Electroluminescent Lighting Information

Electroluminescent billboardElectroluminescent (EL) lighting are luminaires that use electroluminescence to produce illumination. These devices emit light when a current passes through a thin layer of phosphor or semiconductor, or a strong electromagnetic field is applied. The light occurs because the current field creates electron-hole pairs that release light when they recombine. This optical and electrical phenomenon is the result of radiative recombination of electrons and holes in a material, usually a semiconductor. Electrons and holes are separated either by doping the material or through excitation by impact of high-energy electrons accelerated by a strong electric field. The excited electrons and holes are then recombined and the electrons release their energy as photons (light).

Electroluminescent lighting refers to cool, continuous, low-powered devices that cast a soft light without any glare. Its low-power consumption makes electroluminescent lighting a competitor of other technologies, like neon or fluorescent lighting. However, electroluminescent lighting devices are not negative resistance, and therefore do not require extra circuitry for current regulation like its competitors. Since they can be shaped to be extremely flat, or in narrow wire-like shapes, EL devices are often be found in automotive instrument panel backlighting, computer monitors, and in nightlights.

Video credit: EdisonTechCenter / CC BY-SA 4.0


Technical specifications to consider when selecting electroluminescent lighting include applied voltage and frequency; operating temperature, current, and humidity; brightness, thickness, bend radius, heat resistance, and more.

The most common EL devices are composed of either powder (lighting) or thin films (information displays), and the material used can be either organic or inorganic electroluminescent materials.

Below are several factors that separate various EL types, and why they are important




Type of Phosphor Used

Life, Brightness, Exampsulation


Quality of Phosphor layer

Uniformity of Thickness, Uniformity of Brightness

Manufacturing Process

Electrical Driver

Efficiency, Power Quality, Safety

Design quality, supplier

Chart Credit: http://www.e-lite.com/about-el/


Benefits of electroluminescent lighting include flexibility; high visibility in darkness, smoke and fog, and at a distance; and being easy to look at without strain on the eye. Electroluminescent lighting is also landfill friendly as it is made without hazardous materials. These materials are also filament-free to avoid breakage, and also maintenance free. EL devices have a low wattage and a long life. They do not require external circuitry, are resistant to water, and can be manufactured into a variety of shapes.


Electroluminescent lighting does have disadvantages that make it unacceptable for some applications. It is not practical for general lighting of large areas since there is very low lumen output of the phosphors. Other disadvantages include, low lumen output over time, significant electricity use (60-600 volts), and poor lumens per watt rating. Electroluminescent sheets wear out and become less flexible over time and typically need a converter when used with DC sources such as in watches.


There are many different materials that are electroluminescent, and they are generally referred to as "electroluminescent materials" rather than their chemical names. Since it's the material itself that produces the light, electroluminescent lighting is available in many forms, including: flexible sheets, wires, sticks, tapes, panels, terminals, and decals. Electroluminescent Lighting mainly comes in the following types: EL wire, EL strips/tapes, and EL panels

EL wire - EL wire is a thin, flexible wire that (when powered) gives off a bright, even glow along its entire length. It is a popular choice for costumes because it is waterproof, stays cool, can be cut to a desired length, and if the joints are properly insulated, it will not shock the wearer. The wire requires an alternating current source, so it will need to be connected to a battery-powered transformer box. EL wire is constructed of a copper core which is coated in phosphor and wrapped with a thin wire. This wire is protected by a layer of PVC sheathing, and a dyed PVC sheath is used to color the light that the wire produces. Alternating current is applied to the core and the wrapping wire. The layer of phosphor separating these two layers is then excited, causing the wire to glow.

Electroluminescent wire

EL strips/tapes - EL tape is very similar to EL wire. It has the same effect but it is flat, wide (about 1 cm), and has an adhesive coating on one side. EL tape is weatherproof but should not be left outdoors for an extended period of time. Since it has more surface area than wire it requires more power; still it uses less than one tenth of the power of neon and cold cathode display lighting. Electroluminescent tape reduces light pollution, produces no waste heat or infrared light, and is fully recyclable. EL tape is made up of metal ribbon coated in phosphor and encapsulated in a laminate. No glass, gas, or mercury/heavy metals are used in making this material and it is safe for the user and environment. Due to its thinness (just 0.5mm thick, as thin as a business card) being light weight, EL tape has inherent flexibility of use, providing a neater, modern, space saving alterative that is easy to install with little to no maintenance. EL tape also has a long working life.

  • EL panels - EL panels are thin, flexible, light weight electroluminescent lights. They generate low heat with minimal power consumption, and are durable enough to continue working even when punctured. They are made of a multi-layer material containing fluorescent dyes. These dyes are dispersed in a binder with high electrical constant so that when an AC current is applied the EL panel emits light.


Animated Effects

Some types of electroluminescent lighting can produce animated effects such as flashing, blinking, or incremental lighting. This is done by printing different sections of EL and adding a custom programmed inverter which is sequenced to turn each printed area on as required. This is best used for high volume needs.


Electroluminescent lighting is available in a wide range of colors. Colors can be made by filtering white into red, green, and blue. More information on how the color is created can be found here.


Electroluminescent lighting is commonly used in signs and accent lighting applications. It lighting is also used for automotive instrument panel backlighting, aircraft panel lighting, backlights for liquid crystal displays and cell phones, and in battery-operated devices like wristwatches, nightlights, and more. The electroluminescent light in these applications may be any color, but are most commonly green, blue, or red. Green electroluminescent lighting is said to match the peak sensitivity of human vision and produce the greatest light output, while using minimal power input.

Video credit: Jeri Ellsworth / CC BY-SA 4.0



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Image credit:

Nick Perry / CC BY SA 3.0 | LogiNevermore / CC BY SA 3.0

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Heraeus Noblelight America LLC
Heraeus Noblelight America LLC