How to Create an Eye Catching Display (LED Style)




This is not as much an instructable as a record of how I made a school project. While repeating exactly what I did will probably not help you, this project can be modified to make almost any display more eye-catching.

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Step 1: Come Up With an Idea

I know this sounds stupid but it is necessary to know at least roughly what you are trying to do. In this case, I wanted to somehow incorporate astronomy and draw attention to my poster. With this in mind, I came up with a cheesy saying and a plan for the placement and animation of the LEDs.

Step 2: Generate a Poster Design

The next step is to create a conventional poster, either by writing/drawing it out on paper or posterboard or by using a program such as Jasc Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop. Be sure to do a good job here as a great electronics display can only help a crappy poster so much.

Step 3: Gather Tools and Materials

Now the fun begins.
You will need:
-A saw
-Some sort of marker or sharpie
-A straight edge
-Tape (scotch or other clear variety)
-Soldering iron
-Desoldering bulb
-Wire cutters
-Needle nose pliers
-Vice grips
-Wire strippers
-Electrical tape or heat-shrink tubing
-A backer for the poster (I used masonite but stiff cardboard or sheet PVC should work)
-Sandpaper (medium grit)
-A microcontroller
-A power source
-Jumper wires
-A breadboard to test it all
...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Don't worry, it sounds like more than it actually is.

Step 4: Make Backer

While you probably have a very beautiful poster at this point it is not nearly thick enough to support the electronics. Using the straight edge, mark a piece of the backer board the same size as the poster and cut it out.

Step 5: Sand Down the Edges

When you cut the masonite it will probably have rough edges. Five minutes with a piece of sandpaper can go a long way towards making your display look nice.

Step 6: Program the Microcontroller

Now it's time to program the microcontroller. Since I am new to microcontrollers and don't own a "real" one such as an Atmel AVR or a PIC microcontroller, I used a clunky version of the Parallax BASIC Stamp called a "Homework Board." It came in a kit called "What's a Microcontroller?" but it was easy to program, it met my needs and I had it on hand. My program was very simple but got the job done, lighting up the LEDs in the correct order at a reasonable brightness with no extra chips.

Step 7: Place the LEDs

Now it's time to place the LEDs. If you want to be extra careful and have the LEDs placed extremely accurately you can drill holes for the leads, but if you're using masonite you can just poke holes through the backer board with a resistor's leads. If the holes aren't perfect it's not a big deal, just make sure that you have a separate hole for each lead so that they don't short out.

At this point you may also want to attach your microcontroller to the back, preferably in an out of the way location such as a corner. Since I was worried about the weight of my micontroller being an issue, I ran a wire through the holes in the board, through some holes in the masonite that I drilled, and back to the beginning where I soldered it to itself. I didn't get a good picture of this, but it's probably just as well as it was overkill and tape would probably work better anyways.

Step 8: Solder Together the Electronics

Now it's time to solder. Since the leads will probably cross, be sure to insulate them to prevent a short circut. Also, if the electronics look like crap (like mine do) then don't worry, people won't see it (unless you show them). Just be careful not to burn yourself or start a fire.

Step 9: Show Off Your Project

Congratulations, you now have a very eye-catching display. Set it up in a hallway or at a convention and watch as people walk over to look at it.

I hope you've enjoyed this instructable. Please comment as it is my first instructable and any feedback will help me make my next one better. Thanks for reading!

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    16 Discussions


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I saw what is a microcontroler at radio shack and was gonna buy it, is it good? i can make a small robot as soon as i can program micro controllers

    3 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I would recommend an Arduino, they are about $30 and are pretty powerful. They use C, but come with many functions that make I/O SOOO much easier. Also, tons of people use them so you can find answers to your questions easily


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    It is a great microcontroller to start out with, I would highly recommend it. In addition to having a built in battery clip, programmer, and prototyping board, it comes with a 300+ page programming guide and an assortment of components. The only problem that I have found with it is that it uses PBASIC, so if you want to use anything other than a Basic Stamp later you need to learn a new programming language.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Have you thought of using SMT LED. They can be mounted flush in the cover. Plus a larger amount for a better look

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, that's a good idea. At the time I made the poster I didn't even know the difference between SMT and thru-hole components, let alone how to make my own circuit boards. Perhaps I will track down a copy of Eagle and make a version 2.0 next time I have to make a poster for school.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Nice instructable! Well done! The only thing I may have done differently was maybe have used less delay between the yellow LED's so that the loop was faster. P.S.: I have the same Crescent flush cutters sitting in front of me this very moment!


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Haha yeah. That was so funny that the cops there got their panties in a bunch when there were some flat circuit boards with LEDs in them. For those of you who don't know, it was a low budget advertising campaign across 10 cities for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. Boston is the only city that freaked.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    no they all freaked i know for a fact that philly had patrol cars searching for them when word broke


    11 years ago on Introduction

    At your age, i was still trying to figure out why 2 leds don't take double the voltage 1 does. Good job, I wish I figured stuff out earlier. BTW, I feel bad that you had to buy all that stuff at radio shack, they quadruple the prices from what they pay for them. If you don't mind waiting, even buying parts online and paying for overnight shipping can be cheaper.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Boy do I know the feeling of "I happen to have this clunky programmable thing, but it'll do." Good job!