Custom LED Signage From Household Items

We’ll admit it: sometimes we overthink things. We imagine some of you are the same way; there seems to be something in the hacker mentality that drives us to occasionally over-engineer ideas to the point of unrecognizability. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but sometimes it does keep us from seeing easier solutions.

For example, the very slick looking personalized LED sign (Google Translate) that [Clovis Fritzen] recently wrote in to share with us. If we were tasked with creating something like this there would certainly have been a 3D printer and likely a CNC involved before all was said and done, and a few days later we’d still be working out the bugs in our OpenSCAD code. But his approach is very different. Fantastically simple and constructed largely from household items, this is a good project to keep the Junior Hackers entertained on a rainy weekend.

The first step of the process is to draw out the characters you want onto a piece of cardboard, and then carefully cut it out. If you’re worried that you’re not particularly artistic, this step will go a bit better if you print out the design and tape the paper over the cardboard to serve as a template. Once you’ve got your design cut out, you glue or tape a piece of standard printer paper over it. This is the face of the display; it just needs to be lit from behind.

If you wanted to make a sign that was just a single color and didn’t have individually addressable elements, then it would be enough to illuminate the whole cutout with a single light source. But where’s the appeal in that? As [Clovis] shows, you can get much better results by constructing a segmented box, with one LED in each cell. By wiring each LED to a pin on an Arduino or other microcontroller, you’ll have control over the color and brightness of each section of the sign.

Of course, if you’re not big on the whole cardboard aesthetic, you could even recreate this design with the aforementioned CNC and 3D printer. [Clovis] shows how the basic concept works, and that it can be scaled pretty easily depending on the kind of materials you have access to.

Laser Projected Christmas Lights

It’s August, and of course that means that it’s time for retail stores to put up their Christmas decorations! But seriously, if you’re going to do better than the neighbors you need to start now. [Joey] already has his early start on the decorations, with a house-sized light show using LED strips and a laser projector that he built last Christmas.

What started off as a thought that it would be nice to hang a wreath over the garage soon turned into a laser projector that shows holiday-themed animations on the front of the house. The project also includes a few RGB LED strips which can match the colors displayed by the projector. The LEDs are powered from a custom-built supply that is controlled by a laptop, and the program that runs on the computer averages the colors from the video signal going to the projector which lights up the LED strips to match the projected image. This creates an interesting effect similar to some projects that feature home theater ambient lighting.

The only major problem [Joey] came across was having to account for the lasers’ motion in the projected patterns, which was causing the computer to read false values. This and a few other laser-related quirks were taken care of with a bit of programming to make sure the system was functioning properly. After that it was a simple matter of attaching the projector to the roof and zip-tying the LED strips to the eaves of the house.

The projector is weatherproof, has survived one harsh winter already, and can be up and running for any holiday. With Halloween right around the corner, this could be a great way to spice up some trick-or-treating. Check out the video after the break to see this setup in action.

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Singing house lights up Halloween again this year

[KJ92508] is flooding the neighborhood with light again this year. Everyone knows of that one house in town that really goes all out, but few put on a show anything like this one. The four Jack-o’-lantern faces lead the way with the opening sequence from A Nightmare Before Christmas. Each has at least four different mouth poses, and two eye orientations which are surprisingly well synchronized with the audio. The image above shows mostly orange lighting, but the home is outfitted with addressable RGB LEDs for a full color performance. In fact, it has seen an upgrade this year, increasing the channels by eight-fold to 1144! Don’t miss the performance which we’ve embedded after the break.

We had considered not featuring this, since we looked in on the same home last year. But the number of tips that rolled in made us think that a lot of you missed it, or are just delighted by the multitude of blinky lights. Either way, it’s worth the four minutes out of your day– it will either put a smile on your face, or make you glad not to live across the street from this guy.

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LED menorahs

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We’re barely past Halloween and people are already working on their next LED based holiday decorations. For Hanukkah, Gizmodo pointed out the PCB menorah pictured above. It uses a set of DIP switches to control which LEDs are lit. A couple years ago, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories put together a tutorial for building a more minimal LED menorah. Each of the nine LEDs are soldered directly to the legs of an ATtiny2313 microcontroller. Every time you power up the device an additional LED is lit. [Ori] liked the project and decided to take a slightly different approach. He used an LM3914 DIP18 LED bar driver. A potentiometer controls how many of the LEDs are illuminated.

LED Painter


The people at Brilldea have come up with LED Painter, a 16-channel RGB LED controller capable of controlling up to 48 independent LEDs. It uses a Texas Instrument TLC5940 to control the LEDs and can be connected to more LED Painter boards, creating a large array of RGB lights. The TLC5940 itself has been modified to make connecting independent LEDs easier.

The team strung together nine of these along with a Propeller-based controller called a Prop Blade and fitted the lights into three windows with semi-opaque glass to create a display of dancing randomized RGB lights. If all the dancing lights have inspired you, the TLC5940s are fairly inexpensive, but you’ll need both through-hole devices and some SMT components to get if off the ground.

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