Watch this Etch-A-Sketch reproduce the Mona Lisa.
Dating back to the 1960s, Etch-A-Sketches have been one of the most iconic toys in pop culture history, having remained relatively unchanged for decades. The toy is comprised of a thick, flat gray screen housed inside a red plastic frame with two white knobs in its the lower corners. Twisting the dials move a stylus that displaces aluminum powder on the back of the screen, leaving a solid line. And, it doesn’t matter who you are or how artistically-enabled you might be, drawing any lineographic image on an Etch-A-Sketch is pretty darn hard.
In an effort to ease the creation of an aluminum particle masterpiece, like the Mona Lisa, Maker Evan Long decided to automate the process using an Arduino Uno (ATmega328). The Maker modded the original white knobs with 3D-printed custom mounts, which would house the two stepper motors and ULN2803 to switch the 12V required for the steppers. These makeshift knobs were bound to the plastic frame using rubber tubing and Gorilla Glue. Meanwhile, the Arduino was tasked with controlling the pair of motors as it etched the picture.
Once the hardware setup was complete, Long installed the SketchTheEtch.app on the Arduino using a simple Python script to take in .PNG files and produce vector art. Though the maximum resolution is about 550 x 370, the Maker recommends images no larger than 500 x 320 to account for any error. Tracing starts from the top of the image and works its way from left-to-right, as seen in the video below.
“The Arduino Firmware works by receiving a vector to draw. It draws the vector and then sends a message back to the host indicating it is ready for the next command. The ImagePoints.pyscript takes a black and white image as input and traces through the solid black pixels. All the black pixels must form a single contiguous region.”
Interested in modding your Etch A Sketch to recreate some of history’s most famous pieces of art? If so, head over to the Maker’s official project page here. In the meantime, you can see it in action below!