ShiftTrix, An Arduino Powered Marquee. Design Log

Posted in Projects by Bill
6 Sep 2010
ShiftTrix, An Arduino Powered Marquee. Design Log

I’ve set out designing what I’d like to call ShiftTrix, a Arduino powered Marquee. The idea is this, low cost LED matrix driver boards that are easy to work with at (hopefully) around $10 a board including the LED matrix itself.  A similar serial driven LED matrix can go for $35 per 8×8 matrix. That can add up fast if you want to chain more then one together for a large display. Instead, my design is 1/3 the price, and can easily be chained together to create larger displays.

The pictures in the post show version 1 with a red/green LED matrix. My goal was to have a single PCB design that can act as a ‘slave’ or as the ‘master’. The master is the board with an Atmega 328 that drives all the boards in the chain. The master also has a 5V 2A voltage regulator circuit to power the entire chain.

As you can see in the pictures, I have version 1 running with an Arduino Duemilanove standing in as the master. I’ve started redesigning for version 2, and I think  I’m going to stray away from a single design PCB, so that the board size can shrink to fit it all behind the LED matrix. But this may drive up the price point. My plans are to open source that hardware design when I’m done, and maybe even selling kits to build your own.

I’d like community input for what you would like to see in a product like this, and if the price point is right. Please feel free to leave comments.


Had some issues with noise on the power rail. I had to add capacitors to every slave board to sort it out. New video of it’s first words:


Version 2 of the design is in, biggest change is everything fits behind matrix now, no more board sticking out. Pictures of that soon.

But for now, some dancing robots:


New photos of a V2 slave board. Notice it all fits behind the matrix now. Not sure I like the cap sticking out the back, but I don’t know what else to do with it.


Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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  1. 39 Comments.

    • dirkNo Gravatar says:

      Hey great stuff , i would love to see these so that they can communicate
      via SPI or I2c to any microcontroller.

      Also adding some degree of PWM brightness control would greatly add to its functionality.

      If you plan to sell these I sure would be interested.

      I xperimented with some 3×32 matrixes i got cheap from ebay and they
      work great but they are mono color and bigger than 32mm x 32mm


    • BillNo Gravatar says:

      I’m planning on having them communicate via serial over Uart, but I also broke out the I2C pins as well.

    • BillNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks. I’m having a set back right now, I can’t LED matrix’s similar to what Sparkfun sells (Common Cathode or Anode, don’t remember which) anywhere, as I’m trying to find a better deal on a quantity purchase.

    • Kyle MalloryNo Gravatar says:

      Bill, that is awesome. I’ve been working on a very similar project, though I was going down a slightly different line as far as back-end controllers, and I wasn’t having much success. I was considering scrapping it and switching to the Arduino. Worst part is, this was all a project I was doing with my son to make him the “ultimate alarm clock!” I think he’s giving up on me! 🙂

      I would LOVE to buy a kit when you’re finished. As for features, I was wanting to eventually use a bluetooth, wifi, or ethernet module that could be fed either script commands on the fly, to the display, or it could go into a low-level state, and the host would stream frame-buffer data directly to the device. This would allow me to update in real-time and with images or new fonts, etc. I already have the code the generates the frame-buffer as a linux screensaver. I just need to get the physical stuff done. If there is anything I can do to help, let me know!

    • Dmitry DzhusNo Gravatar says:

      Are you using single 6C595 chip to source LEDs and two ordinary 595’s to sink current?

    • BillNo Gravatar says:

      No, I’m actually use some other registers. I’ll release info some time after I finish the design. I’ve had to change what chips I used based on what kind of Matrix I use. (Common anode or cathode)

    • […] It’s the time again and I bring you an update to my ever aging ‘Mad Scientist’ Halloween costume. What started out as a college budget built led labcoat with just a clock and 4017 decade counter has evolved to include now two Arduino micro controllers. One runs the individual LED rows you see running random patterns. The second runs the scrolling marquee hanging off my chest. Everything is run off a 14.4V Li-Ion battery pack that I custom built.  Even the LED Marquee is custom built. […]

    • Corry HaskinsNo Gravatar says:

      Kit wanted.

    • Re: v2.0 sticking cap…
      Tried bending it flat with the board? Carefully bend the pins 90 deg with needlenose pliers and solder it in. Maybe add a dab of hotglue between the capacitor and the PCB, just in case.

      Awesome work, BTW! Do want! 🙂
      Oh, one more thing. Thought of making a “90 degree” version of the board? With the headers on neighbouring edges instead of 180 degrees apart? That combined with regular version boards would make it possible to stack the matrices into 2-row marquees or even arbitrary shapes.

    • BillNo Gravatar says:


      Yeah, v2.1 has no more big caps on the slave boards, and one laying 90 deg on the master as you suggested. The salve’s caps have shrunk down to SMD caps that don’t stick out as far.

      I thought about other configurations, but it would be too high of production costs for me. If you wanted to, you could not solder the pin headers on, and use hook-up wire to connect boards together and lay them out any way you want.

      Also, the latest version has some provisions for creating bigger display, like 3×10 boards for example. Each row would require a master, and the masters would be linked by I2C to communicate to each other.

    • RoyalcommonerNo Gravatar says:

      Please let us send you lots of money 🙂 I need these boards soon! Great project.

    • BillNo Gravatar says:


      Thanks for the feedback! I’m finalizing the final design now. Stay tuned.

    • […] is internal so nothing extrudes. Right now, the data is received by another one of my projects, an Arduquee display. The display just shows live power usage. I plan to experiment with data loggers to log the data […]

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