In the wake of Cyberpunk Your Summer campaign, we’ve been repeatedly asked one question: How do I make my PocketC.H.I.P. glow like that? By popular demand, here it is, your Cyberpunk PocketC.H.I.P. LED & El Wire tutorial!
I had seen the EL Wire PocketC.H.I.P. project by Pocketeer 5t4rw1nd in the forums and decided to give it a go. It was rad, but I needed a bit more case illumination for our planned night time cyberpunk photoshoot. That’s when it hit me. I made a few tweaks and threw LEDs into the mix. With the combination of EL Wire and LEDs the hack really took off. Plus, I used a power inverter and DC step-up, so I made it all glow using only PocketC.H.I.P.’s internal battery.
Note: The step-up is for the 12V LED strip which can be powered by as little as 9V, though it will be dimmer. The adjustable module is a handy dimmer for the strip, or you can purchase a step-up module that supplies a steady 9V-12V. The LEDs will pull about 170mA, so any module that provides 1A output is more than enough.
- Double-stick tape such as VHB (foam and otherwise)
- Wire – the thinner the better
- Soldering iron
- Power drill and 7⁄64 bit
- Small flat-head screwdriver
- Wire snips and strips
- X-Acto blade
1. Prep LED Segments
Cut the LED strip into segments of 4″ which will give you 12 LEDs per section. With an X-Acto knife carefully cut the very end of the plastic casing off to expose the two solder pads. You only need to cut it away on one end. The strip is thin, and the pads are fragile so be careful going in with a sharp blade.
2. Solder Step-up and LEDs to PocketC.H.I.P.
Solder these connections:
|LED strip 1 power ↔ LED strip 2 power|
|LED strip 1 ground ↔ LED strip 2 ground|
|LED strip 2 power ↔ Step-up VOUT+|
|LED strip 2 ground ↔ Step-up VOUT-|
|Step-up VIN+ ↔ PocketC.H.I.P. 3V|
|Step-up VIN- ↔ PocketC.H.I.P. GND|
3. Extract Inverter
Use a small flat-head screwdriver to pry the inverter case open. Be careful not to damage anything, including yourself! Take out the inverter and take note of the two connections that go to the battery for DC input and the two output wires that will connect to the EL wire.
Use a pair of angled cutters to snip off the ground coil and wire that connect to the battery holder. Place the inverter on the back of PocketC.H.I.P. to get a sense of how long the output wires should be. You want to make as much room as possible in the back so keep wires as short as possible. When ready, shorten the output wires that will connect to the EL wire.
Tip: Mark the wires before you forget which one is ground and which is power.
4. Solder EL Wire and Inverter to PocketC.H.I.P.
Splice two wires in with PocketC.H.I.P.’s GND and 3V that are wired to the DC step-up. Solder these wires to the input of the inverter, where the battery used to be connected. Then, solder the EL Wire to the ouput wires, in my case these are the two black wires.
Note: The inverter transforms the DC power coming from PocketC.H.I.P. into AC power that the EL Wire runs on. The inverter used here is made for one AA battery which is 1.5V, but it also works with 3V. I used the 3V output since PocketC.H.I.P. makes it conveniently accessible.
Solder these connections:
|EL Wire power ↔ Inverter power out (black wire)|
|EL Wire ground ↔ Inverter ground out (black wire)|
|Inverter ground in (where the battery coil was) ↔ PocketC.H.I.P. GND|
|Inverter power in (where the white wire was) ↔ PocketC.H.I.P. 3V|
5. Downsize Battery (Optional)
This step is optional but recommended because it makes more room for the EL Wire and modules. You will find that for everything to fit under the back case you will need to move around parts and use your best puzzle problem-solving skills. If you have a smaller battery lying around I recommend using it. I put in a 1000mAh LiPo instead of the stock and it’s lasted at least an hour with lights on and playing games. You may even want to use a smaller diameter of EL Wire although the high-bright variety is recommended. You can find EL Wire diameters as small as 2.1mm.
6. Snip the PocketC.H.I.P. Bezel
7. Attach LED Strips to Front
To keep the wires in the back of the PocketC.H.I.P., the LED segments get pushed through two of the holes the screen frame snaps into. Use strong double-stick tape, like VHB, to attach the segments to the front above and below the screen.
8. Install EL Wire
Use strips of VHB (or strong tape) to attach the EL Wire to parts of PocketC.H.I.P.. Don’t be afraid to bend and kink the wire to make it fit around the modules and battery. The randomness of the EL Wire also ends up looking cool.
Tip: The two main areas you want to keep the EL Wire away from are the center of PocketC.H.I.P. above the battery and the area where C.H.I.P. plugs in. Take a look at the back of PocketC.H.I.P. to see where it hits the board and is tight on space to help you plan where the EL Wire can go.
After the EL Wire has been placed, pop the back case back on. Shift things around as needed. The highest part will always be the inverter, but wires can get in the way of the case snapping closed.
Tip: A flat-head screwdriver can be a handy tool to poke wires in with as you snap the back closed.
9. Drill Holes
The inverter has a switch on it, which you can replace or extend so that it sticks out of the case. I kept things simple and didn’t do either of those options.
Instead, I chose to use a flat-head screwdriver as a key to all the glowy goodness. I made it so if slip a screwdriver through a small hole drilled into the back of PocketC.H.I.P., I can adjust the screw which changes the output voltage from the DC step-up. Since this build was used in a photoshoot, the fact that the LEDs could be turned up or down was super valuable. Lighting is everything!
Mark where to drill with a permanent marker. Drill using a 7⁄64” bit or similar to the diameter of the screwdriver you plan on using. Start from the inside of the case and then come from the outside making sure to get the angle right so the screwdriver can get to the switch and screw.
Ready for a challenge? A great way to take this project further would be to control the EL wire or LED strips from C.H.I.P.’s PWM pin.
Tip: Use a transistor with the PWM pin and the external power sources to make sure the LEDs or EL wire gets the power they need while maintaining analog-like control.
Made a EL Wire PocketC.H.I.P.? Take a picture and post them on the forum or tweet at us. And don’t forget to tell us about your favorite PocketC.H.I.P. mods in the comments below. We can’t wait to see them!