Totally Lit - Programmable RGB LED Acrylic Sign

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About: tinkerer, teacher, developer, dreamer

Been playing around with the laser cutter/engraver, and really fell in love with engraving in to clear acrylic and shining a light source from the edge. The thickness of the acrylic being used is a .25" sheet, which cuts really cleanly by the laser cutter/engraver (the one that I had access to is the Trotec 300). Started off with a simple OPEN sign with a single light colour source, and have moved on to using programmable RGB LEDs

Things needed for this Instructable:

  • access to a laser cutter/engraver (however you could get the same effect with clear acrylic and fine use of sand paper - though it's a lot more work this way)
  • Software to design the vector image (I used Adobe Illustrator)
  • RGB LEDs
  • Arduino Nano
  • Push button
  • Wiring
  • Wood (scraps were used in this case)
  • screws/glue
  • AC/DC power adapter (5V was used here - I repurposed old AC adapters from other devices that have been long past their use, such as old mobile phones and their charging adapters that were included with them)
  • spray paint (optional)

Step 1: Design and Laser Cut

Designed the sign using various techniques in a vector based program (such as Illustrator), and then made sure to set the proper line widths and colours (in Illustrator, with the Trotec laser cutter, you have to set the document to RGB colours, and then set the cut line widths to .001"). Using various colours to define cut versus engrave (red for full cut, blue for half cut, and black for engrave), set the laser cutting software to the specs as shown in the screen capture of the laser cutter materials setup page. The Adobe Illustrator file is included here.

The acrylic being used here is 3/8" thick (very sturdy), which gives it a lot of room for the LEDs to shine and bounce within when placed at the edge of the acrylic.

Step 2: Prepare LEDs and Program

Using an Arduino Nano, a 5V AC Adapter, a push button, and strip of programmable/addressable RGB lights, set up the system so that output from a digital connection controls each individual LED and it's brightness. The push button had to be programmed so that it acted as a toggle to increase a counter, which then led to a certain light pattern to be displayed.

The light patterns included in the Arduino source code are the following which are toggled through each button press:

  • all red
  • scrolling red to the right
  • red, white and red (Canadian colours, eh?)
  • scrolling red to the left
  • randomized rainbow colours
  • all green
  • all blue
  • all yellow
  • all white

Step 3: Putting It All Together

Using some scrap wood, made a base where the LED strip lay flush and had mounts that held on to the acrylic. Used some hot glue to hold it all down. With the AC adapter just needing to be plugged in, Arduino boots up immediately and now you have a totally lit sign!

Please feel free to ask questions here, and I'll be more than glad to help troubleshoot any issues you might have making your totally lit sign.

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    echundotcomWeTeachThemSTEM

    Reply 9 days ago

    you're welcome... I used a ultra bold font, but had to design the bevel by hand on Illustrator, as the ones that I found online weren't as clean as I wanted for the sign.