Laser Image Projector




This is basic instructions on how to build a portable image projector that uses a green laser instead of normal light. The laser permits images to be cast great distances, and doesn't require focusing - it's always in focus.

This particular design is simple in order, more for the sake of keeping my short attention span on track for long enough to actually get this finished!

Let me know if I've missed some detail and I'll correct it.

For more photos see flickr page

Warning: Even a low power laser can cause permanent eye damage. Always wear safety glasses and never point at people, animals, or police helicopters!

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Step 1: Materials and Tools

This method describes absolute basics using lesser quality optics and low power green laser.

This guide shows the set-up for slides made from overhead transparencies.

I will use the Dinkle rails and polymorph pellets.

Materials Required:

  • Green laser module 10mW+
  • 1 solid length of wood (~90cm)
  • polymorph pellets (or a willingness to create lens holders from wood, plastic, etc)
  • concave and convex lens. You can get these from old disposable cameras which camera shops will throw out by the dozens.
  • Hardware for attaching rail to wood (bolts or screws, depending on method).

Optional Materials:

Tools required:

  • Drill
  • Jigsaw or handsaw
  • Hole making bits for drill (if using wood to create lens holders)


I will use the Dinkle rails for this instruction simply because they make alignment so much easier. They also allow a great degree of modularity - being able to swap different lasers, lens, etc in and out quickly.

Step 2: Create the Base

In this method, I'm using a long plank of wood about 90cm long, 15cm wide, and 1cm thick. You pretty much mount it on any long piece of stiff material.

Note: the length will determine how much you can distance the first lens from the slide to allow the 'dot' to expand enough to cover the slide area.

Stiffness is essential. For alignment of the laser is often difficult - unnecessary flex will throw the alignment out too easily.

If using rail, rule a straight line up the centre of the plank, and mount the rail dead centre. You may need to cut the rail in order to fit it on the plank.

If not using a rail, create a centre line very accurately! Any holes drilled must also be very much in line.

Step 3: Laser and Lens

Mounting the Laser

Assuming we using a pen type laser pointer we need to mount the laser into a holder which securely hold the laser in position with no movement at all.

Since laser pointers often have a press switch, I will pull them apart and bridge a wire across the switch so that when-ever a battery is attached, it will stay on. Be careful soldering this while - you can easily dislodge other components and destroy the laser module.

Heat is often the death of lasers! Assuming it'll be on for longer than a few minutes, you may need a form of heat sink to dissipate the heat.

Find an aluminium heat sink from an old computer, and drill a hole big enough to fit the pointer into. Use thermal paste around it.

In this quick and dirty example, I'm merely pressing the laser into the centre groove with a polymorph blob.

To mount using the rail, use two 72mm perpex/pcbs'.

The bottom piece slots into the mounting block, and the other squarely above it, with bolts in each 4 corners.

This allows the vertical level to be raised up and down accurately.

Best to create this 'scaffold' before attaching any of the components to the top perspex/pcb.

Position the laser (in heat-sink) loosely on the top.

Turn the laser on and use a set square aligned along the centre line. Ensure the laser is aligned along the line, and is also exactly parallel with the plank/rail.

Once you are happy with the alignment, mark the position with a pencil.

I'll leave the method of attaching laser to you, but remember you may need to reposition it slightly later, so gluing it down now may cause regret. Some form of bolting may be better.

Step 4: The Other End

Once the laser is loosely in place, I like to position the focusing lens that sits at the other end of the rail/plank.

Use the same method of mounting the laser, to mount the focusing lens.

Use the polymorph to seat the lens - keep it centred and horizontal!

Now line up the laser so it passes dead centre through the lens, adjusting both laser and focusing lens until the beam goes through the lens and does not diverge in any other direction horizontally or vertically.

Once these two are in line, we're almost there! Just two more modules to install.

Step 5: Slide Holder

Obviously you need an image to project.

I suggest using a 35mm slide mount with either a colour slide, or an overhead transparency made to size.

Why? the denser the film, the less light can pass through. If you want to project a maximum distance, an OH image on clear transparency is the best for guerrilla art projections that require maximum illumination.

Of course, just experiment with different type of film!

As for the laser and lens, make the scaffold for the slide holder.

Using the polymorph create a slide holder simply by placing a blob, and sticking an empty mount in there. Let it set, remove mount, and instant slide holder!

Next, some tweaking of horizontal and vertical positioning of the slide and scaffold is required so that the dot of the laser is precisely centred. Don't move the laser to centre the dot!

Step 6: Spread the Dot

Using a concave lens, we expand the beam enough to cover all or most of the 35x24mm area of the slide. You can use 2 lens to expand the dot in a shorter distance, but brightness does suffer a little bit for each filter the laser has to pass through.

You can find these lens in old disposable cameras. The basic shape extrudes inwards and expands the beam.

If you want to buy some quality glass lens, then a number of reputable laser shops online can supply these.

As before set the lens within a 'holder' - using the polymorph or other materials. Set up another 'scaffold' and position the lens so that the beam of the laser passes directly through the centre.

Adjust the size of the expanded dot by moving the slide holder up and down until you're happy. This of course means moving the focusing lens too.

Once all modules are in alignment - you should see some sort of projection - if out of focus, then move the focusing lens back and forth relative to the slide to get the optimum sharpness.

A useful tool for alignment is lining up the main 'reflected' dot that will invariably occur to the centre of the preceding module element.

Step 7: Expanding the Concept

I'm sure I've omitted some important detail, but I hope its relatively clear.

There are so many ways to expand this I'm only going to suggest a few:

  • Use glass lens for a brighter image (pull apart old cameras for these)
  • Once confident, try a more powerful laser (100mW+). Remember lasers = dangerous!
  • Instead of slides, use small TFT screens (such as those 'digital photo-keychains'). You will need a more powerful laser though to get a brighter image. Or rip apart a digital photo frame. Caution: mobile phone screens (or any screen designed to work in sunlight) will not work nearly as well.
  • Use spinning/vibrating mirrors (with small motors) to create a form of scanning that potentially give the illusion of a much brighter image via persistence of vision (quite complex). This link to Starcross42's example demonstrates a technique for creating spiral effects. Check out his other videos as well!.
  • use biological matter between two glass slide and project the microscopic onto hospital buildings.

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    144 Discussions


    2 years ago

    How long should each of the rails be? I know nothing of the field but I'm going to do my best. Any tips are welcome and if anyone sees any steps missing that a newbie would need to know please jump in! Thanks.


    2 years ago

    Hi, I need to project vector images (or jpg/png with just an outline) in daylight conditions, possibly using a portable projector with an internal batttery, do you have any suggestion? Thanks


    4 years ago on Step 7

    LOL - don't take this through airport security - unless freedom is something you've become bored with.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Regarding the lens obtained from the view finder of a disposable camera. Those lenses are inverted Galilean type, which includes a concave lens and a convex lens. From the photos it seems that you are using only the concave lens from a viewfinder, but not the convex lens. Is that correct?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    What specs should the focus lens have? Would one like this work:


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Nice project. If you're going to eventually try using the laser to illuminate a TFT lcd, you might want to go ahead and try your hand at blending lasers to get a "white" beam out to your LCD. How do you blend lasers? Easy! With a prism, you can presumably mount your three lasers so that they each enter the prism at different angles and emerge congruently. The easiest method I can conceive of doing this by is to shine a little sunlight into the normally non-emitting face of the prism, then they sliding your lasers back and forth through the rainbow until the color emitted from the prism matches the color of the laser. Then, cut off the source of sunlight and adjust your lasers back and forth until your emitted "white" beam (in quotes because it won't be) is as small and bright as possible. Voila! bright and power-efficient light source for your projector that needs very little focusing! Please note: Typed out like this, this process looks easy. If it were actually so, cigarette-pack sized projectors that can throw images many feet would probably be available for $125-300. I have never done this, know little if anything about the optics involved, and have only seen a few laboratory attempts at making this work that succeeded with a purely multilaser lightsource. If you pulled this modification to your current plans off, consider yourself a king amongst hackers.

    14 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting idea. I know you can split a beam with a triangle prism, but wondered if you could merge two laser sources into one, say a green and a blue laser, and then merge that with a red laser via another triangle prism. Purely a theoretical idea though, but must be tried one day when I can afford one of those blue lasers. The plans published in this instructable are very basic indeed - I've experimented with a few other things but thought it best to keep this article strictly aimed at fundamentals with only the laser being the main burden of cost. I love the idea of a cigarette sized projector though - it'd be a worthwhile challenge to get it down that small :)


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Well, if you want to experiment with a "blu" laser now, repair parts for the ps3 can be found for 40-50USD via this ebay search. There may be some other way to get the blu-ray laser diode more cheaply still, but it's a start. (FYI, for ebaying a given piece of technology, I find that searching "[technology] (broken, parts)" tends to yield an avalanche of links. Putting multiple comma-separated items in parenthesis will cause ebay to do an OR search for all the included terms.)


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the advice. I've got the feeling that my 100mW (won on ebay) isn't actually a 100mW (it can't burn pvc, or etch dark card at all). Is novalasers good?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Novalasers are exceptionally good, but if you want real power try Optotronics. Now they have some LEET lasers. If you come on LPF, there are people who have laser power meters to whom you can send your laser, if you pay postage they will test it for you and provide a report. You may be able to use this to take it up with the ebay seller, but on the forums eBay lasers are known to be a gamble at best. it wasn't a seller called zonestealth was it? he's no good with lasers. I have personally a ~185mW red laser... it's soo much fun. it can even sting unsharpied skin... match lights, burns plastic, everything.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I know Evans and Sutherland (Now Rockwell Collins) is working on an RGB laser projector. Whatever the problem are with the technology, they're tough ones.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    RGB animation lasers are nothing new. Just difficult to DIY. You can buy a 1W combined (500mW red, 300 green, 200 blue) laser scanner, computer interface and software to put together amazing presentations. IF, and it's a big IF, you have a spare $4000. I really don't think a DIY one would be any cheaper. Regardless I intend to try too :P


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not sure what their difficulties were, but their laser projector's not good enough to replace our current system. Maybe grain problems during low luminance scenarios?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    A RGB animation projector offers such things as 1,000,000:1 or greater contrast ratios, as light is only projected where needed, the difficulty is scanners or 'galvos' that can scan fast enough to work as a projector at like, 30 FPS. (frames per second) Also, the equipment (DAC, lasers, amps, galvos) is still relatively expensive. and yes, they are awesome. try searching youtube for 'RGB laser show' or similar.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    When I saw this the projector mixing three lasers was the first thing that came to mind. Excellent instructable!