Costume Design: Adding a Brilliant Glow to Your Designs

With only a few short weeks to Halloween, you may be thinking about costume design and upcoming events. Dressing in costumes allows anyone from regular folks to professional performers the chance to become someone entirely different or better express who they are already are.

Adding a magical glow can set your designs apart by adding luminous flair and fantasy elements. Let’s face it; a glowing highlight will definitely create some drama. Incorporating glow into your costume designs will also increase visibility and add night safety benefits. So please consider adding a glowing touch to your designs!

There are a multitude of possibilities for integrating glow accents into costumes including high performance photoluminescent materials, EL wire and even glow sticks. Each of these has distinct characteristics as well as some pluses and minuses.

Each year, we get many requests from professional and DIY designers about the best way to incorporate glowing touches into their designs.

Adding glow in the dark to costumes does not have to be difficult. Here are some things to consider.

Start with a theme in mind

Glowing accents lend themselves to many types of costumes including Tron Legacy, ravers, witches, angel wings and ethereal creatures. You may just want to add glow to highlight some sexy curves!

Glow should have an integral purpose with your design and not appear to be added in a way that does not contribute to the overall look. We think the right use of glow can bring excitement to many types of costumes but may not work for all.

Understand where you want to add glow and how much of an impact you would like to make. Consider the overall lines, proportion and details of the costume and how and where glow will enhance it.


Most methods of incorporating glow into your design will require some level of skill. Think about the ease of incorporating glow materials into your design before you begin. With sewable trim, rope, ribbon and glow sheets, a professional sewing machine is recommended or the use of a strong adhesive like E6000. Using EL wire will require some good tools and skills such as working with a soldering iron and connecting small wires to a battery pack. The popular glow stick-man costume is easy to create by simply taping glow sticks onto black clothing.

Can you show too much glow?

We think not (but may be a little prejudiced!).  As part of your overall design, determine the amount of glow effect you would like. Glow can be incorporated in larger areas or used for small accents.

The perceived visibility of glow effects is “square area” dependent.  This means the larger the glow area; the brighter the glow will appear. Small thin trim will effectively highlight areas that will be seen up close like pockets or zippers. Small trim sizes also work where a subtle, less visible effect is desirable. Larger areas of glow such as full sized glow sheets will be much more visible and dramatic. Larger areas will also be seen from a greater distance.

Understand the setting and lighting conditions

An important consideration is where the costume will be worn. Settings can range from a house party to a professional stage or convention.  Different settings will affect the perceived glow appearance of the material.

Professional lighting designers have good control over lighting so can create special effects to enhance the glow. The use of black lights will enhance glow materials to both charge and highlight them as well as keep them glowing all night long.

However, using glow materials in costumes that will be seen at already well-lit events or walking through a busy neighborhood will be less effective.

For example, even the highest performing photoluminescent materials are best viewed in full darkness or under black lights. In areas lit by regular lighting, most glow materials will appear to be less bright.

For best results

To maximize the glow effect, be sure to use the right type and size of glow in the dark materials. Also consider the venue and type of lighting that may be present.

Most importantly, have fun! Enjoy the creative process of transforming glow materials into an original costume that is expressive and unique.

Whether you are trying to win best costume at a sci fi convention, create a professional performance or enjoy a black light party, adding glow to your costume design will ensure you stand out from the crowd!