Laser Show for Poor Man




Introduction: Laser Show for Poor Man

Here's another useless but cool looking "must build" gadget for every romantic geek.
Let me introduce PIC microcontroller based three axis laser spirograph.

Check link below if you want to see more patterns
Laser patterns gallery

Step 1: Gathering Stuff

Design is quite simple and employs regular parts and components but you are free to change/modify it in way you like.

At first prototype I used blank DVD as reflective material but later I discovered more practical way. Technology of making FS mirror is described in my article
DIY Front Surface Mirror

Originally I'm very lazy man so I've chosen programmed microcontroller PIC18F1220 (can be replaced with PIC18F1320) to handle routine job.

PIC implements 3 channels PWM generator.
Actually it's the same engine as one I used in my IKEA light project just code is adopted for PIC18.

PWM signal toggles MOSFET transistor 2N7000 (Id 200mA). Mirror actuator is connected as load to MOSFET.
As mirror actuator I used 5V 200mA CPU cooling fan. It's easy to mount mirror on its flat side.
Device accepts 5V and 12V fan with maximum current 200mA . Voltage is selected by jumper.

Green laser pointer is rated at 3V so I've made LM317-based voltage regulator with adjustable output.

Cheap 5mW green laser module:

What else will you need?
Dozen of resistors and capacitors, potentiometers, toggle switch, power jack, prototyping board, box of proper size and power supply unit.

Step 2: Brain

Electronic schematic is simple and can be assembled on a prototyping board but real man always makes troubles for himself, so I've made PCB.

There are two work modes, selected by toggle switch: manual and automatic.
In manual mode operator controls each motor individually by twisting corresponding potentiometer connected to analog input of microcontroller. PIC constantly reads analog inputs and modifies PWM signal so duty value is proportional to voltage on analog input.
In automatic mode microcontroller employs pseudo-random algorithm to calculate duty value for every motor.
Current duty value is stored in internal EEPROM and used as initial data for next calculation
so microcontroller will generates sequence of nonrepetitive unique patterns for long time.

Most pointers are rated from 3V to 4.5V, so make sure you adjust output voltage before connecting laser.

Board is small, so you don't need any brackets to secure it. Pots will hold it perfectly.

Since my supplier run out of PIC18F1220, I had to use PIC18F1320 in new design.
It's pin-compatible chip with increased memory capacity, but it will NOT work with old HEX file,
so pay attention.
I keep PIC18F1220 version as separated file.

Here are some notes from the bench:
- schematic;
- BOM;
- HEX (PIC18F1320 version);
- PCB;
- PCB in AutoCAD format
- source code for CCS compiler.

Documentation zip file

To program chip, I use USB ICD2 programmer (bought it from eBay) and MPLAB IDE (free soft from

PCB contains standard Microchip ICSP port (5-pins header) for programming purpose, also chip can be programmed by any socket programmer with proper software which supports PIC18.

Controller board assembling (high res guide):

For beginners and busy people, programmed chip, PCB, whole kit, or assembled board available upon request.

Some hobbyists may prefer simplified analog PWM controller based on 556 timer.

Step 3: Spirograph Controller V2.


New controller board is completely redesigned with use of SMT components.
5V switching voltage regulator eliminates needs for heatsink.  As result controller has became 1.5 times smaller and that provides possibility of making truly pocket version of spirograph.
Embedded voltage regulator for low power laser module provides power within 2 - 4V.
Controller supports 5V and 12V fans. Fan voltage can be set by wire jumpers on board.

Along with auto and manual modes of operation modified controller has ability to store your favorite patterns in internal memory with just press of a button and replay them as a slide show.

New controller can store up to 80 user defined patterns and replay them as endless sequence. Time of showing  single pattern can vary from 3 to 60 seconds. Also there's manual mode when next pattern in sequence is triggered by a user.

Descriptions of new controls.

PROG/CYCLE - selects PROGRAM (manual)  or CYCLE (auto) mode of operation. 
RAND/MEM - selects subroutine to generate random pattern or reading stored patterns from internal memory.
CONT/STEP - selects CONTINUOUS or STEP mode of showing sequence of patterns.
This switch is active only in MEM mode.

Button STEP/MEM: 
 - in PROG or CYCLE/RAND modes button writes current pattern in internal memory. Stored patterns can be displayed as slide show in CYCLE/CONT mode.
 - in CYCLE/MEM/STEP mode button cycles trough sequence of stored patterns.
If button is being held pressed during powering up all internal memory will be cleared.

 - in PROG mode defines speed of motor 1.
 - in CYCLE/MEM/CONT mode defines time interval ( from 3 to 60 Sec) of showing single pattern from sequence.
 - in PROG mode defines speed of motor 2.
 - in PROG mode defines speed of motor 3.

Description of operation.

There are two working modes : PROGRAM (manual)  and CYCLE (auto).
In PROGRAM mode, pattern being displayed depends on positions of potentiometers.
Current pattern can be saved in internal memory by pressing button MEM. After 80 patterns have been stored, each new pattern will substitute the oldest pattern.
To clear memory press and hold MEM button during powering up.

In CYCLE mode, unit displays endless sequence of pattern.
In CYCLE/RAND mode, patterns are randomly generated by software. Initial positions of pots determine shape of the first pattern in sequence. Current pattern can by saved in internal memory by pressing button MEM.
In CYCLE/MEM/CONT mode, unit continuously reads patterns to display from internal memory. Time interval for displaying single pattern depends on position of POT A and can vary from 3 to 60 sec.
In CYCLE/MEM/STEP mode, reading of next pattern from memory is triggered by button STEP.

All technical notes such as
- schematic;
- PCB in PDF format;
- BOM;
- HEX file for PIC18F1320;
- C source code for CCS compiler.

can be downloaded from here

Upon request I can provide assembled SMT controller, mirrors and other stuff for this project.

Step 4: Attaching Mirror to the Motor

New tutorial "How to balance acrylic mirrors".

Acrylic mirror is very light, so double sided sticky foam tape will do job.
Piece 1/2 x 1/2 is working good.

You can use thick paper as a wedge to tilt mirror. Insert it between mirror and motor.
In my setup tilt is 2-3 degrees. It results 6' wide pattern at a distance 18'.

It's impossible to center mirror properly regarding motor shaft and even slight offset will cause
vibration and noise at high speed, so I've developed some tricks for mirror balancing.
Make sure your safety glasses still on.

WARNING!!! This method will work only for acrylic/plastic mirrors!!!

At first I've tried to shape spinning mirror with file but fan is low torque device, so even light pressure with tool forced motor to full stop.

Since idea with turning part and fixed tool has failed, I've tried opposite approach -
Dremel with 1/2" sanding drum against motionless mirror, and that's really worked.

Some advices for people who wants to follow.

Motor with mirror must be off.
Select sanding band with coarse grit.
Set Dremel to minimal speed.
Hold Dremel that axes of tool and motor shaft are parallel.
Slowly bring sanding drum to the edge of mirror and press against it. Don't put much pressure. Spinning tool will rotate mirror and file it at the same time.
Take your time, go easy and, if you have enough patience, you'll get perfect round mirror which will run smooth and quiet.

Step 5: Parallel Optical Setup

Classic setup.

Motors are placed on parallel lines.

I've developed one trick. I use double sided sticky tape to attach motor to base, and after all adjustments I secure motor on place with hot glue.

Adjustment is simple.
Start motors and aim beam that it stays within mirror area at maximum deflection.

As support for pointer I use piece of wood and some hot glue. Cheap and fast.

Step 6: Square Optical Setup

Square optical setup. I like it better.

Motors form square without one side.

Using this design we can make more compact device.

Everything else is the same as previous step.

Step 7: Let's Build Tiny House

It's a good habit to keep dust away from optical staff, so our device needs hermetic enclosure.

I had Hammond 7x4x2 box lying around, so I put it in business.

Since we determined optic configuration and beam path we can mark and cut out window.
Then get square piece of transparent acrylic and glue it to its place.
Next drill one more hole for power jack, glue it, connect to board and we are done.

Step 8: Well Done

Not bad, not bad, but I would add something spicy.

...Aluminum faceplate and secret military technology of heat toner transfer!!!

That makes real difference.

Now I'm happy.

Step 9: Laser Spirograph V2 Completed

New version of PIC based laser spirograph.

To make device more compact I've modified design by adding one more mirror.
Now optical components occupy less area and all parts can be fitted in standard 4" x 4" x 2.5" Hammond project box.  

Aluminum faceplate and background illumination are optional.   

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    5 years ago

    Could you please get a hold of me? I am very interested in pricing for your latest controller board or if you maybe have a price list for all components. I hope you are still involved in this project.


    6 years ago


    I am a little confused by the concept. How are the patterns generated by the fans? Is it because the are not perfectly sqaure all of the time?


    6 years ago

    hiii this is nice laser pattern.

    can u plzz send me cost that can cause to make one laser machine like one u havehavemae


    9 years ago on Introduction

    How would one integrate a spirograph into a party SAFELY? Would you aim it at the air, a wall, the ground? Lawyers are expensive.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Mount it above eye-level and project it above eye-level.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Can you send me a pm about the price? Thanks!


    7 years ago on Step 9

    Very nice build.

    My commendations on your build quality and your great documentation.

    *double thumbs up*


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Yea, kit price? Great design, how do you power it, and how would i build it without the auto?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Good stuff. Great PCB design!

    Just curious...have you played around at all with a sound-reactive version of this? Like maybe a VU controlled PWM or something along that line of thought?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi am very much interested on this KIT, can you send me the price list of the same. and do you send a predefined KIT / in spare....


    9 years ago on Introduction

    hey i too want to build this but i too need to know the full price of parts can u PM mee please?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi can you PM me the price for parts, Printed board, and fully assembled unit.




    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi can you also please pm me the price? thanks a lot!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    303 comments! Sweet! =) Anyhow, have to ruin that beautiful number with my comment.

    If you ppl. build DIY laser show equipments consider to add glass art in front of beam.

    It should be already weakened by other means though, because directions of the reflections would be more uncontrolled, and it has potential danger to cause eye damage.

    It would look good, that's for sure.

    Another nice one is to get holographic lenses and put those in front of the device. I found those from EBAY.. were meant to be for lasers, and had good looking effects.

    They cause beams to spread out effectively. Seller guy demonstrated that in some of his videos and showed demo where was more than one lens in use at the same time. Impressive stuff!


    10 years ago on Step 2

    Nice Job.
    Could you also send me the BOM for the parts? How much will it be if I buy them from you?