Make a neon sign

DIY your own realistic neon sign

June 17, 2020

I’m always looking for excuses to try out new ideas I have. This time it was creating a realistic looking neon sign without all the hassle of bending glass and poisonous gas.

For a space themed birthday party, I created a simple crescent shaped neon sign that would be hanging in the backdrop.

This project turned out easier than expected, and took a few hours in my spare time to make.

So let’s get into it!

Here’s what you need

Materials you’ll need to make your neon LED sign.
  • Neon LED flex lights
  • LED strip end cap/wire cap
  • Something to mount your design on (I’m using clear acrylic)
  • power supply: power adapter or batteries
  • wire
  • wire cutter/strippers
  • glue
  • DC jack
  • screw driver
  • soldering iron
  • x-acto knife

1. Create your design

Plan out your design using a sketch or digital drawing.

I quickly mocked up the crescent design in Figma and added 2 holes where the fish wire will string through to hang up.

Plan out the design using a sketch or digital drawing.

Since my design is simple, I only have 1 segment of LEDs that will connect in a loop. If you have multiple segments, now’s the time to figure out where the LED segments will be and where the wires between them will go.

2. Create your background

The LED strip is quite sturdy due to it’s thickness but it can’t really hold a shape on its own, which is why we need a background. You don’t need anything fancy, a simple foam, wood, or acrylic board will do.

I used the design above for the background. I wanted it to be transparent so I went with clear acrylic and used a laser cutter to cut it.

The acrylic background for my crescent moon design.

3. Figure out length of LED tube

The strips have black markers every couple centimeters where you can safely cut. I basically held the LED strip along the crescent shape and found how much length I needed.

(Left) On the side of the LED strip you can see black markers where you can cut. (Right) Figure out the length of LED strip you need.

Once you cut the LED strip, you’ll see the +/- terminals inside. Touching a wire (attached to a battery for safety) will light up your LEDs.

Once you cut the LED strip, you should see the terminals (left) and touching a wire to them lights up the LEDs (right).

4. Attach wires to LED strip

Solder the wires to the LED strip so they’re permanently attached. I cut the silicon around the terminals to allow for more room to solder. A bit messy but it works!

Cute away some of the silicon (left) so you can solder the wires to the terminals (right).

Sanity check: before you start gluing, make  sure the length still fits on the acrylic and the LED strip works.

Double-checking the length of the LED strip.

5. Attach the LED lights to the background

I used super glue to stick the ends of the LED strip to make a loop. Then I glued the LED strip along the edge of the acrylic background.

Your kit might include some aluminum rails that the LED strip fits into which you can attach to the background.

I glued the LED strip into a loop (left) then along the acrylic background (right).

6. Attach power supply

This DC jack is pretty easy to use, just insert the wires and turn the screw.

The wires go into the DC jack and you tighten the screws.

That’s all folks!

Plug it in and you’re good to go.

The LED sign attached to a battery supply (left) and DC power supply (right).

Final thoughts

I love projects like this where multiple skills and tools intersect to create something new. This made the project go pretty smoothly and quickly for me. It’s also why I agreed to do it in under a week and share the process.

The most time consuming parts was figuring out what materials I needed, looking for those materials locally, and waiting for the items I ordered to arrive.

I already have ideas on how to improve this project:

  • Getting nicer wires that match the aesthetic of the neon light.
  • Adding a dimmer switch; the LEDs are quite bright with a 12V power supply, and not very bright with a 9V battery.

And ideas for new projects using these LED strips:

  • Floating shapes partially submerged in resin as decorative lamps (I want to replace the lamp on my desk but haven’t found one I like).
  • Clock with LED hands
  • An alarm clock that slowly wakes you up by increasing brightness (yes these exist but they’re clunky or expensive).

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