Digital light painting is a consummate maker project, a marriage of electronics, code, photography…and of course lots and lots of LEDs!

Using a long (several seconds) camera exposure, a single row of LEDs under computer control displays an image one line at a time while it's carried or rolled across the frame. The combined result is a luminous picture floating in air.

We’ve done light painting guides before — like our original Light Painting with Raspberry Pi and the Arduino-based NeoPixel Painter — it’s a topic we like to revisit whenever there’s a substantial evolution in the available technology. Each used a new generation of addressable LED strips.

This latest blend of Raspberry Pi computer and DotStar LEDs may be the ultimate, with no size constraints, easy image loading (just plug in a USB flash drive full of pictures) and super buttery smooth interpolation and dithering.

Required Parts

  • Raspberry Pi computer: the code runs fine on any Raspberry Pi, but we really recommend a recent model with the 40-pin GPIO header (Model B+, Model A+, Pi 2 or Pi Zero), because…
  • Perma-Proto Pi HAT: installs neatly atop the Pi’s 40-pin GPIO header, providing a sturdy connection point for various other parts.
  • 2GB or larger microSD card.
  • USB flash drive for loading images.
  • DotStar LED strip: any length and density will work, but 144 LED/m is ideal. 1 meter is good for a painter that’s still easy to store and transport. I built a 2 meter painter, but that was mostly to showcase the added horsepower of the Raspberry Pi…it’s harder to build and unwieldy to move around!
  • 74AHCT125 level shifter IC.
  • Six (6) momentary pushbuttons.
  • Large USB battery bank or other 5V portable power source. The more current it can provide, the brighter the images can be. Or use two.
  • Two (2) USB Type A male DIY connectors if using a USB battery bank.
  • Soldering paraphernalia, wire, etc. A solderless breadboard and jumper wires may also be useful during initial testing.
  • An opaque enclosure for the Raspberry Pi (or get creative with tape, paint, etc.)
  • Hardware store bits & bobs.
  • A 3D printer is optional but may be handy for improvised brackets, cases and parts.

READ THROUGH THE ENTIRE GUIDE FIRST for more parts and construction ideas. Every painter will be a little different, depending on what materials and tools you have access to.

Last updated on Dec 16, 2015 Published on Dec 11, 2015