Introduction: Glowing LED Stickman Costume
This is a costume my son, Connor, and I made for Halloween last year. This is his own original idea, I just helped him to build it. During the day the costume is less impressive, but at night it is amazing! He could be seen from a block away. You could hear people yelling "wow look at that" when they saw us. I have never seen as great a reaction to any other costumes. If you make this be prepared to answer, "where did you get that" and "how did you make it" all night long. A few kids from his school remembered it from the day and recognized the lights a block away and yelled "hey look there's Connor". (video link: https://youtu.be/r9O-3B7NaGY)
Step 1: Acquire Materials
- 182 inches of xx Clear Tubing (~$12, Hardware or Home Supply Store)
- 1-set 3d printed brackets (~$1, print it yourself, or get you local library to print it)
download from: my original thingiverse thing:520102
- 11x - "M5-0.80 X 8MM Button Head CAP Screw" (~$2, ebay, I like http://stores.ebay.com/afhfasteners/)
- 11x - "M5 Nut" (~$2, ebay same store)
- 1x - "8 AA 12v Battery Holder" (~$1, ebay)
- 1x - "Mini 12V 12A 3Key Controller Dimmer for RGB 5050 3528 LED Flexible Strip Light" (~$4, ebay)
- 1x - "5M 5050 RGB 12V 150 SMD LED Strip Light" (~$6, ebay)
- 1x - "10/20 Sets 2 Pin Male & Female Jack Plug Socket Lead Wire Connector Power Cable" ($2, ebay)
- ~6 inches heat shrink (20¢, your parts box)
- ~2f of 24 gage or similar hookup wire (20 ¢, look in your junk box)
- ~4ft - Clear Packing Tape
- 8x AA batteries to power the LED's. We use rechargeable "Eneloop" and they lasted the whole day without any noticeable dimming. ($4-$20 depending on what brand and type. I think the rechargeable ones are worth the money.)
- Old Suspenders, belts or elastic straps
- Soldering Iron/ Solder
- Wire Cutters / Wire Stripper
- Allen Wrench or screwdriver for cap screws above
- Heavy Duty Scissors (to cut tubing)
Step 2: Wire Power Supply
Solder the battery pack wires (red to red, black to black) to one end of the connector. (Note that the connector is not required, but is nice for quickly connecting/disconnecting and transporting the costume.) If you rely on the 4-pin LED connector it will begin to fail (make bad connections) over time, and is easy to lose or come loose. Try finding that little part outside at night! (Notice that later I recommend taping that connection joint with tape.)
Step 3: Test the Electronics
The LED strips usually come on a roll and have a 4-pin female connector at each end. Look carefully when you open it because the LED strips also come with one (maybe two) 4-pin male/male connectors. You use these to join strips together, but we will use it to join the LED controller to the LED strip.
Don't cut the LED's yet, but plan ahead. We arranged the cutting so that the body segment would have one of the two connectors to power the costume, and the right arm would have another that we could use to power a LED sword we built with LED scraps.
- Plug the AA battery adapter into the LED controller (our connectors have a latch to keep this connection from bouncing loose during the night).
- Install the batteries (if you did everything correctly, you should not have a short, and the whole thing will not heat up. If it does heat up, go back and check your work).
- Plug the output of the controller into the long LED strip using the male/male connector mentioned above. (there are two ways you can plug it; one will work and one will not. If it doesn't work just flip the plug and try again. No danger in plugging it backwards).
- You should be able to light it red, green, or blue (sometimes one color will be missing, or combined with another. If you can make pure red, green, blue then you have the wiring correct. It is easy to short the traces on the LED strip such that red+green are combined. Debug and fix this as soon as you notice it)
- Try various buttons on the controller. The LEDS should be doing something fun!
At this point I use a sharpie to mark both the controller and the LED strip so we will know the polarity. Once the costume is finished I use clear packing tape to preserve this connection. It is easy to come apart and if you loose that little male/male connector you are in trouble.
Now that you know the electronics work you can safely proceed to cutting/soldering. During that process I test often to make sure everything still works. It is easy to lose a connection on one of the wires (say red) and have the color of one arm not match the other.
Step 4: Measure/Cut LED Strips
You can cut LED strips with scissors. When cutting the 12v RGB strips make sure you only cut at the marked locations (which are approximately every 4 inches). Make sure you cut across the middle of the copper connection points. You will be soldering to them later and if you don't cut exactly in the middle you may have trouble soldering to the tiny traces behind the copper pads.
You will need to cut the following lengths (you may want to size up or down depending on the size of the wearer) I recommend making the legs last in case you need to shorten them because you used too much on the arms or head.
- 2x - Arms (~27 inches each)
- 1x - Body (~12 or ~16 inches)
- 1x - Head (~28 or ~32 inches)
- 1x - Neck (~4 inches)
- 2x - Legs (~38 inches each, or shorter)
Step 5: Cut and Straighten Tubing
I cut each piece of tubing to fit a matching LED strip. I cut them slightly longer then trim them as needed. Later when you try and clamp the tubing you will need to make sure the tubing is long enough that it fits snugly in the plastic clamps.
The tubing I bought was tightly coiled and remembered this shape after we cut it. (My son was in charge of measuring, cutting and straightening). We used a pot of boiling water and dropped each piece in for a couple of minutes. We then removed the tubing from the pot with tongs and stretched it straight while it cooled.
Step 6: Prepare 4x 3-way Connector Wires
- (4x) Cut wire to approximately 2 1/4 inches.
- (4x) Strip 1/2 inch from one end.
- (4x) Holding the other end with pliers start stripping the remaining insulation half way and slide it toward the exposed end. Do not remove it.
- (4x) Holding the exposed middle with pliers slide the remaining end to expose ~1/8 inch.
- (4x) Fold each piece tightly in the middle.
This makes an easy 3-way wire jumper. At this point I tin each end of the wires to prepare for solder to the LED strips.
Step 7: Solder Leg Joints
I start with the torso strip (but any should work).
- Tin the ends of the LED strip.
- Solder the 3-way wires from the previous step, one at a time as shown.
(Note that color doesn't matter, but I tried to follow a standard even though my 4 wire colors did not match the LED colors).
Pay careful attention when soldering these to avoid shorting any of the traces on the LED strips.
Shorting between 2 colors will cause them both to light no matter which is selected, but shorting the green to the +12V can damage your controller when you power the LED strips.
Attach Left Leg
After I have soldered all 4 wires to the torso I solder the left leg next. Be sure to match the correct traces on the LED strips. (sometimes you can flip the leg ends to make the sequence easier to connect)
Attach Right Leg
This is where I power the costume. I leave the power connector attached to the LED strip used for the right leg. This is the hardest solder joint (x4) in the entire suit. You will need to solder your 3-way wire on top of the power connector wires.
- Start by carefully removing the shrink wrap covering the power connection on the LED strip,
- Slit the white sheath covering the power wires about 3/8" to allow you room to work and reconnect the power wires if them come disconnected while you solder on top of them. (Be careful and only slit as much as you need because you will clamp this power cable along with the tubing at the right leg joint).
- One at a time connect the (4x) 3-way wires.
Again, be very careful about solder shorts, and inspect your work before proceeding to testing.
The costume is very delicate at this point. Be careful moving it because only your solder joints are holding it together.
Once you are sure the joints are good, test the system by plugging the power supply into the connector at the joint. You should be able to light all 3 segments red, green, and blue. If not go back and debug your connections, repairing as needed.
Step 8: Clamp Leg Joint Tubing Into Plastic Frame
- Start by aligning the belt clamp back on the table like an inverted 'Y'.
- Place (3x) 5mm nuts into the slots on the back of this clamp.
- Slide the torso tubing onto the torso (shorter) LED segment. (pictured above, the next steps will not have pictures because I'm out of hands)
- (Be careful to avoid stressing the solder joints)
- Slide the tubing onto the left (non-power) leg next.
- Slide the tubing onto the right (power) leg last.
- Bring the power cable out parallel to the right leg tube.
- (Make sure you slide the tubing as far as you can so the clamp gets a good bite onto each tube.
- Add the belt top (paying attention to the orientation) along with 3x 5mm screws. Tighten the screws until all tubes are secure. (Mine are tightened all the way).
Step 9: Prepare 4-way Wires
These are similar to making the 3-way wires, but they have one more connection point.
- (4x) Cut wire to approximately 4 1/2 inches.
- (4x) Strip 3/4 inch from one end.
- (4x) holding the other end with pliers start stripping the remaining insulation one inch from the end and slide it toward the exposed end. Do not remove it.
- (4x) move back 1 inch and repeat forming a second middle connection point.
- (4x) holding the 2nd exposed section with pliers slide the remaining insulation toward the middle to expose ~1/8 inch.
- (4x) fold each piece tightly at each of the middle exposed segments making a "z" shape.
This makes an easy 4-way wire jumper. At this point I tin each end of the wires to prepare for solder to the LED strips.
Step 10: Solder Arm Joints
At this point the torso tube should be cut just to the end of the torso LED strip.
- (4x) solder one end of the "z" 4-way wire to the LED strip in the body tube.
- (4x) solder the next segment of each "z" to the left arm LED strip
- (4x) solder the next segment of each "z" to the neck LED segment
- (4x) solder the final end of each "z" to the right arm LED strip.
Inspect the solder work and test the LEDs. all segments should light and all color modes. If not go back and debug until you find/fix the problem.
Step 11: Clamp Arm Join Tubing Into Plastic
Similar to step-8
- Align the plastic arm/neck joint back on a table.
- Insert the 4 nuts behind the plastic. (use cellophane tape to hold them in place if needed)
- Align the body LED tube out the bottom of the clamp. (hold in place)
- Carefully slide the left arm tubing all the way up to the wire joints. Align this on the clamp. (hold in place)
- Carefully slide the right arm tubing all the way up to the wire joints. Align this on the clamp. (hold in place)
- Align the neck LEDs (no tubing) along the neck plastic.
- Place the front plastic clamp over all 3 tubes making sure each is push far enough in to have some bite within the clamp.
- Add the 4 5mm screws and tighten.
Retest the that all LED segments light correctly and that you have not broken any connections while clamping.
Step 12: Solder Head/Neck Joint
(similar to step 10)
- prepare 4x 1-inch jumper wires. (1/8" stripped and tinned on each end)
- (4x) solder wires to the 4 contacts at the top of the neck LED segment
- (4x) solder wires to the 4 contacts on one end of the head LED segment. (pick the end with the best contacts)
Test that all the LED segments light in all color modes. If not go back and debug/correct.
Step 13: Clamp Head Tubing Into Plastic Frame
This is the easiest of all the clamp joints.
- Remove the backing from the neck LED segment. The LED strip should be sticky and will stick to the plastic neck.
- Align the neck clamp plastic flat on the table (the entire costume is now connected to this clamp) and insert the 4 head nuts into the plastic (use cellophane tape to hold in place if needed).
- Carefully slide the head tubing over the head LED strip (this tubing might still have a slight bend).
- Orient the head tube (twisting if needed) so that the head stands nicely above the neck (i.e; doesn't flop forward or backwards).
- Place the front clamp piece with 4 screws over the head tube ends and tighten the 4 screws.
Test that all LED segments still work in all color modes. Debug/fix if needed.
Step 14: Add Straps to Support Lights on Wearer
The plastic frames are designed to allow two shoulder straps to support the top bracket and a belt to support the waist bracket. I used an old pair of suspenders along with a belt (you can buy similar suspenders at Walmart for $6).
As a final step, I used clear packing tape to secure the tubing to the front of the wearer's legs and arms.
Step 15: Powering It Up and Using the LED Controller
We designed this with safety in mind. The 12 volts is not a high enough voltage to shock you even if you get wet while wearing the costume. It is possible for a short circuit to cause part of the costume to get hot and possible burn you. So be careful when making the connections and clamp them securely into the plastic frame. In the event of a short circuit, part of the costume will dim or go dark.
Usually if part or all goes dark it means a wire has come "open" (disconnected). You will need to trace the connections to find the problem. If the costume dims or you feel any part getting hot you should unplug the power connection (or remove the batteries). This is very unlikely, but possible so use common sense and be safe.
I left enough wire length on the power cable so that the battery pack could be placed in a pocket.
The controller has several pre-programmed color sequences and brightnesses. The two buttons cycle between the sequences. We like some colors solid, or the fast-blink white which really gets everyone's attention.