Automated Light Painting

If you aren’t already familiar with light painting, we recommend that you check out our other project, the LED Paint Brush, to get some background information about the subject.

What is this thing?!?!

robotic art

This “thing” is a machine that allows anyone, anywhere to light paint. It works like this (see image below for reference):

  • You submit an image file (jpg, png, etc.) to our Interactive webpage
  • Our website takes your submitted photo and saves it
  • Your photo then travels through the Interwebs to our local light painting machine
  • The brains of our light painting machine, a microcontroller called the Parallax Propeller (similar to Arduino), receives information about the photo
  • The Propeller then choreographs motor movement, DSLR camera triggering, and LED pattern timing
  • A light-painted photo of your submitted image is then uploaded to our website, and delivered back to you for you to enjoy

how to make an internet enabled light painting machine


  • We wanted to give the awesomeness of light painting to everyone (*who has some Internet)
  • We hoped that having the ability to automate light painting would allow us to push light painting to places it hasn’t been
  • We thought that our last project, the LED Paint Brush, was really fun so we wanted to see what other ways we could use light painting
  • Because it’s flippin’ sweet

game of life programmed in light

Photo made from the light painting machine

How it moves

  • The LED strip is mounted upright to a “sled” that can slide back and forth on a set of tracks
  • A set of linear bearings connect the sled to the tracks and facilitates smooth movement
  • A chain connects the sled to a motor so that it can be moved along the tracks by the motor
  • The motor spins and drives the sled in a smooth motion across the camera’s field of vision

DIY robotic light painting rig

DIY linear bearings

DIY skateboard truck chain and sprocket

How the light painting is done

  • Light patterns are generated on a special RGB LED strip, which features 30 LEDs whose color can be individually chosen
  • The microcontroller tells each LED within the strip to be a particular color at each moment in time, much like pixels on a screen
  • The light painting occurs when the camera takes a long exposure photograph of the LED strip as it moves across the tracks
  • Effectively, the LED strip can be considered a vertical “slice” of the image at each point in time – when dragged in front of the camera each slice adds up to create the full 2-D image
  • The camera is set to long expose during the time the motor drives the LED sled, so it will capture only what’s necessary

Why automation is cool

Having a machine that allows us to automate the light painting allows us to do some really fun things. Aside from our main goal of giving anyone with an internet connection the ability to remotely light paint, we also have these abilities:

  • Clean and steady images – since the LED strip is on a fixed track, it facilitates smooth movement
  • High throughput imaging – light painting animations can be created much easier through scripting and automation
  • Ease of use – a completely developed infrastructure allows for easier future image creation

To learn more, check out these links: