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Picture of How to Make a Realistic Faux Neon Sign - Super Bright!

Hi guys, this is my all new, all original method for creating a simulated Neon sign out of LEDs that looks super realistic. It really looks like blown glass tubing, with all the varied light that comes with the refraction through the glass at different angles. I'm sure you can find lots of uses for this method in your own projects!

I researched a few alternative methods: Electroluminescent wire (EL wire) is super dim compared to my LED method. In fact, EL wire hardly shows up in the day. (And obviously this particular sign needs to be turned on in the mornings - to lead me to my cuppa!)

Other off-the-shelf 'neon' LED rope light products such as 'Neon Flex' all have a milky plastic diffuser that simply doesn't have the same effect.

If you like this, do vote for me in the "Faux Real" contest! Cheers.

Edit: I've added another bonus step to show an all-manual method of making this, for those who dont have access to drafting software or a laser cutter.

Step 1: Inspiration and Rough Idea

Picture of Inspiration and Rough Idea


So true, so true. I saw this awesome neon sign for sale at a design shop, and knew I had to have it. I mean, I had to buy it for my wife as a gift.

Either way, she wasn't gonna spend $350 on a frivolous sign, no matter how cool. (True glass-formed neon signs are still hand-made, and so really expensive)

So I found clear plastic tubing in the hardware shop, used for aquariums. It seemed just the right diameter for neon lettering, so I bought it! Paired up with RGB LED strip, I was sure I could make this work.

Shayyye10017 days ago
What would you do if you want it to run through a DC/wall plugin?
donvukovic6 months ago
How tall and wide are your letters ?
ucn (author)  donvukovic5 months ago
Hi there, the letters are about 2*3" (50x75mm).
cnludwig6 months ago
I was just going to vote for you, but I see that I can't. I'm glad you won a prize! I am going to try this technique to light up a retro clock design. I think it will work very well for it.
scott.cairo6 months ago
Brilliant idea, and just in time, I have a old smirnoff 2 colour neon, without the neon, and was about to try to make the letters out of wire and glue round section EV to wire, and for the different coloured border use that extra thick diffused fake neon LED tubing, but this way will be so much better. I can acheive the different colours by having the border lit with a different colour strip, since the baffles behind will isolate it. So thanks!
Very slick!
wasanah26 months ago
That's such a great idea. I've wished for a fun neon light like that for some time, something retro looking. Will have to use hand tools but that's no problem for me. Once I have my current project done, I want to work on one of these. Thanks for the great instructable!
BLASTFEMI6 months ago
I love the idea of using the tubing! I have a bunch of oxygen tubing to make something with! Thanks for the inspiration!
ucn (author)  BLASTFEMI6 months ago
Have fun! Post some photos if you do :)
neilscott1006 months ago
I love the idea of this and I dont know whether it would work, i assume the LEDS just backlight the tubing, you can use chemical glass tubing to make letters and signs etc, its incredibly easy to work with and does not need high temperatures to melt it, I have used it in the past for other projects but never thought of using it for this. Its just an idea and it will give you the real glass look of Neon but i dont know whether the leds you use will give you the same look as using polythene tubing instead of glass, maybe diffused leds, you can pick the tubing up off ebay and other sites is about 6 mm in diameter you just heat it over a spirit lamp and pull and twist it to shape it, its incredibly easy to use but it is glass. you can make complete letters by just heating up the end of the glass for a few moments and stick it on to another piece of glass.
ucn (author)  neilscott1006 months ago
Wow, that sounds like a whole specialised skillset to shape glass tubing. I mean, that's what makes real neon tubes so expensive!
erana_reborn6 months ago
Very nice, and a bit simple than how I would have done it. Which is a compliment, as simplicity is difficult. Great work.
ucn (author)  erana_reborn6 months ago
Thanks for the compliment. :) I'm surprised at how many views this has gotten!
Been looking for something like this for some time. It's relative simplicity is appreciated by me. Thanks for sharing! .... You got my vote.
ucn (author)  blast replicas6 months ago
Thanks for the vote! Glad you liked it.
Very cool!
That is really cool. I love how something being too expensive can motivate someone to think of a way to make it themselves for less money. I appreciate that you added the step to show how to make it without CAD or expensive machines.
ucn (author)  CHARLESCRANFORD8 months ago
Glad you liked it! I do love crafting things myself, although without a proper wood workshop (eg table saw, shop vac etc.) I tend to default to digital fabrication for most projects. It fits in my design workflow which always starts with a CAD or SketchUp design.

But as you say, there's always another way to do it with whatever tools you have.
I ran across this on Reddit and thought of your neon:

I guess some people would pay $1000 for it.
Camoman6198 months ago
What would be really cool is if some acrylic tubing (like in hard-line water cooling for PCs) could be used to form everything the same as a neon sign and then find a way to get the LEDs to shine into it to look even more realistic... What really sells the look of the neon sign is the effort in using a continuous piece of tubing as much as possible within reason. Definitely a cool weekend project with plenty of room for modification.
ucn (author)  Camoman6197 months ago
I recall an Instructable a couple of years ago where someone did just that. Heat-formed a 'neon' sign with polycarbonate tubing, and threaded EL wire through it. Looked great in the dark.
That Instructable seems to have been taken offline, as I can't find it no matter what keywords I use. It was a contest winner at the time, if my memory serves me right.
Camoman619 ucn7 months ago
Yeah, the problem is that EL wire isn’t very bright without sacrificing its lifespan and the LEDs need to be diffused. Maybe i could have a large enough polycarbonate tube to run LEDs through that has a milky-white coating or putting the LEDs behind the tube and using fishing line or epoxy to keep the two together. Will have to try it one day... could definitely be a product though.
Bard7 months ago
I wonder if you could achieve the same effect using hot glue instead of the tubing?
DonG368 months ago
and all it took was some CAD software and an $800 laser cutter to make a $350 neon sign lol.
Camoman619 DonG368 months ago
I mean, you can get a free 3 year student version of AutoDesk software (whether you lie or not is up to you :) ) and there are some DIY laser cutter kits for ~$500 or you could use a CNC router, or do it the old fashioned way with hand/power tools. That leaves only the materials to buy.
Some $600 CAD software and the laser cutter. Upside is, he can make a lot more with those two things. 4 signs and it'll pay for itself.
ucn (author)  nic.bryan.738 months ago
Lol. Well that's also why I added Step 3 - cuz you could make this without all that equipment. Just some paper printouts, a drill and a scrollsaw or jigsaw. Thanks for reading!
KevF38 months ago
Excellent idea, And thanks for step 3.
MandyH468 months ago
perfect - i need to make my coffee worshipping family one! Great presentation and writing thanks :)
ucn (author)  MandyH468 months ago
Cheers, let us see pictures if you do it!
I've never voted for anything - until now. Spectacular work, very original technique and looks 101% legit!
ucn (author)  mrmeasuretwice8 months ago
Cool, thanks for the vote!
chico5138 months ago
great idea and it lighted up a bulb over my head. how 'bout using a harbor freight pantograph with a small router to cut out the lettering on blackout painted 1/4" acrylic , then framing with aluminum and boxing out and attaching the wiring inside the frame.
ucn (author)  chico5138 months ago
I had to Google 'pantograph', but yes, I've seen old-school signmakers using those for engraving on dog-tags and so on. Certainly worth a try!
Excellent Instructable!

I like your frame. Not as inexpensive, but an easy way to make this with slightly more expense is to go to a picture frame shop and order a custom-sized aluminum picture frame. You can get shadow-box frames with extra depth, to be able to have room for the assembly and wiring on the back side, and the aluminum picture frame shape includes nice corner joinery as well as hanging brackets.
ucn (author)  barrylawrensen8 months ago
Great tip, thanks. That would yield a very professional finish!
AceSound8 months ago
Great work but here's a quick tip how to improve amount of light emitted and make it look even more realistic - use another tube, thinner, not transparent, but milky white, and put it inside your tube, so when you illuminate it, it will glow just like real plasma :)
gralan8 months ago
I love the idea and you've explained it well enough I could try doing it. Woo Hoo. The phrase struck gold with me both as a coffee drinker and as an avid reader. I read a book decades ago about counseling among neighbors where the title came from what the author's mother told all who came to pour their hearts out to her: "First we have coffee..." This is not a plug and I get no compensation for mentioning it. It is, quite, the impulse behind my loving this project.
ucn (author)  gralan8 months ago
Thanks for sharing, gralan. Coffee, tea and good conversation unite neighbours the world over.
Leanbean128 months ago
You're right about EL wire being too dim in the daylight. Here's a sign we made with EL wire and it looks fantastic in the dark but kinda blah in the daylight.
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