control cogs: 1) runs a menu-selected mini light show; and
2) when active, sends a message via Morse code using
one of the LEDs. Have a look. I think that once you see
how simple it is, you'll be very excited about doing big
things with small LEDs.
PDBS IN A HURRY
The display that went to PAX was actually the second
of two. Having been through one grueling build where I
hand-wired hundreds of LEDs, I helped myself the second
time by using PCBs instead of perfboard (which I could do
now, knowing the size of each LED panel). The problem
was cost; sending out for prototype PCBs would have
been really expensive, and we had already set a budget
My good friend Peter suggested that I have a look at a
product called PCB Fab-In-A-Box from Pulsar Pro FX — and
man, am I glad I did. With this system, you can output
your PCB design using a laser printer onto special paper
that comes in the kit. The toner on the paper is transferred
to the PCB (also in the kit) using a modified laminating
machine. The laminator ensures proper heating and
pressure to do a good transfer — something that's tough to
get right with an iron.
There is another step before etching which is what
allows this system to create such high quality boards: The
board is run through a second time, this time with a green
sealer. Toner is somewhat porous, so the sealer fills any
pores which is what allows the system to create high
quality traces, even when the line pitch is very fine.
Etching is handled as with any other home-etched
PCB, and toner removal is easy with a bit of acetone. It
took a bit of time to cut and drill the boards, but this was
less time and far less expense than waiting on prototype
PCBs from a traditional board house. Figure 5 shows one
of my spare PCBs. After rough cutting the boards from the
8" x 10" master PCB, the shapes were refined and holes
drilled using a Dremel tool. Finally, the boards were
chemically tinned to prevent oxidation prior to soldering
on the resistors, LEDs, and wires.
The other great aspect of this system is customer
service. I didn't have time to make errors, so I was quick
to pick up the phone and call company owner, Frank
Miller, for guidance. He was fantastic. At every turn, he
was there with good advice and support. I'm looking
forward to trying his labeling product which uses similar
processes and — he told me over the phone — he's
working on a flexible PCB material that works with his
system. For the kinds of things I do around the film
industry — especially with costumes — building flexible
PCBs at home will be fantastic.
Have a look at PCB Fab-In-A-Box — it can be a
lifesaver. The great thing is I can now build PCBs over a
weekend, especially for my quick-turn, small scale, and
You know what? This is my final column for the year,
■ FIGURE 5.
so let me bid you and yours the very best for the season
and the coming new year. As ever, I am appreciative for
my friends at Parallax and at Nuts & Volts for all their
support for me and for The Spin Zone.
Enjoy the holidays, and keep spinning and winning!
See you next year. NV
November 2011 19