Introduction: LED Silhouette Art~ Color Changing!

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I've made two of these silhouette LED projects so far- the first was for my husband for his birthday.  This instructable shows the process for the second one I made- after so many people told me how much they loved the first one! 

This project uses RGB flexible LED strip....which can change color and can be dimmed.  We leave ours on a full brightness color-changing mode during the day and turn the brightness down for a nightlight at nighttime.  

This is a great project to make for a personalized wedding gift- at least I think so!

Step 1: Materials

You can find most of these materials at your normal craft/hardware store.  To make this project even more eco-friendly, you could even try finding materials which you could reuse/upcycle!

~~Poster frame- I used a 18x24" Studio Poster Frame made by Nielsen Bainbridge (got this at craft store)- the reason I liked this frame was because of its: Depth (1 1/4") and adjustable back (which you could have sitting flush against the glass or towards the back of the frame.  This allowed room for the flexible LED strip while still looking professional).  You could also use a smaller collectibles frame- or even make your own if you would like to!

~~Translucent Paper- For this I used 8x11" thin mulberry fiber paper from the craft store, but for the next two I will be ordering paper from because they sell larger sheets (no seams in your project!)  I just ordered some samples to see what the paper looks like. 

~~Gluestick/Adhesive- You can use spray adhesive for lightweight materials, or a normal gluestick works fine too.

~~Acrylic glitter paint *gems*
- this adds some sparkle to your artpiece- of course this works well for my design but you can choose to leave it off.

~~Black posterboard and cardstock paper- You will use the posterboard for the larger design aspects (so that there will be no seams) and the cardstock paper for the smaller aspects


~~Exacto knife- this is for the small and intricate parts of your silhouette design

~~Black spray paint or acrylic paint

~~Super Glue- Your normal super glue brand would probably work fine, I actually like to use a glue called Miracle Glue, which is a purer form of cyanoacrylate and forms a stronger bond.

~~Glue Dots- pop up relief

~~RGB LED flexible strip- I decided to use RGB (color changing) LEDs, however if you would just like a solid color you could do that too.  How much you need depends on the size frame you select- for this project I used 24" along the bottom, and a 12" and 8" piece behind the couple.  So, total, I used 3 feet 8 inches of LED strip. 

~~Remote Controller (to change the color and control the RGB LEDs)- I chose the 44 button IR remote

~~Power Supply- since this project uses less than 6 feet of flexible LED strip, you can use a 12V 12W 1A Power Supply

~~Control Cable- I used 22-4 Power Cable- you can make this as long as you would like. 

~~Connectors- You can either use these or solder control cable to connect all of the separate strips.  I used splice connectors to connect the strips. 

~~Rosin-Cor Solder and Soldering gun-

~~Wire cutters/strippers and pliers

~~UV-Resistant Clear Acrylic Coating

Step 2: Adhere Background to Glass

Take the glass out of your frame and set the other pieces off to the side. 

Using the gluestick or spray adhesive for lightweight materials, adhere the transparent mulberry paper to the glass, making sure to line up the edges of the paper exactly with no overlap.  It is hard to get this exactly right- that is why I am going to order some large paper for my next project! 

Cut off any excess paper around the edges. 

Step 3: Glitter Paint

Cover the white paper with diamond glitter paint- this gives it a nice effect in the daytime (at night you don't notice this).  Allow this to dry overnight.

Step 4: Silhouette Design- Draw and Cut

There are three aspects to the silhouette design which I have made: the couple, the field/grass, and the butterflies.  I will be going through each step-by-step.  You can (obviously) choose to make up your own design!

The Couple
~~Use the back of the poster paper which came with your poster frame to make your sketch (this will help you to get the sizing right). 
~~Ideas for making a design:  use one of your own photos or search Google images for silhouette ideas.
~~Cut out around the couple roughly, then tape this onto your black posterboard.
~~Using scissors and an exacto knife for the small areas, cut out the couple.  Your design will now be in black!

~~Cut out the rolling hills which will go at the bottom of the frame (remember that the lip of the frame will cover some of this ~ 1/2")
~~Cut out little pieces of grassrandomly and tape these to the back of the rolling hill piece.

~~Cut out varying sizes of butterflies- make them symmetrical by folding the cardstock in half. 

Step 5: Silhouette Design- Paint

Paint over all of the silhouette pieces with black spray paint or black acrylic paint- this gives everything a nice finished look. 

Step 6: Silhouette Design- Attach

*You will only be attaching the couple + field at this point*

Put the 3D pop up relief glue dots on the back of the couple and the pieces of grass (you will need to cut them to smaller sizes for the grass).  You do not want to put these on the bottom 1-2" of the silhouettes (so that the glass can still sit flush with the frame).

Attach the couple to the paper-coated glass first, pressing down lightly on all areas of contact.

Place the hill on next, giving the project a lot of dimension!

Step 7: Put in Frame

Put your silhouette/glass in the frame, and super glue it to the frame on the underside.  You only need to do the corners and in the middle of each side.  This prevents it from moving around too much when you are installing the LED lights. 

Step 8: Cut LED Strip

Figure out where you would like to put the flexible LED strip, and then cut it to length (it can be cut every 4 inches approximately). 

I used a 24" piece along the bottom (simulates a sunset- which is brighter along the horizon) and 2 pieces behind the couple (one 8" piece and one 12" piece).  You can put the piece along the bottom on the actual frame facing up, and the pieces behind the couple on the glass facing the back of the frame.

Step 9: Make LED Connections

There are a few different aspects of getting the LEDs working:

1.  Use splice connectors to connect the three LED strips

~~Peel off the waterproof coating on the end of the strip which is covering the solder pads. 
~~Remove about 1/4" of the waterproof coating from the end of the strip.  You may use your fingernail (If you use a knife- not recommended- be very careful not to cut through the circuitboard.
~~For best results, clean the contacts with fine sandpaper or a wire brush.  Also, trim 1/16" off the end of the circuit board so that the connector will make better contact with the pads
~~Take the connectors and open them up by pulling the black pieces outwards.
-Insert RGB strip into connector opening, being careful to match wire color with color labels on the flex strip.  The bottom of the flex strip should be touching the black piece.  Insert as far as possible.
~~Push the black piece back in, locking the flex strip in place.

Now, this is the order we will be doing the next connections:
LED strips--control cable--4 pin connector--IR controller receiver--12W power supply

SO, that being said:
2.  LED Strips--Control Cable
(Solder the end of your last LED strip (the one on the bottom) to the control cable)
Remove about a ¼” of the water-proof coating from the end of the strip. You may use your fingernail (if you use a knife be very careful not to cut through the circuit board). For best results, clean the contacts with fine sandpaper or a wire brush.
~~If using our control cable, strip the casing approximately 3/4”. Strip each small wire 1/8”. For added protection, put a 1” long piece of heat shrink tubing over the wire (So that when you are finished you can position it over the connection).
~~With a hot, clean soldering iron, use Rosin-Core solder to pre-tin the solder pads and stripped wires with solder. It won’t take long to heat the strip so be quick!
~~Match up the wires to the pads on the end of the strip, making sure that the colors match the color code letters. With a little excess solder on the gun, touch the pad and the wire at the same time, soldering them together. Add more solder if needed. Repeat process for the remaining three pads/wires.
~~Cover connection with hot melt glue and/or heat shrink tubing for extra protection. Be careful not to burn yourself!

3.  Control Cable--4 pin connector
~~Pre-solder both the 4 pin connector and the other end of the control cable.
~~Solder the 4 pin connector and control cable together.

4.  4 pin connector--IR controller receiver--12W power supply
~~Simply plug these into each other, in this order. 

You are now ready to test the lights out and see if they work. 

Step 10: Test LEDs and Controller

In order to make sure that you have wired everything correctly, turn on the LEDs with the RGB LED controller.  Make sure that all of the sections are the same color at the same time (if they aren't then you have switched a wire somewhere).

Step 11: Attach LEDs to Frame and Glass

Peel off the self-stick backing of the flexible LED strips and put them into place, pressing down along the length of the strip.  Hold the back of the picture frame to see if they create the desired effect- and remember that they will be even brighter in low light/dark!

Step 12: Put on Back of Frame

Cut a small opening at the bottom corner of the backing for the frame, enough for the power cable to fit through.

Put on the backing for the frame, using the widest setting. 

Step 13: Attach Additional Silhouette Pieces

Attach any small additional silhouette pieces- in this case it was the butterflies.  Put the glue dots for pop up relief only on one side of the butterfly, giving the illusion that they are in flight. 

Step 14: Watch It Glow at Night

The LEDs are bright, so the colors are noticeable even during the day.  However, at night is when this piece of art really comes to life!