RGB Pixel Sign

A DIY Scrolling Text and Basic Animation Pixel Matrix


The very first idea I had for pixels came several years back.  I had been reading up on the "new" stuff coming out at the end of the 2011 decorating season and was watching what was going on with Smart Strings and a few other RGB Pixel items.  The only reference I had for anything like these was a scrolling LED sign I had seen at HAM 2010 in Kansas City.  It was a DIY project that Jim Wright had made.  It was very cool but required Vixen and a dedicated computer to operate.  It was also only single color, but at the time it was still leaps and bounds above what was available.  Over lunch one day I asked Jim what he thought about the possibility of doing a similar sign out of RGB pixels to take advantage of full color range and not only had he already thought about it, he had ordered the stuff to put it together using the Smart string controller and pixels as a base!  Great minds think alike...  Over the next year I toyed with different layouts and sizes trying to decide what was going to work for me.  In January 2012 I finally found the "push" I needed.  NUTCRACKER!  Nutcraccker is a free web based RGB Pixel Effect Builder that will export directly to LOR and it had a scrolling text tool!  After a few messages back and forth with the creator I found out the parameters for it's export and I liked what I saw.  Using that as a platform I committed to the 9x18 grid and began to sequence.  I ordered a couple hundred pixels from Shenzeng not knowing quite yet how the whole thing was going to go together.  In May I contacted David at HolidayCoro and described my idea and sent him a few CAD files to see if it could be done.  Well, it didn't work in Coro (couldn't keep the pixels perfectly straight) but it would work great in Acrylic!  A week later FedEx dropped off my completely customized panel and I was ready to go.  David was awesome in helping me develop exatly what I needed and it made this a really easy project.  Sticking with my own guidelines, 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 that is meant to be shared!
  • 162  RGB LED Pixels on 8" spacing. I custom ordered 12V WS2801 Pixels on Aliexpress, be sure they are IP68 rated.
  • 1 waterproof, 12v, DMX 512 to WS2801 Protocol Converter.  I ordered mine from Aliexpress for $16.00 each
  • 1 18"x24" Black ABS Sign Frame.  I got mine from HolidayCoro for $20.
  • 1 Acrylic Pixel Panel with 9x18 matrix grid.  David custom cut mine to work with my particular pixels.
  • 2 4 core waterproof pigtail, mine came from Aliexpress for $0.76 each
  • Small diameter heat shrink tubing, best price is through Mouser.com
  • 1 can liquid tape, $6 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!

  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Wire Nippers
  • Butane Torch
  • Soldering Iron with pointed tip
  • Flux core solder
  • Exacto or other utility knife
  • Sharpie Marker
  • Hot Glue Gun


The Kit I ordered from HolidayCoro.com came as pictured here.  Honestly, there wasn't much to this build because so much of it came ready to go!  I put together everything in an afternoon and it was easy and fun.  The Matrix panel itself is a rigid black acrylic.  I did a lot of layouts and even tried a few sequences before I decided on my sizing and arrangement.  This is what works for me but if you want to try a different grid size or want to make this work with a particular pixel you might want to adjust it.  To make sure that my holes were perfect for my pixels I sent a couple samples to David.  The panel I got back is literally perfect, each pixel fits snugly in the holes and every one is pointed perfectly straight forward.

Now, to make it easy to assemble, I actually removed the panel from the frame.  There is a small catch at the top that holds the panel in.  Pop it over to the side and the whole thing slips out easily.  There are two "sides" to the acrylic.  One side is "flat" and the other is "textured" with a slight sheen.  After trying the lights pointed both directions I decided I preferred the textured side out so that's the way I assembled it.  There were a few rough edges from the milling process on the panel so I cleaned them up real quick with an exacto blade.



To begin we will prep and wire the RGB Node string and Protocol Converter.  Since I have a full wiring diagram on these I'm not going to re-hash it here, For details, reference the Protocol Converter Wiring section of our website here.  It's important to remember that Pixels are directional.  In this case, my pixels had a little "arrow" on the back that indicated the direction.  Add your pigtail to the beginning of the string then make sure you have 162 pixels in a row after that.  I ordered two strings of 100 so I had some cutting and soldering to do.  I also added a female plug to the end of the string so I could still run an additional 8 WS2801 pixels down the line if I wanted to.  Because these are 12V we didn't have to worry about the length, if you are using 5V pixels or a different pixel option you will most likely have to inject additional power somewhere along the line.  This is another advantage to going with the 12V pixels in my opinion.


Depending on how you have laid out your grid and sequence, you may need to alter where you start your pixel string.  If you are using the starter sequence I am providing (on our downloads page) then the first pixel is on the bottom right hand side of the matrix as you see it from the front.  The pixel string then zig zags up and down working from right to left.  This makes scrolling text in the animation window very easy.  Sequencers like LSP male it very easy to set up your grid and specify which direction your strings will run, you can accomplish the same thing in LOR you just have to do it manually if you don't want to use the starter sequence I have.  As you can see, follow the arrows on the pixels working up and down across the panel.  From the front each pixel has little tabs that hold it in place.  Make sure you have a uniform depth across the panel so that each node appears to be the same brightness in the finished panel.



The pixel strings I ordered had additional power leads after the first 50 pixels.  This is just to enable you to deal with the voltage drop over a longer section of pixels.  Because we are only using 162 and at 12V I only connected onto of these additional leads.  I just soldered on a short extension wire and ran it back to my beginning pigtail.  Just solder them directly to the power leads at the beginning of the string.



Here you can see the fully assembled panel.  It took some time and my fingers were pretty sore by the end but it wasn't difficult at all.  Having the holes cut precisely and evenly made this really easy and fun!



Once our panel is finished we need to get it back in the frame.  It goes back in just as easily as it slipped out.  To make sure that it stays in, we're going to zip tie it to the frame.  You'll notice little holes around the perimeter of the panel.  Using the zip ties that come in the kit secure the panel in place by running a tie through the hole and around the frame.  I use a Zip Tie gun to make sure I have a smooth cut and even tension on them but a pair of needle nose and some side cutters will do the same thing.


To provide control for the matrix I'm using the basic little protocol converters I've used for other items.  The 162 Pixel grid is almost one entire DMX universe and will require it's own DMX dongle via LOR.  Now, this isn't the only option for controlling pixels, there are many out there and some are better than this method, but for a beginner and DIY solution it's hard to beat the price of these little units.  In this case you'll notice that I re-inforced the wires around the top of the units with some hot-melt glue to prevent them from tearing out the silicone around them.  All the connections were coated in liquid tape then heat shrinked.  All I had to do was put two small dab of glue on the back of the acrylic panel and stick it in place.  Connect the "outgoing" pigtail of the converter to the beginning of the pixel string.



The possibilities with this are really only limited by your own imagination and creativity.  There are many effects that work straight out of Nutcracker and once you get a handle on the layout it isn't difficult to come up with your own animations either! 


RGB Pixel Matrix