Introduction: Huge Flexible Transparent LED Matrix Under $150. Easy to Make.

About: (My Instagram) @joshuarwoolley I'm just a normal guy trying to learn as much as I can. We are living in Ecuador working for a non-profit. We aid in training and education in the Marona Santiago province. I…

I want to start by saying that I am not a professional, I don’t have any degrees in electronics. I simply enjoy working with my hands and figuring things out. I say that to be encouraging to all you nonprofessionals like me. You have the ability to do anything like this, all it takes is patience and research! My research was done through this website and YouTube.

I have seen LED matrix's before like this one on Youtube

and it sparked such excitement for me that I started thinking “I can make something like that.” I made my first LED matrix as a demo following an instuctables tutorial three years ago. Every time I looked at it I thought, “I want to go bigger!” My wife and I live in the Amazon basin of Ecuador but we had to temporarily relocate to city that's a little bit larger when my wife was going to give birth to our son. While living and working here we found out about “Night to Shine”.

Night to Shine is a special night dedicated to people that are physically or mentally disabled. I’m not trying to promote for this event, but it was something that I believed in and wanted to help support in anyway that I could. I built a LED wall stage backdrop to be something that added excitement to that night for these special guest attending the event.

Ps. If you like my Instructable tutorial please scroll to the bottom and vote for it in the contest!

Step 1: Gathering Parts

Parts list:

  • 400x 4-Pin LED Chip & Heatsink 5V 5050 RGB WS2811 IC Built-in. $43.80

  • AC 110-220V TO DC 5VOLT, 30AMP, Power Supply. $19.63

  • DC 5-24V T1000S SD Card LED Pixel Controller For WS2812B LPD8806 WS2811 WS2801. $18.83

  • 50 meters of 3Pin Extension Wire Cable For WS2811. $15.88

  • 3m x 5m Sheet of concrete reinforcement wire. (each wire 6 inches apart). $32.00
  • 3 rolls of electrical tape. $1.50
  • Hot glue sticks $3.25
  • Solder for connections. $5.50

Step 2: Assembling LED Strands.

Using a fine tip soldering iron, first apply solder to each one of the LED chip contact points. (See example picture 1.)The great thing about these LEDs is that they are intelligent and they basically map out and number themselves when they are connected. This makes programming quite simple even for a beginner like me.

You need to use three pin wire to connect each LED together. I used a regular pair of wire cutters to strip all three wires simultaneously. They also sell strippers that can do this with ease.

After your wires are stripped do you need to begin the tinning process on the wires. This keeps the wires from getting straggly (See example picture 2.) and facilitates connecting to the chip without any short circuits.

To tin the wires you simply touch the tip of the hot soldering iron to each wire and then touch the solder to the wire. The solder will then penetrate into the strands of each wire. As it cools, the wires will become rigid and uniform. (See example picture 3.)

Important note: as you solder the chips together to the wires. Make sure all the arrows on the chips are oriented the same direction. (These arrows show the data input direction)

If you have tinned the wires correctly and applied the proper amount of solder to each LED chip they’ll be no need for additional solder as you connect them. All you simply need to do is place the wire on each side of the surface and apply the heat of the soldering iron to make the connection. (picture 4.)

I created a template using a CNC mill cutting holes the exact size of the LED chips and then horizontal channels to connect it so that way as I strip the wires and solder them together I had a gauge on how long each wire should be. It was also because the chips are small and the board held them stationary as I soldered them.

This is the link to my CNC template design.

Step 3: Connection of LEDs Continued,

As you solder and complete the connections on each LED it is a good idea to protect the contact points from damage and short circuits. This can be done by covering the backside with electrical tape. Yet, I found an easier solution using a hot glue gun to cover the back of each chip and partially covering the wires to make a strong partially flexible connection. I think it’s better than electrical tape because it keeps the wires from breaking free from the solder connection.

Tip: I would suggest making each strand of led pixels twice the length of your pixel height. (My matrix was 16 pixels high so 32 pixels long was ideal for assembly.) I will explain this more in power and power injection step.

Step 4: Assembling the Structure,

In an effort to simplify construction of a grid for the matrix I came across concrete reinforcement wire. It’s great because it can be purchased in various sizes and wire spacing, it’s also flexible so it can be formed into curves, cylinders, etc. Another reason I like it so much is that the wire is very thin, this gives the matrix a transparent effect because you can see through it easily.

Using electrical tape attach each LED strand to the reinforcement wire. Align every pixel chip with the intersection points of the steel wire.

I used 6 inch wire. (Which means there was a pixel every 6 inches at each place where each wire intersects.) The structure of the wire keeps everything uniform. Honestly, I was in a hurry and so I think I did a sloppy job. Thankfully because of the uniform nature of the wire the matrix looked amazing! As long as all of the LED chips are aiming out the visual display will be uniform and stunning.

Step 5: Power and Power Injection,

I’ve included a wiring diagram so you understand the purpose of the power injection. Each of the chips does create a small amount of resistance. So as you connect all these LEDs together eventually the power begins to dissipate. The result of this is the illumination of the LEDs begins to change color and fade. First the blue begins to go out causing the strand to have a yellow hue and then the green causing the color to transition to red. (Please see the picture I created to illustrate this problem.)

The solution to this problem is injecting power throughout the matrix. Each of the LED chips can receive positive and negative current entering the chip from either direction. You’re only limitation is data wires need to be in sequence. The second picture shows the easiest way to resolve this problem. As I said before, it’s beneficial to have each strand be twice the pixel height of the matrix. As you look at my wiring diagram you see that each loop is 32 pixels long. And the voltage is being injected to both ends of the strand. This caused all LEDs to have uniform brightness without the color dissipating.

Step 6: ​Testing and Programming

Testing is quite simple to ensure all your wiring is correct. I’ve included a picture of the T1000S controller. When it is connected to the LED strand, it will begin to cycle through various colors and fades. (This will happen when the SD memory card is not inserted). Testing is simply confirming that all LEDs are lighting the same color at the same time. If there are any problems with the wiring or solder connections the light typically stops at that point that needs correction. Simply review your solder connections and confirm that wires are in their proper place without contacting to any other connection points.

Connecting to the controller is simple. Simply connect your 5 volt power supply to the 5 volt screw head. From the negative side of the power supply connect to the ground screw head. The wire that you will connect to the matrix to supply the information is the Data line. With these three wires connected your matrix will function. (I additionally bridged another wire to the other side of the ground just for good measure).

Step 7: ​Led Edit Program

The Software downloads can be found at this link.

The LED edit program is one of the simplest ways to create visual effects. There is no need to understand coding or even the complexity of the Neopixels. You simply record the program and export it to the SD card memory.

I was limited with my creativity because some of the guest suffer from epileptic seizures therefore I had to be very conservative with how dramatic each effect would be.

To begin:

In the software interface click on “File” and choose “New Project” from the drop down list .

At this point it will be a window that shows all the controller options. I used the T1000S which is highlighted in the first picture. But the chips that I am using (neopixels) are the selection directly below it WS2811. After making your selection click "OK".

Next you want to design the layout of your matrix. There is an auto configuration tool that will make this very easy. You simply input the number of vertical pixels and the number of horizontal pixels in select the data direction that matches the wiring diagram I posted in the earlier step.

And now you are ready to record your visualizations!

The most simple way is to go to the video effects tab. There are lots of preloaded effects and that's what I used to my matrix. Again, I was somewhat limited on how dramatic I could make the effects because some of our guest suffered from epilepsy.

Simply open any effect allow it to play in the window and when you see what you like click the record button. Just to the right you will see the number of frames ascending in numerical order. This is showing how many frames have been captured during the recording process.

When you're satisfied with what you have captured, press "stop recording". The visual that is displaying the number of frames that has been captured will stop ascending.

The final step is to click export. In the file Will be created in saved at the location you designate. This file needs to be copied and pasted onto the SD card that is formatted as FAT and everything will work!

It's that simple!

Step 8: ​Celebrate!  the Party Can Begin!

Wasn't that easy?!

At this point everything is completed and you can power your matrix on! You can use the mode button on the controller to cycle through up to 16 programs you've created.

There are many other options for driving the matrix also. If you're more ambitious you can look into writing a code yourself and in putting that code through the data line into the matrix display. You can use any type of microcontroller that has a digital output for this task!

I hope that you'll be inspired to do something like this for yourself or someone else. It only takes commitment to do something great!

If you have any questions please leave me a comment and I'll be happy to answer them.

I appreciate you taking your time to read my instructable! If you liked it, vote for me below!

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