EL wire and EL flat panel materials

We are no longer accepting orders for custom installations of EL wire or panels, but we are retaining this page to help people understand the difference between LEDs and EL materials.

In the past, some of our Enlighted clothing has been illuminated by electroluminescent (EL) wire or EL panels. EL wire provides the appearance of a uniform glowing line, similar to neon. It is lightweight and flexible, and can move with a garment when it is worn (within certain limits). EL flat panels can be used to create uniformly glowing areas of light.

EL wire

EL wire is composed of a central copper core coated with a phosphor, wrapped by a spiral of two thin wires, and sealed in a plastic sheath. The phosphor emits light when excited by an AC electrical signal. It can be powered by a small battery pack, but it also requires an inverter (EL driver) that converts low voltage DC power into a high frequency, high voltage signal.

The color of the EL is determined by the phosphor and the color of the plastic coating. Commonly available colors include red, orange, yellow, lime green, dark green, aqua blue (clear when off), dark blue, purple, pink, and white (pink when off).

EL wire is available in a range of sizes. The preferred type for clothing is the standard thickness (2.5 mm). In some cases we will use the angel hair type (1.2 mm) for designs with fine detail, or thicker varieties (3.2 mm or 5mm) for designs requiring a more rugged installation.

limitations of EL wire designs on clothing


Durability is the primary concern for designs using EL wire on clothing. EL wire is flexible, and can be bent into a variety of shapes, but it should not be installed in a manner that will require repeated flexing (such as the knees or elbows), since this will eventually cause fatigue damage and breakage of the the solid copper core or the thin spiral wires.

The thicker forms of EL wire can be more resistant to this kind of damage, but they are also less flexible and may interfere with the drape of a garment.

brightness The amount of light produced by EL wire is considerably less than what can be achieved with LEDs. EL designs will look good in dark environments, but they may be overwhelmed by stage lighting or bright indoor lighting (on the floor of a trade show, for example).

EL wire installations require the presence of a high voltage, high frequency driver that emits a high-pitched whining sound. Not everyone notices, but it can be annoying to some people when worn on the head. The sound might also be picked up by microphones.

washability EL wire is not washable. The wire itself is water resistant, and can withstand sweat or some hand-washing, but if it is fully immersed the ends of the wire are vulnerable to having moisture leak inside and damage the phosphor (the part that glows).

applications where EL wire is recommended

• regions on garments that are relatively rigid, and will not flex repeatedly
• short-term use (if installed on flexing parts of garments)
• garments that will not need to be washed
• dimly lit or dark environments

many hats and helmets are relatively rigid, and are suitable for EL wire decoration

bras (with a padded/molded non-stretch cup) make a good surface for mounting EL wire

logos can be outlined with EL wire, with proper reinforcement on the inside of the garment to reduce flexing

situations where EL wire is NOT recommended

• parts of the body that flex repeatedly (elbows, knees)
• thin stretchy fabrics or tight bodysuits (EL wire does not stretch)
• parts of a garment you will sit on, walk on, or crush
• extreme acrobatic movements (unless the light is mounted on non-flexing accessories)
• long-term use as a critical part of a show (unless you have backups and/or staff available to do maintenance)

EL panels and strips

EL panels are made of the same types of phosphors that are found in EL wire, but the material is laminated in a sheet, surrounded by electrodes in parallel layers. These panels are flexible, but it is recommended that they are used in places on the body where the degree of bending is relatively low.

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