor coating of the copper core.  As the electromagnetic field is created on the phosphor from the two separated conductors sandwiching it, the coating fluoresces.  So we have wire that glows using the basic principles of electricity and phosphorescence.  Awesome.

People are finding some interesting uses for EL wire all over the place – I mean, the use of it is really limited to your imagination (and some voltage), and it’s getting added to some cool projects.  I found a few at Hack-N-Mod, and they had a few videos listed.  The one below is of a clothing on a DJ:

Can you see the costume design possibilities of this wire?  Even with LEDs and battery packs, you can still only have so many LEDs sewn into a costume piece.  Suddenly Joseph’s crazy ridiculous and Amaing Technicolor Dreamcoat just got even more insane.

There are videos all over the place on projects using EL wire.  Here’s one from Burning Man (as you can imagine – being that where else could you imagine being a better place for wire that glows?):

Here’s one using EL wire in a light art installation:

Have you spec’ed or designed any projects lately using EL wire somewhere?  Post in the comments, I’d love to know more!

Previous articleOLED Demo – Hey, Should I Get A Hole Punch?
Next articleBacteria Can Grow Wires to Communicate?! RUN!


  1. ive worked with EL wire plenty of times! I have about 400ft of it sitting in my closet as I speak. ive done a couple art installations where Ive just hung them from the ceiling down like vines. A couple complaints I have though is trying to get my wire to look “straight” say if im putting it on a wall to spell a word out, I cant figure out a way to make my lines straight and or stay in one place 🙁 so if anyone has any input im all ears!

    here is a good example:


    Other complaints I have are with the controllers, pretty simple and nothing you can get to crazy with. Im much more interested with EL sheets, I know that show cash cab uses el sheets on the roof of the cab, it covers alot more space and its pretty flexible.
    As far as using it for proffessional gigs, I’ve been avoiding using them for the sheer lack of control, and the lines never coming out to straight…. Also my controller that I currently have take 10 EL wires each, and it doesn’t have a function where I can just keep them all “on” it just chases from 1-10. I know they make a plastic “track” where if doing an installation would make it look 1000x more professional, so if anyone is considering an installment or using them for a gig, id highly recommend it, here is the link


  2. Jim, I’ve used the wire a little, but I backlit an entire wall with the stuff once for a corporate entryway. It looked amazing, but harmonic distortion was a major issue.

Comments are closed.