Introduction: Laser Spirograph

Picture of Laser Spirograph

Break out your Pink Floyd albums, because it is time for you to have your own personal laser show. In fact, it cannot be stressed enough just how much "awesome" you are getting out of such an easy to build device. Watching the patterns spiral out of this little box onto a large wall is much more mesmerizing than it really has any right to be. Most people of the people form whom I demonstrated this for have agreed that they could probably watch the laser patterns dance all day without getting board. I can only imagine how your cat might respond. There is only one way for you to find out! You're going to have to build one.

Step 1: Go Get Stuff

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You will need:

- (x4) Paint storage cups
- (x3) 1" round mirrors
- Project Enclosure (7x5x3") (Model: 270-1807 | Catalog #: 270-1807)
- (x3) 1.5-3VDC Metal Gear Motor (Model: 273-258 | Catalog #: 273-258)
- (x3) 25-Ohm 3-Watt Rheostat (Model: 271-265 | Catalog #: 271-265)
- Pen-Style Laser Pointer (No model information available | Catalog #: 63-1064)
- DPDT Submini Toggle Switch (Model: 275-614 | Catalog #: 275-614)
- Enclosed 2 "AA" Battery Holder (Model: 270-408 | Catalog #: 270-408)
- 2 "AAA" Battery Holder (Model: 270-398 | Catalog #: 270-398)
- (x3) Hexagonal Control Knob with Aluminum Insert (Model: 274-415 | Catalog #: 274-415)
- Enercell® "AA" Alkaline Batteries (4-Pack) (Model: AA-4PK | Catalog #: 23-849)
- Enercell® "AAA" Alkaline Batteries (4-Pack) (Model: AAA 4-PK | Catalog #: 23-850)
- Assorted short zip ties

Step 2: Mark

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Lay a motor flat on top of one of the paint storage cup lide. Make two marks on each side of the motor.

Repeat for the remaining two pairs of motors and cups.

Step 3: Drill

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Drill through all of the marks that you have just made with a 1/8" drill bit.

Step 4: Zip Tie

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Using the holes that you have just drilled, firmly zip tie the motors to the paint cup lids such that the gears stick out over the edge of the cup.

Step 5: Attach Mirrors

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Hot glue the mirrors to the center of each of the motor's gear. Try to center the mirror, but don't worry about getting it completely perfect. It is these minor imperfections that will later help form the spirograph's unique display.

Step 6: Attach Wires

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Solder a red wire to the terminal of the motor labeled "+" and black wire to the terminal labeled "-".

Step 7: Insert

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Hot glue the motors into the center of the case such that two are side by side and one is opposite and centered between them. Basically, the laser will later need to bounce between them in a zig-zag. That said, it helps to have this entire arrangement turned at a slight angle within the case.

Step 8: Take Apart

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Using two pair of pliers, gently twist and wobble the silver laser diode head (and board) free from the laser pen's black casing.

Step 9: Wires

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Cut 6" of red wire. Expose 1" of this wire and wrap it around the gold ring on the laser diode assembly's body and solder the ring closed to make contact

Carefully solder a 6" black wire to the right terminal of a small surface mount component (assuming the two surface mount transistors are pointing up) on the side of the board opposite the switch to bypass having to press the switch to activate the laser.

Step 10: Pots

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Solder 6" red wires the right terminal lug of the 25 ohm rheostat potentiometers.

Solder the red motor wires to the center terminals of each potentiometer, such that it is one motor to one potentiometer.

Step 11: Switch

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Solder a red wire from either of the battery holders to one of the center pins on the switch. Solder the other red wire from the other battery holder to the adjacent pin.

Next, solder the three free red wires from the potentiometers to one of the outer pins adjacent to the red wire from the AA battery holder.

Finally, solder the red wire from the laser adjacent to the red wires from the potentiometers.

Step 12: Ground Wires

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Solder the black wire from the laser to the black wire from the AAA battery holder.

Solder the black wires from the motors to the black wire from the AA battery holder.

Step 13: Cut

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Saw away a 2" - 3" section of the case where you are expecting the red laser to pass through after it bounces off the final mirror.

Step 14: Drill

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On one side of the lid, make three equally space marks at 1.25", 2.5" and 3.75".

Drill through these marks with a 3/8" drill bit.

Consider making secondary 1/8" holes for the potentiometer mounting tab roughly 3/16" to the left of each hole. These will allow the potentiometer to lay flat and keep it from spinning once mounted in the case.

Step 15: Mount

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Insert your potentiometers into the case and firmly secure them in place with their mounting nut.

Step 16: Batteries

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Insert batteries into the battery holder. You should now be able to turn everything on and off using the switch.

Step 17: Switch

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Drill a 1/4" hole on the side of the case where you expect your potentiometers to be (ideally opposite from where you sawed away a section of the case).

Mount the power switch into this hole.

Step 18: Position and Glue

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Hot glue the laser the top of the remaining paint storage cup.

Position it inside the case such that is will bounce off all three mirrors and then pass through the section of the casing that you have cut away.

Once you are happy with its position, glue the cup in place inside the casing.

Step 19: Fine Tune

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Stick your hand or a piece of paper in front of the hole in the side of the case. Swivel the motors and the laser until the image appears centered.

If it is hitting the side walls of the case, you may want to consider widening the hole.

Step 20: Clean It Up

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Zip ties all of the wires neatly together so that when you close the case they won't be going all over the place and can't interfere with the motors spinning or the laser beam shining.

Secure the battery holders inside of the case.

Step 21: Case Closed

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Put the lid onto the case and secure it in place with the mounting screws.

Step 22: Finishing Touch

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Affix your pointer knobs to the potentiometers.


ledrac made it! (author)2011-07-13

I built my first Instructable! This was a cool project, I have to adjust the position of my mirrors a little bit because the beam going out of the box is just touching one of the paint cups, but other than that it was a success!

randofo (author)ledrac2011-07-13

Very cool! Thanks for giving it a try. Looking great.

ledrac made it! (author)2011-07-13

Here are some pics of the light show.

SngS made it! (author)2017-12-05

Hello, I tried to create this spirograph but it does not seem to work. Please help me out!
Anyway, my rheostat potentiometer is 25Ohms 5W, my DC motors are at most 5V (I tried with 9V ones which explains the difference in the sizes in the photos), my Energiser batteries are around 1.5V and my laser light is taken from a pen (looks so different from yours).
Your help is really much appreciated!

randofo (author)SngS2017-12-06

What is not working?

SngS (author)randofo2017-12-06

I am not sure if my laser pointer is soldered correctly (at least for my case) and my motors do not run at all.

randofo (author)SngS2017-12-06

Try giving the motors 4.5V - 6V and see if they run.

SympanS (author)2017-11-15

Hello, first of all interesting project!

Secondly.. What is I use a 9V battery(or 2) instead of the AAA?

Then is there any problem or difference if I use 20 Kohm pots? This is only because I have them available so I can spend less :))

randofo (author)SympanS2017-12-01

Yes. Motors are rated at different voltages. 1 AAA battery is equal to 1.5V. When you put two in series it is equal to 3V.

A 9V battery is triple that amount. Two 9V batteries is 18V, which is way too much.

Besides, 9V batteries give you a higher voltage (which is not what you want in this case), but A-series batteries typically provide more current over time.

A 20K (20,000) ohm pot won't work. Anything more than 20-30 ohms will not work.

jordomaller (author)2014-09-04

is there a way to private chat on instructables I have a few questions

elkaddalek (author)2014-02-19

Do you have an instructable for making a flat scanning laser effect?

djmelvinv (author)elkaddalek2014-05-12

hi. in an old laser printer you will.find a hexagonal mirrored motor. point a laser pen on it and you have your scanning effect.

elkaddalek (author)djmelvinv2014-05-15

I found you can also make the same effect using a small spinning cube with glued hobby mirrors on it :)

djmelvinv (author)djmelvinv2014-05-12

oh by the way donot used the laser from the printer itself it has also dangerous.infrared radiation. but about the motor type on the internet 'laserprinter mirror motor' and then images. you will fimd plenty of diy projects.

charlie-lee-rhee (author)2014-03-28

my box vibrates like hell. what do i do? i alreadt lifted the motor a bit, and put softeners around everything...

Nealius_Maximus (author)2014-01-24

I work at Radioshack and I am reluctant to use one of our laser pointers for this project because I know I could find something better somewhere else. However I don't need anything expensive and I want to be sure it will work for this project. Does anyone have any suggestions for a good green or blue laser to use in this project? Model number or SKU would be nice, thanks.

shaddoty (author)2013-04-30

Im working on a sound activated version by replacing one of the motors with a speaker and hooking it up to a microphone and an amplifier.

mguima (author)2012-11-19

when I saw the paint storage cup I started wondering about how it would be used. Even a block of wood could be used for the same function.

randofo (author)mguima2012-11-19

The nice thing about using the cup is that the lids rotate and this allows for fine-tuned positioning of mirror alignment.

ananda1 (author)2012-09-27

How would one integrate a spirograph into a party SAFELY? Would you aim it at the air, a wall, the ground? Lawyers are expensive.

randofo (author)ananda12012-09-27

I'm not a lawyer. I can't answer this question. ...but - perhaps - if you have to ask someone this question, you shouldn't do it.

Wamafibglop (author)2012-08-29

The DPDT toggle switch I have, has two "on" settings I think. One for one load one for the other. Is it possible to use this in this circuit? This is the switch I got:

randofo (author)Wamafibglop2012-08-29

Yes. Just don't connect one of the side and that can be the off setting.

Wamafibglop (author)randofo2012-08-29

Oh so I would only use four of the six pins on the switch still?

randofo (author)Wamafibglop2012-08-29


Wamafibglop (author)randofo2012-08-29

Awesome! Thank you so much for such a prompt response! I'll post results when I finish.

Nicapizza (author)2012-08-16

Just in case,what if the laser does not have a transistor there?

randofo (author)Nicapizza2012-08-16

Just wire it so the laser gets powered on from these two wires.

Nicapizza (author)2012-08-14

Can anyone please tell me if I can use potentiometers instead of rheostats? The Rheostats are quite pricey.

randofo (author)Nicapizza2012-08-14

You might be able to get away with a 100 ohm potentiometer... maybe. This technique requires something with very little resistance. The rheostat provides between 0 and 25 ohms.

Gr33nman (author)2012-02-16

why the DPDT switches?

randofo (author)Gr33nman2012-02-17

The motors and the lasers are powered separately. So, each power supply uses half of the switch.

Antzy Carmasaic (author)2011-12-09

One of the best and simple to make project I have seen for a while. Awesomest instructable ever... :D
I got 1 query... I am making 1 of these but instead of connecting the rheostat directly, I am using a transistor(a Darlington pair to be exact, for more gain) to vary the voltage with rheostat. It gives me a wider range to work with and I can replace rheostats with an arduino PWM pin to control speed.
The problem I am facing is that when I am connecting the battery, they are draining in seconds. Even 9 Volt ones! When I am running all 3 together, they become so slow, they almost stop at times. I have checked for any shorts. I know it might be due to the modifications I have made, but thats what DIY is about. Do you or anybody here has any idea why is this happening and how i can fix it?

randofo (author)Antzy Carmasaic2011-12-09

Are any of the components heating up a lot? The batteries should not be draining so quickly. I am using the low-voltage Radioshack motors (1.5V - 3V). The 9V ones they sell suck power, but even those shouldn't be that bad (but perhaps it does not like 3 at once?). If none of the parts are heating up, perhaps replace the battery with an M-type power jack and plug in a wall wart (of a voltage rated for your motors).

Antzy Carmasaic (author)randofo2011-12-24

Yup. The adapter was what I was considering as well. As soon as its a bit stable, I'll post pics... Thanks a lot for your help and this great instructable. Btw, I love the images in all your instructables... :D

hippo0187 (author)2011-10-22

I just got done........This was a very fun instructables only because i work at a radioshack and the parts were 50% off .......only $15 im planing to make more for my friends maybe different laser colors

Mr. walrus (author)2011-09-04

is there a special way to put the mirrors on? mine get on unbalanced and vibrate a lot when I tested it. i would use it but its way too loud!!!! Help PLEASE!!

Jayefuu (author)2011-07-09

Do you have a video of this in action or did I miss it?

gjanssen (author)Jayefuu2011-08-02
I have made a vid;

I use a 30mW laser form dealextreme.
Dream Dragon (author)2011-07-11

I'm surewonder if a simple crossoc I remember somewhere about hooking a motor to an audio signal.

skaar (author)Dream Dragon2011-07-12

if it's a laser diode, audio could be used to control the light strength.

C_Maconroe (author)2011-07-04

Is there an audio input, or how would that be done, so that the light show can be reactive to the music

Robot Lover (author)C_Maconroe2011-07-11

did not upload properly on the other comment:

Robot Lover (author)C_Maconroe2011-07-11

Here's a simple circuit for an audio input, hope it helps!

static (author)C_Maconroe2011-07-09

I was hoping for an audio input as well :( I believe using simple Pulse Width Modulators to control the motors could work. search for pulse width modulation at you tube, there is a video detailing how to make a PWM circuit out of a 555 timer. You may need someone to show where, and how to apply an audio signal

shobley (author)static2011-07-10

That could work, but an easier route would be to take a set of speakers from an old computer, ones with a built in amp and attach mirrors to the speaker cones themselves. Put the mirrors into the optical chain described in the article and attach your audio feed.

Mashurst (author)2011-07-10

This looks like a fun project. I may do it with my kids.
Question: I don't understand the need for the two battery packs. They are both the same voltage with two cells each right? Couldn't one run the motors and the Light?

randofo (author)Mashurst2011-07-10

I figured the motors would draw considerably more power and that would affect the brightness of the light pretty quickly.

9ale7 (author)2011-07-10

video to see it in action?

xtremedum (author)2011-07-10

nice project man! I did something very similar back in 5th grade in '98 for my science fair proj. It won me first place!

I like how you make it look real clean by putting it in a proj. box. Nice job man!

About This Instructable




Bio: My name is Randy and I founded the Instructables Design Studio. I'm also the author of the books 'Simple Bots,' and '62 Projects to ... More »
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