Definitely-Not-Neopixel Rings, From Scratch!

The WS2812 addressable LED is a marvellous component. Any colour light you want, all under the control of your favourite microcontroller, and daisy-chainable to your heart’s content. Unsurprisingly they have become extremely popular, and can be found in a significant number of the project s you might read about in these pages.

A host of products have appeared containing WS2812s, among which Adafruit’s Neopixel rings are one of the more memorable. But they aren’t quite as cheap as [Hyperlon] would like, so the ever-resourceful hacker has created an alternative for the constructor of more limited means. It takes the form of a circular PCB that apes the Adafruit original, and it claims to deliver a Bill of Materials cost that is 85% cheaper.

In reality the Instructables tutorial linked above is as much about how to create a PCB and surface-mount solder as it is specific to the pixel ring, and many readers will already be familiar with those procedures. But we won’t rest until everyone out there has tried their hands at spinning their own PCB project, and this certainly proves that such an endeavour is not out of reach. Whether or not you pay for the convenience of the original or follow this lead is your own choice.

The real thing has been in so many projects it’s difficult to pick just one to link to. This Christmas tree is rather nice.

22 thoughts on “Definitely-Not-Neopixel Rings, From Scratch!

    1. “Make sense only as skill training session” — It’s not a bad training-session, though; one gets some practice in PCB-design and some in SMD-soldering, both very useful skills, and, since most people seem to like their LEDs so much, they get something fun to play with in the end, too. This is one of those little projects I might point a less-experienced person at, if one was asking for some practice-projects.

      Personally, though, I do need a lot more practice in both PCB-design and SMD-soldering, but I don’t find LEDs very interesting.

      1. I might be a little slow from all that lead and fumes, but as long as there is no need for this particular led arrangement, it’s still $2.85. With all healthy addition stayed in China. 3D printer to the rescue, for fitting it to whatever. So by my math for $21 I get beer, 2 bags of potato chips and 5x 24led rings ready for app. Without sink stains from ferric chloride. Am I wrong?

      2. It’s about $2.85 delivered via aliexpress. It’s not an adafruit product.

        I like Ladyada as much as anyone else around here who prefers C++ to Python does, and she designs and sells a lot of great products; I’ve been a fan since the mintyboost, and I’m happy to say I’ve ordered from her several times. But her markup on stuff straight out of Shenzen is crazy.

    2. As Jarek said, adafruit’s ring is $16.95 + shipping which for me is another $11.05, which makes it a $28 option (ouch!) Their me-too stuff is overpriced and shipping kills the deal. You can get the same kind of thing on ebay for ~20% of the price most of the time, and with free shipping.

      In this case though, cost isn’t not my main issue. My problem with these things is they’re never the right size/shape for a project and most of the time I’d rather have an encoder (a quality one from a reputable seller) in the center. Also, these LED’s protocol sucks vs using plain old SPI. I’d rather pay a few cents more per project and use APA102’s or what not.

    3. $28.50*
      And the bigger deal for me is the limited size selection. Adafruit only sells a handful and even the cheap eBay ones are all the same size as adafruit ones.

      The one Hyperion made isn’t even close to these sizes. Think about it, when was the last time you have a project where a neopixel ring really was the “right” size?

      I personally have had this problem a LOT but I never realized you could buy these chips individually.

      1. This. This so much. Adafruit does many things well, but they really need to get their shipping policies, procedures, and costs under control. To generalize a bit: when it costs $10 to ship .50 cents worth of wires, and it takes a week or more to arrive, you have logistical problems. I don’t think anyone can realistically expect Amazon levels of economy of scale from a small company—that is not my point. My point is that Adafruit needs to examine and rework their shipping department to make it more efficient for the customer and themselves.

        1. One of the things that few people are told about entrepreneurship and developing their own business is that many operations wind up on the rocks from poorly handling success and growth.

          I believe Adafruit is still shipping from their Brooklyn operation and picking orders by hand from a pretty rough inventory storage system (read: “A lot of steel shelving with boxes on them”). There is a tipping point for this kind of thing and they may be hanging there – unable to expand into a proper warehousing system because of their location and certainly very busy developing new products.

          They should perhaps take a field trip to Digi-Key/Mouser/Newark or even Jameco – against whom they should be compared rather than Ebay vendors – to see how it’s properly done or if they want to continue their own distribution at all. There is no shame in conceding the distribution side to a more efficient outside operation (Digi-Key/Mouser etc. already vend their products) and getting on with what you’re really good at and what you are passionate about.

          Certainly the community would be poorer for the absence of their innovative products and tutorials that bring new people into the game.

          1. Adafruit rep here: we know the folks and Digikey (and Mouser) and we like them. They’ve come to our place to see how we do things, and have been impressed by our pull rates and accuracy. Our inventory team puts more intelligence into the system than “a lot of steel shelving”.

            When it comes to competition, we know anything we make that turns out to be popular will have clones on eBay within six weeks. That’s why all our designs are Open.. it isn’t worth the time and cost to defend them in court. We also know nothing will convince some people to support an original creator if there are $3 clones on eBay.. again, it isn’t worth the time and effort to try.

            We compete on build quality, QA, and support.

            If you’ve ever had to do hardware and software as a business, you’ll know ongoing support costs far more than materials and fabrication, and is what really drives pricing. That’s why things end up in the dollar bin when the company making them announces the end of that line: the product on the shelf didn’t change, its intrinsic utility is still the same, but there’s no longer any promise of a tomorrow.

            We love projects like the one above because we love to see people make things for themselves. We regularly get messages that say, “it would be great if someone made X (meaningful look),” and as we read them, we think, “you really don’t get it, do you?” The last thing we want to be is The Commodity Supplier For All Your NeoPixel Needs.

            Yuck.

            If you want to make a board strictly for the technical challenge of it, we think that’s awesome. If you want to roll your own because you consider cost a factor, we understand where you’re coming from.

            Do be fair with the cost comparisons though.. if you can provision a whole project for $2.85 including the cost of shipping for all the supplies, we want to meet your carrier. Even accepting a $25 difference, that’s about 3 hours and 20 minutes if you value your time at $7.50 an hour. It’s easy to make competition look one-sided if you get major resources for free.

          1. Digi-Key offers a USPS First Class Mail option for <=8oz. The price is $3.75. I've used it before, and it generally took around the same time as UPS Ground.

            For a sample order of a $.75 resistor pack, I see Adafruit's cheapest shipping option is USPS First-Class Package Service for $4.55.

            I don't see a big difference between these options. What are you saying here?

          2. reboots: I think his point is even very efficient, huge distributors can’t get much better shipping rates. The shipping rates from China are subsidized. It’s stupid to think that a business can compete with $0.75 shipping, which is about the subsidized rate for the smallest packages. The foreign shipping rates should go UP, not that Adafruit’s rates should go down. Adafruit could start shipping from a Chinese office, I guess… but that’s not exactly a great solution.

            But hey. “I want my cheap shit”. Paying a living wage to anyone is so 1999. (Or was that earlier?)

          3. There is no shipping agreement with USPS and local operators for bulk shipping for ones that ships a lot?
            There are no drop shipping services for whole continents with lower local country rates?

            Its $2.85 not because someone in far east feels like charity man. It’s because pick and place empty time, unfilled pcb panel, and half empty container is considered worse, than selling product with 0.02% markup. Different set of mind.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t understand why the WS2812 wasn’t obsolete long ago. Standard SPI at 25 MHz versus 800 kHz bizarre timing critical protocol. One extra pin required.

  1. I had an application for 24-pixel RGBW rings, similar to Adafruit P/N 2862. For various personal reasons I prefer to avoid Adafruit, so I was pleased to find a chinese vendor selling a similar ring at 1/3 the price (including shipping):

    http://myneopixel.com/65mm-245050-led-sk6812rgbw-neopixel-ring_p1164.html

    The rings arrived in due time, and worked as advertised. However, assembly quality was very poor. Decoupling caps and termination resistors were misaligned or missing in many cases. The rings could not tolerate any flexing: solder joints would fail, and since the SK6812 LEDs are daisy-chained in series, that means one failed joint kills the rest of the string.

    I’m mentioning this experience because commenters are suggesting cheap eBay product as an alternative to Adafruit, and I’m not sure it’s an equivalent comparison in terms of quality control. I believe Adafruit does their reflow and assembly in-house, and hopefully those processes are well dialed in. Whether that adds 3x value is up to the discriminating customer.

  2. If one were so inclined to build a RGBWUI (RedGreenBlueWhiteUltravioletInfrared) ring… any ideas on what LEDs they might use for the U and I parts of that?

    Or would it just be easier to add a secondary and tertiary circuit to the PCB and control them independently?

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