overview of the custom design process

We specialize in making lighted clothes that are easy to use and beautiful to wear. Our design philosophy assigns equal importance to the aesthetic goals of a piece and the underlying technical functionality. While the complex electronic connections and controls are usually hidden from view, making our garments seem deceptively simple, the process for making them is much more complicated than it looks.

These pages will help to explain our design process, the options that are available when creating an original lighted garment, and a variety of other factors that should be considered.

designing a lighting effect

We can achieve a wide range of custom lighting effects, whether you want something that is soft and subtle, loud and obnoxious, or anything in between. Your message can be expressed with the brightness or color of the lighting, the placement on the body, or the methods used to blend and shape the light with fabrics. We can also control the way the lights are animated - creating designs with slowly twinkling lights, sequential patterns, or fast random flashing, as well as a constant glowing effect.

selecting a garment and fabric type

Lights can be installed in just about any type of garment or accessory, although the choice of foundation can greatly enhance the appearance, wearability, and durability of the finished product. In general, it will look better if the lights are mounted in a fabric that can provide a reasonable amount of support. The electronic components that we use are not very heavy, but they can cause sagging or uneven hanging if the underlying fabric is too thin or stretchy.

It can also be difficult to work with stretch fabrics because the electronics will need to be installed in a way that can accommodate the stretching, but without adding too much bulk. Tight, form-fitting pieces of clothing are challenging because they undergo a high degree of bending and stretching when they move with the body. Complex designs on tight clothing can require multiple fittings and adjustments, both before and after the lights are installed.

Depending on the type of lighting that you require, it might be necessary to build reinforced non-stretch regions in the places where lights are mounted. Or, the lights could be mounted in separate accessories that are worn over (or under) another piece of clothing.

choosing battery size and placement

The size and placement of the battery pack can be customized, depending on the type of garment, the type of lighting, and the length of time you'd like to use it between battery changes or recharging. The batteries are typically hidden in a pocket somewhere on the garment. For example, in a bra, the battery can be held under the arm or within the bra cup. In a jacket or pants, batteries are typically stored in an existing pocket. If there is no place to hide a battery (as occurs with certain styles of glasses or headpieces), we can run a wire to a position where the battery is worn on the body, or we can connect it to another lighted portion of the costume.

Most garments are designed to include power supplies that will last for at least one full evening of use. In cases where a performer will only need to have the lights on for a short period of time, we can substitute batteries that are smaller than those described below.

Most of our products require DC power in the range of 3 to 12 volts. Designs with a small number of LEDs can be powered by a pair of small CR2032 coin cell batteries. Other garments with about 5-50 individually mounted LEDs will use a single 9V battery. For 50 or more individually mounted LEDs, we recommend a 4-pack of AA batteries. In some cases, we will use strings of pre-wired LEDs that are designed to run on a specific voltage, such as 3V, 4.5V, or 12V.

Similar guidelines apply to EL wire drivers. Extremely short lengths of EL wire (up to 18") can be powered by a small driver with coin cell batteries. Short to moderate lengths of EL wire are typically powered by a single 9V battery, or a pack of 6 AA batteries. Installations with longer lengths of EL wire will operate on 12V, typically in the form of 8 AA batteries.

placing switches for power and mode control

Our clothes will typically have a power switch built into the battery pack or connector. If you need to be able to turn the lights on and off while you are wearing the garment, we can mount the switch in a specific location, and customize the size and shape of the switch to make sure it is easy to use (but without making it too vulnerable to being activated accidentally). For lighted clothes that can display multiple flashing patterns, the design will also include a mode switch.

We can also provide remote controls, as needed. Professional-grade wireless controls require additional technical support to ensure that they will be compatible with your other wireless systems.

determining durability requirements

In many cases, durability is a critical issue that should be considered in the early phases of the design process. There is a big difference between making something that will look good in a photo shoot or a single walk down a fashion runway, versus something that can be worn for an extended period of time, or for strenuous activities, such as dancing. Clothing must endure a lot of stresses and strains (in the mechanical sense) for body motions as simple as lifting our arms, bending over, walking, sitting, or kneeling.

So, we are constantly faced with the challenge of making electronics that are flexible, and able to withstand repeated bending and stretching, but without being too bulky to blend into a wearable garment. These problems can be addressed with careful selection of the type of lighting and garment, the position of the lighting on the body, and the methods used to mount the electronics in the fabrics. Our experience in this area is quite extensive, and includes PhD-level research in biomechanics, and nearly 15 years of building lighted garments that have been tested in extreme environments.

understanding limits on washability

Washability can be another key concern for lighted clothing. Many of our LED-based designs with permanently installed lights can be hand washed in water (with the batteries removed) with a mild detergent and then dried flat. They can also be spot cleaned, or treated with a fabric-freshening product such as Febreze. We don't recommend machine washing, or machine drying, or dry cleaning, because of the risk of high stresses (due to spinning and bulk processing), extreme temperatures, and harsh chemicals that may be involved.

We do not recommend immersing clothes with permanently attached EL wire, although they can be spot-cleaned and are resistant to some exposure to moisture (such as sweat, when being worn).

If you need a light-up garment that is machine washable, we can also provide lighting designs in which the electronics are fully removable. For example, our light-up shirt buttons, light-up patches, and light-up strips for pant legs can be made this way.

working within the limits of a budget and/or schedule

Our creative talents can also be used to find solutions that will achieve your design goals, and produce a memorable visual effect, while working within the financial and time constraints of a project.

Some types of lighting are significantly more expensive and more labor-intensive than others, and will require longer lead times for the full design and construction process. If you need to meet a certain budget or deadline, we can help steer you towards the most cost effective options and adjust the amount of lighting that is used.

In many cases, we can turn a project around more quickly (and at a lower overall cost) if you're able to provide the base garments, so that our work is focused on installing the lighting. We can collaborate with your own stylist or wardrobe department to ensure that these foundations are suitable for the type of electronics that will be used.

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