Everything shown so far is “steady on.” Bang for buck, it can’t be beat. Just as important, you’ve gained the necessary foundation for planning and assembling robust electronic circuits.

The next level up…the final boss…is LEDs that blink, pulsate, animate and even change color.

Such effects require a microcontroller, a tiny computer running tiny software. This is a tremendous topic in itself, far beyond what this single guide can offer, but we’ll leave you with some pointers…

A microcontroller gives you unparalleled control over time and interactivity. LEDs can run in a sequence, or can respond to buttons, switches, even sound levels!

The best-known brand of microcontroller board is called Arduino. Though not the cheapest, nor most powerful, where Arduino reigns supreme is an enormous community of learning resource and shared code. Entire volumes are written on the subject, and thousands of free tutorials online, many right here in the Adafruit Learning System.

If you want to start down this path, we strongly suggest starting out with an Arduino Uno. Not “Mega” or “Pro” anything…you can’t go wrong learning with the Uno.

Once you understand the principles, you can then carry that knowledge over to more specialized microcontroller boards. Trinket is very small and basic…just a fraction of an Arduino…but it’s often all you need, and can fit into the smallest of projects. FLORA and GEMMA are specifically designed for wearable electronics.

Programming…writing in the computer’s native tongue…is an abstract thing, a different way of thinking. Newcomers face the dual challenges of logic — breaking problems down into a sequence of very short, simple steps — and syntax — accurately conveying this in the proper combination of words and symbols. The good news is, once you crack that nut, code and ideas can be carried over to new projects. And there’s lots of ready-made examples out there.

NeoPixels may be the ultimate expression of the LED. They chain together almost like Christmas lights, each with an independent color and brightness controlled by your own program. If you see some really whizbang LED effects, chances are there’s NeoPixels involved.

There are LED strips, grids, even tiny bitmapped graphical displays. Microcontrollers open other doors too…sound, motion, sensors that respond to the environment…it’s practically boundless.

But it all starts with an LED.

This guide was first published on Sep 06, 2014. It was last updated on Sep 06, 2014.

This page (Ultimate LEDology) was last updated on Aug 29, 2014.

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