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Controllable RGB LED system for your home or office

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Are the lights in your home or work space boring? Do you want to add a little energy or mood lighting to your room? This Instructable shows you how to create a controllable RGB LED array for use in your home or office. Your red, green, blue LED display will provide hours of enjoyment for you and your family as well as make you the envy of your tech friends!

This Instructable is based on two systems built by us, Brilldea, using products we designed. One system was built for our home and the other for our church. Check out the videos of the systems in action!

This is our living room LED system.


This is the LED system we created for Island ECC in Hong Kong.


You can discover our products at our web site: Brilldea.com
 
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Step 1: Planning the system

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All good RGB LED systems start with a bit of planning and forethought. This step is crucial in determining your engineering requirements for the system, such as power supply size and number of control channels, as well as how much the system will cost. And don't forget the artistic intent - planning will help you visualize the look of the system and how it will interact with your space.

1. First thing to figure out is the area where you want to add the LED lighting. You need to visualize where the LED system will be mounted and you should consider the LEDs, the controller(s), the power supply and related cables. The most important aspect of this step is to determine the area the LEDs will illuminate. Do you have a cove where you want to place the lighting? Can you rearrange furniture to make a gap for LEDs? Are you remodelling where you can plan a special place for your LEDs and associated hardware to be embedded in a wall or the floor?

Our living room system was built in between our Ikea book cases. The Island ECC system was designed while the room was being constructed so a special space was carved out for it such that the lights fit right within the walls.

2. Once you have an area picked out, the next thing to consider is how many LEDs you want to use to cover that area. There are several variables to consider. Will the LEDs project onto a translucent surface? Will the LEDs be viewed directly? How deep is the space where the LEDS are mounted? How translucent is your material that is being projected on? Do you want to illuminate shapes and patterns in the LED array? How bright do you want the light to be?

You will need to consider the size of each "pixel" in the system. For our systems we used our RGB LED Ribbon. This is a 10cm flexible printed circuit board with 3 RGB LEDs on it. The LEDs are wired in series so each strip operates on 12V DC. The LEDs are controlled as a group.

Each system we designed had different depths and different translucent material to project on. Your spacing and size will vary based on your location and budget. We used both a milky plexiglass and a corugated white plastic.

Our living room LED system used 32 pieces of the 10cm RGB LED Ribbon, 16 in each column. The Island ECC system used 48 pieces in each "window" and there were three windows.

3. Once you have determined the quantity of LEDs to install, then you can start planning the number of control channels for the system, the current for your power supply and the distribution of the wiring.

The following video shows the setup and testing of the Island ECC system. The video include notes on the components and it shows off the test routines used during assembly and installation.

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ygujarati3 months ago
time to start avnew project!!
jvan dalen1 year ago
On what kind of surface do you project the led light?
I'm not sure if I'm completely on the same page as far as controllers go. My band plays our live show to midi clock and were looking to purchase DMX controller software that would allow the programming of a live show to a strict timeline (the songs) while each song being triggered by a midi clock. Can I control this via DMX? If you point me in the right direction I can do the homework myself, I was just wondering if there is software that your using to program the lights in your video, or if this project might be compatible with DMX.
Brilldea (author)  neveroddoreven992 years ago
Thank you for the questions. I can certainly understand how this instructable has confused you regarding the controller. Thus far, we have mostly sold LED Painters or LED Painter II-8. These are the "muscle" of driving an LED system. But, to go with the "muscle" you need the "brains" that tell it what to do.

The LED Painter or LPII-8 do not directly accept DMX. They need a controller device to interpret the DMX or preprogrammed routines and then tell the "muscle" what to do.

So - in addition to LED Painter or LPII-8, you will need to have a controller. We have tinkered with several different designs, but haven't gotten anything solid to sell. Many of our users though have made their own controller using an Arduino or Propeller Platform or other microcontroller. I'd recommend using a Propeller to receive DMX-512A, and then have the Propeller control a chain of LED Painters or LPII-8.

We have created a library for the Arduino that uses the A6281 IC that is used in the LPII-8. But we haven't done any DMX work with Arduino. We see there are several people that have, however we haven't tested their code to say how well it works.
Thank you for the information! Yeah, sadly this is way out of my league. I know how to work with DMX operationally, but not functionally. If you know anyone who would be willing to tackle this for a somewhat reasonable price, we would be very interested.
Actually, one other question. I came across a message board topic created by T.D Sweiter (who on his website says he works with Billdea, which according to this instructable is you) in which he states that he's made a Propeller DMX receiver. Is that simply enough? If I'm using Elation's Compu Show, is it enough that I program a show, send it out to a Propeller/Arduino receiver and run it to you lighting rig from instructables? I keep reading of libraries and code, but everything I actually find seems to be completely hardware based. Would there be additional coding involved?
I am currently working on either an Arduino or PIC based DMX "interpreter" or "controller" that will be able to drive a chain of TLC5940s, or the Brilldia LED Painter, which is based on the same integrated circuits. I'll try to post back here when I have something working, but don't get your hopes up.

A few resources to look at is the Entec Open DMX controller
http://www.enttec.com/index.php?main_menu=Products&pn=70303&show=description

The Arduino TLC5940 library
http://www.arduino.cc/playground/Learning/TLC5940

and the tutorial from FreakLabs about receiving DMX with an Arduino

http://freaklabs.org/index.php/Tutorials/Software/Light-Sequencing-and-Decoding-DMX-with-an-Arudino.html

I believe one would be able to use the DMX receiving code and the TLC5940 library to control the Brilldia LED Painter, or a chain of TLC5940s.

Good Luck
Brilldea (author)  igutekunst2 years ago
I hope your project goes well! Overall, this is a simple project with the right software/hardware. I've sketched our something similar, but each time, for me at least, it came down to I didn't like a particular piece of hardware or software that I was building the system upon, so I would start down the road of creating my own and eventually I get distracted with other work.

Maybe it is time for me to resurrect my past efforts and get something piece together and working!
Brilldea (author)  neveroddoreven992 years ago
At the moment, there isn't a good off the shelf solution to go from straight DMX512-A to the LED Painter or LED Painter II-8. The Prop Blade was the product for this, but it was still too complicated and costly (and some of the components were becoming difficult to source, thus the reason we discontinued it).

Brilldea/me/T.D. Swieter have developed various libraries for the Propeller (and am working on Arduino Libraries) for DMX512-A receiving. We have also developed libraries for speaking with the LED Painter and the LED Painter II-8. It takes a bit of know-how in programming to point the code and arrays to each other and DIY electronics to marry the two together. Our goal was to cover this gap, but time has gotten away from us on other projects.

Ultimately, you are right, it should be as simple as you program your show and your system sends DMX and then there is hardware to receive the DMX and translate it to the LED Painter. If I can find time to focus on the Arduino DMX library (I know there are others out there, but I've not been comfortable with them) then it would be easy to publish one project that easily accomplishes all this.
EAS20133 years ago
Hello, I am new to LED's and electronics. I really want to build a project very similar to your bookshelf design. I watched your video and did some research but I am still slightly confused as to everything I need. If you could provide additional information on the subject, I will be ready for purchase of parts from you. Thank you for your time.
graffix EAS20133 years ago
I spent quite a bit of time and money dealing with these products and had no success as with other customers.I'd recommend looking else where.
Brilldea (author)  graffix3 years ago
Graffix - I'm sorry that you feel this way. We have provided constant support to our customers via e-mail and have seen many customers succesfully install and operate a system. Through feedback such as yours and others we have made improvements to the products to make the system easier to deploy, but so far the improvements have added cost and we are trying to balance that before we release any new products.
Brilldea (author)  EAS20133 years ago
EAS2013 - thanks for your feedback on our tutorial and your enthusiasm to build a system. This tutorial is a bit outdated as it uses our older products. We have had some new products developed, but thus far we are have only released the LED Painter II-8 on our web site. In addition to the LPII-8 you will need a controller and could use any microcontroller such as an Arduino, Propeller, Pic, etc. You will need knowledge though of electronics and writing software for the microcontroller you chose to hook everything together.
Hi I was wondering what your white column was made out of. I am working with led lights and i want to put them behind a medium like that that can make the lights seem less concentrated and more diffused.
I have always heard it refered to as corflute. I belive it is used in a lot of signs, especially the triangle shaped ones you find at intersections, it is also used in model aeroplanes
Hi, well I guessed a lot about the material. Finally I found the material but i'm not sure how it's exactly called in English. In German it's called "Stegplatte". Maybe you use a online dictionary: http://dict.leo.org/ende?lp=ende&p=CqhggsWkAA&search=Stegplatte&trestr=0x801 Results see link. I found the material at a German shop. They sell material for architects. Here is the link: http://www.modulor.de/shop/oxid.php/sid/7584872aa90343e5c4cd02b29bfd9495/cl/details/anid/AALA/listtype/search/searchparam/Stegplatte/sFilterFieldSet/ I ordered some example of this "translucent-version". It's very transparent. The first ones (450g/m2) are defintely not usable. The second version (1000g/m2) are little better. (looks more white). These should be better. Unfortunately the second order of examples with the white version did not arrive yet. I ordered an example of this. http://www.modulor.de/shop/oxid.php/sid/7584872aa90343e5c4cd02b29bfd9495/cl/details/anid/AALD/listtype/search/searchparam/Stegplatte/sFilterFieldSet/ As you can see it's possible to order rather big sheets of this material. Have fun
Brilldea (author)  dragonrage40004 years ago
dragonrage4000 - Honestly, I'm not sure what the material is called. It is like a corregated plastic of sorts. It is flimsy and flexible. I got these items as backings on a couple shelves from IKEA. I've seen this material in shops that make signs. You may want to check there or browse the isles of a home improvement store or hardware store to see if you can find something similar.
cookn5 years ago
I have successfully connected the arduino and led painter together and got amazing results even the i just have it doing random blinking right now but it is just as good as the prop blade and maybe harder to interface with dmx but it works in the end and im still working on the dmx part of the arduino.
Hi Cookn, could share how you successfully connect arduino and Led Painter? Have some simple test scketch to share? Im trying to connect with duemilanove but just get random on and off(colors) using the arduino tlc libary and the "BasicUse" sample sketch using tlcconfig.h configured with 3 tlcs.

Thanks in advance.
Brilldea (author)  cookn5 years ago
EXCELLENT!!! I am glad to hear that you have the Arduino and LED Painter working together. Do you have a web page or video of the two working together that you can share? I know there are other Arduino users out there who would like to learn from your experience. Also, do you think you could share your code as a demo or example? I could place it on the Brilldea site.
Jay Gutta3 years ago
I'm interested in constructing a sign for the outside of my business that's similar to the window displays you have created. My concern at the moment are the measurements and the amount of materials I will need to fill the space I'm working with. What and how much of each item would I need to fill a space 80cm x 140cm using the same spacing you've used for your displays? Also, being that this is going to be an outdoor unit, I also wanted to know if the USB prop plug is used without being connected to any computer or dmx controller? What I mean is, does it store the program I create on a computer and run that program separate? I'm also looking for easiest possible way of putting this unit together without too much constructing/soldering etc. Thank you.
Brilldea (author)  Jay Gutta3 years ago
Jay - thanks for the questions.  We haven't constructed any outdoor displays ourselves, but if you take the proper precautions to seal the enclosure and keep the electronics from getting wet, then you should be fine. 

We recommend that you look at our newest LED drive, the LED Painter II-8 (http://www.brilldea.com/product_LPII-8.html) as it is a fully assembled and tested product. The LPII-8 is a more robust product and is easier to implement in a new design.

At this time point we are trying to discontinue the Prop Blade in favor of a more robust controller we are designing.  You will have to stay tuned for this.

I'd recommend sketching out your design and sizes and then send an note to the Brilldea sales e-mail found on our web site.  We will try to assist better through that means of communication.  Thank you.
I have 80% of the assembly of a 48X3 RGB pane completed but need The Prop Blade Kit. I hope brilldea has some in stock soon.
Brilldea (author)  Clint Levinson3 years ago
Clint - I am sorry for such a slow response! We are trying to discontinue the Prop Blade in favor of a new controller we are working on. Just about any microcontroller platform can be used with the LED Painter such as the Propeller Platform by Gadget Gangster or the Propeller Protoboards from Parallax. If you prefer the Arduino, those will also work as a controller.
faxik3 years ago
I'm very inspired by your ideas and excited by them! I have a thing that is unclear to me and I'd be happy if you clarify this. Tell me please, did you fed TLC5940 12V and used 12V strips? Or did you fed 3V to the driver and cut strips to make them 3V or so? Thank you!
Brilldea (author)  faxik3 years ago
The LED Painter requires a voltage for the logic which powers the TLC5940 and a voltage for the LEDs. The logic voltage can be 3.3V or 5V and the LED voltage can be 12V, up to 17V I believe. We have a new product that is based on the A6281 IC and is much easier to use. The new product is called LED Painter II-8 (or LPII-8 for short). This product takes a single voltage from 5V to 17V DC. The logic signals to the board for populating the shift registers are 3.3V or 5V. You can check out the product here: http://www.brilldea.com/product_LPII-8.html Let me know if you have further questions.
rhiro19264 years ago
Does anyone know where I can buy the TLC5940 LED driver ICs?  I've had these on backorder with Mouser since September 2, 2009.  Over half a year later, still no ICs.  I checked Digikey, Allied, Newark...no one has stock.  All I get is the occasional email from Mouser saying when the new expected ship date is.  Does TI plan to ever make these again?  I've been anxious to try this project out, have Brilldea PCBs on hand, and have been patiently waiting to get these ICs.
Another option (which is definately in stock at Mouser) is the NXP PCA9635. Pros: I2C is a bit easier to write control firmware for than the TLC's custom protocol. Seems pretty easy to source Cons: Doesn't have built in current limiting like the TLCs do Maximum of 5 volts on the LED outputs Surface mount only Most of the cons can be worked around pretty cheaply (Resistors for each channel combined with two ULN2803s per channel) The SMD-only thing is a bit tougher - SparkFun's SSOP28 breakouts are a bit pricey at $4 each.
Brilldea (author)  rhiro19264 years ago
 I just now checked Mouser and it says they have 300+ ICs in stock.  Hopefully yours (and my) order will ship soon!  Keep your fingers crossed.
Thanks for the reply.  I almost canceled my order but decided to hang on.  I spoke with Mouser today and they told me my ICs are reserved and will ship out tomorrow.  I'm bummed I didn't get these ICs sooner (my project deadline passed months ago and I wound up going with a really lame approach out of desperation).  One small consolation is that Mouser kept upgrading my shipping to faster service for free for subsequent orders.  (Well, at least as long as I had this backorder still active.)
Brilldea (author)  rhiro19264 years ago
 We have had similar trouble sourcing the TLC5940.  At the moment I don't think the shortage is due to phasing out of the IC as TI would have announced that.  Rather over the past two years the stock/inventory levels of manufacturers and distributors has dwindle because IC were not being made as companies were conserving cash.  This is a general trend that I have seen several articles on.  The lack of the TLC5940 may be attributed to this trend.  I too have a backorder at Mouser and eagerly await shipping.  The last date I saw was last week to receive more units.
cabinet4 years ago
I think it's not proper to post here something. Bez I see the shortage of the TI's PWM LED Driver. I just to introduce our company to whom may be interesting about the LED Driver IC. www.my-semi.com I think the products will help you to solve problem.
graffix4 years ago
you have to open the prop blade driver with the propeller tool v1.2.7 to down load on to prop blade
wes3215 years ago
So I'm REALLY interested in making this really cool RGB LED system for my dorm room and was wondering before I spend lots and lots of money if these parts will be all I will need. I'm looking to make a single panel of 16 RGB LED Ribbons like what you have in this tutorial and sync it to music via the Prop Plug. Are these the parts needed to accomplish that or do I need more?

2x5 IDC Connectors

100 Feet 9 Conductor Flat Ribbon Cable

12V, 5A Power Supply

Prop Blade

Prop Plug

LED Painter

16 RGB LED Ribbon
Brilldea (author)  wes3215 years ago
Hi Wes321 - You are on the right track for parts. The IDCs you picked may be OK. You need to make sure they are 0.1" spacing and the web site does not say so. The Ribbon Cable you picked says it is 0.05" which is a finer pitch than you need and would not work with 0.1" connectors. Therefore you need to make sure you are buying 0.1" connectors and ribbon cable. The ribbon cable can be used for the connection between the Prop Blade and LED Painter, but you could also solder or make a connector with individual wires too. The Power Supply you picked would work, buy if you are only going to make a panel of 15 Ribbons than you can save some money by getting a power supply with less output. 9 to 12V DC is OK and for a small display with only 16 ribbons I have used a 1300mA "wall wart" that I got from Wal-mart. That supply was cheaper than what you pointed to, but worked well for a small display. Another thing you might want to consider is LED connectors. The LED Painter does not come with LED Connectors. Some people like to use LED Connectors while others solder wires directly to the LED Painter. Let me know if you have more questions.
wes321 Brilldea5 years ago
How's this power supply?

as for the ribbon cable, compatible IDC's and what do you mean by the LED Connectors?
Brilldea (author)  wes3215 years ago
I missed the power supply link - yes, that looks good for small displays.
wes321 Brilldea5 years ago
could you send me a link to ribbon, IDC's and LED connectors if you have any on hand it would be greatly appreciated.
graffix wes3214 years ago
how'd you make out with findn right parts?
Brilldea (author)  wes3215 years ago
The LED Painter comes without headers or connectors for attaching the LEDs. It is only the PCB with 0.1" spaced holes for soldering wires or a connector to. Because our customer's applications vary, we decided to not provide the 1x4 0.1" headers or connectors that takes the LED power and signals from the LED Painter to the RGB LED Ribbon.
wes321 Brilldea5 years ago
Sorry for the amount of messages I just really wanna buy this equipment before Christmas and Brilldea is going to be closing for the holiday soon.

Is this the connectors i need?

Iis this the other connector?

With this cable

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