141: Acrylic LED Light Bases

I’ve played around with lighting acrylic with strips of LEDs before. I’ve also explored the differences between light-guiding lucite and plain cast acrylic. I was using a pre-made LED strip in both of those projects, but Jennifer went hardcore and cut up her own roll of LED strip to solder together decorative wall lights. For as much fun as lighting up engraved acrylic is, neither of us have played around with light bases, which seem like much more user-friendly options. Well, it’s 2019 now, about time to fix that.

The Bases

The real impetus for this project popped up late last year, when I was ordering stock material for a large order of badges. One of my suppliers recently added two models of light bases to their offerings, and they were less than $10 each. One even came with a remote control!

The primary difference between the bases is the remote control, but they also have different designs. The standard model is circular, and flat at the top, while the base with a remote has an edgy geometric design embellishing a basically rectangular base.

Any idea what that larger battery is? The eneloop for scale is an AA

They both have 3.25″ wide slots where you insert the acrylic.
The slot is wide enough to accommodate 1/8″ thick acrylic easily, but it was just a hair too narrow to fit a 1/4″ thick piece. A touch-sensitive “button” rests at the front of both to cycle power and color options, and a Micro USB port to power the device via USB. While both include battery-powered options, with the circle base letting you supply your own trio of AA batteries, the geometric base only needs one abnormally large battery. I have no idea what model battery it is, so I’m relieved they included one!

The Acrylics

Most of the time when I’m making something out of acrylic, it’s a sign or a badge or some other kind of vehicle for information. I knew with this project I didn’t have any info to share. This time I had no brand to promote or people or place to identify; I just wanted to make something that looked neat—which is pretty easy when you’re edge-lighting acrylic! I wanted to satisfy my inner Nintendo fanboy again, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, and it didn’t take long before I narrowed it down to controllers. My obvious choices were the NES and SNES controller designs, but in the end I decided to make a GameCube controller instead of a NES controller because I had a few ideas in mind for colored buttons and there’s a wider variety on the GameCube controller.

For this project I wanted a precise, accurate design. I love how creative folks get when interpreting controller design, but I wanted something more like a technical drawing. I was prepared to do the work, but I found some exceptionally well-made controller layouts through the-blueprints.com. They were drawn to scale, and aside from a few very small alignment issues and some overlapping lines, I didn’t have too much work ahead of me preparing them for engraving.

For the SNES controller, I knew I wanted to add some fake depth by engraving on both sides of the material. I skipped that step for the prototype, but for the final version I set up a layout for each side; most of the design would go in reverse on the back and just the buttons themselves would be engraved on the front. I also added very light shade of grey to the controller surface. This would be engraved as a light halftone dot pattern, giving contrast between the controller’s plastic and the sticker surrounding the face buttons.

The GameCube controller was significantly more complicated. Instead of faking depth using multi-surface engraving, I wanted to replace the buttons on the controller with appropriately-colored fluorescent acrylic. On this controller, I had to match a green A button, a red B button, and a yellow C-stick. Thankfully, I had all three of those colors on-hand. I did briefly consider trying colored buttons on the SNES controller, but I didn’t have a single shade of transparent purple acrylic handy, let alone the two different purple hues Nintendo used for the face buttons.

While I originally planned to have the fluorescent button acrylic sit flush inside the main acrylic’s cutouts, I realized that the normally-bright edge of each button was being obscured behind the white edge of the main acrylic piece. Since I had a little give with the kerf settings I used, I was able to push the button out from the front face of the main acrylic a few millimeters, which let the color come through the edge clear as day.

The Results

The final SNES controller design turned out excellent, partly due to its simplicity, and there’s always something neat about the effect of depth without any actual depth. For that reason I’m a little more appreciative of the buttons on that acrylic compared to the GameCube acrylic. Because there are no colored buttons to worry about, I can use the light base’s color cycle mode without concern. Naturally, the controller looks most authentic with the LEDs set to white.

The GC controller ran into a few issues pretty early on. In the prototype I only replaced the colorful buttons, but it made the rest of the controller look inconsistently flat. Thus, the final version has all of the face buttons, thumbsticks, and the d-pad as separate pieces pushed through just as the colored buttons were.

In hindsight, I also think I should have utilized the same dot pattern used on the SNES controller for the GC controller; it might have better conveyed the purple of the “original default color” for GameCube accessories. Also, while purple is a great color in this context, plain white works even better, because the purple tint also colors the (typically grey or white) buttons. I briefly considered trying some 40% translucent white material for those buttons, but with a quick test it looked like it didn’t really prevent the purple light from coloring the piece—and the translucency hid the surface engraving too well.

4 thoughts on “141: Acrylic LED Light Bases

  1. Todd says:

    Nice work on the controllers.

    I could be wrong, but the larger battery looks like a 18650 LI-ION rechargeable battery. (3.7v)

    • Ryan says:

      Thank you! You’re right, it’s an 18650. I’d never even heard of these before now. My childhood really wants me to call it a “single A”.


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