How To Build Your Own Light-Up Costume

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castor troy costume from Tron Legacy

First things first, there are a number of technologies that you can use, but deciding which way you want to go will save you some trouble down the road. We believe there are 4 main types of lighting options when dealing with costuming. LED's are great, but they have an inconsistent light, and it's overbearing and bright when used without any type of diffusion. We prefer to stick with the EL's which we call short for Electroluminescence. EL Panels and EL Tape are essentially the same thing, and make a great costume. They are thin, relatively flexible and can be cut. EL Wire is awesome, cost effective and easy to work with. It can basically take any shape you give it, and it applies easy to clothing. ELasoLite® is the third option and by far the best for comfort. The panels are so thin and flexible that they move along with you, without limiting any movement. The way the panels and accessories are made, they can pretty much integrate into any costume application and you'd never know it's there. Did we mention ELastoLite® is machine washable? 

See below for a quick road map to help your decision making a little easier. Each of the technologies I listed above have their advantages and disadvantages.

Costume Roadmap:

1. Is your budget above or below $50?
ABOVE: This gives you some options, go to next question. 
BELOW: See # 4

2. Are you going to be reusing your costume?
YES: I want to wear this thing everyday! I got so much attention! See next question.
NO: I may use it once more, but probably not more than a few times. Jump to question #4

3. Do You Need to Wash It?
YES: ELastoLite® is really the way to go. It's machine washable, durable and doesn't break with a lot of bending. In other words, it's the bomb. See ELastoLite® below.
NO: EL Wire or Tape are really up for discussion if you don't intend on washing it. While they are both waterproof, typically washing these technologies make your costume deformed and sometimes irreparable. See next question. 

4. Is your pattern complex, or simple lines?
PRETTY SIMPLE: If you have a few shapes, but mostly just want to glow, we think EL Tape is going to be right up your alley.
COMPLEX LIKE A CIRCUIT BOARD: EL Wire is calling your name. See EL WIRE below for more info.

Now that you know which direction you want to go, take a gander below to help with the actual process.

EL Wire:

EL Wire is very easy to work with, but it has a few quirks that you need to pay attention to. It is extremely flexible, bends and glows in 360 degrees which makes it great for shapes, patterns and really complex lighting elements. It's also the most "organic" lighting system, meaning that if you want an outline of a human, or to spell out your name, EL Wire is the only technology that allows you to bend and curve just as you intended the light to. The downside of Electroluminescent Wire is that because it's so thin and flexible, it's also rather fragile. This complicates things when you want to glow from head to toe. Keeping the wire away from knees, elbows, shoulders and any spot that gets excessive movement is a must. While it may work for a little bit, EL Wire is surely going to fail the more movement it receives. Keeping the wire still is the most important thing to think about when planning out your costume. Spots like your chest, upper legs, and back are great areas because there is very limited movement. If you intend on having a glow that extends down to your ankles, it would be wise to start a new strand after your knees, so the back and forth movement by walking, running or dancing won't make your costume short out. 

Planning is extremely important when planning out a successful costume, and what's maybe more important is battery placement. This can be a tricky part as there are friendly battery placements, and there are not so nice spots. Keeping the battery away from your ears and face is a good idea. Because the frequency output that makes the wire glow is in our audible range, it can be a bit annoying to hear the buzzing (or whining) of the battery pack. My favorite spot is around the belt line, as most battery packs have a nice belt clip anyway. This makes it easy to remove, turn on/off, and replace the batteries. So if you're going to go with the belt-line option, think about how you want the EL Wire to start, or return to this spot. Being wrong on this part can be a real drag. 

So now that you've space planned your costume, how do you put it on? We typically recommend using a combination of fabric glue and thread. Yes, that means you have to brush up on your seamstress skills a bit and get poked in the fingers a few times... Buzzkill... The best glue for costuming is E6000, which can be found at most craft stores. It dries clear and is relatively hidden if used correctly. E6000 is also much friendlier on the skin rather than super glue or other quick dry glues. Stay away from Hot Glue and most liquid type glues, because they typically will not stick to the slippery surface of the wire. The PE coating that we use, while awesome for many properties, is a bit difficult for glue to adhere. After you have a layout for your costume, take some 120 Grit sandpaper and rough up the edge that will be face down on the material. This will ensure the glue has a good surface to stick to. Keep in mind that straight runs or wide circles make a great reason to use glue, but sharp turns or edges require a stronger hold, which is where the thread comes in. Simply do a few stitches to keep the corners in place and apply a bit of glue. 

As you're working through the costume, having some pieces of flat heavy objects are really nice. I tend to use some books I don't care about (try Twilight Saga, or 50 Shades... just saying). This speeds up the process of gluing and allows you to move quickly through the costume. After you're done, fire it up and check our your new digs. When storing your costume, make sure you take the battery out, because it will drain a bit. Our battery packs have a function that always checks to see if there's a load, and basically fact checks that with the on/off switch. It takes minimal amounts of power, but will still drain your battery if left for a period of time. Lastly, when you get a cool costume you're proud of, send it our way, or tag us on social media. You can find us at facebook.com/EllumiglowPage, instagram.com/Ellumiglow or twitter.com/Ellumiglow. Happy Glowing!

EL Tape:

EL Tape is a wonderful product that is relatively easy to work with, but like EL Wire is has its own quirks. First, EL Tape bends really well like a roller coaster. Side to side movements don't bode well for Electroluminescent Tape, so keep this in mind when planning your costume. Straight runs or areas where you naturally bend (ie. back, chest, etc.) are a great place to have EL Tape. What's neat about EL Tape is it can be cut and will continue to glow all the way until the point where it was cut. Just make sure to seal any and all cut edges quickly with a clear Scotch tape or glue. Movement, unlike EL Wire can be more forgiving, however it's a good rule of thumb to keep the glowing areas to parts of the body that don't see a lot of movement. While technically EL Tape is a bit more robust and can withstand bending better than EL Wire, it can be cumbersome and uncomfortable to have on knees and elbows.

Planning is just as important when making a successful costume, so this is a good time to place your battery placement. This can be a tricky part as well, as it's not always obvious where a good stopping point will be. Keeping the battery away from your ears and face will save your sanity, because the frequency that makes the EL Tape glow is in our audible range, and it will drive you partially made hearing the buzzing (or whining) of the battery pack. My favorite spot is around the belt line, as most battery packs have a nice belt clip anyway. Make sure you get a few extra 3-1 or 4-1 connectors as this is nice to have a few options right from the battery pack. Having the pack(s) at the belt-line makes it easy to remove, turn on/off, and replace the batteries, so think about where you want the tape to start, or return to this spot. 

Attaching EL Tape to clothing is pretty straightforward, but keep one thing in mind. If you attach using this method, don't plan on using the costume for anything else. The glue I like doesn't come out easily once it's in there. EL Tape comes out of the box with a 3M adhesive tape, but for most costuming applications, the adhesive doesn't hold nearly well enough. Like EL Wire, try E6000 glue, found at most craft stores. E6000 holds really well on most fabrics and is the "roll-off" type, so if you get some on your fingers, just roll them like Elmers glue and it comes off. Super glue will also hold, but its messy and for me, a real pain to use. 

When storing your costume, make sure you take the battery out, because it will drain a bit. Our battery packs have a function that always checks to see if there's a load, and basically fact checks that with the on/off switch. It takes minimal amounts of power, but will still drain your battery if left for a period of time. Lastly, when you get a cool costume you're proud of, send it our way, or tag us on the Book or Gram it. You can find us at facebook.com/EllumiglowPage, instagram.com/Ellumiglow or twitter.com/Ellumiglow. Happy Glowing!

ELastoLite:

ELastoLite is a relative newcomer the to Electroluminescent world, but is quickly becoming dear to our hearts. Much more information on ELastolite can be found in our learning center, so we'll cut right to the chase. This is not the easiest product to work with, so be sure to have a bit of patience, and maybe a pot of coffee going. Why do we like it then? ELastoLite simply put, is the only way to achieve uniform illumination in your costume that can become one with it. Not only does it look awesome when powered on, but it's machine washable, can be ironed into the fabric and has no loss of mobility. It's more flexible than even a single sheet of paper, so it's perfect for costumes. To boot, an entire line of iron-able circuit tape, and connectors are also available in the ELastoLite section. This allows you to put connections anywhere on your costume without feeling them, and everything is machine washable AND dryable (except for the battery packs). This makes it great for stage performances and other applications where you plan on using it over and over.

The ELastoLite battery packs are pretty sweet and come with their own rechargeable Lithium-Polymer internal battery. This allows you to simply plug the battery into your computer to recharge. A typical full charge on these packs stays lit for 8-10 hours. Because ELastolite is a bit more involved, we recommend checking out of tutorials on Elastolite as it's a bit more involved than this article can go into. The downside of these packs is they can only do up to 20sqin of ELastoLite at a time, but the plus side is they are quite compact, have a smart sensing capability, and are rechargeable. 

For more information on ELastoLite, check out our full tutorial line at Educate.ellumiglow.com/elastolite

If you found this tutorial helpful, feel free to leave a comment below, or share on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks for your continued support and let us know if you want to see any other tutorials. Our tutorials are largely done because our users ask us to.

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