Light-Up Dry Erase Board




Introduction: Light-Up Dry Erase Board

About: In which I turn the thoughts from my head into objects in my hands

I've always loved the light-up dry erase boards that many shops put out to attract customers.

I love the rainbow spectrum of colors filling up the dark void of nighttime.
I love the spiraling patterns of the mysterious morse code.

Poetic musings aside, I've been wanting one for myself at home and decided to make a project out of it. Though I'd been thinking about it for months now, the full idea of how to execute the lighting and base hit me just *wait-for-it* this morning at 6 A.M. Though I'd been planning to make it a multi-day effort, I couldn't get the project out of my head while during o-chem problem sets and decided I'd be more productive if I finished this before getting back to hyperconjugation.

Step 1: Materials

  • acrylic/glass (I used a 10cm x 15cm sheet of 1/4" thick clear acrylic from TAP plastics. Glass could be used too; no matter which you choose, just be sure that you use as thick and short piece as possible. You want thick so that the light has room to travel, and short so that a) the center of mass will be low, thus lowering the chance of it toppling over and b) the light will be able to travel completely from bottom to top.)
  • LED diodes (I used color changing LEDs that I got from for $3. Alternatively, you can use LED strips and microcontrollers for a more controlled light show.)
  • Mod Podge/glue
  • soldering materials
  • cardstock/construction paper
  • 9V batteries and snap connectors (not sure what it's called, but by snap connector I mean the snap-on part that has wire connected to it so you can solder the wires to LED leads and then have the battery connected that way)
  • styrofoam (Alternatively, use cardboard or any other substitutes you can think of.)
  • scissors, rulers, pencils, etc...

Step 2: Base Blocks

To begin creating the base, grab your styrofoam (I had some from when my roommate bought furniture) and cut two wedges off. Size depends on your preference; just make sure that it'll be high enough to cover your LEDs and a bit (~1") of the acrylic sheet, and that it's a bit longer than your acrylic. I just cut off a 1" rectangle (and it was 1.2" thick).

Now, in case it hasn't occurred to you, styrofoam crumbles annoyingly when cut, so make sure that you can vacuum your mess when complete (or do it at your enemy's house..). To prevent the little bits from coming loose and flying everywhere, seal the cut end with tape-no need to be perfect here.

To cover up the messy-looking exterior, fold and glue a rectangle of thick (yes, thick is preferred to create a strong, brick-like block) cardstock around it. Just roll the styrofoam on it until you've gone 360 degrees, add 1-2", and cut it out. Make it about an inch longer than the styrofoam (don't go over an inch, or the next step will be difficult).

Step 3: Sealing the Ends

The ends look quite hideous, and it's hard to finish them up nicely since the paper is so thick. But here's how I pulled it off: (click on the pictures above for the step-by-step instructions).

Step 4: Background: Hard Way

I wanted a custom image for the background of my awesome dry erase board and decided to tint a galaxy image with rainbow colors. See the above pictures for a step-by-step process of how I did it.

galaxy image:

Step 5: Background: Even Harder Way

Now that you have a nice image, let's waste some more time by perfecting it!

This is for those who want even more smooth transitions between colors (and a lot of time, minor OCD, etc.). Again, see the above pictures for a step-by-step process of what I did.

Step 6: Background: Super Easy Way

Being cruel as I am, I decided to leave the easiest way for last. It's not nearly as fun, but this method is for those short on time and patience.

Again, see the above pictures for a step-by-step process of what I did.

Images: rainbow 1 and rainbow 2

Though this is an efficient method, it tints the black trees as well, which I didn't like. Up to you though.

Step 7: Attaching Background to Acrylic

I went the extra mile and had my image printed onto sturdy glossy photo paper, but it's not very necessary. It's just that my printer isn't the best, and when I went to the printing store nearby (college town necessities.. I swear that there are six in a two block radius around my apartment) I decided to go for sturdier paper for a few cents more.

Once printed, crop it to the dimensions of the acrylic.

Do NOT NOT NOT use glue to glue the paper to the back of the acrylic; the glue will leave weird streaks unless it's special clear glue made for this purpose. I had a few ideas of how to do it, but went with the third one below.

1) For those with access to drilling equipment, carefully drill/cut holes on the corners of the acrylic (Acrylic shatters easily, so be extra careful) and put a screw in each. Poke corresponding holes on your paper, add it to the screws, and use a nut to secure everything together.

2) For those with super strong tiny magnets, attach the paper to the acrylic at the four corners with the magnets holding them in place (see second image above). The only problem is that the magnets shift pretty easily..

3) Cut out thin paper strips and CAREFULLY (Don't smudge the glue! It leaves awful residue on acrylic) wrap them around the corners of the acrylic and paper (see third and fourth images above).

Step 8: LEDs: Cardboard Support

This and the next steps will be going over how to make what are essentially a poor man's/woman's LED strip.

Cut two rectangles of cardboard that will fit both blocks of styrofoam and the acrylic sheet sandwiched on its surface. Put one aside for later, and wrap the other with construction paper.

Mark a line that runs through the middle of it, and mark where your acrylic will rest (center the acrylic sheet and mark the edges). Then divide that length by 7 and mark off six notches from that calculation (assuming you're using 6 LEDs; you can change that number, of course). For me, I divided the acrylic's 15cm by 7 to get ~2.14 so I marked notches at 2.14, 4.28, 6.42, etc.

Using a sharp needle, poke two adjacent holes at each notch, one per lead for each LED.

Step 9: LEDs

Determine an approximate voltage of your LEDs by twisting positive and negative leads together and testing them with a 9V battery. In my experience, regular LED diodes are about 1.5V so you can connect 6 in series to a 9V battery, but with this color changing ones I could only connect 3 to still maintain a bright glow. Then I poked leads through the cardboard (make sure that all actually work with a 3V 2032 battery, flipped it over, and soldered the leads together in series (long ends with short ends-see third image above). If you don't have soldering materials, go the simple route and just twist the wires together. For soldering the battery terminal wires to the LED leds, hook them together (see third image above) to get a more firm connection, just in case.

Now attach your batteries to the snap connectors to test your circuit. Hopefully it works! If not, something went wrong when you were poking the leads through the holes; you may have connected a negative lead with a negative one or something. You'd have to unsolder and resolder, in that case.

Step 10: Gluing Base Together

Grab the two styrofoam blocks and glue them on either side of the LEDs.

Then grab the other cardboard rectangle you cut out and wrap it in thick cardstock if possible; it'll be at the bottom, and you want it strong enough to avoid having it peeled off easily. Glue that to the bottom of your "LED strip" to hide the soldered wires.

As a "switch" of sorts, only snap on ONE of the terminals. Then you can swing the other terminal to and away from the snap to complete/break the circuit.

Step 11: Finished

And that's all there is! Having spent only $0.86 to print the image (all other materials and tools I had lying around/borrowed from a maker space/engineering club I'm in), I'm quite proud of how great it looks given the low cost and impromptu nature of this project. Spending a sliver of the cost feels great, but not as much as the satisfaction of having yet another handmade masterpiece decorating my relatively bare apartment...

I'm already considering adding a magnetic base and making the lights blink in patterns for an added twist--what would other ideas will/would you do? ;)

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    9 Discussions


    Reply 3 years ago

    I only spent $0.86 to print my custom background image since I happened to have everything else, but here's a rough estimate:

    -- acryilc: ~$3 max for such a small piece, or just ask for a sample from some plastics store

    -- LED: ~$3/30, and you need 6 LEDs so ~$0.60

    -- 9V battery + snap-on connector: ~$1.50 from or dollar store

    Then assuming you have stryofoam or cardboard, paper, scissors, glue, pencils, (soldering supplies optional) and rulers at home already, that puts total cost at just over $5.

    Hope this helps!


    Reply 4 years ago

    Thanks, Emily! :)


    Reply 4 years ago



    4 years ago

    It is way to expensive


    Reply 4 years ago

    I'm sorry that the cost is prohibitive for you; for me the project was based around what I had lying around (or in my maker community space, for easy access) so I just had to pay for printing my custom image out. Perhaps try switching out materials I used in lieu of what you have lying around? LEDs you can't quite skirt around, though you could probably butcher some unused toys for them. Soldering isn't super necessary, so there's that. Styrofoam could be replaced with stacks of cardboard, or you ask for scrap cardboard and styrofoam from a grocery store nearby. The battery connector could be simple electrical wires instead, so slitting a pair of broken ear buds for their coated copper wire would be a simple task. The clear acrylic/glass can be taken from a plastic takeout container or something similar. Instead of designing a custom image (if you're like me and haven't have a working laptop in over a month), you can find great images in magazines. There's lots you can combine to replace materials; a bit of imagination and motivation can get you quite far. :)


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Well, since you asked...I feel like it would be hard to write on while in use, and also lacks structural integrity. I had an apartment and now live in a house so I understand the constraints when working in an apartments. I feel like another way would be to actually get a picture frame, turn it over and inset the LEDs in the wood of the frame with a pocket knife or something. I don't know, but I think using a wood frame as a housing would be super cool. I love the background image.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Thanks for your insightful feedback! Your comment on the structural integrity is true; the bottom base is styrofoam, lacking in adequate weight for countering the torque from writing on it, so I mainly remove the board, write a nice statement to cheer myself up (see picture.. my last name is Yu for reference), and turn on the LEDs whenever I'm up for that. The picture frame version is something I'd been planning too; I came up with a simple, foldable paper frame with enough space in the edges to fit LED strips, but I just have to carve enough time out of my schedule to bring that to life. Alternatively, using wooden shadow boxes/frames commonly made for dioramas would work too.