How Electroluminescent (EL) Wire Works

By: Joanna Burgess

Lighting Displays and Crafting with EL Wire

The forty-foot sculpture of the Burning Man stands wrapped in EL wire at the Twelfth Annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada.
The forty-foot sculpture of the Burning Man stands wrapped in EL wire at the Twelfth Annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada.
Stephen Ferry/Liaison/Getty Images

EL wire is so popular because it's fairly easy to create interesting effects such as pulsing light, circles or specific patterns that match a tempo. In order to produce such effects, you'll need to use a sequencer. Sequencers are programmable, letting you control your lighting pattern and the speed at which it moves [source: Sparkfun Electronics]. Many people use EL wire for holiday displays, and a sequencer will come in handy if you like to create ambitious outdoor décor. For example, if you have a Halloween display in your yard with witches and ghosts wrapped in colorful EL wires, a sequencer will allow you to set a repeating lighting pattern. Sequencers also allow you to program music, which means you can add eerie sound effects to complete your spooky display.

In addition to holiday decorations, EL wire is used in costumes to create interesting, one-of-a-kind effects. Sunglasses, jewelry, coats and pet collars are all available for EL wire upgrades, and EL wire now provides unlimited lighting options for clubs. When used with sequencers, EL club lighting can even pulse with the music. Budget-conscious consumers have turned to EL wire as a novel solution for personalized home and auto lighting, and EL wire's low cost makes it a great alternative to storefronts' neon signage. Whether you want to save on your holiday electricity bill or make a statement on the dance floor, EL wire's versatility and low cost give you endless possibilities for invention.


A far cry from its inflexible, brittle beginnings, EL wire has made its mark as a durable, adaptable product with myriad uses. You can assemble it yourself, and now that it's available in many colors, thicknesses and lengths, EL wire is sure to bring a little light into your life.

Now that you know how EL wire is made, how it works and what can be done with it, you might find the following articles illuminating.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Beswick, Vernon L. "Wire Terminal Electroluminescent Device and Manufacture" United States Patent(March 15, 2010)
  • Electro Luminescence Incorporated. "What is Electroluminescence?" (July 19, 2010)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Electroluminescence." (March 16, 2010)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Phosphor." (March 16, 2010)
  • Kuphaldt, Tony R. "What is Alternating Current?" All About Circuits. (July 15, 2010)
  • Live Wire: The Original EL Wire. "What is 'Live Wire/EL Wire'?" (July 20, 2010)
  • PBS. "AC-DC: Inside the Battery." Edison's Miracle of Light. (March 23, 2010)
  • PBS. "AC-DC: Inside the Wire." Edison's Miracle of Light. (July 15, 2010)
  • PBS. "AC-DC: Inside the AC Generator." Edison's Miracle of Light. (July 15, 2010)
  • Rubin, Josh. "Marcus Tremonto: Lightworks." Cool Hunting. December 11, 2007. (July 16, 2010)
  • Solution Industries. "FAQ: EL Wire Facts -- Does EL Wire Fade?" (July 16, 2010)
  • Sparkfun Electronics. "EL Sequencer." (July 19, 2010)
  • Talking Electronics. "Electroluminescence Theory: How EL Works." (July 19, 2010)
  • Voskoboinik, Moses. "Electroluminescent Light Sources." United States Patent. December 6, 1993. (March 15, 2010)