Picture of Awesome LED Edge-lit Desktop Nameplate
You'd be hard pressed to an office with a desktop that doesn't have a nameplate. This DIY project transforms the classic engraved vinyl nameplate into a high tech piece of art. It’s the perfect way to spice up anyone's desk at home or at work.

The concept of this project is simple; engrave a name on a piece of clear plastic sheet then shine a light on the edge of the plastic. The letters and edges are vividly illuminated whilst the clear material remains completely transparent.

To add a touch of color, use multicolored RGB LED's in conjunction with a microcontroller. This combination allows hundreds of different colors to be achieved. With just the touch of a button, transform the work piece from red, to green, to blue and anything in between.

This Instructable requires basic knowledge of wood working, hand tools, electronics, programming, and soldering.

Step 1: Gather Materials


1 - Polycarbonate Sheet - 10.75in x 2in x 0.25in - local plastic supplier, $3
1 - Oak Board 24in x 5.5in x 0.25in - menards, $3.31
1 - Wood Glue, 4 fl. oz - menards, $3.88
16 - RGB LED's w/diffused lenses - sparkfun.com, $1.99ea
32 - 100 Ohm, 1/4W, 5%, Resistors - jameco.com, $0.02ea
16 - 180 Ohm, 1/4W, 5%, Resistors - jameco.com, $0.02ea
1 - 1K Ohm, 1/4W, 5%, Resistor - jameco.com, $0.02ea
1 - 560 Ohm, 1/4W, 5%, Resistor - jameco.com, $0.02ea
1 - 0.47uF Monolithic Capacitor - jameco.com, $0.12ea
1 - PICAXE 8 Pin Microcontroller - sparkfun.com, $2.95
1 - PICAXE 8 Pin Proto Kit - sparkfun.com, $3.95
1 - PICAXE USB Programming Cable - sparkfun.com, $25.95
1 - Darlington Driver 8-Channel ULN2803 DIP - sparkfun.com, $1.95
1 - 18 Pin DIP socket, - sparkfun.com, $1.50
1 - Mini Push Button Switch - sparkfun.com, $0.35
1 - 2.1mm DC Power Jack, Male - jameco.com, $1.49
1 - Break Away Header - Straight - sparkfun.com, $1.50
1 - Rocker Switch, DPST, ON-OFF, Black - jameco.com, $1.49
1 - Break Away Header - Right Angle - sparkfun.com, $1.95
1 - Wall Adapter Power Supply, 5VDC 1A - sparkfun.com, $5.95
4 - Multipurpose PC Board with 417 Holes - Radioshack, $1.99ea
22AWG Solid Jumper Wire, Various Colors - jameco.com, $6.95/100ft
5 - Hex Socket Cap Screws, 4-40 x 1/4in - mcmaster.com, $7.50 (100)


Wire Stripper
Side Cutter
Needle Nose Pliers
Dremel High-speed Rotary Tool
Dremel Engraving Bit
Needle File Set
Sandpaper (600/800 grit)
Utility Knife
Mini Vise
Digital Multimeter
Third Hand Tool
Soldering Iron/Station
3/32 Drill Bit
3/32 Hex Driver
Vernier Calipers
Metal Ruler
Small Bar Clamps
Safety Glasses

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I got to hand it to you, that is an awesome third hand. a+
wow! what a wonderful creation i'll have to make one of these now haha thanxs alot
ASCAS1 year ago
Bloody genius! I'll make one right away! :D
Ryan Hebron2 years ago
verry good i will make one of these when i grow up
Jorick143 years ago
You could also buy some LED strips from Ebay, that's a lot easier.
coopgrl884 years ago
Fantastic presentation! This is a great example of How to do a How to. Clear pictures and great outline and descriptions :) Thanks! You made this project even easier.
rcisneros4 years ago
I'm not that skilled with the heat source. I just used acetone (not nail polish remover) and carefully wipe down the edges over and over. They'll come clear. The best is methyl chloride, but it's very hard to find.
ninjanody4 years ago
very nice instr..
pantalone4 years ago
How bright (mcd) do the LEDs need to be to make this look good? The LEDs you link to at Sparkfun are rated 2800, 6500, and 1200 mcd for the red, green, blue, respectively. Will the result be just as pleasing if using cheaper LEDs in the 600 mcd range?
pilotniq5 years ago
Is it possible to share resistors between the LEDs? If not, why not?
klbrockmann (author)  pilotniq4 years ago
It is possible and would certainly be much more efficient. I didn't optimize the circuit because I was short on time.
handyman295 years ago
What program did you use to create the 3D image of the circuit board?
klbrockmann (author)  handyman294 years ago
Autodesk Inventor 2010
ampeyro5 years ago
good drawing, what have you studied?
klbrockmann (author)  ampeyro5 years ago
 I currently study Mechanical Engineering.
hintss ogama85 years ago
Iowa state
now i understand, it's not comon to find quality in this webs
Creativeman5 years ago
Very impressive instructable! Beautiful work. It gives me ideas as I like to make signs as well. I picked up on a very un-nerving sight, though, when I looked at picture 4 in step 3. It looks like the saw is running in this photo, and your left hand is in front of the blade! This is extremely dangerous, and should never be done in this manner. That piece should have been ripped, using a rip fence. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER place a hand ahead of a blade as you have done here. Had that piece got in a bind and kicked back, your hand would be toast...er more like ground hamburger. And plastic is a non-standard material to be cutting on a table saw. I hate it when the "worried about your welfare police" chime in like I have just done, but this picture screams at me: NO NO NO.
jds3115 years ago
 Do you have a schematic, as I need to down scale the board size?  Thank you
vinniekins5 years ago
 Nice project!

Wondering what software you used to draw out your circuits.  Is it NI Multisim?
mathman475 years ago
Wow, great idea and great execution.  Can't wait for the code, since I'm just learning about microcontrollers and it would take me awhle to do it myself. Ideas, ideas, ideas.  Thanks for a great instructable.
 were do you buy your plexiglass
klbrockmann (author)  imthatguy11255 years ago
 I purchased a scrap piece of polycarbonate from a local plastics distributor called Country Plastics. There are are countless other places to get it though. Often stores like Lowes, Menards, or Home Depot carry some type of acrylic sheet and there is no shortage of online distributors. I suggest trying to find a local place that you can find a scrap for cheap as online and retail stores can be expensive.
 ok because the plexiglass at my lowes charges 20 bucks for a 2 by 2 foot sheet 
Robot Lover5 years ago
you could just use tape and a sand blaster. Good instructable!
klbrockmann (author)  Robot Lover5 years ago
 Great idea!
You can also engrave glass with an Epilog laser.  I would probably use one of those rectangles of antique glass with the beveled edges for something like this.
one additional thing.  I would probably use an antique lettering font to match the glass.
When I engrave plastic, I print out the pattern and place it under the plastic.  Then I go at it with a dremel and fine tip sanding/grinding bit.
when i engrave glass i used a sandblaster
tcase5 years ago
This is neat,

Now, I have an idea.. I want the pizza guy to find my house in the dark without turning on my light... what if we took this idea, put it to a small solar panel, with a small battery system, and added house numbers instead of a name?
This way with the solar panel, small rechargeable battery system, and a light sensor, it should charge during the day, and light up at night. showing the house number in place of the name....

I like your idea... thanks for giving me mine...lol
jeff-o tcase5 years ago
I've seen commercial products almost exactly like this.  So yeah, your idea should work fine.
 Very cool. Great project, great ible, just great.
haha that circuit is wayyyy more expensive and complex then it needs to be:)
 Yup [solders switch, led's and batteries together]


I guess it's kinda cool to do this with a push button but the micro controller is always on so that justs sucks your battery life.
There HAS to be something more to the uC part, doesn't there?
  Like chasing lights, multi-color fading, timer-to-off, or something? ANYTHING?
  Since the led circuit is already set for 5Volt...then all you really need to do for "on/off" is to feed it power from a usb port, or cell phone wallwart charger, or as ogama8 says, batteries.

We'd like to hear from klbrockmann on this, before we dismiss it as a case of wildly over-engineered technobabble.
klbrockmann (author)  ironsmiter5 years ago
I'll add the exact details of my microcontroller schematics and code soon. Right now I have the uC setup to send each color loop (red, green, blue) a unique square wave pulse with a predefined duty cycle and period, thereby mixing the different colors to make new color combinations (white, purple, yellow, etc.) The push button is my method of scrolling through the different colors which have to be defined in the program code.

I think my biggest issue with this project right now is power consumption. Ideally, I would like power to be sourced from batteries or possibly USB. Right now the circuit running with all colors on (white) draws a little over 1A at 5VDC. 1A rules out USB and AA batteries won't last more than 1.5 hours. I haven't figured out the best way to cut down yet, but I'm working on it.
klbrockmann (author)  ogama85 years ago
I know the micro adds complexity and consumes power but it does give you the ability to adjust the color to just about anything you can think of.
klbrockmann (author)  lucasicecream5 years ago
 Agreed. I'll call this one a prototype. I had a dead line to meet for this project so unfortunately I didn't have the time to really nail down the best solution. I'm working on making it better. I would really like to make battery power a reasonable option.
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