Introduction: University Campus Student Parking Map

Many students wonder where they can park on a university campus. To address this problem, I created a light-up parking map of the main area of Utah State University’s campus. The map is for students to take a quick glance at what parking options are available to them. This tutorial will show you how to create a light-up map.

Even though this design is for Utah State University, it could be customized to another university or place with confusing parking options you want to communicate better!

Step 1: Gather Supplies

You will need:



  • Scissors
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Fabric markers
  • Pencil

Step 2: Prepare the Base Layer

The map contains three layers: a base canvas layer with the Circuit Playground Express and sewable neo pixels, a background layer, and a top layer with fabric cut-outs of different features.

How to prepare the base layer:

  • Unroll some canvas and draw a rough sketch of the buildings and parking areas you are going to include on the map.
  • Cut the canvas at the appropriate size of the map you are crafting. Decide on where you plan to place the Circuit Playground Express.


  • It is preferable to place your Circuit Playground Express near an edge of the map to allow for easy access to the battery pack. I placed mine near the bottom edge of the map (see image above).

Step 3: Draft a Circuit Diagram

Draft circuit diagram

Using a pencil or other erasable writing utensil, map out the circuit diagram onto the canvas. Keep in mind that you will want each of the neo pixel lights to be placed directly underneath the features you will program to light up.

The circuit diagram I originally drafted had some errors in it. See the corrected circuit diagram marked with yellow, red, and blue highlights.

This information in this step-by-step guide and video by adafruit are extremely helping when drafting the circuit diagram to ensure you are prepared to sew the neo pixels on properly.

How the neo pixels connect to each other and the Circuit Playground Express:

  • Positive (+) pads: should be connected to each other and the VOUT pin on your Circuit Playground Express.
  • Negative (-) pads: should be connected to each other and the GND pin on your Circuit Playground Express.
  • The data lines: connect pin A1 over to your first neo pixel; then link each of the neo pixels together, connecting between the arrows.


  • Ensure that each arrow points away from the Circuit Playground Express.
  • You can use colored pencils if that helps you more easily distinguish between the positives, negatives, and data connections.
  • Placing the neo pixels in a straight line seems to produce the most reliable light response. My line was slightly curved and I had some difficulty getting the lights to interact properly.

Step 4: Sew Circuit Playground Express & Neo Pixels

Use non-conductive thread to stitch the Circuit Playground Express to the canvas via a couple of unused pins in order to better hold it in place as you sew (I used the 3.3V pins).

Then sew the neo pixels onto the canvas and connect them to the Circuit Playground Express:

  • All of the positive (+) pads should be stitched together and connected to the VOUT pin on your Circuit Playground Express.
  • All of the negative (-) pads should be stitched together and connected to the GND pin on your Circuit Playground Express.
  • For the data lines: stitch around pin A1 over to your first neo pixel and then make a secure knot. Then stitch from the other side of the neo pixel linking it to the next neo pixel. Secure it with a knot.
  • Repeat this process until you’ve sewn all of the neo pixels properly.

Finally, attach the base layer you just created to the board by securing it with masking tape.


  • The link I included above mentions securing knots with clear nail polish. I found this to be very helpful.
  • Make sure your knots are secure before cutting tail ends. Double check for any loose stitching or crisscrossing threads to help ensure a proper circuit.
  • Remember: This design is specific to Utah State University’s campus. When customizing your map, model the circuit diagram and map features accordingly.

Step 5: Program the Circuit Playground Express

I programmed the Circuit Playground Express using Microsoft’s makecode block-based programming platform:

  • I’ve included the link for the code I created and used for the student parking map. You can visit this link and edit the code to your liking.
  • The programming includes certain light colors displaying when you click the buttons on the Circuit Playground Express.
  • Ensure that you download your code to your Circuit Playground Express before disconnecting it from your computer.
  • This webpage on adafruit’s website includes a strandtest that I used when experimenting and working on programming the Circuit Playground Express.
  • Above is a screenshot of the code I used.


  • Test your code and ensure it works. The strandtest on adafruit’s website was key in helping me to better understand the coding.

Step 6: Assemble the Map Layers

Now that you’ve sewn your Circuit Playground Express and neo pixels to the base layer and attached it to the board, prepare the fabric for the top two layers. These provide a more appealing visual aspect and will help with user experience. You can customize the fabric for these layers in any way you would like.

Cut the background layer, top layer and key fabric pieces

Background layer:

  • Choose a fabric for the background (I recycled an old light brown pillowcase for the fabric).
  • Cut a rectangle a little the size of the bulletin or poster board you’re using.
  • Place the layer on top of the base layer and secure it how you see fit. I simply tucked the base layer underneath the board (in case I decide to do another iteration of this project)
  • Connect your battery pack into the Circuit Playground Express

Top layer and key:

  • Choose different fabrics for the features of the top layer. I used three distinct fabrics to distinguish different features: green with polka dots, navy blue, and grey with criss crosses (see images below).
  • Cut the pieces of each feature accordingly
  • Cut a small circular hole in the area of each feature that a neo pixel light will be shining through.
  • Cut a small square of fabric for the key (I used the reverse side of the canvas).

Glue on the top layer features to the background

  • Using a pencil, mark the areas where you features will be attached. Ensure that any feature you want to light up will have a neo pixel directly underneath it.
  • Use the fabric glue to secure top layer features and the key to the background layer. Allow the glue proper drying time (a few hours is sufficient; 24 hours is preferred).

Label the overall map and final touches on top layer features

For the map key:

  • Use a fabric marker to label the main sections of the key: the title (Key), Locations, and Parking Type.
  • Cut out small pieces of colored fabric corresponding to each of the feature fabric patterns and light colors.
  • Use fabric tape to stick the little fabric pieces to the key.

Use a fabric marker to:

  • Write a title at the top of your map.
  • Label each of the features in order to help identify them properly.
  • Write the feature names next to the corresponding fabric patterns and fabric representing light colors on the key.


  • You can use any fabric patterns and style you want. Customize the map in a way that makes sense and is meaningful.
  • Before gluing the top layer to the background, you may want to pencil some markings to help you know where to glue the features.

Step 7: Display Your Map for Others to See and Use!

Remember to customize this map to your needs and preferences. I hope you enjoy building this map!