When the robot overlords take over, they'll need to use our etch-a-sketches. Here's how to let a computer draw vector art using your favorite childhood toy.

**I'm going through and finishing a slew of old instructables I never published. I think I made this one sometime last year. Enjoy!

So, there I was, skipping class at MIT and hanging out at my favorite machine shop. While I was sitting in my favorite comfy chair, a flash of red shining from beneath a pile of books caught my eye.
"Aha!", I said, "What could that be?"
Further excavation yielded a classic red etch-a-sketch, perfectly preserved since Steve Cooke left it there twenty years ago.
I thought to myself, "I hold in my hands a perfect basis for a computer-controller vector drawer"

A maniacal grin crept across my face as I felt my plan grow to fruition inside my mind.

This, my friends, is the true story, complete with instructive pictures, of how a person such as yourself built a computer controlled etch a sketch. Sure, it's been done before. Now you can do it, too.

So, what are you waiting for? Skip a class and go build something!

Step 1: Overview

Picture of overview
The general idea is this:
you're going to take an etch-a-sketch, pry off the knobs, put motors where the knobs once were, and then build a circuit that lets you control the motion of the etch-a-sketch from a computer
Bobey2 years ago
Operation to the echa sketch
would it be possible for you to mod an old printer one that runs on guide polls in order to virtually print things onto an etch a sketch... black and white images for example?
prank (author)  DavidWalsh109207 years ago
Do you mean that I'd print to the printer, but it would send the image to the etch-a-sketch instead? If I was going to do that, I wouldn't bother with a printer--I'd just write my own 'print driver' and send commands directly from a computer to the etch a sketch. There's a more fundamental problem, however, which is that an etch-a-sketch is a vector printer, not a raster printer. What that means is that etch-a-sketches are great at drawing paths, but not going through a drawing and saying "let's color this pixel white, the next pixel white, and the next one black." If you could modify and etch-a-sketch so that you could lift up the pen, it would be both much cooler as a vector drawer, and it would also be possible to use it to print images.
srilyk prank5 years ago
You know, you could probably take apart an etch-a-sketch and add a 3rd motor or servo or actuator or something that would lift the glass up and down. Although that aluminum dust gets over EVERYTHING! (I'd recommend respiratory protection)
I didn't just mean mod the printer i also meant to mod the printer drivers so it would understand printing constant line through vectors, and to not break the line and to stay on that track instead of printing line by line.
prank (author)  DavidWalsh109207 years ago
Well, there's not much similarity between vector and raster printers, so you might be better off writing your printer driver from scratch, especially since many drivers I know aren't open source. Writing a program in processing that would take a vector file and output the right set of serial command to the etch-a-sketch would be pretty easy.
long before windows i had a vector(called a plot ) printer that used inkpens .4 foot wide 12 foot long bed have to print each color one at a time ( then change the pen ) it was run from a BASIC program mostly had to do with PEEK/POKE commands .it would lift the pen but didn't have too. could make wonderful Blueprints,the hard part was the system running it did not have a VGA monitor altho did have a mouse think about how good that works
a mouse with out a monitor? that reminds me of the stupid keyboard error. "KEYBOARD NOT FOUND PRESS F12 TO CONTINUE" or some such nonsense.
the mouse lives on a large board on the front it has a little clear plastic tab with a crosshair. one corrner of the board is a "home "positition click that then click the icon wanting to input . if the mouse gets lost then take it to home , and it does. this was used to write fanuc programs to can for a cnc lathe. Fanuc is very close to basic type program using commands like basic peek/poke
oh that's cool, I'd never heard of that.
Thank you for the clarification.
H3xx prank6 years ago
Speaking of this, I'd like to see some one use this instructable to make a laser etching system, using a dvd burner diode and the etch a sketch guts. I'd like to do it my self, but I'm putting the idea out there cause I'm strapped for cash and parts.
trumpkin6 years ago
where is the ground from the motor battery supposed to go?
trumpkin7 years ago
would the pullup resistors be a different value if you used deifferent motors?
trumpkin7 years ago
so pin 1, 16, and 9 are all connected to 5 volts?
prank (author)  trumpkin7 years ago
balisticjoe7 years ago
I am in the process of doing something like this but making it r/c hopefully being able to make circles.
bennor37 years ago
A_squared7 years ago
If it were to draw boobs.... Would they still turn out square?
prank (author)  A_squared7 years ago
is this some sort of zen koan?
stasterisk7 years ago
4 C-cells to get 6V, or for life, liberty and the pursuit of amps?
prank (author)  stasterisk7 years ago
wey-all, them amps don't hurt much, but dem L-293s need at least 6V on the power side to work well. Ja coulda useda four AAs, but dey'd just do dead fasta
stasterisk7 years ago
L293D! Whee! Hey, were we ripping apart atoms before hair-chopping, or was that buzzer just really loud?
bkopke7 years ago
I built one at work a few years ago to test some code for an X-Y table we were retrofitting. I used stepper motors and a Trio CNC controller, a bit of overkill I know, but it worked pretty good. All of the parts eventually got donated to other projects after the fun wore off. I like the bracket you made for your motors; far superior to the jack leg job I did on mine:-) B.
dillweed7 years ago
i heart mars.
prank (author)  dillweed7 years ago
In a way, I think of mars as my mother. The way where I have a life-sized Mars doll I hug before going to sleep every night. On Saturdays, I dress up the doll in floral gowns!
ll.137 years ago
I love those things, they're just plain awesome!
Crash21087 years ago
Awesome! It's pretty ironic that you post this now; my math theory professor was (for some reason or another) talking about automated etch-a-sketches at the end of last year.... I'm surprised I didn't get to see your etch-a-sketch when I visited MITERS a few weekends ago... I'll just have to ask Star to show me it next time I visit ;-) +!
prank (author)  T3h_Muffinator7 years ago
I'm not sure if it's still around miters. I wouldn't be surprised if it's been put to other uses by now.