Win Your Costume Contest: Tips for a DIY Techie Halloween

Kids dressed up in Halloween costumes. (Image credit:

For most people, simply buying a “Scream” mask or lewd nurse costume takes care of Halloween. But for the more ambitious, Halloween is an opportunity to show off creativity and craftiness. And for these people, nothing augments a costume like using a bit of technology.

Using neon wires, LED lights and small motors, anyone with a modicum of technical skill can create a high-tech costume sure to stand out from the crowd of ersatz pimps and sexy cats.

“Electroluminescent (EL) wires are really the best option. When you use the LEDs, you have to put them in one at a time, and it takes a while. You can make them react to sound, or make different patterns with them,” said Diana Eng, a fashion designer and author of “Fashion Geek: Clothes, Accessories, Tech” (North Light Books, 2009).

“It’s pretty easy to use. All you need is some AA batteries,” Eng said.

EL wire is regular copper wiring coated in a colored sheath that glows when current runs through the wire. Essentially a very long LED, you can weave it through your costume to add highlights, or give it a futuristic touch, Eng said. By soldering EL wire to a controller, users can program the wires to blink in rhythmic patterns, or respond to sensor input like motion or sound.

Eng herself used EL wires and LEDs to create a lightning bug costume that she once wore to Heidi Klum’s Halloween party.

Small motors are another easy addition that can help take costumes to the next level. Toys and handheld fans contain small electric motors that, when broken out of their cases, can be repurposed for costume use, Eng told TechNewsDaily.

For the more adventurous, muscle wire — a string of metal that bends without a motor — can also add motion to a costume. And electroluminescent cloth, sheets of glowing material similar to EL wire, can create effects that would be far too complex for LEDs or even EL wire, said Eng.

“That’s my ultimate costume,” Eng said. “I would put the muscle wire on the EL cloth.”

Of course, as a professional designer, Eng has at times gone above and beyond the easy costume projects described above. Last year, to celebrate the “Star Trek” viewing party she hosted on Halloween, Eng and her boyfriend created a working replica of a “Star Trek” communicator from the original series. It connected to a cell phone via Bluetooth, and actually answered calls.

But that’s a project you can save for next year.

Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.