Introduction: Arduino DIY 6x6 Matrix T-shirt

Welcome to my first instructables! I want to show you how I made my own LED matrix T-shirt for about 50€ and how to show nice animations and pictures on it using the fantastic LED matrix control software by Tyler Jones. At first I did an 6x8 pixel matrix, but later I changed to 6x6 sice it would't work with the LMCS. I am writing this Instrucables after I had it done, so please be excuse me for missing photos. The T-shirt is even washable, you can take the LED strips out. If you have any questions please let me know!

If you like my wearable, please vote for it in the Arduino contest. Thank you :)

EDIT: Since some of my IG followers aked for it, I made a video about it.

Step 1: What You Will Need

You will need the following components:

  • T-shirt in your size (better take a bigger one so you can wear it longer if you are still younger): 10€
  • WS2812b LED strip, I used a strip with 30 LEDs per meter and a total of 60 LEDs: 20€
  • some female pin headers: 2€
  • nonwoven for holding the LED strip: 2€
  • Male/male jumper cables, depending on how many pixels you want to use: 3€
  • Arduino with USB cable (UNO): 5€
    • for the shield: Prototype shield, 3 position screw terminal, USB-B breakout board, 330 ohm resistor, 1000uF capacitor 7€
  • Powerbank for cellphones (about 4000mAh, the more the better): 15€
  • some kind of housing for the control unit

The following tools are helpful/necessary:

  • soldering tools (iron, pliers, cutter...)
  • scissors
  • small saw and sand paper to cut the headers
  • sew tools for the LED strip holder

Step 2: Preparing the WS2812 LEDs

At first, we prepare the LED strip. Cut the strip on the printed lines every 6 (or whatever number of pixels you want to use) LEDs with a scissors. I used 6 pieces with 6 LEDs each. Then you solder the female headers on the strip. You can buy them in pairs of three, but it is cheaper and better if you buy longer ones and then cut them however you want. I use a mini saw and sand paper or diagonal pliers and sand paper. This is very easy (see pictures above). Make as many as you need, two for each row. Then you solder them on the pads, make sure to have a good connection and no short circuit. The finished rows should look like in the pictures.

Step 3: Preparing the T-shirt

The T-shirt will hold our matrix and let the light shine through. By adding some nonwoven to the inside, we are able to slide the rows into the shirt. First calculate how many you will need. See the picture on the top to see the plans. Calculate how big your nonwoven should be. You also have to add some space to fit the strips. Calculate with 0,5cm maximal. Add some material on both ends to hold the first and last strip.

Cut the nonwoven and carefully sew it onto the inside of the T-shirt. The finished result should look like above. I had the problem that it ripped down, but you can try a couple of stiches.

Step 4: Merging LEDs With the T-shirt

Then it is time to merge the LED strips and the T-shirt. Take them and slide them gently into the pouch. Make sure to start with the input on the bottom and continue with all the data inputs on the right side. Be very carefully! It is a little bit tricky, but by holding it on the other side, it will be okay. If your pin header is bigger than the strip, it is helpful to do some tape around it.

When finished, it should look like in the photo. Then you just take some 10cm male/male jumper cable and connect the 5V and ground pins in a zigzag pattern. Then you can either take a longer male to female jumper and a smaller male to male jumper as I did and connect the data out with the next data in by threading the cables under the free pockets of the nonwoven or you simply solder them on. But then it is not washable any longer. Make sure to follow the right direction. Lastly connect some longer jumper wires to the data input and the power supply pins. Your T-shirt is ready now!

Step 5: Prototype Electronics

To test the T-shirt you simply have to build the circuit in the pictures. I would use an Arduino UNO with a small shield, because you can use direct serial communication. With my T-shirt, I used a DIY Arduino UNO clone on a piece of perfboard at first. But the problem is that you are not able to do serial communication, which is used in the LED matrix controll software. You are still able to show the pictures/animations but you will have to take out the IC everytime.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the power: When you use a powerbank with 1A maximal, you can get maximal 1 amphere. But when you connect it via the USB port of the Arduino, you get maximal 0,5A because there is a fuse. Never go over the limit! Therefore you can simply add an USB-B breakout board (or just an USB socket) to have a powersupply from the powerbank without fuse.

Build the circuit on a breadboard and remember the capacitor and the resistor from step two! Instead of the direct USB cable in the cicuit you can use the breakout board.

Step 6: First Programming Steps

Because I don't really like the programming part, I won't give any specific sketches. Just try around with some libarys. A nice one is the Adafruit NeoMatrix.

A better and even easier way is a software called "LED Matrix Control Software". It is an really awesome software made by Tyler Jones (be sure to check out his channel, he made some helpful videos: Tyler Jone's channel).

I was using version 1.3.2 but the newer one should work just fine. Here is version 1.3.2: LMCS 1.3.2, but you can also try out the newest version: LMCS 2.

Just download the software and upload the player sketch called "LEDMatrix Serial" with your number of LEDs and the pin changed to your Arduino using the Arduino IDE. Start the programm and press Select COM port and connect to your Arduino. The connection status should change to green. Then there are different modes including drawing, gif and webcam. Just try around a little bit.

Step 7: Make the Electronics Permanent

As I already said in step 5, I used an DIY Arduino standalone on a piece of perfboard as version one, see pictures on the top. But there is a better way: Using a "prototype shield" you can simply stack the circuit on the Arduino and everything is clean. Solder the same circuit as in step 5 but use three posistion screw terminals to connect the matrix. If you are already more experienced like me, you can also simply use a perfboard as a shield. This is my version 2. If you want to see a timelapse of me soldering the shield, please visit my Instagram:

When finished, you should have an clean, good-looking and compact controll unit! Try it out like in the last step and if it hopefully works, you can make a case for it. I think the best way is to put the controll unit in one pocket of your trousers and the powerbank in the other. You connect it using an USB cable.

There are a few ways to make a case. If you have a 3D-printer, this would be a good possibility. If not, like me, you can build it from different materials. I took an old screw box and made holes as I needed them. Just be creative.

Step 8: Further Programming and the Finished Wearable

When you have finished all the hardware stuff, it is time to make it portable by software. You can simply press the "Export FastLED Code" button and copy the code into the loop-section from the LMCS player, which you already have uploaded in step 6 using the Arduino IDE.

Then simply charge the powerbank, put it in one pocket and the controller in the other, connect everything and have fun! If you want to wash the T-shirt, you have to take the strips and the cables out and it is washable.

Thank you for reading and maybe for a comment or question, if you like my project please vote for it in the Arduino contest!

Arduino Contest 2019

Participated in the
Arduino Contest 2019