EL wire and flat panel lighting

There are many examples of lighted clothing on this site that have been illuminated by electroluminescent (EL) wire, EL strips, or EL panel materials. Although EL wire can be a good choice for creating uniform lines of light, there are some practical limitations that should be considered when it is used on clothing.

The primary concern is durability. 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 the solid copper wire core to break. This might not matter if you only need to wear it for a short period of time, but it is something you should be aware of before purchasing an EL wire garment. We do not warranty custom EL installations against wire breakage - we will only guarantee that it will work upon arrival.

EL wire is available in multiple sizes, and the thicker types are more resistant to this kind of damage, but the thicker wires are also less flexible and may interfere with the drape of a garment.

Second, 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).

Another potential issue for EL wire installations is the presence of a high voltage, high frequency driver that makes a high-pitched whining sound that may be picked up by microphones.

Furthermore, 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 damaging the phosphor (the part that glows).


Applications where EL wire is recommended:
regions on garments that are relatively rigid, and will not flex repeatedly
novelty or short-term use (if installed on flexing garments)
garments that will not need to be washed
dimly lit or dark environments

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

crowns, helmets, etc are also a good choice for mounting EL wire

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 (the rings around the sleeves are not reinforced, and are more vulnerable to breaking)

the butterfly wings do not flex (note that we avoided the hinges at the center)


EL wire is NOT recommended for:
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
performers wearing a microphone
extreme acrobatic movements
long-term use as a critical part of a show (unless you have backups, staff available to do maintenance)

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR EXTENDED USE: EL wire will eventually break at locations that flex repeatedly, such as elbows and knees in this stick-figure costume and on the legs of these pants (actual lifetime will vary depending on how it is mounted and worn)

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR EXTENDED USE: The long pieces of EL wire running down front of the entire cape or dress will make it difficult to fold and transport these garments. It can be rolled gently, but the wire will be damaged if it is creased and unfolded repeatedly.


how to order

If you'd like to add some lighted wire to your wardrobe, we can help to explain the advantages and disadvantages of LEDs and EL wire in various applications, and account for these features during the design process to optimize the durability of the finished product. While we typically recommend LEDs, in some cases, EL wire may be the best way to achieve the visual effect you are seeking, despite the other drawbacks.

Please note that due to the fragility of EL wire, we do not warranty custom EL installations against wire breakage - we will only guarantee that it will work upon arrival.

Pricing starts around $10-20 per foot of EL wire, plus the cost of the basic garment. Please see our custom orders page for more information.


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