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WallPaw - laser-cut, back-lit Clemson Tiger Paw with edge-lit acrylic



Clemson's makerspace in the Watt's center has a laser cutter, and I wanted to put it to good use.  I thought making a back-lit tiger paw would be cool, but I also wanted to do something with edge-lit acrylic.  This project is the combination of both desires.  

The paw itself is cut from 1/4" wood.  The acrylic pieces are 3/8" cast acrylic.  I downloaded a vector file of Clemson's official tiger paw logo from Clemson's website, and then used Adobe Illustrator to add in connectors so that it could be cut and stay together in one piece.  The pictures on the acrylic inlays were downloaded from online, then cleaned up and made into PNG's using Photoshop.  

The lights on the back are WS2812 LED strips, which are individually addressable (meaning I can control the color and brightness of each light separately.)  Two Arduino microcontrollers run the lights, with one Arduino Mega controlling the lights and an Arduino Uno listening for infrared signals from the remote.  I programmed in over 35 different functions with the remote, which you can read more about below.  

I also wrote an Instructable about it, you can read it here:

Features and Function

Remote controlled
Brightness control
Effect animation speed control
Single color
  • All lights
  • Only the acrylic and "Clemson Tigers"
  • Only the acrylic
  • All lights pulsing in/out
  • Sound reactive
Two color​
  • All lights (inside/outside different colors)
  • Alternating colors with acrylic pieces and "Clemson"/"Tigers"
  • Inverse of the two above
Sound reactive​
  • Volume bar - more lights illuminate when sound is loud.  This is dynamic, so as sound gets louder it becomes less sensitive and vice versa.
  • Pulse - all lights illuminated, get brighter/dimmer based on sound level
Fading rainbow - a rainbow of colors all around the paw, which scrolls around at the set animation speed
Rainbow sound reactive - sound reactive setting where the color scrolls through the rainbow
Bouncing balls - a simulation of balls bouncing.  It looks cool on straight LED strips, on the paw it looks like random lights
Snow - all lights on a dim white, with a random one lighting up every half second or so
Three color pulse - Red/green/blue pulsing in and out
Demo 2
Sound reactive example

Parts list

Parts List
  • 1/4" wood - 2' square

  • 3/8" acrylic - 1' by 2'

  • WS2812 LED strip - 5 meters

  • Arduino Uno

  • Arduino Mega

  • Infrared receiver module

  • 1000 uF capacitors - 5ish

  • Connector wire (lots)

  • Computer PSU (or 5V and 12V power supply)

  • 44-key IR LED remote

  • Laser cutter - available at Clemson makerspace in WFIC

  • Soldering iron

  • Hot glue gun (this is essential)

  • Wire cutters/strippers



I downloaded the vector file of the Clemson paw from here, and opened it in Adobe Illustrator to start adding connectors between the toes.  Once I had the file made into a single piece I went to the Watts center and laser cut it from 1/4" acrylic as a test.  It stayed together and seemed plenty strong.  

I used a a website to convert my jpeg pictures of Tillman and Death Valley into line drawings for etching with the laser cutter.

Once I had the line drawings and the tiger paw outline, I combined everything in Adobe Illustrator and then cut/etched the parts.  

I didn't plan out the lights or circuitry until all the pieces were in front of me.  Then I used a pencil to trace where the lights, Arduino boards, and connecting wires would go.  

On the left is a model of the tiger paw design I made out of foam board. On the right is the first laser cut prototype of it.

This is the wood of the tiger paw still on the laser cutter. I think it took 45 minutes to cut everything.

Laser cut paw with keyboard for scale

The etched and cut acrylic pieces still in the laser cutter. I left the protective covering on the back so that and fire wouldn't burn the acrylic.

Edge lighting the acrylic piece with a phone flashlight

Admiring the edge lit acrylic piece in the tiger paw for the first time. This is when I realized it would look even cooler than I had hoped.

Rough sketch of the wiring layout 



You can download the source code from this Google Drive folder:

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