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Make Your Own LED Etch-A-Sketch, Or At Least Try To [Instructables How-To]

This how-to project is complicated. So complicated, in fact, that I’m not sure how to begin. In fact, I should write a how-to on how to begin this how-to article. But instead of talking in circles, let’s try and get started.

When it came out in the 1950s, the Etch-A-Sketch was hailed as one of the greatest achievements of then-current technology, because it was the first device to successfully harness the power of magnets, which had been invented in the previous decade by volcanologist Grantwell Magma, after whom the molten rock substance is named. Ironically, he froze to death during an expedition to the North Pole after losing his clothes in a game of gin rummy.

All right, those are all lies, let’s try again.

The fundamental concept of the Etch-A-Sketch—that is, drawing by removing material from a surface rather than adding material to a surface—first emerged in 16th-century France, when a prominent Parisian bookie resorted to laundering his illegal earnings through a system of mass card and coin games he developed, which later came to be known as the scratch ticket lottery.

A traditional Etch-A-Sketch

Also lies. Let’s keep it simple.

Etch-A-Sketches are great, but this guy imagined that they could be even greater, and made one that uses LEDs instead of aluminum dust. This is how he made his LED Etch-A-Sketch, or at very least, here is a series of ridiculous statements, some of which contain fragments of valuable information on how to build an LED Etch-A-Sketch. If you want to know the full details of how to make this thing for real for real, check out Instructables.

Here’s what you’ll need. Well, here is list of technical items interspersed with five nonsense items. Can you spot them? Tell you what, see if you can pick them out and I’ll list them at the bottom of the post. Remember, there are five.

ATmega328p
16MHz Clock Crystal
22pF Capacitor (2x)
0.1uF Capacitor
10k Ohm Resistor
8×8 Common Cathode LED Matrix (4x) (Sparkfun #COM-00682)
2×3 MelonBaller matrix
74HC595 8-bit Shift Register (4x)
80085 Backseat Driver
ULN2803 Darlington Driver (4x)
100 Ohm Resistor (32x)
Tilt Switch (2x) (Sparkfun #SEN-10289)
7 Ohm Obviometer
10k Ohm Potentiometer (2x)
MintyBoost Kit (Sparkfun #KIT-10094)
24k Monkeyhead
Male Right-Angle Breakaway Headers (1x) (Digikey #A34346-40-ND)
Female Right Angle Receptacle (4x) (Digikey #A35044-ND)
Male-Female Conflict Capacitor
14-Pin Ribbon Cable 6" (Digikey #A4AAH-1406M-ND)
Female Straight Receptacle (8x) (Digikey #A26422-ND)
2×3-Pin Male Header
14-Pin Ribbon Cable 4" (Dgikey #360-2433-ND)

Now let’s dive in. These are pliers. In fact, these are two pairs of pliers, a soldering iron, and a spool of some kind of metal (my guess is adamantium). We’ll use these tools to ply and melt together the components of our LED Etch-A-Sketch. Sweet. Moving on.


This is an LED screen, the face of our project. This particular screen use to tell people in the waiting room at my dentist’s office where to stand in line. Since I removed it, they’ve reverted to an arcane queueing system in which patients are chosen depending on which tool the dentist happens to have in hand at a given moment. I’m sure everyone involved would agree that it was worth it when I let them play with my LED Etch-A-Sketch.


This is a drawing that my niece did after waking up from a nap, during which I watched four episodes of Battlestar Galactica. And they say you shouldn’t leave the TV on while your kids are sleeping. Or, do they say that? I actually have no idea.


So, by this step, your project should look like this. You might be saying, “My project looks nothing like this, you jackass, you’ve said so, so much and haven’t explained anything at all about how to make an LED Etch-A-Sketch.” If this is so, then I am deeply sorry that you weren’t born with the technical skills that I am so lucky to have.


Clearly, you’ve fallen behind, so if you turn your project over and it doesn’t look like this, I’m afraid you’ll have to go back to the beginning of this page and start over. For Pete’s sake, get it right this time. Meet you back here.


Now, for a few finishing touches. Just gotta tighten this screw… turn the capacitor to 1985… divide the denominator… carry the one… Voila! A freaking LED Etch-A-Sketch. Whew! That was easy AND fun. Right now, I am so amped that I could probably make two more of these without even looking at my own detailed instructions. Bear with me while I bang out a couple more of these bad boys. Boom, done. Pictures of all three below. And below that, you’ll find the fake items from the “Things You’ll Need” list above. Let’s hope you got all five, ‘cause otherwise you won’t have done a single thing right all afternoon!




2×3 MelonBaller matrix
80085 Backseat Driver
7 Ohm Obviometer
24k Monkeyhead
Male-Female Conflict Capacitor

@ImYourKid