Light Bar Build

As has been well-documented, I like playing with LEDs. My art project of the past year has involved LEDs attached to people doing their thing and being captured in a long exposure. It’s been fun.


The Bollywood Dance

Since then, I slowed on the shoots while trying to think of something else to do. During this time, I was sent links to other long exposure projects new and old. One project I liked is the light bar that originally was a KickStarter project called the PixelStick. It’s very cool but at $349 USD out of my price range. If it’s not out of yours, buy it!

I digress. I decided to look at the project from the perspective of what would I need to make one of those light bars and would I need to buy anything to do it? I’m heading to Maker Faire Ottawa in a few days and wanted a new project to show at my table.

I looked around my workspace for applicable components. A slip ring. I’d bought a pair for a project that went on hold and shows no signs of returning. The slip ring would allow me to spin a bar while powering and controlling the LEDs from another source. An Arduino UNO. I did break down and buy an Arduino Pro Mini for the size. If you don’t want to, don’t. I’m a fan of making do most times but I wanted something cleaner. LEDs. I had some leftover cast-offs from my last Infinity Mirror workshop so I could rescue them for this project. I used leftover cuts from my LED clock build because I wanted something moderately nice and didn’t want to spend money on new cuts. I also had a 3.7V LiPo battery with a charger. So mobile power was a go! Did you know you could power an Arduino AND a strip of LEDs with a 3.7V battery? Now you do!

The last thing I’d need is a handle. Turns out, when you own a 3D printer and have a little experience modelling stuff, you can sort yourself out.

After printing the handle, realizing some design flaws and reprinting the lock, I was close to the main mechanism for a spinning light bar.

I spent some time fitting and soldering the LEDs. because the slip ring was a central post, cutting the strip in half, I had to get creative about communicating with the strip. Both ends began in the center. So one end had to connect with the other.

I don’t want to gloss over the carpentry aspect but… There was a bunch of work involved in cutting down the plywood, rounding the corners, cutting down the framing, gluing everything. I am saving anyone that chooses to make one of these the effort and designed some illustrator files to allow you to laser cut your parts.

I ended up buying a small box to hold all the electronics and after some finagling managed to fit what I needed into it.

As you can see from that last photo, I taped the LEDs down. Until I was sure I wasn’t doing anything else to it, I didn’t want to glue anything. But I was now ready for my first test!

I loved this thing. It was almost exactly what I was hoping for. While working on a project for the Grey Cup with Brent Marshall and Brett Hagman, I had a conversation with some prop guys who’d built the letters.

greycup hashtag letters in winnipeg
Photo by Gary Lawless

I asked if they might had some scrap white acrylic and with a simple shrug and a “sure”. I acquired some diffuser. Game-changer.

Again, I don’t really want to go on about the construction of the acrylic to the frame. I included a to-size file in the illustrator files so you don’t need the headache. But I finally got down to gluing…

and sealing up…

and testing the finished piece.

Just based on the amount of effort I went through in construction, I would recommend looking below for the various components to save you time. The initial code I’m using is below as well, uploaded as a repo on GitHub. If you have any question, and it’s understandable if you do, please feel free to contact me. studio at hughqelliott dot com.

The TinkerCAD file for the handle and lock can be found here. The stl is uploaded to Thingiverse. The enclosure and diffuser parts for laser-cutting are uploaded to Thingiverse as well.

The GitHub repo for the microcontroller. The electronics shopping list is included in the ReadMe.

Used RapidTables for my colour selections.


This is my son using it like a light saber and calling himself Darth Maul.

3 thoughts on “Light Bar Build

  1. You mentioned on Instagram about creating a workshop build for this. I would really like to do this with a group of students and would love to get more info from you. Thanks!

    1. The workshop I need to write up is for the Light Ball kits I was selling at Maker Festival and Maker Faire Ottawa. For the light bar, it’s complicated and would be a full day build including laser-cutting, 3D printing and electronics. The end of this post has all the links required to build your own light bar.

      I will email directly to follow up.

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