Introduction: Soldering LED Strips to Make Shapes

I wrote this instructable as a supplement to my instructions on making an LED Graduation Hat. I had never soldered LED strips before and it occured to me that more people who want to make the hat may have minimal or no soldering experience.

Before I get started I have to say, I am by no means an expert in soldering, but I made a few hats and learned a few lessons along the way that I wanted to share.

For example:

These tips are all based on mistakes I made.

3 Very important tips:

- Pay attention to the direction to the LEDs. They have Data in and Data out as indicated by the pins and the arrows on the strips.

- Make sure you solder the correct pins. If GND is soldered to one side of the wire, make sure the other side of the wire is also soldered to the other side. I made this mistake when I stopped paying close attention to it.

- If you make a mistake, de-solder the connection, do not try to rip it off the strip.

- Note the arrows on the strips. Make sure all of the arrows are going the same direction. This ensures each data out goes to a data in. The strips only go in one direction.

Step 1: Cut Out Your Shape

The first thing you need to do is decide what shape you want to make.

I wanted to make the Digilent logo, which is essentially composed of two triangles.

Something that's really important to note is that, the shape is based on the LEDs, not on the shape of the strips, so keep that in mind. For example without the shape of the strips in my shape, the triangles appear to have rounded corners. Cut the strips so that you can make the desired shape.

Decide what strip you want the wires from the microcontroller to go to. I choose a corner on the outside triangle so that the wires wouldn't get in the way. From there you should be able to follow the arrows around to make one long strip if the shape was stretched out.

Also cut out the wires you need and strip them. You will need three wires for each bend if your LEDs have three signals. I found it easiest to make the wires longer than necessary and then just fold them out to make the curves.

Step 2: Secure a Strip

I found it was easiest to solder if you have something to secure the strip. Secure the strip with a clamp of some sort.

Step 3: Heat the Copper Pad

Take your soldering iron and place it on the side of one of the copper pads to heat it up.

Step 4: Make a Solder Blob

Touch the solder to the heated copper pad while the iron is still touching it. Make a solder blob on the pad and remove the soldering iron.

Step 5: Repeat for All Pads

Make solder blobs on the other two pads.

Step 6: Attach the Wire

Take the wire in one hand and the soldering iron in the other hand. Heat up the solder blob and place the wire on the blob. Remove the soldering iron and hold the wire until the solder hardens around it.

Warning! The wire and strip may heat up significantly.

Step 7: Repeat for the Other Two Wires

Attach the other two wires.

Step 8: Connect the Strips Together

Using the same technique attach all the strips together, forming one long strip that can be bent into the desired shape. Make sure all the arrows point the same direction.

Step 9: Bend Your Strips Into the Desired Shape

Now that you have a bendable strip, you can bend the strip into the desired shape and continue with whatever you needed the shape for.

For example, an LED Graduation Hat. :)

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