Precision CNC Drawing with EtchABot

Turning the classic toy Etch-A-Sketch into a CNC drawing tablet intrigues a large number of hackers. This version by [GeekMom] certainly takes the award for precision and utility. Once you build something like this, you can hardly stop writing firmware for it; [GeekMom] produced an entire Arduino library of code to allow joystick doodling, drawing web images, and a self-erasing spirograph mode. The topper is the version that runs as a clock!


The major hassle with making a CNC version of this toy is the slop in the drawing mechanism. There is a large amount of backlash when you reverse the drawing direction. If that isn’t bad enough, the backlash is different in the vertical or horizontal directions. Part of [GeekMom’s] presentation is on how to measure and correct for this backlash.

The EtchABot uses three small stepper motors. Two drive the drawing controls and the third flips the device forward to erase the previous drawing. The motors are each controlled by a ULN2003 stepper motor drivers. An Arduino Uno provides the intelligence. Optional components are a DS3231 Real Time Clock and a dual axis X-Y joystick for the clock and doodling capability. Laser cut wood creates a base for holding the Etch-A-Sketch and the electronics.

The write up and details for this project are impressive. Be sure to check out the other entries in [GeekMom’s] blog. Watch the complete spirograph video after the break.

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What do you get if you cross a software defined radio (SDR) and an iconic children’s drawing toy that we are sure is a trademarked name? If you are [devnulling], you wind up with the Etch-A-SDR. The box uses an Odroid C1, a Teensy, and the ubiquitous RTL-SDR.

The knobs work well as control knobs (as you can see in the video below). When you are bored listening to the radio, you can reset the box and go into Etch-a… um, drawing mode. The knobs work like you’d expect and you can even erase the screen with a vigorous shake.

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Automated Etch-a-Sketch Re-Produces Famous Artwork

Unless you’re some incredibly gifted individual with more dexterity than a fighter jet pilot, making anything on a Etch-a-Sketch is hard. So [Evan] decided to motorize it, and cheat a little bit.

She’s using an Arduino Uno to control two stepper motors that she has bound to the Etch-a-Sketch knobs using a short piece of rubber tube and Gorilla Glue. She 3D printed some custom motor mounts to allow the motors to be positioned directly above the knobs, and a ULN2803 to switch the 12V required for the steppers.

After she had the hardware all setup, she coded a simple Python script to take in .PNGs and produce vector art to be sent through the Arduino. In case you’re wondering, an Etch-a-Sketch has approximately 550 x 370 pixels, or about 500 x 320 for the “safe zone”.

Due to the limitations of the Etch-a-Sketch, like its inability to stop writing, some images might require some editing before sending it off to your new Etch-a-Sketch printer.

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THP Entry: Etch-A-CNC

etchacncCNC machines have been around for decades, but only recently have small desktop routers, 3D printers, and laser cutters brought G code to the tabletop. Obviously, this is a teaching opportunity, and if you’re trying to get kids interested in the inner workings of machines that build things, you can’t begin with obtuse codes understood only by machines and CNC operators.

[johnyang] is building his own CNC controller based on something just about every kid is already familiar with: the Etch A Sketch. He’s retrofitted a small, travel size Etch A Sketch with an LCD, buttons, rotary encoders, and a Raspberry Pi to turn this primitive drawing toy into a machine that generates G code for a Shapeoko 2 CNC mill.

The user interface for this CNC controller is as similar to the Etch A Sketch as [johnyang] can make it – two rotary encoders draw a shape on the LCD, and G code is generated from the drawn shape. Adding a third dimension is a bit of a challenge – it looks like two buttons take care of the up and down movement of the spindle. Still, [johnyang] plans to add the definitive Etch A Sketch feature – holding it upside down and shaking it will reset the CNC to its original state.

There are a few videos of [johnyang]’s progress. You can check those out below.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

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An Etch-A-Sketch to Fetch the Time

For someone who has never used stepper motors, real-time clocks, or built anything from scratch, [Dodgey99] has done a great job of bending them to his will while building his Etch-A-Sketch clock.

He used two 5V stepper motors with ULN2003 drivers. These motors are mounted on the back and rotate the knobs via pulleys. They are kind of slow; it takes about 2 1/2 minutes to draw the time, but the point of the hack is to watch the Etch-A-Sketch. [Dodgey99] is working to replace these steppers with Nema 17 motors which are much faster. [Dodgey99] used an EasyDriver for Arduino to drive them. He’s got an Arduino chip kit in this clock to save on the BOM, but you could use a regular Arduino. He left out the 5V regulator because the EasyDriver has one.

[Dodgey99] has published three sketches for the clock: one to set up the RTC so that the correct time is displayed once the Etch-A-Sketch is finished, some code to test the hardware and sample the look of the digits, and the main code to replace the test code.

The icing on this timekeeping cake is the acrylic base and mounting he’s fashioned. During his mounting trials, he learned a valuable lesson about drilling holes into an Etch-A-Sketch. You can’t shake an Etch-A-Sketch programmatically, so he rotates it with a Nema 17. Check it out after the jump.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll realize we just saw the exact opposite of this project a few hours ago: a CNC tool (laser cutter) controlled by turning Etch-A-Sketch knobs.

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Laser Cutter Becomes An Etch A Sketch


The mirror in a laser cutter moves along an X Y axis. An Etch A Sketch moves its stylus along an X Y axis. Honestly, this laser cutter with Etch A Sketch controls is so obvious, we’re shocked we haven’t seen it before.

The Etch A Sketch interface is extremely simple – just two rotary encoders attached to laser cut knobs set inside a small, laser cut frame. The lines from the encoders are connected to an Arduino Pro Mini that interfaces with the controller unit on the laser cutter, moving the steppers and turning on the laser only when the head is moving. There’s an additional safety that only turns on the laser when the lid is closed and the water pump is running.

The circuit is extremely simple, and with just a few connections, it’s possible to retrofit the Etch A Sketch controller to the laser cutter in just a few minutes.  Just the thing for a weekend hackerspace project.


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LED Etch-a-Sketch built without a microcontroller


This project is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished with a rather complicated logic circuit. It’s an Etch-a-Sketch made from a 16×16 LED grid. That in itself is only somewhat interesting. But when hearing about the features and that it is driven by logic chips we were unable to dream up how it was designed. There’s no schematic but the video commentary explains all.

The thing that confused us the most is that the cursor is shining brighter than the rest of the pixels. This is done with two different 555 times and a duty cycle trick. When you turn the trimpots the cursor position is tracked by some decade counters. Pixels in your path are written to a RAM chip which acts as the frame buffer. And there’s even a level conversion hack that let’s the display run at 15v to achieve the desired brightness. Top notch!
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