Custom LCD Module is Unexpectedly Cheap and Easy

Looking to take your project to the next level in terms of functionality and appearance? A custom LCD display might be the thing that gets you there, at least compared to the dot-matrix or seven-segment displays that anyone and their uncle can buy from the usual sources for pennies. But how does one create such a thing, and what are the costs involved? As is so often the case these days, it’s simpler and cheaper than you think, and [Dave Jones] has a great primer on designing and specifying custom LCDs.

The video below is part of an ongoing series; a previous video covered the design process, turning the design into a spec, and choosing a manufacturer; another discussed the manufacturer’s design document approval and developing a test plan for the module. This one shows the testing plan in action on the insanely cheap modules – [Dave] was able to have a small run of five modules made up for only $138, which included $33 shipping. The display is for a custom power supply and has over 200 segments, including four numeric sections, a clock display, a bar graph, and custom icons for volts, amps, millijoules, and watt-hours. It’s a big piece of glass and the quality is remarkable for the price. It’s not perfect – [Dave] noted a group of segments on the same common lines that were a bit dimmer than the rest, but was able to work around it by tweaking the supply voltage a bit.

We’re amazed at how low the barrier to entry into custom electronics has become, and even if you don’t need a custom LCD, at these prices it’s tempting to order one just because you can. Of course, you can also build your own LCD display completely from scratch too.

[via r/TheAmpHour]

32 thoughts on “Custom LCD Module is Unexpectedly Cheap and Easy

  1. I’ve seen the EEV blog video a few days ago. It’s really interesting as I expected the engineering cost to be around 5k. €100,- is cheap! The steps from design to the prototype are quite similar to custom keyboard/touch pads. I’ve done those in the past, but never in China.

    As we want things right and right now I like to order it local without language barrier. At €100,- for a prototype these come in the range of #badgelife. The next HAD badge will have a custom LCD?

  2. “We’re amazed at how low the barrier to entry into custom electronics has become, and even if you don’t need a custom LCD, at these prices it’s tempting to order one just because you can.”

    Replacing broken LCDs in vintage equipment.

    1. If someone could spec out a replacement screen for the Canon T-90 they could do some business at these kinds of prices. The styling and layout could probably be a little different if trademark or copyright is an issue too.

  3. So Dave only tested the one LCD and didn’t do the others to replicate the problem on them. If the manufacturer can’t produce a reliable LCD running under 3.3V, then the project will need a separate power supply just for the LCD.

    1. Dave said somewhere that they did test the others as well, all were more or less the same.
      That said, IMHO the nagging/complaints are unfair. They specified 3.3V and 6 o’clock as viewing angle; and complain that some segments are sub-optimal at 12 o’clock angle. Well, “duh”. I think that’s a kind’a “spoiled-brat” complaint.

      In any case, it looked all good with a slightly increased Vlcd. In any projects using displays, I think it’s a good design goal to allow – if possible – the user to adjust the display contrast in some way. With LCDs being a mainly capacitive load with modest current demands, an adjustable charge pump might come in handy. There’re of course charge-pump ICs available but you might get away with a discrete hack; a couple of caps, diodes, and a PWM output.

      Anyway, it’s a cool story and his display design looks really nice.
      I just hope that everyone will NOT jump on the wagon and try to make their own, “just because we can”. That’s not a sustainable business model; the display mfgs offer this as a sampling service. You *are expected* to subsequently order a few 1000s of units for actual production. If we ruin this with too many “Hey, I just want 3 pcs of this kludged design, here’s $100 – now ship it!”, it’s just going to become more difficult to get serious projects off the ground in the future.

      1. Maybe; or the lead time for new customers might increase with no problems.

        My experience is that a lot of these companies are still making money on small orders because of the exchange rate. It isn’t like in the US where they’re almost guaranteed to be losing money on sample runs. Pretty much the opposite, I’d say; they would never intentionally lead with a loss.

      1. My thoughts exactly. I see a kickstarter (or a few) in the future! Would be fun. Should also be available as a “kit” (get some bare LCDs, bare PCB, possibly an injection molded enclosure etc). I would get a few bare G&W LCDs just to build into other projects “just because”. The DIY alarm clock – if you’re bored or can’t sleep, how about a nice game of G&W :-)

        The original G&W units were my entry point into electronics in the early 80’s. The first things I disassembled and experimented (totally clueless at maybe 6-7 yrs, but still) with shorting out various SEG- and COM-lines to see how the LCD was affected.

  4. I feel bittersweet about this.
    On one hand it is neat to be able to get custom LCD’s for such a low price.
    On the other hand, it could mean even more LCDs arriving in surplus venues with no documentation.

    1. If that is a real problem, the prices must be low low low on them. Any tips on where to find such things? I don’t really mind an epic quest for a datasheet, that’s just called Saturday.

  5. FYI, Dave talks about this in the latest Amp Hour podcast. Making short runs of 5-10 displays for cheap is not the market these companies are after. His order was basically a sample that the manufacturer gave in hopes of a larger order. It’s not something they can do all day long like prototype PCBs.

    1. Now that is a very crucial part of this story, thanks for pointing that out.
      Although I was already envisioning a future where everybody could create his/her own LCD game…

    2. Dave made very sure to make that point. It seems a bit disingenuous to not mention this. LCD manufactures won’t work for what’s essentially free.

      I’d love a somewhat more expensive service – I’m all for people making a living – where I can actually order small batches of LCDs, but I’m not aware of such a service.

  6. I worked for a company that was one of the last ones ordering large-ish (3-5″) TN/FSTN glass panels. The prices we got, even in bulk, were strictly worse than buying a bulk commodity LCD. Often even worse than the commodity LCD plus a dedicated microcontroller to schedule updating it.

    1. Depends on the project, you can get an entire linux system and a 3.5 inch touch screen into your project for under AU $50, just use an Orange Pi etc. Makes you wonder how cheap you could do that for if you are making thousands of units. Are those $15 “smart” watches being dumped at a loss or is that indicative of how cheap it is to put a linux box into everything these days?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.