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:


Step 1: Parts and Tools


The screen: I used 4 x 3 piece of scrap translucent white plastic. Velum from the paper department of your local art store works perfectly as well.

5 x 4 matboard frame with a 2" x 3" window: You can get a piece of black mat board cut to these dimensions in any framing store for a few bucks, or cut one yourself from suitable material, such as stiff black cardstock.

Battery case for 2 AA batteries w/ wire leads and power switch: These can be purchased online from Jameco, part #216120, and can likely be found at Digikey.com or Mouser.com as well. Similar battery holders can also found at Radio Shack, but you may have to solder a simple power switch into the circuit yourself.

3 RGB color-changing LEDs: I get these here: http://stores.ebay.com/Amigo-Of-China. Look for "5mm RGB LED Slow Colour Change." Make sure you get the clear ones, as the diffused ones don't work as well for this specific project (but you can do other cool things with them!) Everything on this store seems to come with free resistors, which you don't need for this project, but hey, free resistors.

2 butt splices: (tee hee... butt splices). These can be found at Radio Shack; something in the range of 18-20 gauge or thereabouts works well. I use the non-shrink-wrap-coated ones, but the coated ones should work fine. You can also get these from Jameco, part #494469, but the minimum order is 100.

Also shown in the picture: Glue Dots. These come with the kit, and are used as an alternative to hot glue to attach some parts together. These can be found in a craft supply shop (you should get the largest, tackiest (stickiest) ones they have), but a hot glue gun works just as well for these steps, and is nice to have anyway when it comes time to "customize" your LED artwork.

You will also need 2 AA batteries, and some scotch tape.

TOOLS (not shown)

Needle-nosed pliers

Wire clippers and strippers: these may be needed for cutting and trimming the wire leads on the battery case.

Scissors or similar cutting implement if you are going to cut your own screen or mat board.

Hot glue gun: As mentioned above, glue dots can be used instead of hot glue for attaching some parts, but the glue gun is useful for the optional (but highly recommended) step of customizing your artwork.

<p>I am in the process of making a version of this. I am having trouble with the LEDs changing colors. They all change at the same rate so they all start at red and so forth. How do you get them to be at different points in the color changing step?</p>
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.<br> <br> I wanted to make it myself but I was pressed for time so I purchased a few from&nbsp; <a href="http://www.makershed.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=MKKM2" rel="nofollow">Maker Shed</a>&nbsp; but actually ended up using one, and keeping the rest for future use.<br> <br> Here is a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_ivfmYrKcY" rel="nofollow">link</a> to what I made with it, forgive the shakiness, it's only 18 secs long. :))<br> <br> The rest of the project is <a href="http://www.nicoletteonate.com" rel="nofollow">here</a>.
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?
i really liked this project<br>maybe i will do it
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?
thank you
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.
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.
&nbsp;I love this idea, and I already ordered 50 slow changing led's for a larger scale project. &nbsp;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? &nbsp;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...<br />
What about making it mildly sound-reactive?&nbsp; Ahhh...&nbsp;&nbsp; I like..<br />
nice if the LEDs moves still nice idea
Cool, cool. Maybe going to try this myself, after the Moon Jar project. x)
If you have a spare diffuser from a lcd screen they work great!
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!!!
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.
Cool... yes there are all sorts of possibilities as far as how to distort or diffuse the LEDs. Glad it turned out good!
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.
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!
It seems that you are using LEDs that slowly change their color.
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
Simple but very cool, thanks!
I am feeling very creative now! thanks!
wow nice really simple project cool and with detailed instructions thx !!!
thanks :)
That frame looks really good.
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
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.
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.
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.

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