Today we’re building an LED kaleidoscope. This 3D-printed project comes together with no glue or fasteners and contains wireless LEDs to create fun patterns. The inductive power coil lives in the base.
I didn’t design this kaleidoscope– My friend Debra Ansell from Geek Mom Projects did. You can check out her tutorial to see more information about this project, access the files to make your own, or browse Debra’s other projects. You can also follow her on social media @geekmomprojects.
This project uses a combination of 3D-printed components, electronics, and components that can be either laser-cut or cut by hand, depending on the materials you choose. Here’s everything you’ll need:
- Small inductive coil and wireless LED kit
- Extra wireless LEDs, if you wish
- 5V power source such as 5V AC adapter, USB backup battery, or ~5v alkaline battery pack
- made solder-free with a barrel jack-to-screw-terminal adapter and barrel jack USB cable
- Soldering tools and supplies (optional depending on your power setup)
- 3D printer filament in transparent (for LED diffusers) and opaque color(s) of your choice.
- Mirror sheet, either 1/16″ acrylic (for laser cutting or scoring+snapping) or thinner mirror sheet you can cut with scissors.
- Clear acrylic, either precut 3″ discs or up to 1/8″ thick sheet if laser cutting
- 3D files from Debra’s tutorial
You can get all the supplies you need to make your own kaleidoscope from this project’s sponsor, Digi-Key. Check out this project on their project site, maker.io.
3D Print the Parts
You’ll need one large triangular body, two eyepieces, one eyepiece cover, one LED container, and one coil holder. In transparent filament, print out ten LED covers, or adjust the number to match the number of LEDs you are using.
Laser or hand-cut mirrors and lenses
You’ll also need to cut the mirror pieces and clear acrylic lenses. You can use a laser cutter for this, but you can also use thinner material and cut the pieces by hand. You’ll need:
- Rectangular mirrors: 3x 160mm x 55mm, no thicker than 1/16″ (1.6mm)
- Clear lenses: 2x 3″ (76.2mm) diameter circles, no thicker than 1/8″ (3.2mm)
Assembling the Body
To start assembling your kaleidoscope, you’ll need the main extruded triangle body piece and the end pieces. To attach each end piece, match the three inverted dots with the corresponding dots on the main body, and pop them into place. Depending on your tolerances, you may need to use a soft mallet to tap the pieces into place.
Next, to create the eyepiece, place one of your circular lens pieces over the end cap and then secure it with the screw top. Thanks to this screw top feature, this design can accommodate any lens thickness between 1mm and 1/8″, which means you can either hand cut or laser cut them!
Remove the protective paper layer from your mirror pieces and slide them into place, with the reflective side facing inward. If the fit of your mirrors is a little tight, you can use your soft mallet again to tap them into place. If it’s too loose, you can put a drop of glue behind the mirrors to secure them to the main body.
Check your Tolerances!
We realized that the tolerances for all of my pieces were tighter than intended in Debra’s original design. She has since uploaded another set of files with looser tolerances if your printer is more like mine!
If you don’t want to reprint your parts, you can do what I did, and adjust some pieces by shaving them down with a utility knife. I needed to do this for the inner ring of my base piece, to ensure that it could move freely within the outer ring. Be very careful not to cut yourself! Keep your holding fingers upstream of the blade at all times.
Attaching the Electronics
The easiest way to embed the induction coil is to attach it to the base before attaching the base to the kaleidoscope. Start by folding the wires underneath the inductive power coil. Then, feed the wires through the holes in the 3D-printed base, which will provide some strain relief.
I took an old 5V AC adapter, cut off the connector, and soldered the plus side to the red wire, and black to the minus wire, securing the ends with heat shrink tubing. I also zip-tied the two wires together near where they exit the base component.
Next, align the extrusions in the electronics compartment with the notch in the base piece, and snap them into place. You may need to start with one part of the circle and work your way around, snapping it into place as you go.
Once in place, these pieces should rotate freely. If they don’t, you made need to shave down the inner ring with a utility knife, as I did (but be very careful not to cut yourself).
Adding the Wireless LEDs
Once the base is assembled, use tweezers or your fingers to place the LEDs on the top surface of the base.
Then, place your 3D-printed LED covers on top of them, matching shapes and colors however you’d like and being careful not to knock the LEDs over. If you get the height and cavity size right, you can customize the LED covers to any design and shape you want (letters, themes, etc).
Place the remaining lens piece over the container.
Then, screw in the main body piece. You want this to be snug, but don’t over-tighten it, or you run the risk of cracking a piece.
Then, you’re all done and ready to use your kaleidoscope!