This is an instructable for (yet another) LED sign: The LED sign can be controlled via App so there is voice and music sensivity e.g. for being a party light! Even in constant lightning mode it is an eyecatcher during parties and festivities. I used recycled materials such like old LED strip snippets from a grow light, an old tabletop, some wooden bars I found and cables from the scarpyard. The controls and the powersupply I bought new from Aliexpress.
One small but remarkable feature in comparison to other signs:
However, all the LED signs I saw have one in common: They do not look very good when they are powered off or they have a cover and the actual picture is not seen when powered off. I did not want to use a cover because that just looks like plain nothing. Better than off-powered LED strips, but still... . I asked myself: Why not making the LED sign also look good when it is powered off by using the optical appearance of the strip itself?
So lets come to the main difference to other LED signs I saw: This here also looks great (to me and most guests at least) when powered off and it still shows the picture you see when would be powered on. See yourself!
Step 1: Preparation: Decide for a Picture You Want to Use for Your LED Sign
Maybe you already have an idea for the drawing of the sign meaning you have found a picture or you draw one for yourself. If yes, you can go to the next page. If not, just read on:
Think about your place to party: Where do your parties usually are located? In the garden? In your room? In the whole flat or house? Do you have a seperate room in the basement? In my particular case, parties are hosted in the kitchen.
When you have made your choice, searching a picture for your LED sign gets simpler with these steps: Search for a picture which is...
1. ... linked to the purpose of your chosen room.
2. ... black and white coloured. This makes it easy to determine the LED strip placement.
3. ... an .svg-File. This makes it even more easy to determine the LED strip placement.
To do this, you can do a Google-search, e.g. with a term like "kitchen whisk knife svg". If there is a picture pleasing you, take it. I draw one myself while trying to achieve a sketchy look. However, this will later vanish and the sign will look quite symmetrically due to the limitations of the LED strips. So have in mind that with LED strips cuttable after every third LED you have a quite rough resolution. You cannot draw fine arts unless you go big.
Step 2: Preparation: Get Your Material
Everything else like the size of your plate, the glue or double adhesive tape, the amount of LED stripes and the according power supply as well as the control elements such like a WiFi-RGB-Controller, switches and eventually also RGB amplifiers, spray colour and acrylic filler are now in the need of gathering. For my particular sign I used the following components:
1. LED stripes recycled from an old grow-light (blue and red LEDs installed on an RGB strip PCB)
2. Tesa double adhesive tape roller
3. an old tabletop as mounting plate
4. a bit of a rectangular piece of wood for a wall-mounting solution
5. a WiFi RGB controller like this one: Link (Aliexpress)
6. an LED dimmer like this one: Link (Aliexpress)
7. a toggle switch
8. wires and solder
9. spray color
10. acrylic paste or filler, or small sticky dots to cover LEDs like these ones: Link (Amazon.uk)
Step 3: Building: Prepare the Mounting Plate
The first building step is the preparation of the mounting plate. Make sure it is ready to be glued and coloured before you start. If you need to saw it, do it now. Grinding? Do it now. The last step should be cleaning the mounting plate. From now on you should handle it carefully. My old tabletop from the local scrapyard luckily already had the perfect measurements and it was in a good condition. I only had to clean it.
Draw the picture!
Then get your picture on the plate so that you will know how to glue the LED strips. I used a beamer to project it onto the tabletop and then draw the image on the plate with a pencil. You can also do this free-handed just by looking at the picture - or you can draw completly of your mind for a maximum of creative freedom.
Step 4: Building: Glue the LED Strips
After you know how to glue the LED strips to your plate you can start doing so. To encouter less problems later on, keep the following advice in mind:
1. Pay double attention on the connection pins and their polarity if you place two LED strips together! Do it like you see in the picture.
2. Do not spare on glue and make sure both the tabletop and the LED strip is clean for maximum adhesion.
3. If you have to go curves, cut the LED strips ONLY at the appropriate locations. Also see the pictures for that.
4. Handle the LED strips carefully. If you use recycled ones, you may want to test each before glueing (see the non-working ones in this project because I did not do that).
Step 5: Building: Connecting/Soldering the LED Strips
This part is the most time-consuming one. The more LED strip pieces you used in your sign, the more time you will now have to spend for connecting them. Usually this means: Solder the connection pins together. If you are not good in soldering, you will be after this excercise. My sign has around 1500 solder joints.
Also double check the polarity when soldering. If you cutted the strips the right way (only on the appropriate cutting lines), you are nonetheless quite free considering soldering. Every connection pin can be soldered to any other one with the same polarity/lettering. Still, you may consider an important thing when your sign is big meaning your LED strips/circuits are long or high powered: Resistance. Ohmic resistance to be exactly.
Pay attention to the power specs and the cables
I used around 15m of LED stip snippets. If you would connect them one behind the other, the current running to the first few may be high enough to heat up the pcb through ohmic resistance of the copper layers remarkably. I suggest you connect each 5 meter or less directly to the power supply to avoid that.
I also suggest to test the strips as you progress in connecting them. This way, you can detect failures considering wiring or soldering more easily than when testing the whole circuitry in the end.
Step 6: Building: Attach PSU, Controls and Mounting Solution
After the LED strips are soldered correctly meaning they are working (each channel if you use RGB or similar!), you can now take care of the controls and the PSU including the wiring.
For my sign I decided to put some distance in between the wall and the mounting plate. This way, there is enough space behind the sign for the controls. To make the sign look even more fancy, I added LED strips on the back on each side for an indirect light effect (see the pictures).
Mounting the controls and the PSU
Also, mount the PSU and the control units like switches, the WiFi RGB controller and optional amplifiers or dimmers like in the given manuals. You also may want to isolate the PSU pin headers with a cover and clamp the power cable to take off the stress off the pin header mounting in case someone pulls on it.
Connect everything together
The wiring and the cable management will be the last step. It depends on the features you implement in your sign. On mine this have been the following features:
- Controlling via Smartphone App using Magic Home WiFi RGB Controller
- Manual control via dimmer
- Switch to toggle in between these two control modes
You can check the wiring diagram of the components you use or orient on my sign. However, the cable management here is like a portion of soft cooked spaghettis fallen to the floor. I am sure you can do a lot better! Never try to finish a party sign few hours before party ;)
Step 7: Building: Mounting Solution
There are several different possibilities to mount your LED sign on your wall - or on the ceiling, depending on your personal needs. Like already said I have chosen the wall-mounting with some distance to the wall not only to have space for the controls and the wiring but also for the indirect lightning. I choosed a very simple method to accomplish this:
Use two wooden bars of similar size about the width of your sign in length. Glue and/or screw it into place according to the picture (one at the top, one at the bottom on the back with enough space to the edges so you cannot see the bars from the viewing angle at the front). The first picture shows how the surface was sanded for better adhesion.
Screw two holes in the upper bar like shown in the picture and hook the sign in there using the wall-hooks - also seen in the picture. Make sure everything is a solid construction! E.g. I used wood glue and screws for the bars and screw anchors for the wall hooks.
Step 8: The Little Difference: Make Your Sign Look Good "offline"
Your sign now looks good when it is lit up - but like every LED strip construction with visible strips it looks kinda akward when it is shut off. With this additional step we will improve the look of your LED sign in a way making it look good even if it could not be lightened up at all. This is what we need therefore:
1. Sticker dots with a circle size of the LED chips or acrylic paste (I used the latter because I had it there already)
2. A spray colour of your choice!
Cover the LED chips and spray the sign
Now place a sticker dot or a little of acrylic paste on each LED chip. I know this is a bit of a fiddly task but it will be worth it. Also cover anything else you do not want to be coloured. Unfortunatly I do not have a picture before spraying, but I think you will see what I mean: When you are done, take your sign out and colour it with your spray colour - including the LED strips! Just spray over everything!
Let the colour dry like said in the manual of the manufacturer. Then peel the stickers or the acrylic paste off the chips. Another fiddly task I know. However, you can then stare at your finished LED sign already looking mesmerizing powered off. Now go for it and power it on!
Step 9: Use: Have Fun and Party, Experience, Tips, Further Thougths
The last "step" is nothing else than using your LED sign. This may include setting up and playing around with the appropriate smartphone app if you have an RGB WiFi controller like me. Invite your friends and show them what you have done!
You can easily have your sign running over several hours a day when the LEDs are dimmed either via dimmer or WiFi controller. It does not cost that much energy and the life of the LEDs is much longer than it already is on low power and thus low temperature so you do not have to worry.
What you could improve:
- Better cable management (this here was for the dorm I live in, so quick and dirty was the option)
- Stick artificial clear gems or crystals on each LED chip (something like that, that or that). Unfortunatly, there was not the time nor the budget left to do so - but if I were you making that for myself, I would go for it.
- Use addressable LED strips/chips and an Arduino to make some fancy lighting shows - that also was not an option, see the latter reason.
Some last pictures just to get an impression! Happy making!
Participated in the