While you can buy an expensive neopixel blade the experience is nowhere as enlightening as building yourself one.
Besides once you have gone through the process you will realize something. You may have unknowingly opened a versatile gate for yourself.
The next time you can easily build another custom neopixel blade of any of your favorite Star Wars characters!
Especially the ones that you simply cannot find online or at a lightsaber store.
Instead of waiting for the neopixel blades to show up how about, you do the unthinkable?
How about you build a blade that meets your expectation and is budget friendly. Sounds like a dream right? But now I have got you thinking if only the process was that easy.
Don’t worry about that. I have written down my experience that will help you build a neopixel blade like a champ.
Let’s get to it!
Step 1: Get the Neopixel Strips
Neopixel blade is named after the special ‘Neopixel LEDs’ that are installed in it.
Not only are neopixel LEDs advanced, budget friendly but also easier to control as they can be addressed individually.
For a lightsaber blade, the LEDs are added in the form of strips. Normally a high density 144 LED skinny neopixel strip is used that is approximately 1 meter (32 in.) in length. So when you light the blade the LEDs in the strip give a continuous and smooth blade effect.
Grouped together you can control the LEDs in different ways. For example, you can copy the ON/OFF effect, ignition mode, blade mode, swinging, striking effect and more.
Enough information. Now it is time to get those famous neopixel strips that I keep talking about!
But first, make sure you get WS2182 RGB LEDs, not the RGBW LEDs. It is a common mistake that many lightsaber beginners tend to make.
Furthermore, while purchasing you will realize that the neopixel LED strips are mostly available in two forms. You can either buy a single expensive long LED strip. Or you can go with two 50cm LED strips with a little gap between them. I suggest you keep your blade length in mind. (Usually, a 70cm to 90cm blade is used requiring a 24inch or 32inch strip. You can modify both types to mentioned dimensions).
Your budget will decide which one you buy. However, not to worry as the 50cm strips can be modified to remove the gap by some tucking, nipping and reattaching. Good for us this strip is already similar to the expensive neopixel strip in terms of control and brightness.
No matter what you choose do not compromise on the quality of the neopixel strips.
Step 2: Decide Grade of Polycarbonate Tube
Knowing that there are many options in the market I suggest you choose the polycarbonate material. I have tested all types of materials like PVC, acrylic and other cheaper plastics yet no one has outdone the polycarbonate tubing so far.
Original polycarbonate has a blue tint to it. Mainly it is a 25.4 mm fluorescent material that is resilient and thermostable. The advantages of using polycarbonate for lightsaber blades are endless.
Another best part is that you can choose a polycarbonate blade based on durability. From mid grade to high grade glass there are several options.
If you are cutting back on the cost then you need to spend it wisely. As the glass grade increases so do the price. High density polycarbonate is the strongest and best for dueling. I recommend a strong grade blade with an outside diameter of 25mm and an interior diameter of 22mm if you wish to duel. Although, if you'd like, you can extend it to 31mm/1.25" OD.
On the contrary, mid grade works best for display, spinning and collecting hobbies.
Moving forward, precut polycarbonate tubes of different lengths are available that are already coated with resin and a light diffuser. If you cannot get your hands on the coated ones do not worry. You can DIY a clear polycarbonate blade with a light diffuser sheet available on Amazon.
Simply cut the sheet according to the length of the blade and roll it inside the tube.
Step 3: Use Skinny Pixels Alternative
While we are collecting all the materials. We have to measure the dimesons of the strips beforehand as they will be adjusted inside the blade. You do not want the blade to be over stuffed and the neopixel LEDs to be damaged before use.
Although a standard neopixel LED is 1mm and since we use two strips on both sides of the blade they can still fit easily with a diffusing sheet.
However, you have another advanced option.
As mentioned before instead of one color RGB strip you can use smart skinny pixel strips to cut back on the cost. They consume less space and can bend easily in the blade. More than that you no longer have to mess with wires. Plus they have longer battery life. Lastly, their even light diffusion illuminates the blade uniformly decreasing a lot of extra work.
Step 4: Modify the Neopixel Strips
Before adding the neopixel strip to the blade there are some modifications that are due. You will not find an already prepared neopixel strip ready to be inserted into the blade. Although they are available but always seem to be out of stock. So what we will do is make the changes ourselves.
Coroplast is a corrugated plastic sheet that is often used to increase the rigidity of neopixel strips. These are translucent plastic strips that come in different sizes. Obviously, that is to match the dimensions of coroplast to your neopixel strip.
On standard, you can buy a 20in x 30in sheet that is 4mm x 4mm wide. Then you can cut the coroplast to match the neopixel strip. For it to work, the coroplast acts as a backbone of neopixel strip. It is attached to the back to increase the rigidity of the strips and make it easier to insert the neopixel strips. This way the neopixel strip will not bend out of shape and add to your frustration.
Extra Protective Layers
Another thing is that neopixel strip comes with packaging consisting of the soldered wires and weather protecting sheet. The extra layers provide protection to the noepixel strip. However, the extra layers only pose a hindrance while inserting the strip into the blade. You can remove the layers with the help of a box cutter knife.
If you are questioning the safety of the neopixels strip then forget it. The strips are already designed to be waterproof and heat resistant. Besides, the polycarbonate tube will pose enough protection.
The last thing directly associated with neopixel strips is whether the wires are already designed to attach to the 5V board pins. Or you need to solder the wires to the pins yourself. A neopixel strip has three wire connections on one end. Nor four. Not two. Three only. If the wires are not already attached to the pins you need to solder the wires with a soldering iron. Use a good adhesive over the area for further protection.
Carefully replace the wires with the pins of the board. Data-In (white) is in the middle, Ground (black) is on the right, and 5V (red) is on the left.
Step 5: Test Neopixel Strip outside Blade
It is better to test everything outside of the blade beforehand.
So connect the pins to the board and add a LiPo battery to the circuit. You can also add a button switch to the mix. Power on the adafruit neopixel strip and make sure the connections are secure and all the LEDs light up.
Step 6: Prepare the Neopixel Strip
Now that we have to make sure the neopixel strip works perfectly well. Let’s fix it with adhesives (tape and the coroplast we bought before) before adding them to the blade.
Right now you need transparent tape, double sided tape and coroplast. Cut the strip of the coroplast and attach it to one side of neopixel strip. Use double sided tape so the adhesion on one side helps attach the strip to the side of the polycarbonate blade. On the other side of the neopixel strip attach another coroplast layer. Attach this strip with clear tape. The second coroplast layer on top provides stability and acts as a diffusion layer for uniform illumination.
Now that the coroplast layers have been added on both sides of the neopixel strip. Secure the layers with another layer of clear tape. Do not attach clear tape in one smooth motion. Cut small pieces of the tape and wrap them around the strip leaving spaces in between.
Turn on the strip and check the circuit again. Move the wrapped neopixel strip around a bit to see that the connection is secure and it would not fall apart in the blade.
Step 7: Insert the Neopixel LEDs in Blade
Take the prepared neopixel assembly and lightly insert it into the polycarbonate tube. Keep the wire end facing out so it can be connected to the hilt later on!
Light the neopixel strip. The light should be uniform and bright enough to illuminate the blade. There may be a dimming effect due to the addition of a polycarbonate layer. However, it should be barely noticeable.
Step 8: Seal the Deal
We need to secure the neopixel strip in the blade so they do not fall out. Use clear tape, hot glue or a thin layer of silicone to fix the strip into the blade.
Now install the blade into the opening on the emitter. The emitter will help connect the polycarbonate blade to the hilt. Use slight force to fix the blade if you have to.
The blade should be fixed to the emitter with the circuit hanging from the other side. The pins including the circuit will be installed in the hilt later. Learn about the complete construction of the lightsaber here.
Turn on the circuit and take a prideful look at your work. Wave around the blade to check your satisfying work.
The skinny neopixel blades do not dissipate heat as much as using two 1mm individual blades on both sides of the blade. You have to be careful. Heat dissipation also depends on the energy input to the neopixel blades. It can easily melt the blade. The idea is that we have to keep the heat dissipation below 40% to protect the blades as well as our hands. So make sure you check the output of the LiPo battery beforehand.
In the end, I have to say that this was only the beginning. Once you have gone through the process you can build multiple blades with different neopixel LED strips of varying density and length. Play around and unleash what other potentials and customizations you can come up with.
Feel free to reach back out to us with your experience!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you make a Neopixel lightsaber?
While neopixel lightsaber is mainly built of a neopixel blade and a hilt. There are many things that go into the construction. Neopixel LEDs are the centre of it all. Find out more about the construction here.
What is inside a Neopixel blade?
To sum up, neopixel blade consists of the neopixel strip, diffusion layer, tape, adhesive foaming sheet and more. The main thing that cannot be overlooked is the adafruit neopixel LEDs that light up the blade.
How many pixels are in a NeoPixel blade?
The pixels can vary according to the length of your neopixel blade. However, on standard a thick 1 inch OD polycarbonate tube has a tiny NeoPixel strip from Adafruit (1-meter, 144 pixels).
Can you fight with a NeoPixel blade?
The quality and build of the nepopixel blade will determine its durability. With polycarbonate material, you get different grades of glass. High grade material is most suitable for dueling and lasts longer than the competitors.
Do Neopixel lightsaber blades break?
Neopixel blades can withstand the pressure to an extent after which they can break. With heavy and intense dueling there is a chance that you can easily damage the expensive neopixel lightsaber blades.
Are NeoPixel blades heavy?
At most a heavy grade neopixel blade weighs 190g for 7/8" and 300g for 1", 12 inches is around 30 cm. not all blades are suitable for dueling even with high durability.
Are NeoPixel blades removable?
Neopixel blades can be removed and replaced easily. There are several types of neopixel blades available to replace the old ones. With the increase in neopixel technology, you can also get neopixel blades for in-hilt LED sources.