Make Your Own LED Lightbox

Seattle App Academy in Partnership with Girl Scouts of Western Washington

Providing opportunities for girls in STEM is central to our mission at Seattle App Academy. SAA is pleased to partner with the Girl Scouts of Western Washington to offer the following workshops and classes to inspire tomorrow's technology creators. Please note: all enrollment/registration is completed through the website.

What You'll Need...

electronic components

box materials

  • 2x Squares of Black Felt
  • Strip of Black Felt
  • Strip of Black-Core Foam Board
  • 2x Two-Way Acrylic Mirrors

required tools

  • Wire Strippers
  • Wire Cutters
  • Soldering Iron
  • Solder Wire (Lead-Free)
  • Helping Hands
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Transparent Tape
  • Safety Blade / Utility Knife
  • Adjustable Circle Cutter
  • Self-Healing Cutting Mat

Stage 1: Soldering Electronics

Detailed Instructions

1.) Prepare wires for soldering

  • Carefully peel the LED ribbon cable apart
  • Peel the three wires by half an inch (0.5")
  • Use wire strippers to remove the insulation
  • Twist the ends of your exposed wire together

2.) Tin the tip of soldering iron

  • Set the soldering iron to about 280° C (536° F)
  • When the iron is hot, melt some solder on the tip
  • Remove excess solder with wire or sponge
  • The tip should be shiny silver not corroded black

3.) Tin the tip of wires

  • Clamp the LED wires to the helping hands
  • Touch the tip of the iron to the wires for a few seconds
  • Melt some solder on all three wires
  • Pro-Tip: Remember to melt solder on the heated components not the iron tip - be careful not to burn wire insulation - ouch, and also don't burn yourself!

4.) Wire and Solder LED to the Trinket

  • Clamp the Trinket to the helping hands
  • Thread wires through the Trinket pins (see diagram) 
  • Bend the ends of the wire to hold them in place
  • Touch the tip of the iron to the pin holes for a few seconds
  • Melt some solder onto all three pin holes
  • Pro-Tip: The solder should form a peaked dome and cover the entire conductive pad.
  • Finally, use wire cutters to trim off the ends of excess wire

Hurrah! You've soldered all your electronics!

Stage 2: Assembling Box

Detailed Instructions

1.) Fold foam board into box shape

  • Align mirror with the edge of the foam board
  • Carefully pull up on foam board to fold a crease
  • Realign mirror on crease and fold again
  • Continue until there are three evenly spaced creases
  • Shape the foam board into a box
  • Tape the edge of your foam board together

2.) Tape first mirror onto box

  • Apply a long piece of tape around the edge of box
  • Only a thin piece of tape should be exposed
  • Peel off protective layer of plastic on first mirror
  • Place the first mirror onto the box
  • Tape the mirror edges (not the mirror face)
  • Pro-Tip: Be careful not to get fingerprints or tape onto the mirror face, this can smudge or damage your mirror permanently

3.) Glue LED onto second mirror

  • Peel off protective layer of plastic on second mirror
  • Pro-Tip: Note which side of the mirror is coated - mirror should be reflective all the way to the edge
  • Use hot glue gun to place three dots of glue on LED
  • Make sure not strands of glue stick to the mirror
  • Stick LED onto mirror center and press it into place

4.) Tape second mirror onto box

  • Place second mirror with LED on the inside of box
  • Make sure the Trinket is sticking out the edge
  • Apply another long piece of tape around the edge of your box to secure second mirror in place
  • Make sure the Trinket wires slip through the seam in the box edge

5.) Cut and apply felt to box

  • Use the circle cutter to create a 1.75" hole in both felt squares
  • Use a safety blade to trim out the four marked corners on both felt squares
  • Peel felt squares to expose the adhesive backing
  • Stick felt onto mirror center and press it into place
  • Fold felt ends down and over the box edges
  • Repeat steps for second square of felt
  • Peel felt strip to expose the adhesive backing
  • Align and stick felt strip along box edges, starting at the corner with exposed wire
  • Wrap all edges with felt, returning to starting corner
  • Use hot glue gun to place glue on end of felt strip
  • Press and hold at corner for a few seconds

Ta-Da! Your LED Lightbox is complete!

Stage 3: Programming Light Patterns

Detailed Instructions

1.) Connect Trinket to computer and open Arduino

  • Use a USB-to-USB Micro cable (not USB Mini) to connect the Trinket to the computer
  • Launch Arduino on the computer - Don't have Arduino? See our Arduino setup instructions below.
  • Open the 'Neopixel_RGBcolormix.ino' file
    (Arduino > Neopixel_RGBcolormix)

2.) Upload a test program to the Trinket

  • Watch this video to see how to upload to the Trinket
  • Select Tools > Board > "Adafruit Trinket 16 MHz"
  • Select Tools > Programmer > "USBtinyISP"
  • Press the small button on your Trinket (the small red LED will pulse to indicate that it's ready)
  • Click upload (arrow) to compile and load the sketch
  • If you're successful the LED ring should light up three pixels (red, green, and blue)

3.) Open the Neopixel_RGB programs and test them out

  • If you're on a computer at Seattle App Academy, you can open the other Neopixel_RGB sketches by going to:
    PC > Documents > Arduino. Test out the following...
  • Neopixel_RGBcolormix
    Mix different red, blue, and green pixels to create all the colors in the rainbow, a great way to get started.
  • Neopixel_RGBrandom
    Feel audacious? Add a random range function to your program for a little added flare!
  • Neopixel_RGBspin
    Now let's add movement, this sketch will get your LEDs spinning around using a for-loop for incrementation.
  • Neopixel_RGBrainbow
    Of course, no LED project would be complete without a rainbow wipe, check out this sketch for a color overload!

Troubleshooting upload problems
If the LED ring doesn't light up - you could be having upload problems - here are some common issues to troubleshoot...

  • Check to see that the Trinket and computer are actually connected via USB
  • Check to see that the 3x AAA battery holder has charged batteries, is turned on, and is connected to the Trinket
  • Check to see that correct Board and Programmer are selected under Tools (see above)
  • Check to see that the correct Port is select under Tools (varies by computer and USB port)
  • Check that the small button on your Trinket is pressed just before clicking upload

Arduino Setup Instructions

To program our LED Lightbox, we'll need to get the Trinket working with the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Follow the links below to complete each step and return to Step 3: Programming Light Patterns.

1.) Download and Install Arduino

  • Visit: and select Download and System (Windows, Mac, Linux)
  • You can contribute or just download for free
  • After Arduino has downloaded, click to install and follow the prompts
  • Launch Arduino and continue setup...

2.) Add additional Adafruit board manager to Arduino

  • Visit the Adafruit Arduino IDE Setup page (link here)
  • Follow the Super Easy Installation instructions for Arduino 1.6.x IDE
  • Paste in the provided URL to the Additional Boards Manager (Arduino > Preferences)
  • Install the Adafruit AVR Boards (Arduino > Tools > Board > Boards Manager)

3.) Install Adafruit_Neopixel via Library Manager

  • Visit the Adafruit NeoPixel Überguide page (link here)
  • Follow the Install Adafruit_NeoPixel via Library Manager instructions
  • Search for "NeoPixel" under the Library Manager (Arduino > Sketch > Include Library > Manage Libraries)
  • Select the latest version of "Adafruit NeoPixel by Adafruit" and click Install

4.) If you're running Windows, download and run the Adafruit Driver Installer

  • For computers with Windows 7, 8, and XP - visit the Adafruit USBtinyISP page (link here)
  • Follow the AVR programmer and SPI interface instructions
  • Download and run the installer
  • Mac users can skip this step

At Seattle App Academy, we run Windows 10, and found that the Adafruit Drivers worked just fine!

4.) Download the SAA_Neopixel_RGB Arduino Sketches (Prepared by Seattle App Academy)

  • Click here to download the SAA_Neopixel_RGB Arduino Sketches
  • Extract the four compressed folders
  • Move all four folders to your Arduino folder (usually: HD > Applications > Arduino)
  • Quit Arduino (if it's running) and relaunch it
  • Open the 'Neopixel_RGBcolor.ino' file (Arduino > Neopixel_RGBcolormix)
  • You're all set! Return to Step 3: Programming Light Patterns 

Why STEM Matters

By 2018, Washington State will see a 24% increase in STEM jobs. Yet studies show only 30% of high schoolers are ready for college science and 45% are ready for math. We think we can do better. Seattle App Academy provides engaging after school tech classes to prepare students for their future in STEM. Welcome all Girl Scouts, we hope you will join us!