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Unread 03-03-2013, 06:38 PM   #1
Blue Leader
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Looking to Add Lights to a Costume

Greetings,

I'm looking to add some lighting to a costume I'm working on, though I'm not entirely sure what to use. I'll need some pieces of light that are fairly wide, so more than just some small LEDs. I've seen EL tape, which looks like it might work, but I've heard that when in someone that's lit (as in anywhere that has lights on) the EL tape becomes relatively invisible and you can't see the light coming from it. It works well in dark places but not so much in areas that have lights on, or at least from what I've hear. I haven't had any experience with them so I can't confirm or deny that.
Not to mention that the EL tape I've seen looks like it runs off of a computer power source, while for a costume it would need to run off a battery and have a switch so I could turn it on and off.

So, assuming that is the case and EL tape doesn't work well in places with lighting (such as conventions), does anyone know of something else I could use? I'd like to find some lights similar to that... I'm not very good at wiring things so it would be great if these lights only needed to be connected with some sort of wire (or something similar) that plugs in to each strip and doesn't have to be soldered, if such a thing exists. If worse comes to worse I could solder the thing together, I've done it before, it's just not my forte.

The lights will probably be attached between layers of material. I figured that I could probably wrap duct tape around the sections where I didn't want the light visible.

Here is a crude example (below) of what I'm working on. The green squares, which are on the bottom and middle of the tabards (these will be on the back out of outfit as well) and on the tips of the shoulder armor, are where I plan to put the lights. Does anyone know what I might be able to use?

http://i55.photobucket.com/albums/g1...d_sketch01.jpg

Last edited by Blue Leader : 03-03-2013 at 06:45 PM.
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Unread 03-05-2013, 06:18 PM   #2
verdatum
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Some colors can be made brighter than others, but for the most part, yeah, EL Wire looks rather unimpressive in brightly lit environments.

Batteries are a low-voltage DC form of power. EL wire requires high voltage AC power. To use EL wire portably, you use a specialized device that oscillates the current at the appropriate frequency, and then ramps the voltage to the needed level. You can build them without too much difficulty, but most times, you're better off buying a premade one from a specialty supplier.

Regardless, it looks like you merely need relatively small panels to light up. You can do this perfectly fine using a combination of LEDs and optical diffusion film. Diffusion film blurrs light sources, and spreads the effect across a wide surface. One good example of this are the ForceFX lightsabers. If you take one apart, you find a boring old chain of LEDs; but thanks to the diffusion film, it looks like a solidly glowing rod. And so long as the LED is bright enough, it looks just as solid with a single LED at the base of the blade.

You can order specialty film online (in fact, there are some suppliers for the custom lightsaber community that are a good source for the stuff). In a pinch, you can just take a thin piece of clear plexiglass (scrounged, or purchased at the hardware store or hobby shop) and scuff it up thoroughly on the underside using around 400-grit sandpaper.

To get it to glow the right color, you can either find plastic film that has been tinted your desired color, paint the plexiglass surface with premade "stained glass" acrylic paint, or make your own acrylic paint by mixing a tiny bit of artist acrylic paint with artist acrylic medium. Acrylic medium is like paint without any pigment in it, so when mixed with colored paint, you get a pigment concentration that is low enough to make it translucent, but won't make the paint all thin and drippy the way it would if you just mixed in a bunch of water.

You'll want to build some sort of small frame in order to securely mount the LED a fixed distance away from the film. You can do this with wood, bits of sheet plastic, or if lazy, you can just encase the LED(s) in hot glue.

For maximum brightness, you can either glue in mirror-film or brush it with reflective/metallic paint.

When purchasing LEDs, make sure you get the stats for the LEDs and do the math to figure out how to appropriately wire it up with the proper voltage and resistor values. Leaving the resistors out wastes the battery and reduces the life of the LEDs.
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Unread 03-05-2013, 09:58 PM   #3
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We bought a bunch of these small LED finger lights, and have had pretty good luck with them. Don't hot-glue them permanently in place, as the batteries aren't readily replaceable.

http://www.amazon.com/LED-Finger-Lig.../dp/B0045H0L1W

Each pack comes with one red, green, blue, and white light, and for seven bucks you get ten packs of four. Use the green ones and you don't have to worry about coloring your plexi.
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Unread 03-06-2013, 01:03 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by verdatum View Post
Some colors can be made brighter than others, but for the most part, yeah, EL Wire looks rather unimpressive in brightly lit environments.
You have some interesting ideas, I may have to give the diffusion film a shot... I'll just have to find a place that sells it. Heh.

I have seen LED strips online, which might work... They seem to simply be LED lights attached to a strip of thin plastic, or something like that. I'm not sure how they wire up, I'd need to read more about them, but that sounds like it could work, in theory, in combination with the film. I could just get green LEDs (as I want it to light up green). I could just have the strips running down the length of the tabards and just have the light exposed in the spots where I want it. I'm sure I could figure out some way to hide the light in the other areas where I didn't want it to appear.

If worse comes to worse and I need to add some sort of color over/under the film, I know that I've seen transparent green vinyl at a local fabric store, which may do the trick...

Are you talking about something like this and this for the film? Is there any thickness/transparency/whatever that you recommend?

Oh, and do you happen to know what the film is made out of? Is it usually a plastic material or paper?

Quote:
Originally Posted by nathancarter View Post
We bought a bunch of these small LED finger lights, and have had pretty good luck with them. Don't hot-glue them permanently in place, as the batteries aren't readily replaceable.

http://www.amazon.com/LED-Finger-Lig.../dp/B0045H0L1W

Each pack comes with one red, green, blue, and white light, and for seven bucks you get ten packs of four. Use the green ones and you don't have to worry about coloring your plexi.
Unfortunately, I'll need something a little tougher than those. Something that lasts longer and something, probably, a little larger. Not to mention that because I have about ten areas, roughly, that I want to light up it would be a real pain to go around switching off all six lights individually. And because they'd be placed between layers of material... well, they'd need a longer lifespan. Heh heh.

Though I have been trying to think of something I could do with those finger lights. They seem like something I should be able to use for... something. :P

Last edited by Blue Leader : 03-06-2013 at 01:08 AM.
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Unread 03-06-2013, 11:25 AM   #5
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I don't see any places on the drawing where you need a stripe of light; only patches. Therefore, LED strips are a bit silly. Just wire up some banks of LEDs. It really isn't difficult.

If you do need to mask light, on things like EL wire, plastic fiber-optics, etc. Don't use duct tape, just paint the surface either with black acrylic paint or black plasti-dip.

It's sorta up to personal preference whether you make film translucent green (either via green-tinted film or translucent paint) and using white LEDs, or to leave the film clear and use green LEDs. Each provides a different effect, it just depends on what you're going for.

Yes, those are examples of what you're looking for. The thickness of the film mostly relates to flexibility and durability. If you decide to glue a layer of plexiglass on top, then just use the thin stuff. If you want the film to serve as the top surface, then you'll want something in the at least somewhat thicker range. You might need to talk to a supplier or see if you can get samples to figure out just what thickness is right for your needs.

The film is plastic, though I'm not sure what specific type.
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Unread 03-07-2013, 01:31 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by verdatum View Post
I don't see any places on the drawing where you need a stripe of light; only patches. Therefore, LED strips are a bit silly. Just wire up some banks of LEDs. It really isn't difficult.
I suppose it is, I just didn't want to have to do a lot of soldering, I'm just not confident in my wiring abilities. I have done it but it was a fairly simple job (in fact, I only had one LED on it). And I'm not really sure how to figure out what kind of battery I would need for how many LED lights, what resistors I would need or how many, and what else I'd need. (Obviously, I'd need a switch, too.) I'm not really sure how to figure everything out, and I'd rather not screw it up and burn out the lights or something after putting all the work into it.

Not to mention you'd be surprised how hard it was to find wires the last time I did some LED wiring. I couldn't find any local store that actually sold wires, not even Radio Shack. I ended up having to buy two battery boxes and cutting the wires off of them to use.
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Unread 03-07-2013, 08:19 AM   #7
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Another suggestion. We just got these in for a different project and they are plenty bright, but the LEDs are tiny pinpoints so I don't know how well they'll diffuse into a larger square. Also, I don't know how long the batteries last, but Amazon says 48 hours on one set of three AAs.

You could stick the battery pack in an easily accessible pouch in a sleeve or pocket, and run the wires to the places where you need light.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Look at the customer-submitted images, someone used them for a Mass Effect costume.

[edit] oh, looks like they come in green too:
http://www.amazon.com/Green-Lights-O...ef=pd_sim_hg_3
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Last edited by nathancarter : 03-07-2013 at 08:21 AM.
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Unread 03-07-2013, 09:56 AM   #8
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The only time I've ever seen a Radio Shack that didn't sell wire was a little crappy one in the mall that mostly just sold cell-phones. Oh Radio Shack...you used to be so cool...

Anyway, to wire up your own string, you just join them together in series, using bits of printed circuit board and varying lengths of wire as needed. This means that one prong of each LED is joined to the opposite prong of another LED (more on which prong is which below). Then you throw a power supply, a resistor, and a switch into the circuit. It doesn't matter where, so long as they are on one end of your LED string or the other.

To calculate what resistor you need, you get the voltage drop and maximum current specs for your LEDs. Assuming they're all the same type (which makes the math much easier) the total voltage drop for LEDs in series is n*V. So for example, 8 1V LEDs have a voltage drop of 8V.

Then you select a power supply with a voltage equal or greater than this voltage drop. So, continuing the example, lets say we go with a battery box that holds 6 AAs. 6*1.5v = 9V.

Then you figure out what size resistor you need. The formula for this is
R = (V_powerSupply - V_drop) / I
where 'I' is the max current (in amps) of the LEDs according to the LED spec (that's the part where using all the same type of LED comes in handy).

So let's say your LEDs are rated at 75mA:
R = (9V -8V)/.075A = 1V/.075A = 13.3Ohms.

Then you pick the nearest resistor available to that value (since there's a little leeway).
In this case, it'd a 12 Ohm resistor.

When you hook up the battery supply, make sure it's in the correct direction. the '+' end of the battery supply should link to the '-' (cathode) end of the LED chain. On loose LEDs, the cathode prong is usually shorter, and the anode is longer. Sometimes the cathode prong will have a flat side, while the anode prong will be round. With the LEDs that come with their own housing, '+' and '-' symbols will pretty much always be clearly marked.

Just post a followup question here and we can check your math and sanity-check your product choices before you make a purchase.
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Unread 03-09-2013, 01:19 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nathancarter View Post
Another suggestion. We just got these in for a different project and they are plenty bright, but the LEDs are tiny pinpoints so I don't know how well they'll diffuse into a larger square. Also, I don't know how long the batteries last, but Amazon says 48 hours on one set of three AAs.

You could stick the battery pack in an easily accessible pouch in a sleeve or pocket, and run the wires to the places where you need light.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Look at the customer-submitted images, someone used them for a Mass Effect costume.

[edit] oh, looks like they come in green too:
http://www.amazon.com/Green-Lights-O...ef=pd_sim_hg_3
Hmm, those are an interesting option. Never thought of just rigging a pocket onto the back of the tabards and sticking the battery boxes in there. Might not work well for the lights that go in the bottom or middle of the tabards, but it may work for the shoulder lights, seeing as the shoulder armor are separate pieces...

Though I wonder if they mean that the lights themselves last around 48 hours before burning out, or if the batteries last 48 hours before dying?

Quote:
Originally Posted by verdatum View Post
The only time I've ever seen a Radio Shack that didn't sell wire was a little crappy one in the mall that mostly just sold cell-phones. Oh Radio Shack...you used to be so cool...

Anyway, to wire up your own string, you just join them together in series, using bits of printed circuit board and varying lengths of wire as needed. This means that one prong of each LED is joined to the opposite prong of another LED (more on which prong is which below). Then you throw a power supply, a resistor, and a switch into the circuit. It doesn't matter where, so long as they are on one end of your LED string or the other.
The Radio Shacks around here have really gone downhill. They don't have too much of anything anymore... in fact, I can't remember the last time I actually found something useful at one. Heh.

But thanks for the information. I think I'll go back, do some more poking around and some more search, and see if I can't get something figured out. Seeing as I don't need the lights right this moment anyway, I can do some more searching, researching and figuring out how things are going to work and what-not. And then I'll post some more questions if I have them... which I'm sure I will. :P

Thanks again, it's much appreciated!

Last edited by Blue Leader : 03-09-2013 at 01:23 AM.
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Unread 03-09-2013, 10:28 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blue Leader View Post
Though I wonder if they mean that the lights themselves last around 48 hours before burning out, or if the batteries last 48 hours before dying?
I'm certain it means the batteries. LEDs last practically forever unless subjected to physical damage.
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Unread 03-11-2013, 01:29 AM   #11
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I'm certain it means the batteries. LEDs last practically forever unless subjected to physical damage.
Yeah, that could be. I shot them an E-mail over as well for clarification. Their description sounds like it could be either way. :P
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