Introduction: LED Beaded Curtain
I built a flexible screen in the form of a beaded curtain encrusted with LEDs that I control remotely. I’ve had this project on my list for quite some time, and the idea is simple: run lots of LEDs in vertical strips, enough to form a curtain.
I used a PixelBlaze wifi microcontroller, so I can control the animations remotely on my computer or phone.
I started with an existing beaded curtain to use as my substrate. I figured I could use the bead strands to attach the LEDs, so they don’t have too much strain.
Here’s what I used to make this project:
- Several strands of small addressable LEDs
- Microcontroller (I’m using a pixelBlaze)
- Power supply (at least 4 amps)
- Screw terminal adapter for power supply
- Precision screwdriver
- Soldering tools and supplies
- Soldering iron DK #1691-1083-ND
- Solder DK #2260-WBNCC633731-2OZ-ND
- Wire strippers DK #1691-1281-ND
- Flush cutters DK #1691-1037-ND
- Pliers DK #1691-1422-ND or tweezers DK #1597-1536-ND
- Eye protection DK #3M158306-ND
- Workholding tool (often called a third hand) DK #1568-1077-ND
- Multimeter DK #MN35-ND
- Heat shrink tubing DK #1528-4559-ND
- Heat gun (or a lighter) DK #1568-1602-ND
- Solder wick DK #315-SOLDERWICK2.0-ND or a desoldering pump DK #243-1183-ND for fixing mistakes
- Beaded curtain
- Sewing clips
- Sewing thread
If you’re a beginner, don’t miss my introductory electronic series on the Digi-Key YouTube channel. It’ll bring you up to speed on the wiring and soldering techniques you’ll need to build your own LED curtain.
Step 1: Watch the Video
I made a video about the full process for making this curtain on my YouTube channel. Check it out to see the process step-by-step!
Step 2: Wiring the LEDs
Ideally, there would be a bunch of strands coming down from the top. But these pixels are best wired in a single data chain, so that would require soldering at the top of each strand, as well as a long data wire connecting the end of each strand to the top of the next.
I opted to wire mine in a zigzag pattern, linking two strands at the bottom as well as the top. The strands are pretty close together, which makes for the least soldering possible– only where it’s needed to connect the termination of one strand with the beginning of another. That’s just because I don’t like the look of the big black clips.
I attached the LED strands to the beaded strands with plain sewing thread, tying individual double knots around one or more of the wires as well as the string in between the beads.
I had to set up my soldering iron nearby the curtain and make sure to attach the next strand before the end of the previous one gets too short, or it wouldn’t reach. This process was not too quick, but it was fun to toil over while the LEDs were on. I attached a secondary power and ground to the end of the last LED strand, then connected up all the LEDs to test them and double-check that everything was getting enough power.
Step 3: Off-the-shelf Curtain Comparison
When I put this project on my long list of things to make, I could swear there weren’t readymade LED screen-like curtains available for purchase, but now there are.
So if you are satisfied with the size and the animations that come preloaded on this thing, maybe buy the off-the-shelf version. But if you want to make entirely custom and very sophisticated-looking animations, the handmade one has the advantage.
Step 4: Hang & Enjoy Your Curtain!
After hanging it in the doorway and trying it out, it’s pretty obvious that the connections at the bottom impact the ease of walking through it. This could be mitigated by tying threads in between connected strands every so often, so the two strands pull apart more as one. Or just use it against a flat surface like a window instead of a doorway.
But it is successful by the metric of projects my 13 year-old self would love.
If I were to take this further, I might try to reverse-engineer the store-bought version to see if it’s possible to replace the microcontroller. Then I’d have the best of both worlds with purpose-built function and high-class algorithmic fashion.