Driving two Nixie tubes with an Arduino via a shift register and two SN74141s.

Nixie tubes are really cool looking and are becoming quite popular for their 'retro' look. Although there are a number of tutorials out there on using nixie tubes and some nice pre-packaged units (see these nice ones from ogi lumen and ArduiNIX) I hadn't seen a simple tutorial on running them using a shift register like the SN74HC595. This would use the minimum number of Arduino pins as it can run as a serial device. Another nice addition is the use of the SN74141 BCD to decimal decoder/driver chip. This chip allows direct control of the Nixie tubes from the shift registers without the use of individual transistors for each numeral. An added benefit to using shift registers is that additional pairs of Nixie tubes can be added without using any more Arduino output pins. They just get daisy chained to the first set.

WARNING: Nixie tubes require a high voltage power supply, typically 150-180 volts. This is enough voltage to hurt you. Please make sure you know what you are doing.

Note: please let me know of any typos/errors/comments so I can continue to improve this Instructable.
I'd also appreciate it if you'd vote for me in the contest. Thanks.
owieman3 months ago

I am currently in the middle of making this little project. Looking at the schematic, where abouts do you actually ground the high voltage? On the 74141.. Is it Pin 12?

Also I found using 0.5 Watt 15K Resistor seems to do the job. Getting a steady 2.35mA which is just under the 2.5mA rating for a IN-12A tube. I set the potentiometer on the power supply to 170v (using the same Lumos one as you suggested)

blkadder4 months ago

For anyone who is looking to purchase these, the link posted is dead, but they can be found here:


Hope this helps.

Are you running the current limiting resistor in series ? meaning one side goes to the positive and one goes to the negative?

hi, how do you wire the ground? I have burned a couple of drivers and shift registers, I can't get it right!

Jaapio9 months ago

Awesome, I got my nixie working. I am going daisychain another shift register so I can control 4 tubes at once. :-)

lmperkins (author)  Jaapio9 months ago

Cool. Post a picture when you get it going.

MarkH31 year ago

Could you explain how you calculated the resistor you needed? I'm familiar with Ohm's law, but it seems that people are calculating the needed resistor based on the voltage drop as well, which I am less familiar with.

MarkH3 MarkH31 year ago

Based on what I've read around the web and that picture, I'd guess that the 4.7k resistor is insufficient to reduce current to the rated current of the nixie (~2.5 mA), which will likely cause the nixie to burn to too bright, reducing its lifespan significantly.

brmarcum1 year ago

I just got some tubes so this is something I will be doing.

lmperkins (author)  brmarcum1 year ago
Great! Post a photo when you are finished with the project!
JJM1011 year ago

Thanks! Great tutorial

tvan aken12 years ago
Where you got the nixie tubes?
lmperkins (author)  tvan aken12 years ago
I got them on eBay. See the link in step two.
Honus2 years ago
Very cool. I've been wanting to play around with some Nixie tubes and this is just what I needed- thanks!