Under-desk RGB keyboard lighting

[Jay Collett] was having trouble seeing his keyboard when the room was dim. But throwing a light under the desk just didn’t seem cool enough. Instead he built an RGB light board that is controlled by his desktop. The board is based around an ATmega328 with the Arduino booloader. He etched a single-sided PCB to connect it to a group of five RGB LEDs, with a programming header for an FTDI cable. The board communicates with a PC via serial connection, with a C# control application that [Jay] coded to control the color. We’ve embedded a couple of videos after the break but check his page for a package of code and hi-res pictures.

If you want something cool that’s a little bit less work to build check out the EL-wire keyboard from this links post.


  1. fartface says:

    I just bought a backlit keyboard.

    far better solution that this.

  2. sowhat says:

    So what? That’s about the most basic thing anyone can build.

  3. aq says:

    he needs to see his keyboard to type?!

    n00b n00b n00b n00b n00b

  4. MS3FGX says:

    I have to agree, the first thing I thought when I saw this was “Just get a lighted keyboard…”, but there is a certain cool factor to his build.

    On the other hand, it looks like a very poor keyboard light. It doesn’t seem to light anything up but the center of the board.

  5. Concino says:

    This is Arduino 101 isn’t it?

  6. GadgetFreak says:

    Buying is for losers, building is better!

  7. sd says:

    I don’t agree with the above comments. I think this is a classic hacker’s solution to the problem of keyboard visibility. Buying retail is so passé!

    However, I do loathe the idea of yet another process running on the PC for managing the device. Use a USB port for the power supply but what’s wrong with a simple momentary button to cycle through the colour presets?

    And of course, I expect v2 will have more LEDs, spread further apart.

  8. Angelo says:

    People is tough/rude here with their comments. Any project, even the smaller ones, are important. They can inspire others, explain basic things to other users, etc. Arrogance and toughness are two problems you US people must learn to leave behind.

  9. zool says:

    i hate keyboard trays

  10. Zae says:

    Second the anti-keyboard tray comment.

  11. TTSDA says:

    Cool project, people say there are retail backlit keyboards that work better than this, So what ? This project can inspire other “Hackers” and you can learn from it, What can you learn from a retail backlit keyboard? Why do you people are allways so arrogant?

  12. fluidic says:

    Cool. Now use it for ambient feedback, make it mean something. Jack it in to your health bar in WoW if you have to.

  13. Masta Squidge says:

    fluidic took the words out of my mouth.

    Why not rig something up like the ambient light deals those TVs have (whatever thats called, brain fart) and base it off your monitor?

    That way you have light on the keyboard at all times, but it isnt any more distracting than the light coming from your screen to begin with.

  14. space says:

    simple yet functional modification:
    sand blasted transparent plastic or glass tube with one LED at each side will light all of your keyboard.

  15. CalcProgrammer1 says:


    Buttons really limit the features of any device, if you use the serial port you can go back and add in more features later and all you have to change is the software. Plus with PC-side control you can write monitoring scripts (for email, temperature, time, whatever) to control the lights or flash them to music. I did a similar mod but to the LED fan in the side of my case and now I can adjust the color of each LED, with a Processing script for audio analysis it can turn into a cool visualizer with any media player.

    I personally would have wired each LED independently, it eliminates the need for transistors and you can do light patterns, with software PWM you can do full color control over each LED.

  16. Tim says:

    I third the anti-keyboard-tray movement. Stupidest desk accessory ever.

  17. Erik Johnson says:

    The LEDs are all pointed in one direction – they should be fanned out.

    I also cast my anti-keyboard-tray vote :)

  18. bward says:

    i was high, but she was the sky…
    oh baby, I was bound
    for mexico…

  19. Greg says:

    Some people are just mad that they have not had projects featured here and so they have to hate. If your project is so much better than this one then submit it!

  20. aara says:

    Arduinos: so childish a kid would rather use it to power led lighting instead of learning to type properly.

  21. NIXIE n00b says:

    Was I seeing things or was there an ICE tube clock on his desk?
    I be jealous!
    (I also hate keyboard trays)

  22. blue carbuncle says:


    Andrew, you can’t be serious about these pancakes.

  23. M4CGYV3R says:

    What is this I don’t even? Son, I am disappoint!

    Shopping at Ikea? Give me a break.

    A REAL maker capable of writing some code like that shouldn’t have any need to see the keyboard. If you still look at your hands when you type, go download Mavis Beacon or something and fix your technique.

    Multiple videos, without one decent shot of the device. Quality documentation.

  24. Rupin says:

    Why do you need color led’s? is the purpose of making the circuit to light up the keyboard or what?

  25. Ty says:

    Nice start on a good project. With some refinement and tips from the some of the comments this could be a great little mod.

    For all the dorks ripping on the post, give this guy a break. Not everybody sits in there basement building super computers and robots to take over the world. You gotta start somewhere and any hacker/gearhead/programmer with a respect for thinking outside the box and being creative would give this guy props for at least doing something besides going to walmart.

  26. matt says:

    He’s listening to CAKE!

  27. Matt says:

    I like my keyboard tray. It keeps food and dust off my keys and hides the KB from my baby…. Also inspired by the ideas here is doable for complete noobs.

  28. mixadj says:

    @fluidic: Thats what I was just thinking when I read this…..

  29. sd says:


    Good point, perhaps I’m a little OCD for discrete devices? :) If the builder wants to keep the option to add features like temperature monitoring then this is definitely the way to go.

    You can add extra functionality to a stand-alone unit though. Just re-flash the micro-controller. One can create some very good single button interfaces to control the new features.

  30. davo1111 says:

    why not just buy a computer neon? and stick it under there?

  31. Fallen says:

    Looks like it could use a diffuser.

  32. Dont Panic says:

    Great hack, sir! Looks fun and practical. Etched your own board for an Arduino–hard core!

    What I don’t get is the nerd rage happening in the comments… is this not a hack? Go back to Digg ya kiddies.

  33. fluidic says:


    No, this is not a hack, this is a set of LEDs controlled over a serial connection.

    A hack implies that he took one or more things, figured out how they work, and then made them work contrary to their “intended” modes of operation to achieve an interesting result (with many potential values for “interesting”).

    Doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, doesn’t mean it can’t be used in interesting ways…but “hack” does not apply.

  34. saimhe says:


    A quick glance at keys now and then spares lots of re-typing time. No typing technique can ensure correction-free work if there was no initial alignment. When the single source of light is the screen, my wpm drops a few times. Those tiny notches on F and J keys, perhaps they work for blind people but I won’t ever be satisfied about how quick I find them. At least the keyboard should have some tiny, non-blinding reference lights at the corners.

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