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Creating an Automated RV Sign.


RV Sign at night.


First, you need a sign. If you have the woodworking tools and skills, you can obviously make your own. If not, I found a source of a sign that can work - although you may want to modify it a bit.


Sign as received from "Tim's Wooden Toys".


The simplest LED scheme is to simply put a LED strip around the perhiphery of the sign. You can indeed to this, but when I tried it, the LEDs did not illuminate the lettering in the sign at night. If this is important to you, then you may wish to modify the sign into a "shadow box" (or find a sign maker that will do this for you).

That is what I did - I added a shadow box around the sign that was made from 1" wide by 3x8" thick Cedar (the same material my sign was made of). Depending on your woodworking skills, you can simply cut the wood to size, then nail it to the sign (however, I made box joints and glued everything together).







Creating a shadow box from the RV sign. Using 1"x 3/8" Cedar, I made a box to glue around the pheriphery of the sign I obtained from Tim's Wooden Toys. The shadow box is necessary to allow a LED strip to be placed around the edge. The LED strip must shine into the center of the box, otherwise the sign would not be illuminated at night.

Dimensions of the shadow box are not shown due to the variance of sizes you may encounter with your sign. Determine dimensions as you build the shadow box.

Sign with the completed shadow box.



Typically, waterproof LEDs are 8~10mm in width, and the inside lip of the box is just over 10mm (0.4")to allow either LED strip size to fit.

So to summarize, there are three options for the sign:

  • Buy a simple sign and mount the LED strip around the periphery.
  • Add a shadow box to the sign you buy.
  • Find a sign maker to custom make your sign with a shadow box.



Sign Automation

Now that you have the sign made, the real fun starts. The design goal of the RV sign is to be completely self contained i.e. battery operated. Surprisingly, selection of the proper LED strip offers several options:

  • 8mm SMD3528 monochrome 12VDC LED strip in your favorite color
  • 8mm SMD3528 RGB 12VDC LED strip
  • 8mm SMD3528 RGB 5VDC LED strip (not the WS1801/2811/2812 addressible strips)
  • 10mm SMD5050 RGB 5VDC LED strip (not the WS1801/2811/2812 addressible strips)
  • ElectroLuminescant (EL) Filament - OK, not a LED strip, but pretty cool all the same.

Which strip you decide on will primarily be due to the battery you choose as well as the run-time. One strip I'd rule out right away is the SMD5050 strip as they consume more battery power, and you will not need that much light for your sign.

To automate the LED strip, I have designed, constructed, and built my own automation board. Now you might at first think... man, how am I supposed to do this (afterall, this is a project website, right). Honestly, it's not that hard if you have a few soldering skills and want to learn a few new things. I will be providing all of the parts resources for this board - even the source for the board itself.

However, I do understand this is something not everyone will want to attempt, and you can substitute the automation system for one of the more simple LED strip devices I have listed.

The advantages of making my own board is that I can add what I need for the automation system (and you can too). The features of the automation board include:

  • Photocell sensor - detects dawn-to-dusk, allowing conservation of battery power.
  • Option to drive monochrome (one color) or RGB (multicolor) LED strips.
  • Multiple automation sequences (4 for RGB, 16 for monochrome). Can be expanded to unlimited sequences).
  • Delay timers - can automatically turn automation off after prescribed amount of time.
  • You decide on the automation sequences.
  • You can change the automation sequences at any time.

Since constructing the automation board is almost a project within itself, I will be providing details on a seperate webpage:






While I encourage you to be adventurous and attempt building this board, if you have no interest whatsoever in making this board, then you can buy battery operated LED strips that will work fine - you will just have to put the batteries into a waterproof case. The ones shown to the right are a tood and and cheap alternative to creating your own board.

Or, you can simply wire the LED strip to an on-off switch from the battery and be done with it. No flashing or automation, just On or Off.

Hint: I will be constructing (at least one) more project(s) using the microcontroller used in this project... so you may wish to do this project as a simple "introduction" into working with these amazing little devices.



Final Assembly

All that is left to do is to put the automation board in a waterproof box (or alternative you have chosen). Oddly enough, the box was the hardest item to find. I needed someting small enough to mount to the back of the sign, yet large enough to hold the battery and circuit board. I almost invested in a 3D printer to build the box, but I decided not to - as afterall, I want my readers to be able to build this project, and I don't want you to have to spend $700 on a 3D printer.

The box fits nicely on the backside of the sign, is waterproof, and in fact - I located mounting holes on the printed circuit board for the automation to match the mounting standoffs inside the box. Well, the retailer says it's "Splashproof"; which may not necessarily be waterproof. They do not specify an Ingress Protection (IP) rating, but IP64 comes to mind.

You will have to drill a few holes in the box for a switch, the photocell, and a connector if you want to attach a battery charger without removing the box cover.

So there will be a few additional items you have to purchase. When I provide links to these products, I am simply providing the source that I used. To maintain full disclosure, I do participate in an Affiliate Program with some of the vendors I list (but I also use their products in these projects). And the Affiliate Programs are what keeps this website free and the projects coming. But feel free to purchase your items anywhere else if you can find them cheaper. Here are the remaining components I purchased to complete the project:






Detail showing the LED strip being placed around the inside of the shadow box. The LED strip has a self-adhesive backing so it is self-sticking.


Project Video.



Custom cutting LED Strips





Last reviewed and/or updated June 14, 2017