RGB Coro Bubble Lights

Million Color Pixel Bubble Lights

One of my favorite christmas decorations is a small wall plugin bubble light.  I've watched the kids stare in wonder at it and caught myself doing the same.  I think it's the kind of decoration that is more than a decoration.  It holds a sense of nostalgia and memories of Christmases past and that makes it more than just an electric bulb.  I've always wanted to include them in the display somehow but there is one single biggest problem.  They are small.  In a large yard display you'd never be able to see one.  After we moved to the country and I began re-designing form scratch the entire display I knew I finally had my chance!  This is the first of the new display elements I've completed and I wanted to share it here.  True to form, everything in the display has been four colors and going forward shall be RGB and operated by DMX.

  • Instructions downloaded from www.lightuplawrence.net for free of course!  Christmas Lighting is an obsession to be shared!
  • 16 2" square, 12v, 5050 smd RGB LED Pixel Modules.  I ordered mine through aliexpress for $0.88 each
  • 2 Coro Bubbler Kits.  I had David custom cut these for me from a pattern I created.
  • 1 10' 4 core extension (if you are using the 4 core for connection), mine came from aliexpress for $3.00 each
  • 1 package heat shrink tubing, available at Radio Shack
  • 1 can liquid tape, $6 at Lowes
  • 1 roll black electrical tape, $2 at Lowes

I'm not an electrician, an expert in electrical things, nor do I have any training or degrees to qualify me as such.  ;)  I'm just a guy who figured out what works for his display.  Take this information as such.  If it works for you, GREAT!  I've accomplished what I set out to do.  If you see a problem with what I'm doing or have a question, please e-mail me.  I'm always excited and willing to learn something new.  I can't assume any responsibility for the outcome of your project if you chose to follow these instructions, or the fallout thereof.    If you think I'm an idiot, kindly smile to yourself, click your "back" button three times, and have a nice day!




The kit from HolidayCoro arrives with most everything ready to go, although it is a little different on the tube near the top.  This was a very difficult part of assembly so I simplified the design for production.  I recommend using a utility or Exacto knife with a very sharp blade to remove each of the pieces from flat pack.  Trim off any little "fuzzies" (I do believe that's the technical term for them) left over from the CNC cutting.  To begin we want to focus on the base of the bubble light.  It's marked with locations for each module and holes for tabs on the other pieces.




At the bottom of the base, there is a gold line.  Using the Utility knife, make a small cut at each end, then flip the base over so that the printing is on the bottom.  Line up a straight edge with the two cuts you made and score a line. 


We want to cut through the top layer of the coro and the flutes but not all the way through.  This will leave us with a "hinged" bottom piece.



This step is optional, it really depends on how you want to sequence and organize your channels.  This light can easily be completed with one long single string of 16 square pixels.  Because I wanted to cut my channels from 16 down to 12, and since the bottom six pixels all operate on two RGB channels I just re-wired them so that the last 6 pixels (3 groups of 2) were all wired together to operate together.  You can just as easily "group" them in your software and leave them as one long string of 16 pixels, it's up to you!  For my purposes I started with one string of 10 pixels for the tube on the bubbler and three strings of 2 pixels for the base of the bubbler.

From here it's pretty easy.  We are just wiring all three of the 2 pixel strings together and soldering them to the last pixel on the string of 10 pixels.  This gives us a single pixel string that runs 10 straight pixels than fans out to three strings with two pixels each.  After soldering all the joints I paint them with two layers of liquid tape and let it dry completely before wrapping it with another layer of regular electrical tape.



Beginning at the middle of the Bubbler, apply glue to the bottom pixel of the "tube".  Apply a square line of glue around the marked square and push down the pixel into it.  After setting the pixel, squeeze a generous amount of glue into the hole at the center of the pixel until it squirts out the top.  This gives us a kind of hot glue pixel "rivet" holding each pixel in place.  Beginning at the bottom of the tube, slowly work your way up the line, gluing each pixel one at a time.




For my purposes, I'm using the 2" square WS2801 pixels.  Pixels come in many different types, forms, and ICs.  Most of them are somewhat waterproof, and it really doesn't matter what type you choose.  Make sure you test whatever type you want to use before making a final installation.  My first choice didn't look good at all, they weren't bright enough and didn't diffuse properly.  I ordered these later and am really happy with the finished result.  All pixels are directional meaning their is a "start" and an "end" to the string. 

Because of my sequencer set up I wanted to be able to draw the
bubble lights how they would appear in real life.  To do that without re-ordering channels in the sequencer window I wanted to have pixel number 1 at the top running down the candle to pixel number 12 (or 16 if you don't want to re-wire them).  Notice the little arrow on the pixel that indicates direction.  Beginning at the top, the pixels run in order down the tube then out into each of the three lines at the base.  You'll notice that one of the pixels has an outgoing wire as well.  This will allow me to run an "out-going" line from this bubble light onto additional fixtures if I like.

Now for this kit, there are two interior dividers that fit into slots on the backer.  Because I chose to change the way the pixels in the base ran, I had to modify these dividers just a bit.  It's something I intend to fix in the pattern so others won't have to!



All of the tabs in the pattern are labeled for where they fit.  Dry fit the tabs first, in this case I also had to modify the openings where the wires would run.  As I said in the last step, I'm going to fix this in the pattern.  Working your way up, dry fit, then glue in place each of the dividers. 



We are now finished with the base, back, dividers, and all of the pixels.  Now is a good time to plug in the pixels and make sure that everything is still working as it should, there are no loose wires, and everything is good to go.  Now on to the diffusers!



Now, being totally honest, this was the hardest part of the build.  It takes a lot of patience and gluing each piece slowly and letting it set before moving on.  Beginning at one side of the pattern I glued one piece at a time to slowly form the tip of the bubble tube.  I really like the look and am happy with the final product but for a kit I changed the design to make it much easier to assemble.  For the HolidayCoro kit, you only need to score lines from the tip to each of the lines marked. I ran small dabs of hot glue along each of the joints and held the adjoining pieces in place until it cooled and cured.  I scored a cut along the last piece to allow it to "hinge" and close the back.  Gluing it in place is what pulls the tip up and together and holds the tube in it's final intended shape.  Again, I intend to simplify this for the final design.




There are two sets of slots near the center of the backing plate.  These are for the velcro straps that will secure the Bubble Lights to the metal T-Posts I'm using in the display.  Feed each of the straps from the kit through the holes and glue them in place.


Beginning at the top, feed the tab at the tip of the bubble tube into the backing plate.  Working your way down on one side of the tube only fit each of the tabs into their corresponding slots in the backing plate.  At the bottom, there are several tabs on the divider that fit into the slots at the bottom of the tube.  Work your way around the base, fitting each one at a time into their corresponding place.  Work your way back up the other side, again fitting each one of the tabs into the corresponding slots.

After dry fitting the tube into place, I pulled it back just enough to apply a bead of glue along the joint and pushed it back into place.  Again, there is a need for a little patience as the glue cools and dries.  Hold the pieces in place until the glue completely cools and hardens.

TAKE YOUR TIME!  A little care and tweaking to get it just right really does show in the end.  This is where I kind of rushed on my first one and after learning my mistakes the hard way the second one was much better and much cleaner.



To prep the base I scored along the printed gold lines.  Again, DON'T CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH!  We only want to cut  through the top layer and the coro flutes to created 18 "hinged" panels.  On the pattern revision I hope to be able to have these cut this way on the CNC and totally eliminate this step, for the future kits but for now this works.  In order to remove the lines after the cuts were scored I used a little de-natured rubbing alcohol and a paper towel to remove them.




last step to assembly is fitting the base of the bubbler into the backing plate and bottom.  It can be kind of tricky to start as everything is designed to fit very tight without needing to be glued, etc.  Start at one side and feed the bottom tabs into the slots at the base first.  Work your way up and around the large divider, again patience is a must.  Work slowly and ease each of the pieces into place.  Work your way across, apply a bead of glue along the edge of the center divider and pop each of the tabs into the slots on the cover piece.  Fit them one at a time, work across to the last panel.




When you are finished with the base pieces it should look something like this.  I applied a very small bead of glue just to seal up and hold the center of each of the panels right along the joints.  Where each of the top panels join, run another small bead of glue along the joint where the panels meet the bottom of the bubbler tube.  These panels fit nice and tight and some adjustment can be made before fitting them into their final location and gluing them into place.  Take your time and they will look great!


When you have this finished, the last piece that needs to be fit is the strip that joins the base and the tube.  There are tabs at each end of this strip that fit into the last two open slots on the backing piece.  I used my CoroClaw to make the slots at the joints so that it would bend around the tube. 



The last finishing touch I did on this was to add a small stripe of black electrical tape along the base.  It was really an afterthought but I loved the way it looked so I left it.  I did apply a small amount of glue along the joint and at each end to help hold it in place.  That's it!  I'm not going to go into terrible detail about the wiring on these only because I haven't completely decided what I'm going to do.  Most likely I'll run these with the pixel extenders from Joshua1 Systems so there will be just a single cat5 cable running from my pixel controller to each of these.




Here's the finished product!  At only 12 pixels these are very easy to sequence even if you have several in a row.  Because they are RGB they can all go any color, and by doing simple chases and fades over the 10 pixels in the tube the effect of them "bubbling" I plan on uploading a sample sequence to our files section that shows these running several effects both as individual lights as well as all of them in unison. 


RGB Pixel Bubble Lights