Picture of Framed Color Changing LED Art
This backlit framed LED Art piece displays an abstract, shifting pattern of colored light on a translucent screen. The projected image has a fluid-like quality; sort of like a solid-state lava lamp. The color-changing LEDs slowly cycle through combinations of red, green, and blue light, which interact to create endlessly evolving patterns. In low light, it casts a cool, eerie glow on its surroundings.

Here's a video of it in action. They're tricky to capture video of (particularly when using a cheap digital camera), but it gives you a rough idea:

This is an incredibly simple project to put together, thanks largely to the LEDs: I use RGB LEDs with color-changing circuitry built right into the package. You just provide power, and the LEDs cycle through red, green, blue, and various combinations thereof. One aspect of these LEDs is that the timing is slightly different in each one, so while they start out in sync, they quickly fall out of phase. I consider this a feature, not a flaw, as it results in the emergence of interesting, seemingly unpredictable patterns.

No soldering is required, just some crimping and a bit of hot glue.

The parts are easy to obtain online, but I also offer kits through Make Magazine's online store, the MakerShed, for $15:

This was what made my thesis sparkle. :) I am a graphic design student in NYC, and the kit really worked wonders for the companion poster for my book.

I wanted to make it myself but I was pressed for time so I purchased a few from  Maker Shed  but actually ended up using one, and keeping the rest for future use.

Here is a link to what I made with it, forgive the shakiness, it's only 18 secs long. :))

The rest of the project is here.
Several months ago I saw this project in either Popular Mechanics or Popular Science as a DIY for RadioShack and I'm pretty sure you are the same guy that wrote the how-to for the magazine. I'm glad I found the project here because I looked all over their site and couldn't find any mention of it and I wanted to see it in action before I make one. One question I have is that if I remember correctly, in the magazine article you used 4 prong common cathode LEDs and several capacitors so control the color change. Is there any benefit to that method over the one used here?
aessam14 years ago
i really liked this project
maybe i will do it
alpe_974 years ago
Wow. I wonder how to get all the leds to change at same time. Try sometime to hook them in parallel. i don't know. Well even before seeing this, i was going to make a huge one like a color mural. like 4 by 6 feet.... is there any instructables on that?
acerclup5 years ago
thank you
bdolge5 years ago
A small three sided box or lean-to made from copy paper can be taped to the back of the frame to reduce the stray light from the rear and enhance the show.
bdolge5 years ago
I used a slightly different procedure for the next few steps. 1:Bend Positive legs. 2:crimp positive legs. 3:crimp red wire. 4-6: repeat with negative legs/black wire This eliminates the chance of crossed wires. Also if you are worried about shorts between the butt connectors just wrap them in black electrical tape.
BenStep425 years ago
 I love this idea, and I already ordered 50 slow changing led's for a larger scale project.  I bought some color changing led's from radioshack before and it flashes through the colors twice then cuts off.... I guess my question is do these led's that I ordered from amigoofchina continuously change until the power supply is cut off or does it cycle for 30 seconds and cut off?  Great tutorial
Normally, color changing LEDs will cycle on thier preset pattern until they are cut off from a power source. I've never seen one that turns off from a timer...
Lubrijerm5 years ago
What about making it mildly sound-reactive?  Ahhh...   I like..
jam BD6 years ago
nice if the LEDs moves still nice idea
iMerry6 years ago
Cool, cool. Maybe going to try this myself, after the Moon Jar project. x)
mdgnys6 years ago
If you have a spare diffuser from a lcd screen they work great!
General FOL6 years ago
Love this project, am making one myself, but built in to a box rather than with a frame.
i made one for a friend of mines b-day,and she loved it thanks!!!
damoos6 years ago
I just finished making this project. I diffused the leds with 400 grit sandpaper instead of glue. It's a very cool effect. Thanks for this.
obeyken (author)  damoos6 years ago
Cool... yes there are all sorts of possibilities as far as how to distort or diffuse the LEDs. Glad it turned out good!
gibandy6 years ago
This is nifty. I just went to Radio Shack and bought the parts to make this. Unfortunately, my LED's wont blink, so my framed LED art wont be changing color for now- phooey. They only had 2 multi color leds in stock; perhaps both are defective? Anyhoot, this is my first attempt at playing with this kind of thing and I thank you for making the directions so well. I actually learned a lot with this instructable. Hats off! PS. I'll post a pic of my finished product once it's publishable.
obeyken (author)  gibandy6 years ago
Wel, the LEDs I used are somewhat unusual in that they have the color-changing circuitry built right into them... all you need to do is supply 3V. I don't believe Radio Shack carries such LEDs, so you probably ended up with multi-color LEDs that provide leads for each color but you have to supply the color-changing circuitry yourself. Sorry if this wasn't clear! Search around ebay for "amigoofchina" and look for "slow color change leds" (I detail this out in the instructions). Best of luck!
0_Nvd_06 years ago
It seems that you are using LEDs that slowly change their color.
pyrocop16 years ago
I thinking a broke flat screen monitor, that would be cool on a larger scale. I might need to radio down to Mr. Scott for more power thou
ondadiluce6 years ago
Simple but very cool, thanks!
I am feeling very creative now! thanks!
geoper26 years ago
wow nice really simple project cool and with detailed instructions thx !!!
obeyken (author)  geoper26 years ago
thanks :)
omnibot6 years ago
That frame looks really good.
obeyken (author)  omnibot6 years ago
monterto6 years ago
I like this idea but there is so much potential for awesome here.... I'm going to try this with a motorized prism to see if i can get some cool effects
obeyken (author)  monterto6 years ago
Sounds cool... post some pics! I think there are a lot of possibilities, as far as different ways to distort and interfere w/ the light emitted from the LEDs.
cyrozap6 years ago
I bet you could do this (a lot more complexly) with a microcontroller. It would allow for so much more control. I think your simple idea would be better, though, because everyone can do this.
obeyken (author)  cyrozap6 years ago
You definitely could! with a micro you could precisely control the patterns however you like. With this project, you're stuck with the pre-set pattern in the LEDs. But yes simple can be good, and I like to use my laziness to my advantage... it fun to try to get a coolest possible effect with the least complexity.
cyrozap6 years ago