Here I’ll show some of the steps that went into my dragon. You’re probably building something different, so don’t consider any of this to be canon law, just some helpful tips and observations along the way…

I was super lucky with this dragon. Opening it up to see where electronics would fit inside, I found that all the drips would come through this one skull piece.

You don’t have to conceal the electronics deep inside your project. Maybe they’ll fit behind. Or if you’re decorating something like a skeleton, pick wire colors that conceal well (like black or white) or can be passed off as part of the gag (e.g. red and blue wires as arteries and veins).

Cutting NeoPixel strands.

LABEL EVERYTHING AS YOU GO. The drips are different lengths, so it’s important to keep track of which drip is #0, #1 and so forth…

Soldering to these Ultra Skinny NeoPixel strands is quite challenging. This is why I recommend most folks make a bigger prop using “normal” NeoPixels.

The solder pads on these strips are really tiny (just a couple of millimeters after cutting) and not clearly labeled (I cut the strips from the bottom and kept the original “head end” around for reference). You can scrape away a little extra contact area with a hobby knife. Tin the pads and the stripped wire ends with solder…

Even a “third hand” tool wasn’t much help with these connections. I just taped the strip down right on my grungy workbench and held down each wire against the bench while soldering, one-by-one.

Oh! Also worth mentioning: these strips have double-stick tape on the back, which is not helpful for our drips. Working slowly, it’s possible to carefully peel this tape off the strip. There might be a bit of lingering stickiness, but you can just paint over this later.

The splats are a lot more straightforward…tin the pads, tin the wires, solder them together. It’s just a whole lot of wire.

Keep careful track of the order and distances between splats…#0 to #1 will be different than #1 to #2, and so forth…it all depends on your drip placement.

Give yourself a little extra length between your splat pixels, so you can fine-tune their exact placement later.

All the drips and splats. So many pixels! So much wire!

This isn’t really part of the assembly instructions, I just worked really hard on this and wanted to be sure everyone saw.

MANDATORY TESTING

I can not emphasize this enough: after soldering, you must test every single strand before proceeding. This helps weed out any weak or wrong connections, bridged solder joints…or occasionally the first pixel in a strand can be killed by heavy-handed soldering (if this happens, clip it off and re-solder starting at the second pixel, it’ll look fine).

Load up the NeoPixel strandtest example…either on the Feather M0 board you’re using for this project, or any other board you have around…change the code’s pin number and strand length to match your longest strand.

NeoPixels should not be connected to a live circuit. Make the connections, then power up the board.

Yes, this is tedious. But it is 1000% necessary. If you build the whole project and then find something wrong buried deep inside and unreachable, you will cry.

This guide was first published on Oct 23, 2019. It was last updated on Oct 23, 2019.
This page (Build Part 1) was last updated on Oct 31, 2020.