Introduction: USB Powered Mystic Light

Picture of USB Powered Mystic Light

This instructable will show you how to easily build a USB Powered Mystic Light using readily available and inexpensive parts.  Not only is this easy to make but its fun to experiment with and create interesting variations.  The last step of the instructable will show another great looking variation that can be made without the crystal.  You can see the light in operation here and here.

Step 1: Parts List

Picture of Parts List

You will need to get the following parts for the electronics for the USB Powered Mystic Light (don't worry there's nothing sophisticated here), the parts for the base of the light (lots of opportunity for you to experiment with different parts), and lastly the "mystic" component that brings the whole project together.  I've also listed the tools you'll need so you can have everything ready when you start the assembly.

Electronic Parts
1. 5mm Red Blue Green Color Changing LED.  You probably won't find these in your local electronics store.  If you search on eBay for "5mm led rainbow rgb" you'll find them.  They cost approximately $13 for 100.
2. Resistor: 82 ohms, 1/4 watt. Color bands: Gray-Red-Black.
3. USB cable with a male type A connector on one end.
4. Thin wire.
5. Heat Shrink Tubing (1/8" and 1/4" diameter) or Electrical Tape.

Light Base Parts
1. Copper pipe fitting with 1" and 1 3/4" ends.
2. #14 Cork (1" diameter on the small end and 1 1/4" diameter on the large end)
3. 1/2" Nut - (1/2" diameter center, 3/4" outer diameter)

Mystic Part
1. Clear Quartz Crystal with bottom diameter no larger than 3/4" - I got mine for $10 at a gem shop in San Francisco.

1. Soldering iron and solder.
2. Wire cutters/strippers.
3. Heat gun or similar (optional) if you're using heat shrink tubing.
4. Small metal file.
5. Scissors.
6. Drill with a 1/4" drill bit.
7. Box cutter or X-Acto Knife

Step 2: Overview

Picture of Overview

The mechanical construction of the USB Powered Mystic Light is very simple as shown in the diagram on this page.  A copper pipe fitting is used as the base.  A nut glued to a cork is used to hold the LED in place and provide the base where the crystal will sit.  A small slot is filed in the bottom of the copper pipe fitting for the USB cord.

The circuit for the light is equally simple as shown in the schematic on this page.  The resistor is soldered to one lead of the LED (the "anode") and then soldered to the "positive" (red) wire in the USB cable.  The other lead from the LED is soldered to the "negative" (black) wire in the USB cable.  The color changing magic occurs inside the LED itself - no need for any external electronics.

Step 3: Prepare the LED for Attachment to the USB Cable

Picture of Prepare the LED for Attachment to the USB Cable

In this step, you will prepare the LED for attachment to the USB cable.

1. Look closely at the LED.  You will notice that the wires (leads) coming out are of two different lengths.  The longer lead is called the "anode".  The shorter lead is called the "cathode".

2. Cut off about two thirds of the anode and about two thirds of one of the leads on the resistor.  It doesn't matter which lead of the resistor you use.

3. Solder the anode to the short lead on the resistor as shown in the second image for this step.  The soldering can be a little tricky at first and may take you a couple of times to do it.  What I do is slightly bend the leads so that they lay flat on a surface. I melt some solder on the tip of the soldering iron and then gently touch it to the leads and lift the tip way. The wires will then be attached as shown in the image.

4. Next you need to cut a small piece of wire and strip off the end.  You can use uninsulated wire if you want since you will be adding insulation in a later step.  In a similar fashion to the previous step, cut of two thirds off the cathode and solder the wire to it as shown in the third image.

5. Cut the newly soldered wire to make it the same length as the anode/resistor and strip the end as shown in the last image in this step.

Step 4: Insulate the LED Leads Prior to Attachment

Picture of Insulate the LED Leads Prior to Attachment

In this step, you will insulate the LED leads.  This is an important step because you do not want the wires to touch and short out.  This could damage the electronic device that is providing power to your Mystic light.

1. Cut two pieces of 1/8" diameter heat shrink tubing so that each is almost the length of each of the leads. Leave enough room at the end for an upcoming step where the leads will be soldered to the USB cable.
2. Slide the heat shrink tubing on to each of the leads as shown in the second image.

3. Using a heat gun or other source of heat, apply heat to the tubing until it shrinks around the leads.  When finished it should look like the third image.  VERY IMPORTANT: As you do this step, make note of which lead has the resistor.  You will need to know that in order to properly connect the leads to the USB power cable leads.

Alternatively, if you do not have or want to use heat shrink tubing, you can cut small pieces of electrical tape and carefully wrap them around the each of the leads to protect them from touching and shorting out.

Step 5: Prepare the USB Cable and Attach the LED

Picture of Prepare the USB Cable and Attach the LED

Now it's time to prepare the USB cable for attaching to the LED.

1. Inspect the USB cable.  Make sure you have one with a male type A connector on one end.  See the first image for this step if you are unsure whether you have the correct connector.

2. Cut the cable leaving a good length of cable between the male type A connector and the cut end.  You will want a decent length so you have flexibility to place the light away from the device that's powering it.

3. Put the other end of the cable in your junk box: you will undoubtedly be able to use it in another instructables project.

4. Using a small sharp knife (box cutter or X-Acto knife), carefully remove about a 1/4" of the outer insulation from the USB cable.  The easiest way to do this is to gently cut a line along the length of cable.  At the end of the cut, cut into the insulation around the circumference of cable.  Don't press too hard - as you press, you'll feel the inner wires - don't cut any deeper.  After making these cuts, you should be able to peel away the insulation, revealing the shielding. This is shown in the second image for this step.

5. The shielding may be strands of bare wire or wire foil or a combination of both. Peel away the shielding and remove it with a knife or scissors.  

6. You should now see four colored wires and possibly a wire with no insulation.  If you see a bare wire, cut it off.

7. The two wires that matter for this project are red and black.  These are the power wires.  The other two wires are for data: you won't be doing anything with those - you can leave them as-is.

8. Strip a small length of the insulation off the red and black wires as shown in the third image for this step.

9. The order in which you do this part of the step is important.  First, cut a small length of 1/4" heat shrink tubing and slide it over the cut wires and down onto the USB cable.  Second, cut two small lengths of the 1/8" heat shrink tubing and slide them over the insulation on the LED leads.  Don't make them too long - you don't want them too near the soldering iron when you're soldering or they will shrink and you may have to start again. This is shown in the fifth image.

10. Now solder the LED lead with the resistor to the red wire from the USB cable and solder the other lead to the black wire.  It's very important to get this right.

11.  Once soldered, slide the 1/8" inch heat shrink tubing over the bare metal where you soldered the leads together and apply heat to shrink the tubing.  The result should look like the sixth image.

12. Now move the 1/4" heat shrink tubing over the unused wires and the newly insulated wires and apply heat.  The result is a nice looking, fully insulated cable as shown in the last image.

And again, if you prefer, you can wrap small amounts of electrical tape around the leads as an alternative to the heat shrink tubing.  Just be careful not to use so much tape that it will prevent you from sliding the LED and cable up through the cork.

Step 6: Test the LED Cable: Apply Power and Voila!

Picture of Test the LED Cable: Apply Power and Voila!

Now it's time to try out the LED cable to make sure it works.  There's not a lot that can go wrong along the way, but if you want, you can certainly try applying power in an earlier step once everything has been soldered.  Just be careful to avoid letting the bare wires touch and causing shorts.

My recommendation is not to just plug this in your computer and see what happens. The best way to test this is to use a USB wall charger like the one that comes with an iPod or with other consumer electronics. That way, if something unlikely and bad happens, the damage is limited to a low cost gizmo and not your expensive laptop.  If it works with a USB wall charger, then you should have no problems using it with your computer.

So, all caveats given, time to try it out.  Plug the USB cable into the USB charger and you should see beautiful changing colors from the LED as shown in the image for this step.

Step 7: Assemble the Base

Picture of Assemble the Base

The electronic assembly is complete and now it's time to assemble the base.

1. Using a 1/4" drill bit, carefully drill a hole into the center of the cork.  A simple trick to make it easy to keep the cork from moving while drilling is to push it into inside of the copper pipe fitting and then hold the fitting while you drill. When the hole is drilled, gently push the cork out from the narrow end of the fitting using your fingers or the handle of a small screwdriver.

2. Check for obstructions by taking the LED cable and gently pushing it through the hole. The cable should slide smoothly through the cork. It's better for it to be snug than for it to be wildly loose. If you find any obstructions remove them.  Remove the cable from the cork.

3. Using a hot glue gun, put a ring of glue on the bottom of the nut and attach it the small end of the cork. Make sure that the hole in the nut aligns with the hole in cork. 

The cork and nut are now attached as shown in the fourth image. The LED will stick up through the cork and within the center of the nut. The crystal will stand on the top of the nut.

Step 8: Final Assembly - Almost Done!

Picture of Final Assembly - Almost Done!

This is the penultimate step - you're almost done!

1. Using a metal file, make a small notch into the bottom of the copper fitting.  Remove just enough of the pipe for the USB cable to comfortably fit in the groove.

2. To make sure that you've made the groove large enough, put the cable into the fitting as shown in the second image and make sure that the fitting sits completely flat on a smooth surface.  Remove the LED cable from the fitting.

3. Gently push the LED and cable through the hole in the cork until the LED is inside the nut but not poking out of the top as shown in the third image.

4. Take the cork/nut/LED cable assembly and insert it into the copper pipe fitting as shown in the fourth image.

5. Apply power to see what it looks like without the crystal.  It should look like the last image for this step.  Pretty cool, huh?

Step 9: The Last and Final Step

Picture of The Last and Final Step

Place the crystal in the top of the pipe fitting, apply power, and you now have a USB Powered Mystic Light.  Your light should look like this video or this video. Try different crystals and even other objects to see what effects you get.  You may find something even better than what's described here!

Step 10: What to Do If You Can't Obtain a Crystal?

Picture of What to Do If You Can't Obtain a Crystal?

If you can't find a suitable crystal, you can try the plastic tubes that florists use to keep single roses fresh. The tube will rest on the inside of the pipe on the nut in the same way as the crystal. If you get a used tube, as I did, don't fret if you can't get the tube to be super clean and spotless - the scratches and imperfections add to the effect. The tube has an interesting effect similar in appearance to neon lights and reminiscent of the days of early experimentation with electricity and vacuum tubes.


brosnanPERERA (author)2016-09-09

Is there a way to make this into a USB drive as well? Want to use for gigs to store all my music on. Looking for ages on how to make a USB drive from scratch can't find. This colour change is perfect for what I want on a USB drive! Any help much appreciated.

attila.bakay (author)2016-05-12

What make it fade?

TomášV4 made it! (author)2015-11-10

I was searching for something to do with kids, and this is exactly what i need. Unfortunately in Czech Republic, a couldn't buy few things but i found something simmilar. Thank you and this is my result ;)

talk2bruce (author)TomášV42015-11-26

That looks great. I hope you and your kids had fun making it!

arrow_strider (author)2011-06-15

Man! AWESOME Instructable.

I did mine but i have a "problem": i used the resistor and did everyhing EXACTLY as you instructed... BUT: My led is flashing and changing colors TOO QUICKLY! Is it the resistor that controls the flow of postive current, and thus, the led is changing colors too quick or too slow depending on how much ohms the resistor has? Or maybe i purchased the wrong LED? (It looks THE VERY SAME AS YOURS, btw).

Looking Forward to your answer!

Here´s my Crystal at work (I´ve upped the vid on my blogspot, but don´t worry!):

I think you might have the wrong LED.

pmn9393 (author)2012-02-12

lol, sell for 1000 and call it the ImRich USB or something.It totally reminds me of those apps.

nemanja92 (author)2011-10-05

why i dont have eletricity on usb,,i have meybe 5v.but i cant pulg in nothing even smal bulb????hellp

SmallGalaxy (author)2011-09-09

It would be fun to modify this so that it can sense a few RF emitters (like the proximity sensing pocket squares, except only the crystal assembly can sense the "squares") which are either disguised as wearable items that you (or a minion) give the boss (or anyone else you want to avoid) as a present, hidden somewhere on their person, or hidden in something (a purse, laptop bag or whatever) that they carry around. If the assembly senses an emitter, it slowly fades to red and starts blinking, then once the emitter gets past a certain distance threshold, it is reset to its normal pattern (to keep the avoidee from getting suspicious).

TL;DR If I make this I'll try to make it turn red when baddies approach!

imBobertRobert (author)2011-01-16

can i use a battery pack instead of usb cable? i already have the parts except the cable but i do have a small salvaged battery pack. would it work? it uses 2 AA batteries.

yes because 2 AA batteries is 3 volts and don't use a resistor

marcelo-fire_wing (author)2011-01-12

muito bom o seu projeto se me permite voce poderia melhora- lo no caso de nao comsegui o cristal voce poderia enche o vidro com agua e pra que a agua nao vase voce poderia vedar com cola quente .

imBobertRobert (author)2011-01-09

it takes a genious to figure out that a cork can be used to make the parts stay in place.(im being realistic here, no sarcasim!!! i never would think about that!!!)

mattbeowulf (author)2010-12-16

Thanks for the awesome idea! Mine ended up a little different; used a 1-1/2" to 1" fitting to accommodate the larger crystal (rutile quartz) that I bought, but the biggest change resulted from what began as a setback: I got my LED from radioshack and the only one that seemed cool enough to buy was a 7-color variety (really RGB in various combinations.) It has a third control lead along with the anode & cathode, but came with no data sheet or anything. When I got it home and started playing I discovered that applying power triggered a 10 second "demo" type light show, which then ended with the LED burning solid red. Momentarily contacting the control lead to ground would turn it off, again would cycle to the next color, repeating through all colors would finally end with a slowly shifting constant on that I had originally hoped for.
At first I was bummed because I couldn't see how it would work for this neat project (the first Instructable I've ever tried, BTW!) but after a glass of absinthe and some creative thinking I came up with an idea. It took many hours and different attempts with different materials, but ultimately I had a finished result that looks very similar to the one featured here... except that after the demo mode of my LED finishes, the crystal itself is used as a push-button to cycle through the colors. I accomplished this by setting the crystal on a nylon spacer inside the fitting with the LED glued into the center hole and flush with the surface, which actuates a momentary button switch (PC on/off switch) mounted in a base inside the fitting. The LED-spacer crystal holder stands off of the interior base via a small compression spring so that when the crystal is pushed the button closes the connection between the control and ground leads, cycling to the next setting. Finding the best combination/configuration of parts to achieve a really professional finish took WAY longer than I expected, but the end result is so cool that I may have to build another for myself, since this one is a Christmas present for my tech guru.
Thanks again for the great instructable!

ALogan97 (author)2010-12-11

i might try this with a blinkM led so i can customize the colors.

animalcrosser5 (author)2010-10-24

Hm, I was wondering what I could use the tubes that solder comes in for.

Anthony312 (author)2010-08-28

When di dthe copper color suddenly turn black?

CyborgGold (author)2010-08-22

If you use a knife to score designs on the tube... does the light make the scratches light up?

Scatmanbrandt (author)2010-08-05

I made a variation of this using 2 RGB LED's and a bunch of rocks from my collection. I used a mint tin but didn't need a resistor because I wired the 2 led's in series. It's been one for a few week and they're still cool to the touch. I'll probably make another for my boss (for putting up with me) but I'm going to see if I can stash a flash drive inside and still make it work.

talk2bruce (author)Scatmanbrandt2010-08-08

Sounds cool. I'd like to see it. Have you posted pictures of it anywhere?

Scatmanbrandt (author)talk2bruce2010-08-09

I just made an instructable and post a link to this one in it since you were the inspiration for it.

Maybe I should put a link

talk2bruce (author)Scatmanbrandt2010-08-12

This is a very cool variation of my instructable. I like it!!!

evilghostbat (author)2010-08-09

Sorry this is quite a novice question but w/e... I found a little toy that has three LEDs programed to cycle colors which runs on 3 AA batteries. By taking the wires that supply power to the toy and attaching them directly to a usb could I safely convert it to usb power or would I have an issue with the voltage... BTW I really like this instructable!

klownox (author)2010-07-09

Where did you get the light base parts? I've been looking around and I can't seem to find a 1" x 1-3/4" reducing coupler. Also, the cork is causing me some trouble. I've seen some places online where I can gt them, but they seem to be incredibly expensive.

talk2bruce (author)klownox2010-08-08

In my experience these LEDs are fairly tolerant is the resistor's value but what I do is use an online LED resistor calculator like the one at this site or this site to determine what value to use and try to stay within 100 ohms of that value.

talk2bruce (author)klownox2010-07-10

I bought the reducing coupler at a Lowe's Hardware store in Sunnyvale, California. The cork came from a Michael's Arts and Crafts store. They sell small bags of assorted corks for a few dollars that include one #14 cork. I did some searching online and found a site called Widgetco that sell #14 corks for 75 cents each. Here is a link to their site: I'll do some more searching to see if I can find you an online supplier for the reducing coupler.

hunter1125 (author)2010-07-13

since you know a bit on leds, how many volts does the USB cord discharge and how many volts do you need to power the average led (just 1)? because I need help on building my own led system.

talk2bruce (author)hunter11252010-08-08

In my experience these LEDs are fairly tolerant is the resistor's value but what I do is use an online LED resistor calculator like the one at this site or this site to determine what value to use and try to stay within 100 ohms of that value.

hunter1125 (author)2010-07-13

oh and what about resistors. does it make a big difference on what types of resistors (as in ohm differences)?

talk2bruce (author)hunter11252010-08-08

In my experience these LEDs are fairly tolerant is the resistor's value but what I do is use an online LED resistor calculator like the one at this site or this site to determine what value to use and try to stay within 100 ohms of that value.

Aaron Hoffenberg (author)2010-07-18

seems like you could make it with a Build your own lightsaber toy crystal

That would be pretty cool. I don't know if you could get enough light out of the LED to go the length of a saber but you could certainly make a light "dagger" toy.

thatinventor1 (author)2010-07-19

could we make a socket to be abel to change out led colors?

talk2bruce (author)thatinventor12010-08-08

You don't really need one to change the colors since the LEDs in this project change colors automatically. But, using a socket would be a good idea if you used regular non-color changing LEDs.

ap1922 (author)2010-07-24

Good Place to get RGB LEDs -
You can choose how fast the led changes color (Slow 4sec./Fast 0.27sec.)

ap1922 (author)ap19222010-07-24

sorry wrong link -

victavicta (author)2010-07-08

What shop did you get the gem from? I live near SF and figure i can grab one next time I visit friends.

talk2bruce (author)victavicta2010-07-09

I bought the quartz crystal at Karizma, 213 Church Street, San Francisco. They have a terrific selection of crystals as well as lots of other cool stuff.

victavicta (author)talk2bruce2010-07-17

Awesome! Thanks a ton!

Punkguyta (author)2010-07-06

Umm yeah the colours DO NOT cycle when you just apply power at one end. What a lie! You need PMW power control to vary the current going to the LED, and thus changing the colours. Really man, theres nothing in this instructable showing how the LED changes colours, and in fact, it is the same colour in every picture.

talk2bruce (author)Punkguyta2010-07-12

The simplicity may be hard to believe but the LED's used in this project have three color emitters built in with internal circuitry to slowly change from one color to another. That's the beauty of using them - nothing external is required other than a resistor and the power source. You can see other examples of how simple they are to use and the lack of external components by looking at the LED Art Kit sold at and the video for KipKay's Weekend Project called the Cosmic Night Light.

fungus amungus (author)Punkguyta2010-07-12

Relax and look at step 9. Video shows color-changing and pictures have different colors.

flamming arrow (author)2010-07-09

you know you can put the light on a stick and take it with you

Zem (author)2010-07-09

Now THAT looks Steampunky! 5*s, and I'mma try and make some of the tube ones.

PieMaster777 (author)2010-07-06

Wow MYSTICAL! lol 5* it looks kool

Redgerr (author)PieMaster7772010-07-07

truth, this is really cool, looks awsome too... only thing i have to say was WOAH you used a lotta shrink wrap... i never ever would use that much.. woulda used tape instead of the orange shrink wrap

talk2bruce (author)Redgerr2010-07-09

You're right - I did use a lot of shrink wrap. I have a bunch of it and think it's pretty cool to use and really enjoy using it in projects but electrical tape certainly would work just as well.

Huntman00 (author)2010-07-06

u could fill the tube thing with glass beads or something

yutzwagon (author)2010-07-04

It looks like some kind of dark-corner-of-the-internet time machine or aura cleanser. I love it.

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