I have been researching and looking up how to control EL wire online and I will be using the same layout as the EL Escudo shield from Sparkfun but just for one strand.

Basically: Arduino (+ resistor) -> Triac Gate -> EL Wire. http://www.sparkfun.com/datasheets/DevTools/Arduino/EL%20Escudo-v02.pdf

In recent research I have noticed some people using Optoisolators in their EL wire circuits to control the gate and provide safety from AC.

So my question is: Is it safe to use a TRIAC without an optoisolator just like the EL Escudo circuit?

My main worry is zapping the Arduino or my laptop over USB with the 110V AC from the inverter.

Details: Arduino Pro Mini 3.3v, TRIAC MAC 97A4, Sparkfun 3v EL Inverter, Sparkfun EL wire.

Here's what it will be installed on once its all done (sans tape): http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6039877/IMG_0433.jpg


1 Answer 1


Looks like a cool project.

literal answer

The optoisolator is not necessary in this application.

Because you are generating the 100 V, 1000 Hz power to drive the EL from relatively isolated battery power (rather than mains power), there is much less of a safety issue.

Systems without an optoisolator typically connect the A1 pin of the triac is connected to the VCC of the microcontroller (in your case, the +3V supply), using "negative gate current triggering" as recommended.

A digital output pin on your microcontroller is connected with a resistor to the gate of a triac. When the digital logic pulls the gate pin low (towards the microcontroller GND), the triac is triggered and turns all the way on. As long as the triac is on, the A1 and A2 pins act like they are shorted together. Turning the triac off is a little more difficult.

(A few systems without an optoisolator connect the A1 pin of the triac to the GND pin of the microcontroller, using "positive gate current triggering", which is not recommended. As I recently learned, hooking the the "GND" pin of the microcontroller to A1 and pulling the gate through a resistor to +3 V or even +5 V doesn't work right with a logic level triac.)

Try to draw your schematic and lay out your parts so it's obvious that:

  • one end of the inverter output is solidly connected to a harmless-to-the-microcontroller voltage (probably +3V) and pin A1 of the triac
  • the other end of the inverter output (the "hot side") is not directly or indirectly connected to anything anywhere near the microcontroller -- except for the triac, and even then the hot side is only indirectly connected through the EL wire to pin A2 of the triac.

alternate approach

If you're only going to have one strand of EL wire, why don't you connect it directly to the inverter output, and use a FET (rather than a triac) to connect and disconnect the inverter input to the +3 V power?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks so much @davidcary. To answer your question about using a FET: To be honest I had to look up what that was. It is a possibility, ill just need to check out an example of one in use. Since I will want to PWM and "fade" the EL wire I thought that quickly cycling the inverter may cause stress and then lead to failure. Not sure if removing load on the AC side of the inverter will do the same. I primarily copied the EL Escudo layout so I didn't come across the possibility of using a FET. I'll hook it up tonight :) (it's been on the back burner) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2012 at 4:20

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