For the more advanced version of this Instructable, check out version 2, which uses a Raspberry Pi 3 to make this light illuminate when someone tweets specific hashtags!
This project visually represents the complexity of performing bisexual identity, and draws attention to issues of bi invisibility and bi erasure. Although this version of the design uses an on/off switch, to clarify, bisexual people do not simply switch their identities on and off at will. Rather, this light demonstrates that while bisexuals know who they are inside, that part of their identity may not always be outwardly visible to others. That is, unless people actively show that they are bi, that part of their identity is often made invisible or goes unrecognized, or is misunderstood based on their relationship status.
In solidarity with (and based on input from) people who experience this invisibility daily, I've designed a 3D printable light. When unlit, the light appears as just a human figure, and when illuminated lights up with bi pride colors, which showcases the (in)visibility of bisexuality. This Instructable was published to coincide with Bi Visibility Day (September 23), and as part of Bisexual Awareness Week. I hope that it resonates today and every day with bisexual individuals, as well as allies within and alongside broader LGBTQIA+ communities. I must also thank the many bisexual friends who inspired and helped invent, design, critique, revise, and evaluate this project to ensure that it ethically and meaningfully represents bisexual communities. We hope you enjoy reading, and that you proudly make your own light and share these instructions!
Total Time: 2-3 hours
Skills Needed: Coloring, Soldering, 3D printing Approximate Material
Cost: ~$25 (Sandpaper + Permanent Markers + LEDs + AA battery holder + switch + perfboard)
Step 1: Materials
- Safety Goggles
- Dust Mask (if using a Dremel)
- Soldering iron
- 3D printer (if printing enclosure yourself)
- Dremel (for cutting perfboard)
- Pliers (helpful for bending LED leads)
- Solder sucker/braid for soldering mistakes
- Helping hand
- Multimeter (helps with testing the circuit)
- Breadboard (helps with testing the circuit)
Materials and Components
- 220 grit sandpaper (any medium grit should work)
- Permanent Markers: Pink, Purple, Blue, and Black (I used Sharpie Magenta, Purple, and Blue)
- Jumper wire (I used 22 AWG solid core wire )
- 5mm white LEDs (x6)
- AA Batteries (x2)
- AA Battery holder
- On/Off Switch
- Preferred Enclosure
- Super glue or hot glue gun
Step 2: Print the Enclosure
To start, print your preferred case + base from the (Thingiverse page for this project). I designed both a meeple enclosure and a heart enclosure because they're both gender neutral and simple prints. If you want to design your own custom case, just make sure to include clips for the LED holder and a hole for wires.
I printed the meeple case above using Printrbot's "Natural" translucent PLA filament at 0.2mm layer height to balance the visibility of the LEDs, print time for the case, and the surface finish. This project should work with any filament though, even if it's a solid color, but you might need to adjust the print settings for LED visibility. More detailed print settings are included in the Thingiverse description as well.
If you're printing your own case, you can save time by finishing Step 4 while the print runs. Afterward, return to Step 2 for trimming and test fitting before continuing.
Step 3: Trim the Enclosure and Test Fit
WARNING:If things don't fit together easily, don't force them! PLA snaps rather than bending, so if the fit is too tight, sand or trim away a little more plastic and try again.
The meeple case body and cap should press-fit together without the need for trimming or sanding. However, you might need to trim away the edges of the slots on the base that hold the feet (pictured above) to ensure the case and lid fits snugly with the base. Additionally, the holes in the LED holder might be too small on the side that touched the printer build platform, but these can be easily widened with a boxcutter or exacto blade (test the fit by inserting an LED; it should fit loosely but not get stuck). As always, it's easier to shave away a little plastic at a time and check for fit. That said, if you do accidentally trim too much, or the parts are already loose, most of them can be glued in place during the final assembly step if needed.
To test the fit of the parts before final assembly:
- With the thinner side of the LED holder facing toward the wall of the body as shown (this will be the front of the case when finished), snap the LED holder into place within the meeple case body.
- Press fit the meeple cap to the case body.
- Align the hole of the meeple body foot with the hole in the base top, and press fit the assembled meeple body into the base top.
- Positioning the leads of the rocker switch closer to the wall, as shown in the video, snap the rocker switch into the hole in the side of the base bottom.
- Fit the battery cover into the hole in the bottom of the base.
If everything fits, disassemble the pieces, set them aside, and move on to the next step. If things are too tight, trim away plastic as necessary. And if things are too loose, you can glue them once everything is assembled.
Step 4: Color the LEDs
Note:Before coloring the LEDs, it's a good idea to test them with a watch battery or other power source to make sure they work.
To color the LEDs, I followed the steps in motadacruz's Instructable to color 6, 5mm white LEDs using three colors (two LEDs of each color). Essentially, you need to lightly sand each LED until they look frosty, dust off the excess powder, and color them with permanent markers (wearing disposable gloves here helps keep your fingers clean). The sanding process can be a little tedious, and some suggest using frosted glass spray paint to accomplish a similar effect, but I haven't tested it myself.
After sanding, to color the lights, I used three different Sharpie permanent markers (magenta, purple, and blue). Any permanent marker brand with similar colors should work, but since I'm colorblind, the labels on these were easy to identify consistently. I recommend coloring the LEDs in pairs, and then applying a second coat of color to make the final color more saturated.
Step 5: Layout and Test the Circuit
Once the LEDs are colored, you'll want to retest them to ensure they're still working, and then sketch out and test your circuit. Keep in mind that the finished circuit board will need to fit inside the case, and the LEDs will need to fit inside the LED holder. The easiest way I've found to do this is to lay the LED holder on some perfboard and trace its outline with a permanent marker to get the rough shape and size. From there, I placed the LEDs in the board according to the circuit diagram, and then drew guidelines for where the leads will poke through. I left 2-3 extra rows on each side for soldering components to the board and connecting everything, but your soldering may be cleaner than mine.
Note: If you have a breadboard, it's a good idea to test the working circuit before continuing to make sure everything works. If you don't have a breadboard, go slowly and test things as you go with a multimeter or battery.
Once you're satisfied with your test, cut the perfboard to size.
Step 6: Cut the Perfboard to Size
WARNING: To avoid inhaling dangerous fiberglass dust while cutting and filing, wear a mask and eye protection and work in a well-ventilated area. This is especially important if you use a Dremel to cut the board.
Based on the guidelines I drew in the previous step, I cut my perfboard by scoring it with a razor on both sides, snapping it, and then sanding it. That said, if anyone designs a PCB schematic for this I'd be happy to add it, as that's currently beyond my design knowledge.
Step 7: Solder and Test Components on Board
Bend the LED leads
I've found that it's easiest to shape the LED leads one at a time by placing them into the holder, putting the leads through the perfboard, carefully bending the holder 90-degrees (making sure to align the holder with the guidelines), and then removing the LED. After bending all of the LED leads, insert them all into the LED holder in sequence.
Note: The LEDs should press fit into the holder, but if they don't you can trim away the holes a bit.
BEFORE CONTINUING, make sure you have all of your LEDs in the correct color sequence, that the thinner side of the LED holder is facing AWAY from the perfboard as shown, and that the positive and negative LED leads are oriented properly before soldering!
Solder one LED at a time and then test each as you go. It's easier to identify one bad connection when there's only one soldered :)
1) When all of the LEDs are soldered in place, cut four, 1-inch pieces of jumper wire.
2) Strip about 1/4 inch of insulation from each end of the pieces, and then bend the exposed sections 90 degrees to form a rough "C" shape.
3) From the front side of the board (i.e. the side with the LED holder and no pads), insert the wire next to the positive lead of the top LED on the right, with the remaining end inserted through the hole next to the positive lead of the middle LED on the right, as shown in the diagram above.
4) Repeat this process for the hole next to the positive lead of the bottom LED, running the wire back to the hole beside the wire adjacent to the middle LED.
5) Repeat steps above for the LEDs on the left, according to the diagram above.
1) Once all of the LEDs and jumper wires are soldered, you'll need to either create solder bridges to connect everything, strip some jumper wire, or use scrap leads. This video offers suggestions for creating solder bridges, but I've found using scrap leads a little quicker and easier in this case. Regardless of the technique, for the positive leads of the LEDs, bridge a connection to the adjacent jumper wires as shown in the diagram above.
2) Bridge the connection where the jumper wires on each side meet in the middle.
3) Finally, bridge a connection between the negative leads of the LEDs as shown (this is where having scrap leads or stripped wire helps). When all of the LEDs are connected, we'll solder on lead wires for power and ground.
Power and Ground Leads
1) Cut two pieces of wire to length (about 3-4 inches each should be plenty).
2) Strip about 1/4 inch of insulation from each on both ends.
3) Make note of how the board is oriented. The diagram above is correct, but I screwed up the bridging in the photo of the finished board. I had to use insulated wire to avoid short circuiting things. Still works though.
4) Solder one end of one wire to the positive end of the circuit (at the top of the board as shown).
5) Solder one end of the other wire to the negative end of the circuit (at the bottom of the board as shown).
6) Test your circuit by touching the positive and negative leads to the appropriate contacts on the battery pack.
If everything lights up, you're good to go to the next step! If things aren't working correctly, double check your circuit, and make sure the batteries are charged.
Step 8: Install the Board
- Install the finished circuit board into the meeple body by snapping the LED holder into place. Note: Make sure the pink LED is closest to the head. You may need to trim and sand the corners of the board to fit it into place. Once you've done this, make a note of which lead is positive and negative, and route them through the hole in the meeple foot.
- Press fit the body cap into place.
- Route the leads through the hole in the top of the base and press fit the meeple case into place.
Note: Since you've come this far, if you'd like to check out the more advanced version of this project (Twitter-Monitoring Bisexual Pride Light), now would be a good time before you solder the switch and battery pack into place :)
Step 9: Connect Switch and Power Supply to Board
Solder leads to switch
- Solder the positive lead from the circuit board to the terminal on the rocker switch that is closest to the side of the switch as shown (preferably the negative, if it's labeled).
- Cut a new piece of wire, about 1 inch long, and strip 1/4 inch of insulation from each end. We'll use this wire to connect the other (positive) switch terminal to the positive terminal of the battery pack next.
Solder lead to power supply (remove batteries first)
- Remove any batteries that may have been in the battery holder. Solder the newly cut lead to the positive terminal of the battery pack.
- With the battery holder facing DOWN (i.e. with the batteries accessible from the bottom of the base), solder the positive lead from battery holder to the positive terminal of the rocker switch as shown.
Solder power supply lead to board
- Solder the remaining negative lead from the LED board to the negative terminal on the battery holder.
Step 10: Insert Batteries and Test
Once everything is soldered together, snap the rocker switch into place in the bottom of the base. Insert two AA batteries into the holder, and flip the switch. The lights should turn on (or off, if the terminals weren't labeled and the switch was already on).
If it's not working, double-check the solder joints and connections, as well as the orientation of the batteries.
If everything worked, we're almost done, the only step left is assembly!
Step 11: Assemble Case
Once all of the electronics are in place, you'll need to glue at least two key joints: the battery holder and the two base halves.
To glue the battery holder in place:
- Remove the batteries.
- Place a small bit of super glue or hot glue on the flat face of the battery holder and press it against the bottom of where the meeple feet rest, as shown in the first image. Although this step is technically optional if you're careful when changing batteries, it will help prevent the battery pack from falling out and breaking the circuit.
- After applying the glue, follow the drying instructions on the glue, and let it fully dry before continuing. Note: if you're using hot glue, make sure to use only as much as needed so that the battery pack still fits in the case when covered.
To glue the two base halves together:
- Apply glue along the top edge of the walls on the bottom half, as shown in the second image, and press the two halves together. Note: If you're concerned about being able to open the case again later, gluing just the corners will probably be enough, or you can use double-sided tape.
- Follow drying directions on the glue, and clamp or weight appropriately if needed.
- Insert the battery compartment cover.
Optional: If the meeple body cap is too loose, add a small amount of glue to secure it.
Step 12: Show Your Pride!
Flip the switch and show your pride (or solidarity)!
Now that you've mastered this project, try the advanced version that uses a Raspberry Pi 3 to light up whenever someone Tweets using #bipride or #bivisibility!