Build a low cost, scrolling LED display for your Arduino microprocessor.

The Arduino Microcomputer system is an affordable platform to learn about microprocessing and programming. Yet Arduinos can be used for instrumentation, robotics and many automated processes.

In this series we will go through some of the basics of software and hardware interfacing and I will show you how to build this simple but effective LED matrix display system.

All you need for the LED display is 30 LEDs of any color, 6 x 390-ohm resistors, 5 x 1N4148 (or 1N914) low power diodes, some thin wires and a small piece of perfboard to hold everything. Total cost, maybe $5.00.

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Step 1: Arduino?

Oh yes, you DO need an Arduino processor, which can cost from $30 to $50. Look up , BoArduino and Freeduino and pick the one that appeals to you. Software-wise, they are all compatible and virtually interchangeable.

One major consideration is the 'input interface': the means to feed programming and data to your micro. If you are just starting out, I strongly suggest one that uses the USB. With it, not only can you talk to your Micro with your regular computer (WIndows, Mac or Linux), it can, within limits, power the micro as well.

One of the newest member of the Arduino family is the 'Nano', shown here trying to say "HELLO" on the LED panel. It's got everything on a 2" x 1" (5 x 3 cm) package, and has its own USB connection.

The Arduino is an entire developmental system that can interface to the real world: lights, sound, motion and can be connected to sensors that can 'feel' them.

Best of all, the Arduino Foundation is 'open' - all its software is free, and you are encouraged to share and develop your own.
LeskoIam3 years ago
Hello. I just noticed that your pictures don't match the description. In a picture row 1 connects to arduino pin 8, row 2 connects to arduino pin 9 and so on. In description row 1 connects to arduino pin 12,.... So I would just like to know which one is correct? Keep up the good work!
the seaker3 years ago
hello nice 'ible! do you by any chance have code for the scrolling text? that would be wonderful
Berserk875 years ago
the fact that you need to already own a $30-$50 device pretty much ruins the "low cost" part. but good guide for those that have an ardunio already.
One can make Arduino at home, for lets say $10-$15. And when student (or someone else with really tight budget) gets Arduino for $30-$50, it's good to be able to get cheap accessories for it. This is one of those "why I didn't thought that" -moments. Great instructable!
shinmai zaketus4 years ago
Actually, I just re-ordered the BOM for a really barebones arduino-compatible I build on perfboard, and the final cost per board is only about $7. Granted it lacks built in usb (I make versions with RS232 for a few bucks more) and a 5v voltage regulator would add a little to the price as well. That's besides the point, which is that getting a device to run this display isn't something that will require a hefty hit on the wallet. If you've got cash to burn, you should concider some of the nicer boards like the official Arduino or it's clones. They definitely add a whole new degree of usability and comfort.

On a completely different subject: With fairly minor modifications (wiring and orientation of the leds) the same display could be charlieplexed, allowing for it to be run from a mere 5 pins (unless my math is off). Charlieplexing can be daunting when beginning electronics(who I'm assuming this instructable is mostly aimed for), but with a bit of planning and good notes of the wiring it can be a great way to multiplex leds for projects just like this.

Anyways, great instructable. Really informative and detailed and easy to follow. And A+ on the pictures, they're all well focused and framed to show the "good bits" :)
ajam1235 years ago
So went and build this matrix and everything seems to work. But I did it without the diodes. I just soldered a resistor on every row (+) and the scanning works great. Also I tried the VU meter code from part2 and that too seems to work. So my question of course is... What's with the diodes? O and thank for the tutorial ofcourse, it's my first "big" arduino project.
qs (author)  ajam1235 years ago
The diodes are there because the uP will operate the LEDs at their maximum reverse limit of 5-volts, and COULD damage cheaper LEDs.
ajam123 qs5 years ago
Ah I see. Well I don't think I used "cheaper" LEDs but we'll see how long it holds out. Thank you and I'll be looking forward to the scrolling text instructable.
ajam1235 years ago
O and another thing. Have you posted more code elsewhere besides the "vu-meter" and test lines? I absolutely NEED more code for this. Thanks again!
qs (author)  ajam1235 years ago
I'm in the process of putting together another 'ible on scrolling text - should be along as soon as I have the time. qs
xeoware5 years ago
I´m trying to put text, but i´m new on programming, do you have a sketch with the scrolling text?
jimmy3215 years ago
If we upgraded the project, it could be a small commercial system for small businesses. For example, we can use FPGA to replace 4000 logics to drive more LEDs, use a microcontroller (like AVR or PIC16/18) and an SD card slot to allow customer to run custom patterns in the LED panel.

qs (author)  jimmy3215 years ago
The LMP can certainly be ramped up to virtually any scale.

I designed this to be a low-cost project (under $10 in parts) that anyone with an Arduino and some electronics experience can build, and many of the special effect features are already designed in. You can see some from this demo video here:

matstermind qs5 years ago
what are those blue lights moving up the screen?
qs (author)  matstermind5 years ago
They're not really there - probably just refraction from the lens of the video.
matstermind qs5 years ago
frenetic qs5 years ago
This is my favorite:

Sorry but I'm new to programming, do you have a sketch of the actual text scroll code that I could learn from.
isen1055 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
dunnos isen1055 years ago
if I build something, ( like my current project arduino POV) i just build the hardware and then try and program the software. usually fun...
qs (author)  isen1055 years ago
You didn't say if you are direct addressing the 5x7 or through some sort of multiplexing or latch, it's hard to decide what information may be helpful. The first thing you should do is get data sheets from the people who sold you the parts. Then at least you know what questions to ask! Since I designed this circuit with scrolling in mind, the programming is quite simple, but may not apply to what your display requires.