Introduction: LED Shoulder Pads

About: I used to work for, now I just make stuff. // follow me to see what I'm up to:

For this project, I was inspired by my best friend. She had been wanting some disco-fabulous armor-inspired wearable technology for music festivals and costume parties for some time. I took a pair of construction/gardening knee-pads and turned them into glitterific shoulder pads that shine bright with 50 LEDs that are Arduino controlled!

This project was super fun to make! SO SPARKLY!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

All of the components I used were purchased from Radioshack, or the Hardware store


60-Ft. UL-Recognized Hookup Wire (20 AWG) (Radioshack Part no. 278-1225) x1
9V Battery Clip (Radioshack Part no. 270-324) x1
12V Battery Clip (Radioshack Part no. 270-405) x1
Arduino Micro (Radioshack Part no. 276-258) x1
Solder (Radioshack Part no. 64-009) x1
Grid Style PCB with 371 Holes (Radioshack Part no. 276-149) x1
Dual-General Purpose IC PC Board (Radioshack Part no. 276-159) x1
NTE30043 Blue Super-bright LED Indicator (Radioshack Part no. 55050631) x24
NTE30045 White Super-bright LED Indicator (Radioshack Part no. 55050633) x24
SPST 3-Amp "Soft-Feel" Push On-Push Off Switch (Radioshack Part no. 275-1565) x1
Momentary Switch (Radioshack Part no. 275-609) x1
+5V Fixed Voltage Regulator/Transistor (Radioshack Part no. 276-1770) x2
Enercell® 23A 12V Alkaline Battery for Remote Controls (Radioshack Part no. 23-336) x1
Enercell® "9V" Alkaline Batteries (4-Pack) (Radioshack Part no. 23-866) x1
500-Piece 1/4-Watt Carbon-Film Resistor Assortment (Radioshack Part no. 271-312) x1

Bon 12-309 Superlight Molded Rubber Foam Waterproof Knee Pads
TEKTON 6235 Assorted Cable Ties, 200-Piece
Scrap Denim Fabric
Krylon K02329000 Fusion For Plastic Aerosol Spray Paint, 12-Ounce, Patriotic Blue
3M 77 Super Multipurpose Adhesive Aerosol, Clear 16.75 Oz. Aerosol Can
Clear Gloss Spray Lacquer
Sulyn 4 oz. Glitter Jar - Royal
Velcro Reusable Self-Gripping Ties, 0.5 Inches x 8 Inches, Black/Gray, 50 Ties per Pack (90924)
50 - 1 Inch Heavy Welded Dee Rings

Sewing Machine
Soldering Iron
Wire Snips/Strippers
Drill and various bits

Step 2: Straps and Foam

In an effort to prep the knee pads to transform them into shoulder pads, I took off the straps and foam.

This was a little tricky, and took a little bit of wrestling - but I was able to get it off without ripping the foam apart. If you need to, use a pair of scissors to cut the foam away from the pegs holding it in place.

Step 3: Make It Shiny! (part 1 of 3)

I put down some waxed butcher paper on the shop floor, so I wouldn't turn it blue with my overspray.

After I had the paper taped down, I set my shoulder pads on top of it, and went to town with the paint. The trick to getting good results with spray paint is distance, motion and time.

Hold the can more than 6 inches away from whatever it is your painting.

Move the nozzle and can constantly while applying paint in zig-zag sweeping motions.

Allow the paint adequate time to dry. This will vary depending on the type of paint you use - read the directions on the back of the can - this paint took a full 24 hours to dry. 

Step 4: Make It Shiny! (part 2 of 3)

After the spray paint dried, I began to coat it with Spray adhesive and adhere the glitter to it.

I coated the shoulder pads quickly with two even coats of adhesive, applied sequentially. Give the Super 77 about 5 minutes to get really tacky.

The fun part was unloading an entire canister of blue glitter onto the shoulder pads. I was certain that I had purchased too much - but sure enough, I ended up using the entire jar of glitter! I had to pick up some of the glitter that fell off the pads and throw it back on, it all stuck eventually. :)

Step 5: Make It Shiny! (part 3 of 3)

After the glue had set for 24 hours, I sprayed the whole thing with multiple coats of clear glossy lacquer. This is so the glitter has a shell around it protecting it from littering all over the place.

Essentially, it is like resin coating the shoulder pads, without actually having to use any two-part resins.

Step 6: Punch Holes in the Pads

Using a 7/32" drill bit, I figured out a nice hole pattern in the shoulder pads. I put 24 LEDs in each shoulder pad, 12 blue, and 12 white. Each color array would be programmed individually by the Arduino micro.

I let the form of the shoulder pad indicate where I would put my holes, so I put 12 in a big circle around the oval in the middle. Another 6 holes were made down the edges, and another 6 holes were placed within the ring of the first 12-hole circle.

Step 7: Add Your LEDs

The LEDs fit nicely into the holes I had made, I didn't use any extra glue to hold them in place. Just orient them in a way that you know which lead of the LED is ground, and which one is V+

I put all of my positive leads on the right side.

After I had my first 12 white LEDs in place, I figured out where I wanted to place all my blue LEDs. I made a circle of blue with in the white circle, and placed 6 LEDs under the white circle/array of LEDs

Step 8: Wire Your LEDs

I wired the White LEDs in Series of 3, and then the Blue LEDs in series of 2. Each color LED requires a different forward voltage, thus they were wired differently.

I soldered a ground wire and positive wire to each end of the series, and then hooked the arrays to a small PCB I cut in half.

Please refer to the schematic in this step.

Step 9: Add D-Rings and Webbing

I contained my long lead wires into bundles, and added D rings to the top button notches of the shoulder pads.

I threaded some webbing through each D ring and then used a sewing machine to close the loops of webbing.

I added a few strap adjusters, and sealed those shut with the sewing machine again.

Lastly, I put the the foam protectors back on the shoulder pads to protect the circuit.

Step 10: Wire Batteries and Arduino

I uploaded the following code to the Arduino Micro, and then began building my circuit.

I put the Micro board on the perf-board and then wired it to the two transistors from pins 9, and 10. Refer to the circuit diagram attached to this step for guidance in re-creating this circuit.

If you have never worked with transistors before, check out Custom Geek's awesome tutorial on how it's done :D

After I attached the transistors, I began grounding all of my components, and adding the battery clips for the 9V and 12V batteries.

Yes, this project has two batteries - one to power the LEDs, and another to power the Arduino.

Be sure to leave long leads to connect the switches from the pads back to the arduino.

Step 11: Add Buttons!

There are two switches that get mounted to the project, one on each shoulder pad. I used a momentary switch as a pull-up mode selector, and an SPDT switch as a power button for the 9V battery.

I used a big drill bit to punch holes in the inner corners of the shoulder pads, then threaded buttons through each one. The square button acted as my power switch, and the round one was my mode selector.

Their wire leads were threaded back down to the main PCB between the shoulder pads.

When I had all the cables in place, and tested my circuit, I ziptied all the cables to keep them neat, and hidden beneath the webbing.

Step 12: Sew Pouch for Electronics

Using some scrap denim fabric I had lying around, I made a little pouch for all of the wiring and circuit to live in. I sewed two strips of quick release velcro tabs on to the outside of the pouch so that it would nest and slide on the straps of the shoulder pads. I sealed the pouch with some more velcro strips.

It worked out great, and it is a great way to bury my circuit.

Step 13: Add Chain

To prevent the shoulder pads from falling off, I needed to add some weight to the front. I decided to add some decorative chain to create a more industrial look, that would function as a weight too. 

I used two key rings and 12 ft of chain that I picked up from the hardware store.

I wove the chain back and forth between the two keyrings, and then attached them to the D-rings on the shoulder pads.

It looked great when I was done.

Step 14: Show It Off!

Go forth and rock! It is time to show these bad boys off. These eyecatching shoulder pads will be the envy of all the other hip kids at all the music festivals. Don't be a darkwad, and light up the night with all these super-rad illumination patterns!

LED Shoulder Pads from Audrey Love on Vimeo.

2013 Autodesk Halloween Contest

First Prize in the
2013 Autodesk Halloween Contest

Microcontroller Contest

Participated in the
Microcontroller Contest

Halloween Costume Contest

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest