WELCOME‎ > ‎HOW TO‎ > ‎

RGB DMX Pixicles

RGB DMX Pixel Based Dripping Icicles

 
   
   


So as I've experimented with different options for pixels I've ordered in a LOT of different things.  One of those was an RGB Strip that had WS2801 Pixels along it.  I was looking for something similar to a CCR and at $60 for a 5m roll, the price was right.  After several months of testing I started to notice that some of the pixels were "flaky", certain sections or colors would randomly go out.  After some dissection of the strip I came to the conclusion that the flexing and movement of the strip was causing certain elements to de-solder or break.  These loose connections were causing the undesired effects.  Now, I didn't want to junk the strip so I went back to my "Big list of  Ideas to Try" and figured I'd give these a shot.  I knew I would need to mount the strip on something rigid to prevent the pieces from coming loose again.  Now, the idea of a meteor tube or dripping icicle isn't new and using them in a display isn't either, but the units available do have some drawbacks.  Nearly all of them use a small internal chip to run a basic chase over and over.  Some of them are more random than others and all of them are single color.  All the vendor purchased ones use 120V so they require at least one channel of LOR and most don't fire immediately at an "on" command so they still require some guess work and even with that they won't fire exactly on command.  I knew there was a better way to build these so I set out to try it .  Sticking with my own guidelines, everything in the display going forward has to be RGB and operated by DMX. 


MATERIALS LIST
  • Instructions downloaded from www.lightuplawrence.net for free of course!  Christmas Lighting is an obsession that is meant to be shared!
  • 1 5 meter flexible WS2801 RGB LED Pixel Strip.  I ordered a 60 LED/Meter from Aliexpress for $20 Shipped.
  • A $16 Protocol Converter. Ali express, $16 each , make sure you specify what protocol.  I've used both the 2801 and 6803 types.
  • 20 pairs of 4 core waterproof pigtails.  Ali express, $0.76 each 
  • Small waterproof enclosure, I got mine from Excess-Supply.com
  • Small diameter heat shrink tubing, best prices at mouser.com
  • Larger diameter heat shrink tubing, best prices at mouser.com
  • 2 10' Tall section of 1/2" PVC Pipe.  I bought a 10' section at Lowes for $1.68
  • 18 End Caps for 1/2" PVC Pipe.  Got mine at Lowes for $0.28
  • 1 100 count package of small zip ties, $1.99 each
  • Small diameter heat shrink tubing, best price is through Mouser.com
  • 1 can liquid tape, $6 at Lowes

STANDARD DISCLAIMER

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!


TOOLS NEEDED
  • Hack saw or Multi-Tool for cutting PVC
  • Cordless Drill with different sized small drillbits
  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Wire Nippers
  • Wire Strippers
  • Small  screwdriver
  • Butane Torch
  • Soldering Iron with pointed tip
  • Flux core solder
  • Exacto or other utility knife
  • Sharpie Marker
  • Hot Glue Gun

STEP ONE


     


To start you want to build your "KEYSICLES".  Each of these is 7 pixels long and the construction on these is a little bit different than all the other pixicles.  Since pixels run in numerical order we have to connect the end of the first 7 pixels to the beginning of the second 7 pixels.  Same thing to run from the end of the second 7 to the beginning of the third seven, and so forth.  To start, cut a 7 pixel section of your strip.  Add 2" to that measurement and cut your 1/2" PVC to length.  Now, for my setup I knew I needed three of these KEYSICLES so I cut three pipes to the first length.  While you're at it, you want to cut more sections for your 3 pixel and 5 pixel sections as well.  Just as before, measure the cut strips then add 2".

STEP TWO

     
     


Next we want to prep the top of the KEYSICLES.  Measure down 1 1/2" from the end and drill a 1/8" Hole.  I slowly rotated the drill towards the bottom of the PVC pipe to get an angled hole.  Next you want to turn the pipe 90 degrees and drill another 1/8" hole perpendicular to the first hole about 1/2" from the end of the pipe.  After drilling the hole,  cut a notch from the end of the pipe towards each hole.


           

Now, I mentioned that the KEYSICLES are wired a little differently than all the other PIXICLES.  Here is one area where we will do something differently on these than we will on the rest of the units.  Because we have to connect the end of these strips to the beginning of the next these will actually have 2 "outgoing" pigtails.  One is a duplicate of the incoming line  (pixels 1-7) and the other is a continuation (pixels 8-21 and on).  In order to accommodate two lines one of these holes needs to be enlarged.  I increased the hole size on one side to about 3/8" and widened the notch.  Do this for all three of the KEYSICLES, you can leave the shorter 3 and 5 pixel PIXICLES as is.




STEP THREE

       


Now we want to notch the top caps.  We'll need 9 of these total, the three for the KEYSICLES need to have the larger 3/8" hole on one side.  Make sure they match the larger hole on your PVC pipe.  Do these the same way, drill the hole first and use your multi-tool or saw to cut the notch through to the end.  Again, we want these about 1/2" from the bottom of the cap.  Just make sure they are consistent!


STEP FOUR

     
     


I found that the easiest way to do this was to produce these pigtail sets en mass.  I do them all the same way at the same time.  It's time consuming and repetitive, but it makes it much easier to assemble later and no loose connections.  Start with a male and a female pigtail, solder each of the four wires together.  I cut off the exposed wires on the pigtails so I had about 1/2" coming from under the insulation.  After each pair is soldered I added back on a small piece of wire, the one I cut off.  This gives us a "two into one" set.  Cover each of the joints in heat shrink and hit it with a torch.  I also cut all of my strips to length at this point.  I used 3 of each length, 3 pixel, 5 pixel, and 7 pixel KEYSICLES.  After your strips are cut, you can measure and cut the remaining PVC pipes and drill them as before.  This "assembly line" method savedd me a LOT of time later on.

     
     



STEP FIVE


     
     


To prep your pixel strip, use an exacto or utility knife to strip back the silicone covering from the four solder pads.  Make sure you start with the "incoming" side of the strip as most pixels are directional.  They won't work if you hook them up backwards.  Pre-tin each of these solder pads so they will easily attach to our pigtails.  Slide the 2 into 1 pigtail into the end of the pipe and through the angled hole we drilled earlier.  Solder each of the wires to the strip matching up the correct wire colors to the corresponding pads.  I'm using my standard wiring method, refer to the How-To for DMX Wiring and for the Protocol Converters for that information.  Following my standard Black is Ground, Green is Clock, Red is Data, and Blue is 12V Power.  To finish up, we need to weatherproof this connection.  To do that I used a little hot glue around the hole and across the wires.  Make sure you run it over the edges and all the way up to the silicone membrane on the strip.  I found that hitting it with the open flame of a lighter helped to gloss it over and remove any air bubbles afterward.



STEP SIX - Keysicles only


     
     


Here is where our KEYSICLES will differ from the standard PIXICLES.  Because they need to "pass on" the pixel information, we have to add a connection from the bottom of the strip back up to the top to run on to the next KEYSICLE.  To Start, strip and tin the leads at the bottom of the strip to prepare to solder on a lead.  I used my Dremmel to make a small notch at the bottom of the PVC pipe as well.  Next I took one of my 10' long 4 core extensions and cut off the male end. (you can re-use it as a pigtail)  Strip and tin the ends of the extension so it's ready to solder as well.  Starting at the top of the tube, begin feeding the extension down and behind the existing pigtails toward the bottom of the pipe.  Push it through enough to give yourself room to work.  Solder the ends of the extension to the pads at the bottom of the strip following the same wiring diagram as before.  Slowly pull the extension back up the tube and pull the wires down into the groove.

     



STEP SEVEN
- Keysicles only

       


To fit the end cap around the wires I used my Dremmel and a small sanding wheel to notch into the side of my three bottom caps.  After hitting the solder joint with a little hot glue I slid on the end cap matching the notch to the wires.  It took some persuasion with a rubber mallet to get it to fully seat, but when it's all the way on the edge of the cap should go all the way up to the silicone on the strip.  After getting it seated I ran another bead of glue all the way around the joint to protect it from dripping water.


STEP EIGHT


       


When you have finished the three KEYSICLES, go ahead and finish the three and five pixel long PIXICLES using just a standard two into one pigtail as before.  These won't need the return pigtail as they will only repeat the pattern from the KEYSICLES.  Because they only use a single set of pigtails they don't need the larger hole on one side.  When you have all of them soldered and assembled it's time to put on the end caps.


STEP NINE




To cap off the top, run a little hot glue around the notches above your pigtails and slide the cap down over the end of the pipe.  Be careful to line up the notch on the cap with the notch on the pipe.  Again, I used a rubber mallet to get it to fully seat and ran a bead of hot glue around the bottom of the cap.  I deliberately chose not to glue these using PVC cement because I didn't want it to be impossible to remove if I ever had any problems with them.  Also, try to be consistent with which pigtail (male or female) is on the left and which is on the right.  It's makes it less confusing too assemble them later


STEP TEN


 

Now it's time for assembly.  Because I stuck to my wiring diagram and used my 4 core pigtails I have an incredible amount of versatility when it comes to spacing on these and what placement will be like in the display.  Anything can plug and play almost anywhere and by using a larger extension I can space things pretty far appart.  Basically, the only thing to keep straight is that from your pixel controller or protocol converter you MUST connect to a KEYSICLE first.  Anything that connects to the regular pigtail down the line from the KEYSICLE #1 will operate in unison with it.  Next connect your second KEYSICLE #2 to the longer extension pigtail from KEYSICLE #1.  This carries the later channels (pixels 8-21 and on) through KEYSICLE #1 and on.  Again, anything that is connected to the regular pigtail on the KEYSICLE #2 will operate in unison with it.  Lastly connect KEYSICLE #3 to the longer extension from KEYSICLE #2.  This brings the last of the channels (pixels 15-21 and on) through the first two KEYSICLES to the last one AND it allows you to connect other ws2801 Pixels downline from your PIXICLES so you can still use the other 107 RGB Channels available on your protocol converter.  Just connect them to the longer extension on KEYSICLE #3. 


SEQUENCING


In this example I am using the $16 Protocol Converter to run these so I am stuck with beginning the pixels at channel #1.  For the price this is definitely something that I am willing to work around.  This same build could be done with a CCR controller and 6803 Strip as well so your setup inside of LOR is going to be different depending on your pixel controller.  Because each of our KEYSICLES is 7 pixels long and there are three of them, I created three groups of 7 pixels each.  Each of the cascading fades in this sequence is one "drip" down that group of PIXICLES.  By having three different groups and spacing them as I intend, I can get the same "random" effect you do with traditional meteor tubes... However.  By lining up the cascades (like you see at the 5 and 12 second marks) I can get all the PIXICLES to drip in unison!  AND because they are full RGB, they can do these effects in ANY color.  Each group can be a different color and you can even do multiple color within the same effect.  Think a white meteor drip with a red tale!


VIDEO WRAP UP
                  

Pixicles Video Wrap Up

                  




Comments