The Display For When You Want Nixies Without All The Hassle

If you want to display numbers, just go for Nixies. There’s no better way to do that job, simply because they look so cool. Unfortunately, Nixies require high voltages, controlling them is a tiny bit strange, and they suck down a lot of power. These facts have given us a few Nixie alternatives, and [Dave] is here with yet another one. It’s a light pipe Nixie, made from acrylic rod.

The idea of using lights shining into a piece of acrylic to display a number is probably as old as the Nixie itself. There were a few tools in the 60s that used side-lit plastic panels to display numbers, and more recently we’ve seen a laser-cut version, the Lixie. This display is just ten sheets of acrylic etched with the numbers 0 through 9. Shine a light through the right acrylic sheet, and that number lights up.

You can do just about everything in acrylic, and it’s already used for a light pipe, so [Dave] grabbed some acrylic rod and bent it into the shape of a few numbers. With a little work, he was able to make his own FauxNixie by mounting these numbers in a carefully modified lamp socked wired up with ten individual LEDs. The results make for big, big, big Nixie-style numbers, and the perfect clock for the discerning glowey aficionado.

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20 thoughts on “The Display For When You Want Nixies Without All The Hassle

  1. Looking cool is just one of many metrics. Making “looking cool” your most important metric leads to all kinds of unfortunate decisions, especially in life when people become outrageous phonies. As the saying goes, on the internet, nobody knows that you are really just a dog.

  2. Okay, so, now I feel compelled to take this one step further, fill only the active number with an opaque liquid. End up with something akin to an E Ink display. I think it has the potential to look really good.

    1. @Mr Roland
      Intending to prove you wrong and win self awarded ego points, I ran a quick manual count.

      Frequency of posts with the nixie tag on HAD:
      7 in 2009
      12 in 2018

      Frequency of posts with the arduino tag on HAD:
      25 in December 2009
      11 in December 2018

      Based on this limited data. It looks like you’re right!

        1. Nothing – if it’s e.g. the principle of an effect. Think Tesla-Coil or Jacobs Ladder or a plasma globe. :-)
          But for display/indicator purpose I strongly prefer modern technology, solid state, like LEDs. This gives also or colors than just orange.

  3. “Tiny bit strange”? No. Driving them is absolutely no different than driving a seven segment LED-display or whatever. Driving LCD and E-ink is a bit “strange” – Nixies are a walk in the park.

      1. “Looking forward to seeing you feed 200v to a LED display.” im not sure why you jumped to that answer, but driving Nixies is quite easy and well understood. you know what isn’t easy and a pain in the ass doing by hand? bending all the light pipes and still look nice.
        Even in the featured build they didn’t succeed (and I certainly don’t claim to do any better) in comparison driving Nixies are a walk in the park

    1. I agree that Nixies aren’t inherently difficult to drive. The slight difficulty is finding cheap silicon that can survive the relatively high voltages without having to go to discrete components as that gets hairy fast for anything but a few tubes. For my 6 tube clock I ended up going with two qfp maxim serial 32 channel hv chips chained together to give me 64 open collector outputs enough for the 60 segments I needed to drive. The thing is each of those chips is like $5 a pop (although maxim has a generous sample program if you have a professional email and don’t abuse their kindness). I threw in an rtc chip, a 170V flyback converter module off ebay, a pic to control the show (wrote the software myself), and a pcb I designed (pics on my .io page). It’s been sitting on my office desk at work for the past few months without any issues. It gets quite a bit of attention from visitors and the roulette animation to prevent cathode poisoning at the top of the hour is always entertaining.

  4. This project is just screaming for 1 gallon pickle jars. Go to Sam’s Club, buy four 1-gallon pickle jars. Eat the pickles and clean out the jars while removing the labels. Then place them over each number assembly to protect them. I’ve wanted to try that for a while but my queue of projects is already too long. BTW pickle jar juice does *NOT* make for tasty popsicles. Summer is coming you know. :-)

    Another thought….el wire?

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