A display based on magnetic viewing film

Moving Magnet Draws Stylish Shapes On Flexible Film

[Moritz v. Sivers] has a knack for making his own displays, which are typically based on some obscure physical effect. Magnetic viewing films, those thin plastic sheets that change color in response to a magnetic field, are his latest area of interest, as you can see in his Magnetic Kinetic Art Display.

The overall idea of the display is similar to a kinetic sand art table, in which a ball traces out shapes in a pile of sand. In [Moritz]’s project, the magnetic viewing film is the sand, and a 2 mm diameter magnet is the ball. The magnet is moved along the film by two sets of coils embedded inside a flex PCB mounted just below the film. One set of coils, on the top layer of the PCB, moves the magnet in the x direction, while a second set on the bottom layer moves it in the y direction.

A flex PCB with coils on both sides
The flex PCB is small, but carries lots of windings

[Moritz] used a flex PCB not because it had to be bendy, but to keep the two sets of coils as close together in the z direction as possible. This helps to avoid a big difference in strength between the two directions. To drive the coils, he used a pair of TB6612FNG stepper motor drivers, controlled by a Wemos D1 Mini.

The housing was 3D printed mostly from PLA, but with a few bits done in PETG. This was for structural rigidity as well as thermal performance — the coils can carry up to two amps and get pretty warm as a result.

The video, embedded below, shows some of the shapes that can be drawn: squares, spirals and even digits to turn the display into a clock. [Moritz] got the PCB coil idea from a project by [bobricius], and cleverly extended it into a useful product. It’s not the first time [Moritz] used magnetic viewing film to make a clock, either.

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A clock based on magnetic viewing film

Magnet Clock Makes Field Lines Visible

The traditional method for visualizing magnetic fields, which your science teacher probably demonstrated at some point, is to sprinkle some iron filings onto a piece of paper and hold it over a magnet. It’s a bit of a messy process though, and nowadays there’s a more modern method available in the form of magnetic viewing films. These work thanks to tiny nickel particles suspended in an oily medium, and come in very handy if you want to examine, say, the magnetic field pattern of a DC electric motor. [Moritz v. Sivers] had another idea for this magic material however, and used it to make a Magnet Viewing Clock.

A DIY clock, opened upThe clock’s front panel looks very similar to a large monochrome LCD, but is actually a big slab of magnetic viewing film. Four disks are mounted behind it, each carrying number-shaped magnetic stickers that are cleverly hidden from view. An Arduino Uno keeps track of time through a real-time clock and operates four stepper motors that rotate the number wheels. When they move into position, their magnetic stickers become visible through the film and you can read the time.

The clock’s mechanical parts are 3D printed, while the digits were cut from a sheet of sticky magnetic foil using a vinyl cutter. If you’d like to try making something similar you’re in luck: [Moritz] made the design files and the Arduino sketch available on his GitHub page. Magnetic viewing films are pretty neat things to play with anyway, and can even be used to read hidden messages.

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