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Light-Up Multicolor Geek Cuff Links

You’ve probably seen those iCufflinks that look like power buttons. Yeah, sure, pretty cool but, let’s face it: they’re not nearly geeky enough. So, what would it take to make your own custom, light-up, geek cuff links?

A few days ago, I put in an order at Adafruit for an Arduino kit and a bag full of RGB LEDs. Arduinos are microcontrollers that you can program from your computer. Once programmed, you can run them stand-alone off battery power. RGB LEDs have three separate LEDs on a single chip. By varying the current through each, you can produce any color in the visible spectrum (more or less).

So, hey! You could use an Arduino to control a couple RGB LEDs and embed them into some sort of …thing to make it look like cuff links. Now here’s where things get difficult. What can you use to make a cuff-link-like thing? On the off chance that you might think that all these weird gadgets I make spring fully-formed from my fevered brain, here’s a look at some failed attempts at making a galaxy pattern cuff link. (Sad trombone)

When those ideas failed, I settled on the idea of printing in black ink on transparency and mounting it on some sort of translucent material lit from behind. A bit of wandering around my local craft store netted a bag of white mosaic tiles intended for stained glass projects. They’re 3/4″ square, so I used that as a basis for the cuff link.

Turns out transparencies don’t look all that great. After trying a few different materials, I finally hit on inkjet printed vellum. Two layers thick gave me a decent amount of contrast and diffused the light enough to light up the whole image.

I had to grind down the LED so it’d mount flat against the glass square.

One of the things I wanted to do was have the “jewels” interchangeable so that I could swap out the images. I cut down an 8-pin DIP socket to a 4-pin socket that would fit the LEDs. Soldered that to a header strip and, ta-da, a modular socket for my cuff links.

For the posts themselves, I bought a pair of cheap cuff links and ground them down. Add a bit of polycaprolactone (low temperature thermoplastic) and you’ve got your cuff link base. The LED mounts in the socket and the 4-pin header sticking out the side connects to wires running to the Arduino.

Here’s a set of nearly-finished products. A couple still need a bit of cleanup work but you get the idea. Each one is designed to be hot-swappable by plugging into the base. So, you can have galaxies for hors d’oeuvres and pi for dessert. (ba-dum-tsh)

Here’s one lit up and on a cuff. Not a French cuff. Sorry. Didn’t have one handy at the time. It’d look pretty much like this but a bit more posh. The wires run up the sleeves to an Arduino in your breast pocket.

Here’s a video of a cuff link in action. The colors don’t show up very well on video; they’re much more vivid live. I fully intend to have this ready for field testing in time for the Atlanta Star Party in September. I hope to have a dimming feature added by then so I don’t light up the observatory.

(Update) Here’s a clip of a couple cuff links attached to the testbed, cycling through red, green and blue. Color’s a bit better on this one.

(Yes I know they’re upside down. It makes sense, trust me.)

Steve DeGroof

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.

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One Comment

  1. I’ve always wanted to wear cuff links. These make me want to wear them even more.

    If you’re looking for homes for any of these, let me know! 😉

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