Spools of Thread for 6,400 Pixel Color Display

This is not an LED display, it’s a thread display. The hardware artists over at Breakfast, a Brooklyn based rapid product and prototype company, built this color display that uses spools of thread for each pixel. 6,400 spools to be exact.

Serious work went into this thing, and the results couldn’t be better. Check out the video after the break to see for yourself. The trick is to increase the surface area of the spools of thread. This is done by using the spool as a pulley which guides a 5.5 foot length of “threaded fabric”. Up close, the fabric looks as if it’s just wrapped around the wooden spool, but the extra length provides enough room for 36 different colors, each blending into the next in a gradient effect. Index the location of the fabric in each pixel system and you have a wide range of color options.

The piece was commissioned by clothing retailer Forever 21 and has even been given its own website. The display pulls Instagram photos with the #F21threadscreen hashtag and displays them. You can watch a live stream for the next week, and the dedicated site has a search feature to find a recording of your own photo by username.

We must once again give credit for producing the kind of advertising we want to see. This is both interesting and awesome. It gave some talented people work producing it, and sharing the details of the build is both interesting and inspiring for us. Want to see some more interesting advertising like this? Check out that Beck’s bottle used as a phonograph cylinder, and the extreme engineering used to separate Oreos.

34 thoughts on “Spools of Thread for 6,400 Pixel Color Display

  1. Very neat build and it looks like a serious amount of effort went into it. How do they account for drift of the color over time? Do they spool and unspool at slightly different rates, leading to eventual color mismatch (a sort of spool backlash) or is there some kind of color detector in place or homing routine that can adjust for this over time?

    1. @Waterjet : each motor has a homing IR sensor and the pixels are fitted with a retroreflective strip. From this we have a fixed known position on the fabric, every once in a while we make the pixel pass over the sensor with the reflective strip and we zero out our position counters. And yes I can confirm a serious amount of effort went into it. =)

      1. From the looks of things, just setting up the initial module block took a long time. Then replicating it over and over and over again took a good while too, no doubt. Looks very well engineered and very well built. Nice work.

        What caused the control board being tested in the video to catch fire? Over current / short?

        1. The machine is basically a van der graaf generator. We had over 20kV of static on the ribbons. We did anticipate this, but not to the extent we witnessed once we got a meter out to measure it. More grounded copper wire and grounded plates in the pixel modules fixed this problem.

  2. I noticed an interesting optical illusion when scrolling through this article. The rows of spools appear to move in the picture of the machine with the link to play the video. It appears that my scroll amount almost exactly matches the vertical spacing between the rows so that when scrolling up, all of the rows appear to be bending down on the right edge. When scrolling down, all of the rows appear to be bending up. It reminded me of a never ending scale recording where a scale one octave lower is progressively blended in with the original scale. It fools your ear into thinking that the scale is going up forever.

    1. I don’t know if the motors are two driven (H-bridge) or single direction. In two way mode the shaft/clutch approach would not be possible. In one way mode you need just one switching transistor per motor as you would need per clutch.

    2. I just saw in the video, they used stepper motors. In this case the drive is 2 H-bridges! But they need no position encoders, just one reference sensor. With DC-motors or clutches, they would need much more precise position sensing.

  3. When I see these people I think with half of them that they are so clueless that they can’t possibly have actually made or coded any part of this and they just had some not-shown engineer or the chinese do it and they are merely the facade.

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