Inspired by drj113's great instructable on making a word clock, I wanted to make my own.  After seeing the (extremely overpriced) commercial "qlocktwo" word clock, I decided to borrow its smooth glossy black design while basing the innards of my clock on drj113's design.

In the end, I managed to stuff the arduino and LED's inside an IKEA shadow box, and used printed transparencies to create the black letter mask.
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Step 1: The materials

This is what you need:

1 Ikea RIBBA shadow box - $10
98 white LEDs - $7-10 (buy in bulk on ebay)
98 1KOhm resistors - $3
1 Arduino (or an ATMega168/ATMega328 and extra hardware - 5V regulator, crystal, etc) - $7 (for standalone chip and extra hardware) or $30 for arduino USB board
3 ULN2003A Driver ICs - $1.89 at Digikey
3 HCF4094 shift registers - $1.44 at Digikey
1 Barrel-plug connector - $0.38 at Digikey
2 Buttons - scavenged from old electronics
1 6V or 7V DC wall wart - scavenged from old electronics, or ~$4 online
1 sheet colored paper (used for a hint of color around the border)
1 9" square piece of cardboard (used to hold LEDs in place)
1 cereal box (cut up to make light baffles - see step 3)
1 black garbage bag
2 printed transparencies (see attached pdf on step 2) - $1
1 protoboard for microcontroller, driver ICs, etc. - $5

Total cost: around $44 (using standalone ATMega168) or $67 (if you buy a full Arduino)

optionally a breadboard is useful for prototyping the circuit
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papadi5 days ago

Hi! There is one thing that I don't understand. Why do we need the ULN2003A? Aren't the shift registers enough to control the 23 sets of leds?

rchavda1 month ago

Really nice project. Building mine very soon. I was wondering, could you program a potentiometer (1k or so) to allow you to speed up the time at all? That way you could enable people to set it? Or even a button which, when pressed, would go through all of the time-word values to allow a user to simply set the time..?

what do I have to change in the arduino code for making it in spanish?

I don't understand this: 1 Arduino (or an ATMega168/ATMega328 and extra hardware - 5V regulator, crystal, etc) - $7 (for standalone chip and extra hardware) or $30 for arduino USB board

Can I buy only an arduino uno?

Demonic693 years ago
This looks amazing,I'm just ordering parts :D
I'm planning on laser cutting out some acrylic for the stencil, possibly for the led holders and shrouds too, though might use wood to save cost.
I was wondering if it is possible, with the same number of parts to allow individual minutes? So have another set of numbers one to nine, then a teen as well?
Also, when you say Atmega168 and other parts, could you list the other parts please? I'll use my Arduino at 1st, then replace it later on.
Great job, thanks for inspiring
Yes i would also like to know what the other parts are as i am a bit confused.
papadi jburke262 months ago

So guys... what are these other parts?
Is this the regulator?

What is a crystal? And what about the "etc" part?

Does this make any sense?

ben142412 months ago

what size capacitor is used on the output of the voltage regulator? I'm guessing 100uF, does the voltage rating matter?

Dude Man3 years ago
Troubleshooting Help: I got the clock up and running but it flashes between words every second. Is my clock off? Wires crossed somewhere? What would be causing this to happen?

Hey man did you ever figure out the solution to this? I'm having the same problem. Thank you!

oh_mali8 months ago

Hi Scott, love the project! I'm looking to make this without the arduino chips though. Can you email me at with instructions on how to make this with just a microcontrollers board? I'd appreciate it!

Hey oh_mali,

Did you ever end up getting instructions on how to do that? I have a microcontroller and would love to try this project out.


MarioNL6 months ago

Hi, I was thinking about making this, But i'd like to add a small alarm when it's 7 AM.

is it possible to do this with a modification in your code? If you could show me an example that lit up a "alarm led" when its 7 am. that would be great :)

dcgchico7 months ago


I see in the phto that you are using unregulated 7V for driving the LEDs. Why don't you use the regulated 5v the regulator provide?

ezraulo8 months ago

Love the qlocktwo - any chance you might be selling these (or in the future)?

sdodson5 ezraulo8 months ago

If anyone is looking for a word clock but doesn't have the technical skills to build one like this, you can make an inexpensive word clock using a digital picture frame. Check it out at

KlarBot9 months ago
great idea and great tutorial for a cheap and easy to do word clock, i did the same thing with the transparency sheets. but one thing i noticed using an arduino board was, the time was off about 5 minutes every week or so. instead i just wired up an atmega 328 chip (basically a diy arduino) and the time is incredibly accurate, after almost a year i have never had to reset the time, plus cheaper!

The next time i do this i want to jut try and get a company to just cut the letters out of vinyl and build a face out of clear acrylic, maybe trying out LED strips instead also.
ritzanab1 year ago
two things, can you send me a better schematic to my email
and two, can you make a list with links to all the materials? thank you.
Hi, I am attempting to do this project. I have soldered the LED's in place, but i am using an arduino microcontroller instead of the standalone ATMega168 mentioned in the tutorial. Is it possible to include the next steps if you are not making your own microcontroller? I am just a bit confused about what to do without your expert guidance! I have no previous electronics experience.
ch4r3l1 year ago
I'm almost done with the clock, but I can't download the .pde
When I click on it, it downloads a .tmp file.
Malicah1 year ago
I'm still wondering about my first question, what range of resistance the photoresistor should be if I get one, or if it even matters.

I am also wondering one other thing, I don't have an IKEA here, and can't buy the exact frame listed (It's not offered online). So should any 9X9 Shadow box frame work? What are the most important dimensions I need to try and match up? Depth?
Malicah1 year ago
I'm gathering all the parts for this project, I am hoping to add the photoresistor to it, but I am curious if anyone has suggestions on what range of resistance I should get
I just finished building my first word clock. Next I want to create a Polish version. I could not find a PDF with the letter array created however. Do you have any idea how I might make my own easily? I could try doing it in photoshop but I'm not sure what dimensions to use and such. How did you go about creating yours?
We're you able to successfully hide all the electronics inside the frame? Or did you have to mount them on the backside?
raritan012 years ago
If I'm using the Arduino Uno instead of the ATMega, how is the wiring diagram changed? What should I hook up to what?
I used the schematic here. Easier for me to follow:

The pins you should wire to on your Arduino UNO are shown below:
Strobe - Digital 8
Data - Digital 7
Clear - Digital 6
PWM - Digital 9
Minute Pushbutton - Digital 2
Hours Pushbutton - Digital 3

quoting Joe from ""

that worked for mine : )
The.Sniper3 years ago
Ok as promised My Qlocks are done I still need to do a final clean up and inspection But they have been running for over 100 hours now Im happy with their turnout. each clock has 2 lens 1 black and 1 white. I will add that Since I decided to go with Mid output LED's I underestimated the the load this would have on an arduino. and had to add a PS/regulator setup at the last minute. It was an unexpected addition and had I known I would have already added it to the PCB's I built.

A full pic gallery can be seen here.

Its been a long 6 months!
Hi I suck at making stuff and would love to buy one from u of either white or black white is better though thanks!!!!!!!
OHHH! I want a white one!!! Would you consider selling me a white one? :)
remedix2 years ago
Hey all,
I've decided to copy this project but I'm new to arduino and electronics in general. I started gathering all the materials needed for this and before making any purchases I would like to know if it's possible to get a full schematics for this! Your drawing seems to be missing some parts - Is it possible to get the whole schematics ? Thank you in advance!
JXplicits2 years ago
Scottebez, each OE should be connected to PWM or just the first register?
scottbez1 (author)  JXplicits2 years ago
The OE of all shift registers should be connected to PWM.
cvaast3 years ago
Scottbez, in what did you make your template & what are the font and size of your text? Because I am trying to make a dutch one and I already have my lettertemplate, I just need to pour it into a printable form like yours...
Same question here!
cvaast got an answer yet?
gigsgtox3 years ago
Alls well and good on mine (Thanks for an awesome instruction set and information). I have a potentiometer hooked up, and adjusted the code line and it dims everything EXCEPT the "IT IS" line of code. I currently have this attached to the HIGH as it is always on, however the high is of course, not effected by the PWM. Where should I hook up the "IT IS" LED's to utilize the dimming?
scottbez1 (author)  gigsgtox3 years ago
If you have an NPN transistor laying around, you can hook the collector to the cathode side of the IT IS string, connect the base though a 1K resistor to pin 15 of the ATMega (which is also connected to the OE pins on the shift registers), and connect the emitter to ground. kawsOne drew up a pretty nice schematic that has the transistor:
Hi Scott,

Great tutorial and because of your tutorial I am just finishing up a clock which is my first electronics project. Everything is working correctly except my photo resister dimmer. I adjusted the Arduino code and the lights will dim when it gets dark but after about 7-10seconds the whole clock goes dark. Turn room lights back on and the clock lights up again. Any tips or ideas on what I need to do? I tried a couple different photo resisters but same results.

Thank you
pmck Regnillif2 years ago
I hope this isnt too late you can limit the minimum value of the dimmer in the code like this:

lightLevel = analogRead(**your analog pin IN here**);
mappedlevel = map(lightLevel,0,1000,0,255);

if(mappedlevel<40) mappedlevel =40 ;

analogWrite(**your analog OUT pin here** , mappedlevel);
Regnillif pmck2 years ago
Thanks pmck. I did manage to figure it out on my own. Looks like I did something similar to what you suggested. I actually made the clock as a gift so I want to make one for myself now so I will try your suggestion.

Thanks again.
Dude Man3 years ago
I used a 12V DC Wall Wart and smoked my 5V Regulator. DOH!!! Wait...There's more! I then proceeded to burn my finger on the smoking regulator as I pulled it from the circuit! It's ok, I didn't need that section of my finger prints anyways, ha ha.
So anyways, Is 12V too much to come down from?
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