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How Electroluminescent (EL) Wire Works


Components of EL Wire
Electroluminescent (EL) wire has a fairly simple structure with only five components.
Electroluminescent (EL) wire has a fairly simple structure with only five components.
©2010 HowStuffWorks

The beauty of electroluminescent wire is its relative simplicity. It consists of several components:

  • Copper core
  • Phosphor lubricant
  • 2 Copper wires
  • 2 PVC sleeves
  • AC Power Source

The production of EL wire begins with a solid copper core, which acts as a conductor. A conductor is a material through which electricity -- a flow of electrons -- easily moves. The entire copper core is coated with an even layer of phosphor lubricant. Phosphor -- like the kind in light sticks and other glow-in-the-dark products -- is the key to electroluminescent wire. Phosphor is a solid material that gives off light when exposed to an energy source, like electricity.

Next, two very thin copper wires are twined together to make one long strand. This wire is coiled around the phosphor-coated, copper core. You now have a layered unit. You can think of its core as a sandwich -- two conductors with electricity following through them provide the energy needed for the phosphor to illuminate.

EL wire can break if exposed to moisture. This is where the two PVC sleeves come into play. These sleeves protect the EL wire from the elements -- this is especially important when you're using EL wire outdoors -- and gives it its pliancy. The first PVC sleeve, which is fairly thin and lightweight, is pulled over the entire conducting unit. This inner sleeve is made from a clear, waterproof plastic. The second PVC sleeve, which is often chemically dyed to produce a vast array of colors, is laid over the entire strand. It provides an extra layer of protection and is often variegated to give the illusion of texture.

Lastly, no EL wire is complete without an AC power source. The addition of electricity to your EL wire begins a reaction on the atomic level that allows the wire to glow.

Now that we know what EL wire is composed of, let's see what makes it illuminate so beautifully.