WS2812 Breakout Hookup Guide

Contributors: Jimb0

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Preface

The WS2812 is an unassuming RGB LED with an integrated control circuit hidden underneath. We love the simplicity of this little IC/LED combo. It’s at the heart of a number of products including the the simple WS2812 Breakout Board.

WS2812 breakout sized up to a quarter

The LilyPad Pixel shares the same circuit as the breakout board, but it comes on a circular, purple LilyPad board. These are perfect for sewing onto clothing or other fabric, and embedding into an e-textiles project.

LilyPad Pixel ISO

Finally, the WS2812 serves as the heart and soul of a variety of LED strips. These strips come in four flavors: 5 meter sealed, 1m sealed, 5m bare, and 1m bare.

Addressable RGB Strip

What makes the WS2812 really special is the way its controlled. The IC embedded into the LED communicates via a very unique one-wire interface. With the help of some libraries, they’re really very easy to control. Plus they’re chain-able – the output of one LED can be connected to the input of another to create strips of hundreds of LEDs. The more boards you have linked together, the fancier your animations can be!

In this tutorial we’re going to get you familiar with the workings of the WS2812. We’ll go over some of the ways you might want to hook up to the breakout board, LilyPad, or strips. And we’ll close the tutorial out with some example Arduino code.

Required Materials

Stating the obvious: you’ll need a WS2812-based board or strip. The more the merrier! In the example hookup we’ll be linking together five breakout boards, but the example should be adaptable to the other products. Grab however many you think you’ll need for your project, regardless of how many you have, it’s not enough.

Aside from the star of the show, you’ll also need a microcontroller. Something that can send the series of 1’s and 0’s used to control the LEDs. Our go-to is the classic Arduino Uno, but any Arduino board should do. Or you can try to adapt the example code to your favorite microcontroller.

You’ll also need some way to connect between the board and an Arduino. You could use a combination of male headers and breadboard. Or you could just go with a few pieces of wire.

Tools

In order to get a good, solid, electrically-sound connection to the breakout boards, you’ll need to solder to the pins. That means you’ll need at least a basic soldering iron as well as solder. Check out our how to solder tutorial for help, if this is you first time soldering.

Suggested Reading

These boards aren’t too hard to use. If you’ve done anything with Arduino before, you’ll be prepared to work with the WS2812. If you’re not exactly sure what this “Arduino” thing is, or if you’re not familiar with the topics below, consider reading their tutorials:


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