Introduction: Twinkling Art With Chibitronics

In this Instructable, I use Chibitronic's Circuit Stickers peel-and-stick LEDs, touch sensor module, and "Twinkle" effects module with metal foil tape to give some found thrift-store art a charming (disturbing?) twinkle in the eye!

This was created at the Tech Valley Center of Gravity using a Chibitronics Circuit Stickers Deluxe Kit, provided by the Instructables Build Night program.

Step 1: Getting Started

Materials:

  • A Chibitronics Circuit Stickers White LED pack
  • A Chibitronics "Effects" pack
  • Copper foil tape (with conductive adhesive)
  • 3V lithium coin cell battery(-ies)
  • Artwork you want to light up (here, from a $0.99 thrift store book)
  • Mat board cut to fit art (cardboard or foamcore could also work)
  • Tape (electrical, or Scotch tape in a pinch)

Optional Materials:

  • Frame and glass to hold art and mat (again, here's it's cheap thrift store stuff)
  • Aluminum foil tape (cheaper than copper for big areas, but with caveats)
  • Solder

Tools:

  • X-Acto knife or similar sharp knife
  • Scissors
  • Pen/pencil/marker

Optional tools:

  • Cutting mat, if you value your table
  • Tweezers (helpful to place and relocate foil and components)
  • Soldering iron and accessories
  • Multimeter

Step 2: Prepare and Align Art; Mark LED Locations

In my case the frame came with included glass and mat board, so I used them as-is.

Here, we:

  1. Use the glass or matboard as a guide to cut the art print to fit the frame, using an x-acto knife. You could cut the matboard to fit the art, or trim the two togeter, if you are not using a frame.
  2. Align the print and the matboard edge-to-edge
  3. With a sharp knife point or pin, poke through the print to leave a mark where you want LEDs to be. If the print paper is normal thickness, the LEDs are bright enough you do not need to cut windows all the way through. Thick photo paper or cardstock may require you to make holes, but these are easier to do after the LEDs are in place.
  4. Once all the LED locations are marked, lift the print and make sure you can see the marks. You may want to draw cross-hairs or X's to help center your LEDs.

Step 3: Place the Foil Traces for Your LEDs

I missed a photo showing this step, but Chibitronics provides a plastic stencil that helps you lay out where the contacts on the Circuit Stickers line up. Check the backs of your LED stickers to see which pattern fits, and use the stencil to mark the LED "pads" centered over your previous marks.

With pen or pencil, sketch lines connecting the pads along their path. Your foil tape will form "wires" that connect these pads. You can cut the foil to length with scissors or a knife, or even tear it.

NOTE that is is much easier to lay out your LEDs facing the same direction, so that all the positive (+) terminals align on one line, and all the negative (-) terminals on another parallel line. You can adjust this later as exact orientation isn't too important, but if you need to jump one trace over the other, it'll be more work.

Peel the backing from the foil tape in small sections and follow the lines, pressing down as you go. The narrow tape can be bent around gradual curves. You can also make small folds in the tape to make angled bends. It is better to keep lengths as continuous as possible, versus piecing together lots of small pieces like I ended up doing.

The adhesive on the back of the copper tape is conductive when pressed down against other metal surfaces. However, it is not nearly as conductive as the metal alone, and the more taped joints you have, the higher the resistance of a given circuit will be. (This can be worked-around later...)

Here I started to use aluminum foil tape, as it is much cheaper than copper tape. HOWEVER the adhesive on the back of typical aluminum tape is NOT conductive! I ended up using small pieces of the copper tape to bridge joints in the aluminum to make it reliable enough.

In general, I think you're better off sticking with copper throughout.

Step 4: Stick Down the LEDs... First Light!

Test traces: You can use a multimeter set to resistance (ohms) or continuity mode to verify your traces don't have breaks in them. If they do, keep one probe at the end of a trace, and poke along the length until you find the break. Try pressing the tape down harder with a blunt stick (pen, or the end of your knife) to make a better connection.

Stickum: Stick the LEDs in place. The Circuit Stickers are labeled with a positive (+) side and a negative (-) one. Make sure all the positive contacts are along one trace, and the negative ones along another. Label the traces with (+) and (-) to make it easier to follow.

Light 'er up! If you've left enough gap in your traces like I have, you can use the 3V coin battery and a short jumper wire to test your LEDs. The top side of the battery is stamped/labeled as the positive terminal; the bottom is the negative. Place the bottom of the battery over top of the negative trace, and hold a jumper wire (or piece of foil) across the top and to the positive trace. Your LEDs should blaze to life.

If they don't, again try pressing down harder on the adhesive contacts, and check that your battery is the right way around. If one LED lights and the other does not, check the polarity of that LED to make sure its positive and negative are stuck to the right traces.

Step 5: Twinkle Twinkle...

I didn't have a good photo showing just the LEDs in the previous step, so you might have noticed another module stuck down there without explanation.

Chibitronic's Circuit Stickers "Effects" pack has small pre-built modules to give you these lighting effects to attached LEDs:

  • Fade
  • "Heartbeat"
  • Blink
  • Twinkle!

Given the how the cat print here already had a twinkle to his eye, the choice was obvious.

The twinkle sticker has three terminals: (+), (-), and the output marked "TWINKLE." Here, I've stuck it across my two LEDs' traces by aligning the TWINKLE with the positive trace, and the negative terminal one the negative trace. The twinkle effect sticker is only slightly larger than the LED stickers, so it lines up well enough.

The negative trace continues past, under the Twinkle sticker.

The positive trace STOPS under the Twinkle sticker's output. A new positive trace is laid under the sticker's positive terminal. This makes the LEDs switch on and off rapidly through the Twinkle sticker when power is applied to the the Twinkle's positive terminal.

(*** will add circuit drawing here to clarify! ***)

Step 6: This One Trick... Lets You Put It Under Glass.

A neat advantage of the foil tape is that it can be wrapped around edges without a lot of thickness. Here, I extended the traces from the front side of the mat, where the art will end up, around to the back.

You probably want to re-label your (+) and (-) again, since from now on you're looking at it from the back.

I later added a strip of electrical tape over the edge to protect the foil when placing it in the frame.

Step 7: Add Touch Sensor Sticker and Battery

Here we're looking at the back side of the matboard. The (+) and (-) have been wrapped around the edge of the board, and labeled. You can see the protective strip of electrical tape.

The touch "Trigger" sensor module works as a switch, connecting its Out terminal to its positive (+) terminal for about five seconds when the module is triggered. This happens either by pushing the tiny button on the module, or by connecting Input terminal and the (-) supply. (in electronics parlance, "pulling it to ground.")

This trigger input is very sensitive so that the touch of your finger across it and the (-) trace will allow enough current for it to trigger. This is how I was able to trigger the LEDs without a switch protruding from the frame.

At this step it made sense to mount the battery in a semi-permanent way. I accordion-folded the end of a piece of foil tape for the battery to rest on as the negative terminal. Then, I lined up another piece of tape with the trigger's positive terminal, and stuck it down straight on the top (+) of the battery. Pressing the battery down squashes the crinkled foil to make a good contact, while we rely on the adhesive to give a contact on the positive side. A piece of tape over it all holds it in place.

I suspect I will need to replace this with a proper battery holder someday, but I didn't have one handy.

Step 8: Test and Mount in Frame

Not shown is re-aligning the artwork with the matboard, and attaching the two together if needed. Hopefully your LEDs line up!

Placing your finger across the Trigger sticker's input terminal and the (-) negative trace should trigger your LEDs to twinkle/blink! Check your traces with the meter and press down (emboss) the joints in the tape and stickers if you suspect a loose connection.

I used two small pieces of tape to hold the edges of the print to the matboard, flipped them over, and placed them into the frame. This particular frame was very cheap indeed and had no clips to hold the art or glass in place; consequently here you see it held in place with electrical tape. Hopefully your frame is a little better!

Step 9: Make the Touch Sensor Accesible!

Obviously the button or touch trigger does no good on the back of a frame. You probably don't want to have to take it off the wall just to make it blink for a few seconds.

Here I used foil tape to extend the trigger input and negative line all the way to the edge of the frame... and then wrapping just around the bottom edge.

I did not carefully plan the layout of the negative trace, so I had to bridge it with a short jumper. A small piece of electrical tape insulates a section of the negative line, and then the sensor line is bridges over that tape. Without the tape, the input would be permanently shorted "on".

I used aluminum tape here for those contacts because I had lots of it, and it didn't need more than one connection.

In testing I found the whole thing was somewhat unreliable... this lead me to solder the joints over top of the Circuit Stickers and over the places in the foil traces where I had to peel it back up to replace it. The adhesive is basically only good for one good placement; after that its unpredictable.

I happened to use a 50W pencil-tip iron with fine-gauge Kester 66 solder; the foil is quite easy to solder if you generally know how to.

Step 10: Twinkle, Twinkle, Weirdo Cat... How I Wonder What You're At?

If all has gone right, briefly touching across the two edge contacts will get your LEDs a-twinkle! (See video)

Recap, working backwards:

  • touching the contacts pulls the Trigger Input to ground (-, negative battery) for a moment
  • the Trigger Output is connected to the (+) input for five seconds when triggered
  • the Trigger Output is connected to the Twinkle (+), so when triggered the Twinkle gets power for five seconds
  • The LEDs are connected to the negative, which is common and continuous throughout, along with the "twinkle" output.
  • When the Twinkle sticker gets (+) power to it, its output flashes/twinkles the LEDs
  • If you've selected the right artwork, the effect is:
    • charming?
    • disturbing?
    • alarming?
    • hypnotic?

Other thoughts:

- Try swapping the Twinkle sticker with one of the other effects! (Careful peeling these off, it may try to take the copper foil with it.)

- Try the Chibitronics Sound sticker to make it "clapper" controlled. This is trickier because of the way this module switches.

Comments

author
Live2Create (author)2016-01-30

Is copper foil tape used for stained glass conductive?

author
tomatoskins (author)2015-05-07

Really cool idea! I love light up pictures and displays.

author
necoro (author)2015-05-06

I will draw a circuit diagram and add it to this to clarify the connections. It's not complicated, but the narrative makes it sound harder than it should.

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