Easy LED Lit Plaque

Easy LED Lit Plaque

This is probably going to be a simple post, but hopefully it helps someone! I wanted to try my hand at LEDs, but didn’t yet have a soldiering iron (I do now, so more on that in the future). For this post I’m going to walk though the simplest process of making a plaque with LED lighting in the back. Later I will post a more comprehensive post on using LEDs as I myself learn a bit more.

Here are the basics of what I did:
Cut the parts of the sign and spray paint them using spray paint of a matching finish (satin). This part doesn’t have any photos because it should be pretty self explanatory if you have a Glowforge. This post is about LEDs not the design process for which I have other posts.

Once the pieces were dry I brought them inside to begin working on the lights. Some Spray Painting Tips:
> Really shake the heck out of those cans. If you’re lazy about it you’ll probably get spatters or a patchy finish
> Keep your coats thin. Be patient and do a few coats vs trying to blast the heck out of it and cover completely in one.

THE LED KIT

I decided for this first LED job I wanted to make things easy on myself and I bought a kit that came with connectors. This kit seemed really simple. Initially I thought worst case I could cut the lengths and soldier them when I had to pass around corners, but this one was not designed that way. There are cut points – but no “soldier tabs” so your forced to work with it as is.

You can find this product here on Amazon:
Here are some of the Specs. It came with connecting pins, wire mounting clips, a receiver, and a power plug (with remote. It is also sticky backed.

TIPS FOR WORKING WITH THE LED STRIP

Here is one challenge of doing an LED backed sign. Most LED is only flexible on one axis (Is that the right way to say it?)

It can easily follow a curve along the sticky side, but what if you need it to be flat to a surface like we do?

Alright so as for attaching the LEDS facing up and transversing corners or curves, you’ll often find that the wire is very thick and awkward, this is where my one and only really helpful tip comes in. You don’t want to end up with this:

Lots of people do it like this, but it’s a bunch ugly mess and I don’t like it.

Instead, you want it nice and flat so have good adhesion. To do this you want to pinch the LED and fold it in between the LEDS.

I’ve seen this method actually shown in some product descriptions, so this should be safe as long as you are constantly bending and unbending it and possibly damaging the internal wire.
Bam, a nice sharp turn that keeps the led’s sticky back in good contact.

THE CONNECTORS

Many kits come with little wire connectors like these. Now a soldered wire connection is much more secure and allows you to make nice turns/corners, but since this is easy mode, I want to talk about these. Make sure you push the pins in all the way. You can wrap the joint in a single strip of electrical tape to keep it secure when finished.

Now this is important – do you see the little arrows on the connector wire (raised) and the strip itself (white)? Those have to line up or the strip will not turn on. Before you completely tape down your strip you should plug it in to check that it’s working. to make sure you’ve done this right. First let me show you it incorrectly done below…

WRONG (ABOVE) – See how the arrows don’t line up?
CORRECT (ABOVE) – Notice how both arrows on the right point at each other.

Once you’ve connected your led you can lay it out on your surface and see how much you need. If you need to cut it (I did not) you can cut it at one of the marked trim lines. If you do not cut it at one of these trim lines some of your LEDS will not function.

Here is my arrangement. I only needed two of the three strips for a 12″ wide plaque. Notice my nice folded corners can be altered based on the sharpness of the turn. I also added little felt pads to protect the LED’s and lift the plaque off the wall a bit. In the above image you can also see why soldiering gives you more flexibility – as you can choose the length of the wires for your connections. The included connector wires were a bit long, but by using one of the (also) included sticky connectors I was able to keep it out of the way.
Here is a better view of my folded corner and the felt pads.

The final step after applying your LEDs is to plug it back in and test it to make sure all your connections are correct. After that you can better secure your connections with a bit of electrical tape or move on to actually applying your sign front.

I did my LEDs first, just in case I completely botched them. Perfect! It’s working and now we can move on to gluing on the design.

ATTACHING YOUR DESIGN

I started with the largest “anchoring” part of the design. This item touched the curved edges of the plaque so it was easy to line up. All of the other parts fit into it. Don’t start with your details only to find when you get to the big stuff it’s all crooked.

Using my handy pointy q-tips I removed any stray blobs of glue

I didn’t need to get it completely perfect as I planned to do another clear coat at the very end.

Ok so here is my next actually helpful (and not obvious to everyone maybe) tip. Use the offcuts in your design to line up details when you can. In my case there was a large solid shape I could use to line everything up in the face of the ram.

Apply glue sparingly so it doesn’t squish out too much and fuse your template design to the surface
You can see this makes lining up all those small floating parts of the design easy.
When you remove your template everything is perfectly lined up

When using this method, be careful not to let it get glued down, and always leave at least one large part out otherwise you’ll find it really, really hard to get a grip on it and lift it out of the design. I struggled with the VCU outline below since I glued in all the parts I couldn’t get a grip on the white guideline piece and it took me a bit to work it out with a sewing needle.

Yep, I played myself here. It wasn’t too hard, but it took some finesse to get that white border out.
Ta-dah! Everything glue in place according to the design. Now just let it dry before a final coat of clear satin spray paint.

Now for the final coat of satin. I think this helped protect the pet and bring a unified finish to everything. I was careful to pick spray paints that all had the same finish, but this was just a nice detail that brought it all together.

To protect my LEDs I used a cup to raise the plaque off the tarp

FINAL RESULT

Here was my final result. I was really happy with this LED kit. For only $16 it’s a great beginner option that came with everything I needed. Also the remote worked fine even with the controller/receiver being hidden on the back of the plaque (towards the bottom near an edge). Another small nice thing is that since the power supply and controller are two pieces if the recipient of this plaque doesn’t want to see the wire they can disconnect the power from the controller and just tuck the 3″ of wire up behind the sign.

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?

Obligatory code plug. If you found this post helpful and you plan to buy a Glowforge you can use my code for a discount: https://glowforge.us/r/QHDONFXB

And finally, if you’d like to be updated on posts like these in the future you can sign up for my email list. You will only receive an email if there is new content, and only once weekly in that case:

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