Hello! Welcome to my instructable on how to make a HUGE addressable led panel, and when I say huge I mean really big. The panel is just over 2.5 x 1 meters large which, in other term, is 8' 4" x 3' 4". The panel was built over multiple days, but if you really wanted to get it done it is doable to build it in a day.
The panel has 846 individual segments, and 2538 RGB led's. With that much light the panel needs a lot of power, the led's are fed with 2 large power supplies (more about that later). And last but not least the panel is controlled by a HC-008 and a H806SB wifi controller.
In this instructable I will tell you about my panel, and you are absolutely welcome to follow my exact instructions. But I will also add information for variations so you have something to go on if you want to make yours different.
Before we begin I want to share the intended goal I had for this project. I wanted to make a large led panel that was light enough to hang on the ceiling with as little changes to the ceiling as possible. Also I wanted to use up as many materials I had laying around the house as I could. And finally, I wanted to make this project as easy and straightforward as possible!
Above you can see what the panel looks like, for some reason the video does not have any sound but there wasn't much to hear anyway.
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Step 1: Panel Design
Before we start buying materials and building a panel you have to ask yourself what you want your panel to look like: Large/small, type of light diffusing (or none at all), type of led, type of controller and material to make the frame out of.
Large/small: Both have it's advantages and disadvantages. A small panel can be easily moved and stored, also it does not use as much power and materials (so it will be cheaper in both the long and short run). Disadvantages of a small panel include little/possible insufficient light and of course not the impression a huge one makes!
Type of light diffusing: As you can see my panel is covered in a translucent piece of plastic, this causes a diffused effect. I used a Plexiglas/PMMA sheet which was treated to look like opaque but it does let light through. Alternatives include no sheet at all and transparent Plexiglas. For another panel I build I used transparent Plexiglas and coated it with silicone caulk that I rolled out with a paint roller*. I do not recommend using glass.
Type of led: There are tons of led's out there. To make it easy I would recommend just sticking to WS2811 addressable led strips. However even within the WS2811 led strips there are tons of different kinds of strips, 3 led's per chip (so 3 led's are the same), 30, 60, 90, even 120 led's per meter etc. For my panel I used 3 led's per chips, 60 led's per meter (so per meter there were 20 addressable segments). To determine the amount of strips you need you first need to decide on what the size is going to be, next you need to decide how many rows you want and finally you need to decide how much space you want in between your strips. I have 18 rows of strips that are 5 cm apart (so a total of 95 cm) plus beams that make up the sides (2x2.5 cm)
Type of controller: Just as there are tons of strips, there are tons of controllers. The most important part is that you pick a controller that is meant for addressable leds and not for single color led's, also you need to pick a controller that supports WS2811 led's (luckily most do). And of course you need to decide what you want from your controller, I wanted to play my own programs, control the panel from my phone and also have a remote that plays pre configured programs. I wasn't able to get that from one controller so I used two.
Materials to make the frame out of: This is a matter of cost vs durability vs weight. Thin wood works fine as a back, as long as the sides are robust. You can use hardboard but do reinforce the back with crossbeams to prevent sagging. I used 4 separate panels of thin wood (forgot the kind of wood) but it is lightweight and does not sag. I would recommend you use one large sheet in stead of separate pieces to save reinforcement and making things unnecessarily complicated. The reason I went for separate panels is because I just didn't have a way to get a large panel home from the store, also the crossbeams I already had at home.
For the crossbeams and sides I used 2,5 x 5 cm beams, but you are completely free to chose whatever you want to use. As I already mentioned I used this because I already had it laying around.
Cost of panel: This panel cost approximately 300 euro's. But according to the materials, size and electronics you choose this amount will be different.
*See step 'Diffusing panel' for more information
Step 2: Shopping List
Now you have your design on paper it's time to go shopping!
- Wood panels/sheet according to the size of your panel
- Wooden support beams (as flat as possible without sagging), also according to the size of your panel. If you chose to use separate panels be sure to support each seam. If you chose a full sheet make a layout that is most efficient for preventing sagging.
- Wood glue
- WS2811 addressable led's, they sell these per 5 meters on eBay. Be sure that you have enough strips for your design! Also be sure to buy the right ones. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of types of WS2811 strips. You want the 12v strips
- Controller(s), there is more information about the controllers in the previous step. You want the 12v controllers
- Power supply, this is according to your amount of led's. Each strip is rated at 72w/5m which would mean for my panel I would need a little under 650 watts of power at 12v. Luckily that is not the case (by far). After measuring the power the strips use at full white I concluded that I would be just fine with 480 watts of power. So for your panel use the rule that you will need 10 watts per meter of led's and you will be more than fine. To translate watts to amps you just divide you total watts used by 12 (the voltage). You want the 12v power supplies.
- 220v wires (16 gauge)
- Chains and hooks to hang the panel up (optional)
- 220v plug and cable (I used mine from an old power tool)
- Double sided tape
- White duct tape (or you can use paint. I used tape because it is easy)
- Diffusing board (optional, see previous step for more information)
- Plastic corner profile (to cover the screws in the diffusing board) + adhesive
- 12V 1A power supply (optional) *
- Light triggered relay circuit/device (optional) *
All the parts can bought from the hardware store (wood, diffusing board, wires, tape, glue, screws, plastic profile, hooks and chains) or eBay (WS2811, controllers, power supply, cable and wires). If you live in the Netherlands this is a good website for ordering diffusing sheets: https://www.xxlstunt.nl/
For my panel I used 4 separate panels, but I advise using one full panel if you can get it home. For the strips I bought a total of 45 meters (9 strips) of WS2811 addressable led's (per 3 led's) with a total of 60 led's per meter. I used 2 controller: One wifi controller with self made patterns (HC-008) and one controller with pre-programmed patterns that has a remote (H806SB). I settled for 2x20A power supplies (to prevent overcrowding of wires on one power supply) but I will probably switch to 2x15A power supplies soon because I can use the 20A for another project. For the ascetics I used tape in stead of paint for the ease, and it looks just fine. And last but not least I used a 2.5 x 1M sheet of treated Plexiglas which gives a opaque effect when there is no light but is actually translucent.
Tools used for this project include, but are not limited to, hand held drill, soldering iron, box knife, glue clamps, tenon-saw and an arm of drill bits including screwing attachments, drill bits, and a countersink drill.
Step 3: Building the Frame
Now we have all the parts it's time to start building! If you have one solid board that is EXACTLY the measurements that you want you do not have to make a frame first and then screw it to the board. Instead you can attach the loose parts of the frame right on the board. This helps avoid putting screws in the sides of the frame which might be problematic when you want to insert hooks into the frame.
Firstly. saw a frame where the outer dimensions (the lengths on the outer sides) are the exact dimensions of your board (or boards) so when you go to mount the board on the board does not stick out over the frame or vice versa. You can attach the corners by putting screws through the sides (and also wood glue). As you can see with my frame it is not 4 pieces but 6 pieces, that is because my wooden beam was not long enough. If this is the case for you it is not a disaster but your first choice will be a frame from 4 pieces. Use a right angles piece of wood (or something else right angled) to make sure your corners are 90 degrees.
After the frame is made you can lay it down on a flat surface. and start attaching the board/boards. Be sure to temporarily support the board in the middle to prevent it sagging. To attach the board at same intervals, use an object (like a spray paint can) or a measuring tape. Also use wood glue here too!
Finally when the board(s) are attached to your frame you can mount the support (cross) beams. If you chose the panel approach you will need to support all seams. First, mount the beams through the panels on the frame (so the panel is sandwiched). After all the beams are attached carefully flip it over and attach the panels to the crossbeams (from the 'inside'). wood glue is optional here, I didn't use it, but you can if you want to
All screw holes must be pre drilled, especially the screw holes on on end of a beam (this is to prevent splitting of the wood
If you are not working in the final resting place of your panel and you think it might be troublesome to move it when done, I advise you move it now.
Step 4: Covering the Sides With Tape/paint
You can give your panel a finish according to your liking. I'm a type of person that is usually patient but I hate waiting for paint to dry when I have time to work on my project. So I decided to cover the sides in tape in stead of painting them. The sides won't be very noticeable anyway. Also the type of wood I used is very rough so it would show any unevenness.
If you are more patient than me, and have a smoothly finished frame I would absolutely recommend painting the sides of your frame. The top won't matter much as that will be facing away (either against the wall or the ceiling depending on your choice. If you choose to paint your frame you firstly need to apply a primer (dark shade for a dark finish color, white for a light color finish) and then your finishing layer of paint. Go for water based paint, it dries faster and is non toxic.
Also, if you choose not to have a diffusing layer of plastic, I absolutely recommend painting the inside of the frame. In other cases you wouldn't see the difference, perhaps for reflection purposes it would have effect (white reflects well)
Step 5: Attaching the Strips on the Board
Now the big build is completed we can start putting in the electronics. Firstly, look closely at the strips, you will see an arrow. This is the direction of data flow through the strips, the data only goes the direction of the arrow not the other way. This means that you will have to "snake" your way down the panel. basically the data goes down the first strip, at the end it starts on the next strip (at the same end) and comes back, goes down another strip etc.
In your designing phase you decided on the amount of strips and the spacing between them. before you start randomly sticking them on, draw lines to help guide yourself while putting on the strips so they have (close to) uniform distances between them.
Each strip has a self sticking layer on the back, peel away the paper to expose the sticky layer. You can lay down the first strip on your first line, and then the second one going the other way. Continue this until they are all on the board. The strips need power every 5 meters, in my case it was easy as my strips were (approximately) 2.5M long on the board. So I would need to feed every other row with power (18 rows, 9 connections with positive and negative). Once you have decided where the strips need to be powered, drill 2 small holes on all those points (the electrical wire needs to fit through the holes).
If you didn't use strips as long as mine you can just calculate how many rows equal one led strip. If you end up somewhere in the middle of a strip just round it down to the nearest side where you will have all your wires. This method keeps all the wires on the same side.
Step 6: Hooking Up the Electronics
Before we begin the wiring process it is important to know that you should not go (exactly) by the pictures but by my instructions. The pictures are what I made but during the build process, but later I discovered easier/more efficient ways of wiring the panel. However, the picture are mostly accurate. The wiring diagram is available at request. Your design might be slightly different if you use a smaller amount of led strips or different power supplies.
Firstly, connect all the data pins. So where the arrow ends on each strip, solder a wire on that data pin to the next strip down. Go back to the beginning and do the same (see first picture). After the data has been connected to all the strips you will want to drill an extra hole at the beginning and put the data wire through that hole (of course connecting it in the process).
The best thing you can do next is decide where you want your power supplies to be, stick these on the back with the double sided tape (you can also bolt them on, I chose for tape. Bolt them on if your panel will be upright). Now, feed a positive and negative wire through all the remaining holes that you made in the last step, connecting them to both the led strips and the positive and negative (accordingly) voltage rails of the power supply.
Next, hook up the controllers to the power supplies. You will only need to attach the data line from the first led strip to the controller. If you have multiple controllers you need a switch in the data line (more about that later).
Step 7: Final Touches to the Electronics (optional)
This step is completely optional, I put this step in so your panel won't be wasting a lot of electricity. I thought it was beneficiary because after a quick measurement my panel was using more than 30 watts when it was off (power supplies still being powered). This extra step will take care of that.
As they say, all roads lead to Rome. Luckily not all road would lead to Rome or the would be a lot of roads, however there are multiple ways of achieving an electronic switch to turn of the power supplies when the controllers are off. Note that not all controller works with this method, my WiFi controller for instance does not have an off switch so it's always on. It is important that your controller has an indicator light (or some other type of light) that is only emits when it's powered on.
The idea is to only feed the controller with a small power supply. When the controller is turned on, the light reactive relay is triggered turning on the power supplies and then that turns on all the electronics. This way the there is almost no power wasted when the panel is "off". By placing the photo resistor above the led display (that lights up when the controller is turned on) the electronics only turn on when the when the controller turns on.
Other ideas to turn the panel off are a simple on/off switch, a clap activated switch or, if the panel is under a light fixture, using the wall switch.
Step 8: Diffusing Panel
If you haven't decided what type of panel to use and want to make you own you can easily do this with silicone caulk. If you spread silicone caulk on a Plexiglas sheet and roll it out with a standard foam paint roller it created a great effect. Apply multiple layers for more diffusing (wait until previous layer has dried!). Be careful to do this in a clean space, so nothing gets in the transparent caulk, or else this will show up when you put light under it. I added a picture of the other panel to show the effect.
Now it's time to attach the diffusing board. Lay your panel out over your frame and clamp it to the frame with glue clamps. Mark the spots so you know where to drill the holes and once marked pre-drill the screw holes for the screws. After pre-drilling the holes you will also need to counter sink the holes so your sheet doesn't split. Now put screws in all the holes and permanently attach the panel to the frame.
As a final touch, saw the corner profiles so they intersect on the corners at 45 degrees with each other. Apply the adhesive to the corners and stick them on the sides of the panel to cover the screws in the front panel.
Step 9: Programming
I used Ledbuild for my controller. however I do not recommend it. If you have a free choice in led controllers take into account the software that is used for the panel.
I have a good experience with Lededit, but there are tons of small programs out there to play and design with.
Step 10: Final Thoughts
There are a ton of controllers on the market, anywhere from music controllers to wireless controllers over the internet. Pick a controller according to your needs, two at most. The more controllers you have the more complicated (and expensive!) the panel gets. That being said it is not impossible, just not recommended.
This is just one way of building a panel, there are more and i'm sure there are better ones. If you have anything to add or correct please leave a comment and I will get back to you when I have time.
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