I'm getting married at the end of the month and I wanted to do something electrical and magical for my gal for a centerpiece of the table. Since we are getting married just blocks from Philadelphia's "Love Park" i decided to take the iconic statue and transform it into marquee letters with pixel leds controlled by an Arduino. Adafruit's Neopixel library enabled me to add a rainbow lighting pattern that looks really groovy.
Step 1: Parts & Tools
1. 3/4" MDF, approximately 2' x 3'
2. Poster board - 1 sheet
3. Hot glue
4. Pixels string - at least 35, I used these: WS2811 Pixels
5. Arduino - I used a Nano
6. Momentary switch
7. On/Off Switch
8. Brackets - angle and flat
9. Spray paint - Silver metallic or whatever color you wish
1. Scroll or Sabre saw
2. Circular saw
3. Drill and bits
4. Glue gun
5. Sander or sand paper
Step 2: Layout
The following drawings were used to layout the letters. I saved it as a PDF file. The drawings are set up so that they can be printed on (2) 8-1/2" x 11' paper for each letter so you will have to line up the two pages to make one layout. Use the lines as match points and overlap the two drawings on a light box. If you don't have a light box hold it up to a window.
Tape the layout letters and tape them directly to the MDF. Try to line up straight edges where applicable as shown in the cutsheet. Drill a hole in the center of the "O" so you can cut out the inner part. Once laid out, cut the MDF into manageable 1-letter pieces. Use your scroll saw to cut out the letters. Cut out the base also.
Sand smooth when done. Drill 1/2" diameter holes for the pixels, as shown in the drawings, making sure that they are no farther apart than 3". (If using a similar pixel string I used. check before drilling all the holes, you may have to adjust as needed according to your pixel string).
Step 3: Add the Edging
I used poster board to make the edges that will keep the lighting inside the letters. I made them 1-1/2" wide by 36" long. You will need (2) strips for each letter. One sheet should be enough to make enough all the letters.
I used a glue gun to adhere the edge to the letters. Carefully map out how to apply the edges. I started on a corner and worked it around one side at a time. Crease corners and be careful, hot glue is hot! Work all the way around until you are finished. DO NOT USE ELMERS GLUE! It will ruin the paper and make it extremely wrinkly and the set-up time is way too long.
Step 4: Assembly
To assemble you will need to use different brackets as shown. I started by centering the "V" and "E" on my base and placing my angle brackets where needed, 2 per letter. I then predrilled small starter holes and then used a power driver to drive the screws tight. Once the two base letters were done, I added the "L" by lining it up with the V below. Here I used two rectangular plates using the same predrill and screw method. make sure the brackets and plates don't cover up your pixel holes! The "O" is slanted at about a 45 degree angle away from the "L." Notice the orientation because I initially leaned it the wrong way and had to redo it. I used the longer plate flat bracket and the plate to attach the "O."
Step 5: Painting
I used a metallic silver spray paint to make my letters look like a galvanized sign. You can use any color but be aware that the pixels will make the color. Paint carefully in light coats until all is covered. Don't lay it on too thick as this could cause the poster board to wrinkle. Since I was going for a "vintage" old look, mistakes in painting and defects just makes it look more antique. I decided that I wanted to paint the outside white as an overcoat.
Step 6: Install the Pixels
The pixels should fit snuggly into the 1/2" holes so you shouldn't need any glue. Be aware of the direction of the wires as indicated on the pixels. There is a small arrow indicated "Input" and "Output." Wire your nano to pin 3 for the data and the power to 5V and ground to GND. The button was placed on pin 6 but you can place it on any pin you please. One side of the switch goes to the pin the other to ground. I used a rocker style switch to turn my display on and off. This depends upon how you want to power your display. You could use a usb transformer with a micro end for the nano. Then to turn it off, just unplug. If using battery power, just put the switch in.
To install your pixels, start at the top of "L" and weave your way down thru the letters as shown. Follow the pattern and it should fit pretty well.
Step 7: Solder the Circuit
I originally ran the marquee off a 9 volt battery but changed it to a cell phone charger with a micro usb I could plug right into the Arduino Nano. For the wedding I ran without the momentary switch so that it could cycle thru the patterns without my input since I was busy getting married and stuff.
Step 8: Code
Load the adafruit library found here: Adafruit NeoPixel Library
If you have problems, Adafruit has many tutorials on how to load libraries.
Once done, upload the code and watch the magic!
The sample code given is the one I used at my wedding. It just cycles thru all the different patterns without using a button.
The second code is with a button you press to change patterns.