The two most basic questions people have when starting to work with EL wire is which driver to use and which gauge of wire is appropriate. This article will shed some light on the process of selecting a driver. Selecting a wire is discussed in the article “Selecting wire”.
A driver is a small electronics package that makes the wire glow. There are many to choose from. Unfortunately, no one driver is right for all needs, and you’ll need to make a decision about which driver will best suit your needs. Hopefully this article will help you narrow down your search to the right driver for you.
How long a wire will you be driving?
The primary decision to selecting a driver is the length of wire you’re going to light up. All drivers have a maximum length of wire they can illuminate, and it’s important to choose a driver in the right range. At SeattleLumin, we’ve divided drivers into three rough ranges, short range drivers for less than 15 feet, medium range drivers for lengths of about 15 feet to about 50 feet, and long range drivers for lengths of about 50 feet all the way up to 330 feet!
What effects do you want?
Different drivers have different effects. Some drivers have different flash effects, some strobe the wire at a high-frequency, which can cause a weird visual effect, particularly on moving objects. Still others, labeld as “sound activated drivers” can react to sound volume. So when designing your application, consider the effects you want in the finished result.
What kind of power will you have available?
Some drivers are fully portable and will only take battery control. Others require they be plugged into AC house current. Still others are a hybrid of these, and can take either battery power or an optional powerpack for AC house current. Obviously, for costumery, it’s important that your driver be battery powered, but for a permanent or semi permanent installation where you’ll have standard electrical plugins, it may be better to save the batteries and use a driver that may be plugged into the wall.
What about sequencing?
A very special type of driver is known as a sequencer. A sequencer can connect to multiple strands of EL wire and control them individually. Sequencers contain an internally programmed set of patterns, or sequences, that define how the wires will be lit. Sequencers are great for creating little animations or other flash effects that add excitement and interest to your project.
So, how do I select a driver?
Let’s ty out a few scenarios.
A short length, wearable project
Let’s say you’re knitting a pair of leggings, into which you’ve woven EL wire. You would like for the leggings to blink brightly, to improve your visibility while riding your motorcycle.
First, create, or at least design the leggings, so you know how much wire you’re using. When you’re finshed, you learn that each legging uses 12 feet of wire. Since this length is fairly short, look in the list of short-range drivers.
Obviously, because it’s a wearable project, you’ll want one that’s battery operated.
As you read the descriptions, you’ll see that there’s only one driver that will satisfy your needs. The AA Handheld Driver is powered by 2 AA batteries, and will drive up to 15 feet, so it’s well within the range of what this driver can do. Also, it’s the only driver within this distance range with flashing as an effect. So this driver should fit your needs easily. A pair of these drivers, one for each leg, will complete your project.
A brightly-colored Burning Man glowing fish
Let’s say that you want to put together a bright fish to mark your camp at Burning Man.
You design your fish, measure the wire, and it comes out to use about 18 feet of wire. That length places it squarely in the medium length driver range. Since you have no interesting effects in mind, there are three drivers that will satisfy your needs, two variations of the Pipsqueek driver, and the aptly-named Fish driver. Any of these drivers will satisfy your needs, so select whichever one strikes your fancy.
A DJ console that flashes with the thumping beat
It’s always fun to synchronize light with sound! Let’s say you have a DJ booth, and you want to pulse 30 feet of EL wire with the sound. Here, the choice is easy. In the medium-length drivers, check out the Silver Sound Activated Driver. This driver flashes EL wire based on the volume of sound. There’s a sensitivity slide on the side of the controller to allow you fine tune the trigger volume to your needs. So just set one of these drivers on your console, hook the wire to it, and you’re in business!
Animated Rotating Star
Would it not be cool to make a bright start that seems to spin on an axis? It’s pretty simple, actually. Using techniques mastered by cartoonists and neon sign artists over generations, you can lay down each “frame” on your material using EL wire. Each frame is a copy of the star, but rotated by about 14 degrees from the previous, making for 5 frames. Then, by hooking this up to a 5 channel sequencer and choosing the right sequence, turn out the lights and the star spins like a record!