Color-changing Shadowbox Light





Introduction: Color-changing Shadowbox Light

After the holidays, we ended up with an overage of unused shadowbox frames from Ikea. So, I decided to make a birthday present for my brother out of one of them.

The idea was to make a battery-powered, illuminating feature with his band's logo and name on it. This way, he could hang it up anywhere, without worrying about having to plug it in.

Step 1: Materials

The materials needed for this project include:
- Shadowbox frame (as I mentioned, Ikea has these for $8 apiece)
- Small piece of plexiglass
- Carriage bolts (4) (1 1/4" long I believe...)
- Nuts (4)
- Nylon spacers (4) (these are found in the specialty hardware at Lowes or Home Depot)
- Coin cell battery holders (2)
- Slow color-changing LEDs (4)
- 10 ohm resistor
- Wire
- SPST switch
- Frosted spray paint
- Silver spray paint
- Contact paper
- Hot glue

The tools used for this project included:
- Dremel tool with router bit
- Drill
- Razor and straight edge
- Soldering equipment
- Exacto knife

Step 2: Prep the Frame

Take the backing out of the frame, and decide how big a floating piece you want in it. Cut your plexiglass down to the size it will be, and dry fit it on the backing (mat board and all). Next, lay out where you'll want the bolts to be. I found it easier to just set the plexi on the four nylon spacers, and then mark their locations on the mat board.

You can now drill holes in the backing for the carriage bolts, and for the LED leads just inside each corner. Be sure to keep all layers of the backing (i.e. mat board, paper, backer board) alligned when drilling holes through them all.

The next part is tricky and frustrating. Set your plexi back over the nylon spacers, and mark where you'll drill holes for the carriage bolts. Then, CCCAAARRREEEFFFUUULLLLLLYYY drill holes in the plexi. The first time, I drilled the holes too small, and attempted to widen them with a larger drill bit. This sent 3 out of 4 corners of the plexi flying off, rendering the piece unuseable (after frosting it nonetheless... OUCH!!!) Just be sure the bit you're using is of adequate size for the carriage bolt. If it's too small, DON'T use a larger drill bit!!! You'll have to square the holes for the bolts anyways...

Drill/route a hole in the frame to accomodate the switch. If you solder leads onto the switch, you can go ahead and mount it to the frame and hot glue it on the inside.

Step 3: Wire It Up!

Start by soldering the two battery holders together, and then hot glue them to the back of the backer board.

Then, insert the LEDs into each of the four corners, and bend their leads out to either side to keep them from sliding in and out.

Since it would not be feasable to wire the LEDs in series, I wired them in parallel. Thus I wired the lead from the switch/10 ohm resistor to each of the positive leads on the LEDs. The other pole on the switch goes to the positive terminal on the battery pack. The negative terminal was then wired to each of the negative leads on the LEDs.

Once everything's wired up, test it to make sure it's working properly. This is also a good time to make any final adjustments to the angle of your LEDs before securing them. I pointed each one a little off of the nylon post diagonal from it, and aimed it slightly away from the mat board.

Step 4: The Feature

This is certainly the tricky and tedious part.

The holes on the plexi have to be squared off to accomodate the heads of the carriage bolts. The best way I found to do this was to use the Dremel tool with the 'multi-purpose' routing bit. Work a bit at each corner of each hole, and you should end up with an adequate square hole shortly. Test fit the bolt often, as it's always easier to take a bit more off than to put any back on.

Once the plexi is drilled and routed, spray both sides with the frosted spray paint. Use several coats, as the more frosted it is, the better it will diffuse the light.

On to the tedious... Print out a mirror image of whatever logo you want on the glass. Then, trace it onto your contact paper and cut it out with your exacto knife. Depending on how intricate a logo you choose, this could take a while...

Once the logo is cut out, stick it on the side of the plexi you want facing towards the back of the frame. This should look like a backwards picture of your logo. Proceed to put down several light coats of silver (or any reflective-colored) spray paint. I stress light coats here, because I ran into trouble with paint building up and running underneath my stencil. I then had to go and scrape out certain parts of the logo. This gave it a rough look which I kind of like, but could make a clean project real dirty, real quick. Another good idea (in hindsight) would be to mask off the front of the plexi, so it doesn't get any of the silver paint on it (which mine did). Let the paint dry thoroughly, and then remove the stencil. If all went well, you should have a nice logo on the backside of your plexi.

Step 5: Mount It Up!

Assemble the floating plexi onto the frame backing, and then close it up! I also put a dab of hot glue on the ends of the carriage bolts so they wouldn't scratch whatever wall they were on. Congrats, you now have your own portable mood lighting!

Find a nice place to mount it, step back, and take it all in. It's very calming, and could go good in a bedroom (nightlight), bathroom, dark hallway, or dungeon.

Thanks for checking this out! Enjoy, and have fun!



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    24 Discussions

    what kind of lightbulbs in terms of mcd/brightness did u guys use?

    hey finally got around to making my sign. i used  a vinyl cutout of a design that i made in photoshop and ran it through ac power seeing as how it will be on about 16 hours a day 7 days a week.  here is some pics and a pretty crappy vid (taken from my phone). all in all i must say a pretty easy

    1 reply

    I'm not too sure what amperage I used for the switch.  I just bought the first spst mini slide switches I found at Radio Shack.  You probably could use any rating, as 4 leds running off small batteries shouldn't give you any problems.  We've actually done a few more of these since, and we've found that the battery packs with built in switches work really well (like 4xAAs or 4xAAAs).  We also figured out a MUCH better way to do the graphic on the plexi.  We put a layer of painters tape on the entire plexi surface, then used spray adhesive to stick our graphic to the top of the tape.  Then just cut out your design with an exacto knife, peel up whatever you want painted, leave whatever you don't, and spraypaint.  Once it dries, you can easily peel up the remaining tape to reveal a nice, crisp graphic!

    1 reply

    Yea Im going to try and figure out how to run the 4 led off an ac power supply seeing as how this is going to be on for 14 hours a day 7 days a week (that would be just too many batteries to keep buying lol). I am taking my design to a place that does vinyl signs to have it done professionally seeing as how im doing it for my business and than laying it over the frosted plexi. If you know about running these things through ac and would like to give me some pointers it would be much appricated.

    This is awesome, in a band myself and was looking for something "different" from the standard logo and name on a sheet hanging somewhere near stage.  Think I'll upstage it to a 3x2 foot frame though!

    So I bought the color changing LEDs that Radio Shack have in stock and they have 4 wires sticking out the bottom instead of only 2. Can I use these? Do I only need to use 2 of the 4 or do I need to wire these differently (or get different LEDs) to get this to work?

    2 replies

    Yeah, those are the wrong kind I'm afraid.  They're RGB LEDs, but the color levels are controlled separately.  The four wires sticking out of the bottom are for the Red, Green, and Blue positive leads, and then one common negative lead.  The LEDs I used have a built in chip that causes them to automatically cycle through the different color patterns, so all I had to do was wire the two leads up to + and -.  I found a large pack of them on Ebay for relatively cheap.  You'll want to look for 'slow flash color change rgb LEDs' or something along those lines.  Something like this will work...

     Thanks for the link! Just got a pack off eBay! Last question... where does the resister go? From the instructions, it sounds like between the batteries and the switch... So the positive lead goes from batteries, to resister, to switch, to each LED, one after another. Right? And the negative lead just goes from the battery holders to each negative on the LED, one after another

    What would be even cooler, would be to hook it up to an arduino interface, and program the changing of the colors(ruquires special LED's) and maybe sync it with a song and play the song and the lights at the same time....that of course, would be very difficult, yet totally awesome..!!!!

    6 replies

    That isn't really that hard to do... What you are talking about is a light organ... That uses 3 SCRs, and a power source... plus a audio input.. a small mic. or a straight input jack... RCA, or a pair of screw terminals. A little bit of soldering is required... I did it a long time ago... I did it for under $10.00 and I made 2 with Christmas Tree lights too... That uses the same concept, just with ac, and a small transformer.

    ha...easy for you to me that sounded like military jargon...however, i trust that you know what your talking about...

    You can find a lot of the parts online, SCR... Silicone Controlled Rectifier... Although if you use LEDs then you will need some resistors and a bridge rectifier. That changes it from AC to DC, and the transformer steps it down from 110- X Volts.. X represents the voltage in a/c, and the rectifier which is just 4 diodes together to change the ac to dc. It sounds hard, but it is easy as baking a apple pie... Yes I can bake too.. lol...

    It is all basic electronics... A standard led is 1.2 v DC. vs a Christmas tree bulb is 110 v AC. Although with a transformer you can step the voltage down to 12 volts AC and a few pots to tune for the intensity of the light and the sensitivity of the colors.. 1 for each color on that string. So if you want 4 colors, then you need 4 pots. If you use LEDs then you have to get into a bridge rectifier, and then resistors... since you are pushing 12 VDC into a series of lights that only use 1.2v dc. So unless you are going to use a lot of them in a certain space say like 12, then you wont need to invoke ohms law into the situation. That is 12 for each color that you are doing... and the pattern that you want to do it with also... Simple as Pi... 3.1425

    Yes, the possibilities are wide open! I just used the flashing kind with built-in chips, but the four-pronged variety could definitely be used. You could use a chip to emulate patterns or even create a color fade effect! Great comment and ideas!

    Where do you get the colour changing LED, Im in Milwaukee, Wi and cant find them anywhere. I end up taking apart x-mas coulour changing the way the wife was not happy about that.....don't do what i did.

    1 reply

    You're most certainly a braver man than I... :D I found the LEDs on Ebay. If you search for 'rgb leds slow change', you should find plenty of sellers. I bought 50 for $10 + shipping. They also sell fast color-changing ones as well.