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7 NeoPixel Projects That are Ridiculously Cool

Liz Miller Learn Robotics

About the Author, Liz Miller, Founder/CEO @ Learn Robotics

Liz graduated with a degree in Robotics Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and researched drones at UPenn's GRASP Lab. Liz is a former Raytheon Engineer, where she managed major $MM automation projects worldwide. Today, she's the driving force behind Learn Robotics, offering the Robotics Career Blueprint for Engineering Professionals and beginner courses through the Online Robotics Class. Liz is a third-generation entrepreneur who is all about the application of innovation in robotics, automation, and AI. Follow Liz on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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I want to warn you before you read this article. It’s very easy to get sucked into a black hole looking at NeoPixel projects.

Why are LEDs and RGB lights so fascinating? Is it random patterns or colors? Or it because LEDs make the world brighter and more interesting?

Regardless of the reason, these NeoPixel projects are downright ridiculously cool. If you’ve ever wanted to start an electronics or art project using LEDs, then you’ll want to add these project ideas to your repertoire.

Just be warned, you might be on this page for a while.

Tip: Feel free to bookmark this article (CTRL-D on Windows or CMD-D on Mac) so that you have it later!

What is a NeoPixel or WS2812B LED strip?

Before we begin, it’s only fair to discuss what NeoPixels are. You’ve probably seen them before or have them in your house already.

“NeoPixels are Adafruit’s brand for individually-addressable RGB color pixels and strips based on the WS2812, WS2811 and SK6812 LED/drivers, using a single-wire control protocol.”

That means if you want official, brand-name NeoPixels, you’ll purchase them through Adafruit.

What is a NeoPixel and the difference between NeoPixel and RGB LED WS2812
However, for this article, we’ll be referring to NeoPixels and WS2812 RGB strips interchangeably. (Kind of like how when you ask for a Kleenex, you are asking for a tissue.)

Project 1: NeoPixel World Map

The first set of NeoPixel projects on the list is a NeoPixel World Map. There are many variations to this project, but essentially, the project uses RGB strips to light up a map of the world.

When art meets engineering, this is what you get…

World of Light by Joshua Krosenbrink

The World of Light project uses a Raspberry Pi and custom libraries to drive 426 RGB LEDs on a map to show realtime income website feedback.

Using NeoPixels to create a Light Up World Map
Photo Credit: Hackaday

Don’t expect to build this in a few hours, though. Just wiring up (and soldering) the RGB strips will take you some time! Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have a version of this hanging in my office to display current website traffic on Learn Robotics! (Wouldn’t that be cool?!)

You can read more about the World of Light project on Hackaday.

World Map Project

Another version of this project uses laser-cut continents and NeoPixel strips. This beautiful piece measures over 6 feet long and weighs 15 pounds! The World Map has 578 LED lights and is controlled by an ESP8266 running the FastLED library.

Wall Map of the World using RGB LEDs
Photo Credit: World Map Project

What makes this map unique is that all of the continents are backlit with WS2812B RGB strips. Wooden front panels cover the continents so that the map looks dimensional. While this map isn’t “connected” like the World of Light project, it uses the ESP8266 to drive the NeoPixels.

If you want to build this project yourself, there’s room to expand this into an IoT project or swap out the controller for a Raspberry Pi for more complex ideas. This project takes a lot of time and the process is well documented on the maker’s website. Check it out here.

Parts you might need:

Adafruit NeoPixel Digital RGB LED Strip - Black 60...
60 RGB LEDs per meter; Easy to cut, black, flexible PCB Material marked with cut-lines; Connect more LEDs to make strip longer
HiLetgo 3pcs ESP8266 NodeMCU CP2102 ESP-12E...
ESP8266 CP2102 NodeMCU LUA ESP-12E WIFI Serial Wireless Module; Built-in Micro-USB, with flash and reset switches, easy to program
$17.99 −$1.60 $16.39

Project 2: Wearable NeoPixel Disco Helmet

Next, we have a wearable NeoPixel project: a Disco Helmet. The Disco Helmet project by Electromaker combines 3D printing with electronics and programming to create a fully-customizable DIY helmet.

The NeoPixel Disco Helmet powered by Arduino, which means you can create all sorts of light shows, patterns, and displays. While you might not be able to see very well out of this helmet, it looks cool and could be modified if you want to wear it to a convention or as part of a costume.

Wearable NeoPixel Helmet DIY
Photo Credit: Electromaker

If you’re into EDM you can adjust the code to synchronize the RGBs with music. Pretty cool, right?!

Want to build one? Preheat your 3D printer, and snag the 3D printer files and wiring diagrams on Thingiverse.

Parts you might need:

ELEGOO Mega R3 Project The Most Complete Ultimate...
Free pdf tutorial in the cd (33 lessons); Lcd1602 module and gy-521 sensor module with pin header ( no need to solder by yourself)

Project 3: Running Water Faucet with NeoPixel Ring

Thirdly, we have a NeoPixel project that uses the NeoPixel Ring. In previous projects, we saw examples of NeoPixel strips. If you want to display light in a circular direction, the NeoPixel Ring comes in handy.

The Running Water Faucet is a lamp that gives the illusion that water is spewing out of a faucet and into a mug.

This project uses the Adafruit Flora controller, but you can use any controller you’d like depending on what you’re trying to do! More details on how to make this project can be found on Instructables.

Parts you might need:

Project 4: NeoPixel Matrix Animations

Next, we have a NeoPixel project that uses an RGB array to convert images or sprites into animated displays.

NeoPixel Animated Matrix project for LCD displays
Photo Credit: Marian42

You can find sprites on Spriters Resource and then convert them into matrices based on the size of your NeoPixel array. Then, once you have the image, you can save it as a bitmap image and use a software tool to convert the image into a C array that can be read by Arduino. After you have the image represented in C, you can open the Arduino IDE and program away! More technical details can be found using this programming video.

Here are some useful utilities if you’re working on this project:

Bitmap to C Software — Click here for Mac Software

LCD Image Converter — Click here for Windows Software

Parts you might need:

Arduino UNO SMD REV3 [A000073]
The Arduino UNO Rev3 is perfect to start with: flexible, robust, durable, and standard.; Ideal for beginners: well documented; lots of projects to get inspired from.
$29.95 −$4.00 $25.95

Project 5: NeoPixel Glowing Tikis

If you’re big into summer BBQs and outdoor chilling, then you’ll want to check out this NeoPixel project. Using a NeoPixel strip, a mason jar, and some clear plastic beads, you can create glowing tikis in an hour or less.

Create outdoor Tiki Torch Lamps using NeoPixels
Photo Credit: Make:

The Tikis can be illuminated with a variety of colors and are weatherproof enough to stay outside for a while. The NeoPixel Glowing Tikis are also a great way to get the kids involved in a useful tech project during those warm summer months! Find all of the build instructions on the Make: website.

Parts you might need:

Project 6: NeoPixel Ring and Arduino Bike Light

This sci-fi inspired NeoPixel project by Adafruit combines a NeoPixel ring and a NeoPixel Jewel to create an Arduino Bike Light. The headlight fixture was inspired by rocket boosters and jet engines.

The Arduino Bike Light has a built-in control box that allows you to navigate through a variety of colors and animations. All of the 3D parts for building this project are available on Adafruit’s website so you can remix and re-modify the files to best fit your bike.

Bikes aren’t the only thing you can mod out with LEDs. If you’re into longboarding, there are NeoPixel projects for that as well.

Parts you might need:

Project 7: NeoPixel LED Mirror

What do you get when you combine 576 NeoPixels, a Raspberry Pi, and a Raspberry Pi camera? If you guessed a NeoPixel LED mirror, then you’re correct!

“[The NeoPixel LED Mirror is] an interactive art piece that shows you your reflection in ‘low resolution’ by lighting up a grid of LEDs.” Alex, Super Make Something

When you walk up to this huge 24×24 array of RGB LEDs and you’ll see a grayscale version of your reflection in realtime.

NeoPixel Mirror Real Time Images on RGB LED array
Photo Credit: MagPi Magazine

First, the Raspberry Pi camera takes a photo and the image is reduced to a small region of 24×24 pixels. Then the image is converted into a grayscale matrix and translated into a 1×576 vector to assign colors and brightness values to the LEDs.

If you’re looking for a longer project to hone your skills in laser cutting, 3D printing, electronics, and coding, then this could be an interesting one to try!

You can learn more about the NeoPixel LED Mirror on the Super Make Something here.

Parts you might need:

CanaKit Raspberry Pi 4 4GB Starter PRO Kit - 4GB...
Includes Raspberry Pi 4 4GB Model B with 1.5GHz 64-bit quad-core CPU (4GB RAM); CanaKit USB-C PiSwitch (On/Off Power Switch for Raspberry Pi 4)

Which of these ridiculously cool NeoPixel projects are you planning to try? Leave a comment below!

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