This article is about the origin of the “Backlit Signs” project that was published to Instructables.com. The first section covers the personal story behind the signs, then I talk more about the specific signs that were prepared for the write-up. If you just want to skip to the Instructables article, it’s here: (Instructables link) There are a lot more pictures in steps four through seven of the Instructable.

I’ve also had several requests to make the FAITH, HOPE and LOVE signs for people, although I’m producing something slightly different than what you see below. If you are interested, I charge $2,200 for the full set. Each set takes about 9 days to produce, and I typically have a short backlog. If you are interested and want to work out the details, or if you have an idea for a custom sign you’d like to have made, head over to the contact page and let me know. (Contact page) I’ll have a gallery of images of some of the signs I’ve produced soon.

The Past

Last December, my dad asked me if I would remake this sign for him. This sign hung from a post in front of our house for as long as I can remember. I do not have any woodworking skills, but I know how to use YouTube, so I told him that I would without having any idea how I would pull it off. Before old age zapped the better part of his mobility, my dad was a skilled woodworker, and I know that he made the sign using a stencil and a handheld router. I convinced myself that I could figure out how to do that. At the same time, I started showing him information about a CNC router that I had been researching and planning to buy. He thought that was pretty cool, and we had several conversations about how the times had changed and how he would do things differently if he were learning now. He particularly liked 3D printing.

My dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in January. I hadn’t made any progress on remaking the sign, but I was determined to keep my promise. After taking a couple of months to recover from the loss, I decided that it was time to move forward with my plans to buy a CNC router (I bought this one).

The CNC router needed a home, and I inherited the awesome shop that my dad spent 50 years building. While I was making the shop my own and creating a space for the router, look at what I found. All of the letters were in a book and nicely stowed away in a filing cabinet.

Spending about 30 minutes on Google gave me the information I needed to scan these pages, turn them into SVG files, then generate shapes that my CNC router could cut.

The first version is smaller than the final will be, but the results were far better than what I could have achieved if I were to do this manually.

The Present

My interest in the signs and my desire to learn how to better use the CNC router sent me down a path that took several months to complete. In the end, I wrote three Instructables (Link 1) (Link 2) (Link 3), made custom Printed Circuit Boards, designed and made custom hardware, wrote an application for Arduino, and developed and released a cross-platform mobile app (iOS App Store link) (Google Play Store link) (github link). I’ve also figured out how to get my custom PCBs professionally manufactured, and I will have them available for sale in the near future. The product of all of that work is four backlit signs and many more future possibilities.

The Instructables are in a three-part series that show people how to make a custom Printed Circuit Board (PCB), and then how to make your own Wifi controller for LED lights – complete with a mobile app that you can install on your phone or tablet. The third and final Instructable in the series gives details about how I incorporated the custom PCB, WiFi controller and software in the design and construction of four backlit signs. I’ve also decided to write a fourth Instructable as an addendum to cover how to use the new and improved Printed Circuit Board that I designed to make your own WiFi light controller with no more electrical skills than the ability to solder.

Here are the signs I made for this Instructable.

The first sign provides the numbers for the front of my house. I made dark numbers against a light backdrop so that they would be easy to see during the day, while creating a dramatic silhouette at night.

The numbers sit approximately 5 cm above the surface of the sign, and are mounted with advertising panel standoffs.

Lights are mounted inside of the numbers, and wires are passed to the back of the sign through inconspicuous channels.

Each number has its own set of lights, so they can be set to different colors.

FAITH has 3D printed letters pressed into appropriately cut openings. Letters were printed with “Natural” PLA, and were specially designed to diffract light. Lights were inserted into the printed letters.

The characters are flush with the front of the sign, which leaves the edges of the letters well-defined when lit.

Unlike the other signs, this one cannot have each of its characters set to a different color.

HOPE is similar to FAITH. And not just spiritually. This sign also has letters that were 3D printed in Natural PLA and specially fit into spaces cut just for them.

With HOPE, the letters stand a few millimeters above the surface of the sign, which dulls the edges of the letters and creates a dramatic lighting effect.

As you can see, the lights inside of each letter can be controlled separately.

The LOVE sign is similar to the 809 sign in that the letters stand above the surface of the sign.

With LOVE, the light source is inside of back piece of the sign, and escapes through openings behind each letter. This leaves a much more subtle effect than 809, which is perfect for indoor installations.

Here’s a quick video showing the mobile app operating the 809 sign on an iPad.

There are a lot more pictures and videos at Instructables, so check it out. (Instructables link) Also be sure to keep checking back for the upcoming gallery of sign photos. And don’t forget that I’ll be releasing the previously unexpected Instuctable part four in late December or early January. That will include an improved and easier to build WiFi controller for lights. If you know how to solder, you can even make one yourself!

If you want for me to make a sign or set of signs for you, go to our contact page and get in touch. (Contact page)

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