Tote your Thinkpad and port your Apple in style with our custom TRON-inspired laptop bag tutorial. With a little soldering and sewing skills you can have your own light-up satchel, sure to impress geeky friends. So grab your sewing needle and soldering iron and follow along.
The first step is to plan out your design. We did this on some graph paper.
EL wire is stiff and holds its shape but can't be bent many times or it will break (like any stiff wire). For that reason, you'll want to try and keep the wires on large flat surfaces or going around edges that don't flex.
The nice thing about most laptop bags is that they have a flap and pockets with strong piping and corners to protect the computer. We'll take advantage of that!
We're going to put a design on the large front flap. We'll start by chalking it out.
Think about how you want the EL wire to travel around the bag.
EL is hard to solder to, and harder to 'split' so keeping it simple is key!
You'll want to have all the ends terminate near a pocket that will hold the inverter.
Since the pocket-sized AA inverters can only drive 2 or 3 meters or wire maximum, it's smart to keep the design short and sweet. Keep track of how long the final wire will be; add up all the segments and keep the number under 2.5m for the best look.
Of course, you can also use a larger inverter or two inverters!
Now that you have your pattern, it's time to start working with the EL wire.
If you've used EL before, it might be easier for you to cut EL pieces to match the traced-out pattern.
We're EL wire experts, but if you're still not really good with EL or if you're just starting out, don't cut any pieces yet! Instead, solder up one EL wire at a time and then lay it out and cut the end. This is because it can take a few tries to solder to EL and every time you make a mistake you'll have to cut another 1 cm off and start over.
We wanted to have a 'broken' wire detail in the center of the bag to match the TRON detailing observed in the movie. We did this by slipping some heat shrink over the EL wire to 'black out' the light. Much easier than trying to solder it to a short piece of wire.
Now we'll start sewing the EL onto the bag. We suggest using 'invisible' thread - also known as nylon thread. It's strong and clear so that it wont distract from your EL.
Place the inverter connected to the EL in the pocket you think is best. This will let you best judge how much wire you need. Be sure to try opening and closing the bag so you don't make any mistakes.
Its easy to cut EL wire down but impossible to make it longer so measure twice and cut once!
Lay the EL wire so it traces the chalk outline (or piping). In this photo the EL is lit but we don't necessarily suggest that you sew it lit unless it helps you visualize the design. Use masking tape to keep the EL wire in place.
Finally we will connect the strands to the inverter. There are inverters that will 'animate' the strands but we like the 'solid on' look which also matches the TRON movie best.
The only problem is we have 4 wires and we want to run them off of one inverter. We'll solve this problem by making a splitter, taking the one output of the inverter and allowing it to drive two EL wires. You can do this for as many strands as you'd like; just add up all the EL lengths and make sure the inverter will drive that much wire.
Solder and heat-shrink the wires.
Use the splitter on the inverter (we used two inverters with two splitters here).
Store the inverters in one of the front pockets.
You're done! Enjoy your TRON bag.
You can get a kit of parts for your own EL wire project at the Adafruit shop.