OK, so now I’ve got your attention, let’s get started with this tutorial on how to build the Arduino based LED cube. First of all I must say that this tutorial is specifically aimed at building an 8x8x8 cube with single color LEDs. Things are going to be quite different if you want the cube to contain multicolor LEDs.

The component list

First things first: let’s sum up the components you will need to build this contraption:

  • 1 x ATmega 328pu with an Arduino boot loader (you can do without the boot loader, but then you’ll have to boot load it yourself)
  • 1 x 28-pin IC socket
  • 2 x 22pF capacitor
  • 1 x 16Mhz chrystal
  • 1 x 74HC138 IC (This will act as a timer chip)
  • 1 x 16-pin IC socket
  • 8 x 74HC574 IC (These will control the different columns in the cube)
  • 8 x 20-pin IC socket
  • 512 x 3mm LED (You can choose whatever color you like, but I liked the blue ones)
  • 64 x 100 Ohm resistor (Metal film resistors have a smaller tollerance, so I chose those)
  • 16 x 120 Ohm resistor (Again, use the metal film ones)
  • 16 x 2N2222 transistor (You could use the PN2222 as well, but I couldn’t find them on time)
  • 1 x 1000uF capacitor
  • 2 x 100uF capacitor
  • 1 x 10uF capacitor
  • 10 x 0.1uF ceramic capacitor
  • 72 x male pin headers
  • 72 x female pin headers
  • About 2m of UTP cable
  • 1 x power connector
  • 1 x on/off switch

If you look at your local electronics store, you will find that all of this will cost you quite some money. However, I don’t think you need to buy these expensive components when you can find all of these online on eBay for a tenth of the price. Sure, you’ll end up with too many components because they usually come in large packages, but that gives you another reason not to stop with this one project :-)

Including all the spare parts I have left now, the total cost for this little project comes down to around 100 Euro or 130 US Dollar. Which in my opinion was well worth it.

Just one thing to look out for when buying the LEDs. The LEDs I bought have a leg length of 17mm. This makes the cube a bit smaller than I had anticipated (about 12cm on each side), but still, the result is not bad at all. If you buy LEDs with 25mm legs your LEDs will be spaced further apart (about 18cm on each side), making it more transparent as well. The choice is yours.

Also, using the IC sockets is completely optional, but I’ve found it very helpful, especially for the ATmega328 chip, because it makes it easy to take the chip out of the board and put it into an existing Arduino board for easy programming. Another good reason for using these IC sockets is the fact that you don’t risk frying your ICs while soldering them on the board. Electronic components have a tendency not to cope very well with the intense heat of soldering. If this is your first project, I definitely recommend it to avoid having to throw away some fried ICs.

In the next part I will take you through the process of creating the actual LED cube itself