CircuitPython Displayio Quickstart

You will need a board capable of running CircuitPython such as the Metro M0 Express or the Metro M4 Express. You can also use boards such as the Feather M0 Express or the Feather M4 Express. We recommend either the Metro M4 or the Feather M4 Express because it's much faster and works better for driving a display. For this guide, we will be using a Feather M4 Express. The steps should be about the same for the Feather M0 Express or either of the Metros. If you haven't already, be sure to check out our Feather M4 Express guide.

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Preparing the Breakout

Before using the TFT Breakout, you will need to solder the headers or some wires to it. Be sure to check out the Adafruit Guide To Excellent Soldering. After that, the breakout should be ready to go.

Required CircuitPython Libraries

To use this display with displayio, there is only one required library.

First, make sure you are running the latest version of Adafruit CircuitPython for your board.

Next, you'll need to install the necessary libraries to use the hardware--carefully follow the steps to find and install these libraries from Adafruit's CircuitPython library bundle.  Our introduction guide has a great page on how to install the library bundle for both express and non-express boards.

Remember for non-express boards, you'll need to manually install the necessary libraries from the bundle:

  • adafruit_st7789

Before continuing make sure your board's lib folder or root filesystem has the adafruit_st7789 file copied over.

Code Example Additional Libraries

For the Code Example, you will need an additional library. We decided to make use of a library so the code didn't get overly complicated.

Go ahead and install this in the same manner as the driver library by copying the adafruit_display_text folder over to the lib folder on your CircuitPython device.

CircuitPython Code Example

"""
This test will initialize the display using displayio and draw a solid green
background, a smaller purple rectangle, and some yellow text.
"""
import board
import displayio
import terminalio
from adafruit_display_text import label
from adafruit_st7789 import ST7789

spi = board.SPI()
while not spi.try_lock():
    pass
spi.configure(baudrate=24000000) # Configure SPI for 24MHz
spi.unlock()
tft_cs = board.D5
tft_dc = board.D6

displayio.release_displays()
display_bus = displayio.FourWire(spi, command=tft_dc, chip_select=tft_cs, reset=board.D9)

display = ST7789(display_bus, width=320, height=240, rotation=90)

# Make the display context
splash = displayio.Group(max_size=10)
display.show(splash)

color_bitmap = displayio.Bitmap(320, 240, 1)
color_palette = displayio.Palette(1)
color_palette[0] = 0x00FF00 # Bright Green

bg_sprite = displayio.TileGrid(color_bitmap,
                               pixel_shader=color_palette,
                               x=0, y=0)
splash.append(bg_sprite)

# Draw a smaller inner rectangle
inner_bitmap = displayio.Bitmap(280, 200, 1)
inner_palette = displayio.Palette(1)
inner_palette[0] = 0xAA0088 # Purple
inner_sprite = displayio.TileGrid(inner_bitmap,
                                  pixel_shader=inner_palette,
                                  x=20, y=20)
splash.append(inner_sprite)

# Draw a label
text_group = displayio.Group(max_size=10, scale=3, x=57, y=120)
text = "Hello World!"
text_area = label.Label(terminalio.FONT, text=text, color=0xFFFF00)
text_group.append(text_area) # Subgroup for text scaling
splash.append(text_group)

while True:
    pass

Let's take a look at the sections of code one by one. We start by importing the board so that we can initialize SPIdisplayio,terminalio for the font, a label, and the adafruit_st7789 driver.

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import board
import displayio
import terminalio
from adafruit_display_text import label
from adafruit_st7789 import ST7789

Next, we set the SPI object to the board's SPI with the easy shortcut function board.SPI(). By using this function, it finds the SPI module and initializes using the default SPI parameters. 

For the ST7789, because this is a nice zippy display, we'll change the baud rate to 24MHz. In order to do that, first we enter a loop until we can lock the SPI bus for our exclusive use. After that we set it, and then unlock it again. Next we set the Chip Select and Data/Command pins that will be used.

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spi = board.SPI()
while not spi.try_lock():
    pass
spi.configure(baudrate=24000000) # Configure SPI for 24MHz
spi.unlock()
tft_cs = board.D5
tft_dc = board.D6

In the next two lines, we release the displays. This is important because if the Feather is reset, the display pins are not automatically released and this makes them available for use again. We set the display bus to FourWire which makes use of the SPI bus.

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displayio.release_displays()
display_bus = displayio.FourWire(spi, command=tft_dc, chip_select=tft_cs, reset=board.D9)

Finally, we initialize the driver with a width of 320 and a height of 240. Because we want the display to start in a horizontal orientation, we tell it to start with a rotation of 90 degrees. If we stopped at this point and ran the code, we would have a terminal that we could type at and have the screen update.

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display = ST7789(display_bus, width=320, height=240, rotation=90)

Next we create a background splash image. We do this by creating a group that we can add elements to and adding that group to the display. In this example, we are limiting the maximum number of elements to 10, but this can be increased if you would like. The display will automatically handle updating the group.

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splash = displayio.Group(max_size=10)
display.show(splash)

Next we create a Bitmap which is like a canvas that we can draw on. In this case we are creating the Bitmap to be the same size as the screen, but only have one color. The Bitmaps can currently handle up to 256 different colors. We create a Palette with one color and set that color to 0x00FF00 which happens to be green. Colors are Hexadecimal values in the format of RRGGBB. Even though the Bitmaps can only handle 256 colors at a time, you get to define what those 256 different colors are.

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color_bitmap = displayio.Bitmap(320, 240, 1)
color_palette = displayio.Palette(1)
color_palette[0] = 0x00FF00 # Bright Green

With all those pieces in place, we create a TileGrid by passing the bitmap and palette and draw it at (0, 0) which represents the display's upper left.

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bg_sprite = displayio.TileGrid(color_bitmap,
                               pixel_shader=color_palette,
                               x=0, y=0)
splash.append(bg_sprite)

Next we will create a smaller purple square. The easiest way to do this is the create a new bitmap that is a little smaller than the full screen with a single color and place it in a specific location. In this case we will create a bitmap that is 20 pixels smaller on each side. The screen is 320x240, so we'll want to subtract 40 from each of those numbers.

We'll also want to place it at the position (20, 20) so that it ends up centered.

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inner_bitmap = displayio.Bitmap(280, 200, 1)
inner_palette = displayio.Palette(1)
inner_palette[0] = 0xAA0088 # Purple
inner_sprite = displayio.TileGrid(inner_bitmap,
                                  pixel_shader=inner_palette,
                                  x=20, y=20)
splash.append(inner_sprite)

Since we are adding this after the first square, it's automatically drawn on top. Here's what it looks like now.

Next let's add a label that says "Hello World!" on top of that. We're going to use the built-in Terminal Font and scale it up by a factor of three. To scale the label only, we will make use of a subgroup, which we will then add to the main group.

Labels are centered vertically, so we'll place it at 120 for the Y coordinate, and around 57 pixels make it appear to be centered horizontally, but if you want to change the text, change this to whatever looks good to you. Let's go with some yellow text, so we'll pass it a value of 0xFFFF00.

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text_group = displayio.Group(max_size=10, scale=3, x=57, y=120)
text = "Hello World!"
text_area = label.Label(terminalio.FONT, text=text, color=0xFFFF00)
text_group.append(text_area) # Subgroup for text scaling
splash.append(text_group)

Finally, we place an infinite loop at the end so that the graphics screen remains in place and isn't replaced by a terminal.

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while True:
    pass

Where to go from here

Be sure to check out this excellent guide to CircuitPython Display Support Using displayio

This guide was first published on Aug 11, 2019. It was last updated on Aug 11, 2019. This page (CircuitPython Displayio Quickstart) was last updated on Aug 24, 2019.