Tag Archives: ‘Etch A Sketch’

EtchABot is a CNC Etch A Sketch

There’s just something very appealing about taking a childhood toy and giving it electronic controls.

Many of us have memories of using an Etch A Sketch as a child and being frustrated that our drawing skills with it weren’t really up-to-par. Sure, there are a few people that are able to manipulate these devices to an artistic level, but for those that are instead well-versed in electromechanical arts, the other option is to create a machine to draw for you.


Instructables user “GeekMomProjects” did just that, and outlined how to replicate her device in a very detailed write-up. Her machine uses three servos controlled by an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) with a stepper driver. Two steppers to spin the knobs in a coherent fashion another tips it over when a new drawing needs to be started. This function is also useful for defining where the “pen” should start, which can certainly be frustrating for amateur ‘Sketch artists.

The mechanical frame is cut out very nicely with a laser cutter, and simply bolts together. According to the article, “There is no glue, cutting, drilling or soldering required. Anyone with a basic knowledge of breadboard wiring and Arduino programming can construct and run it.”

You do apparently need access to a laser cutter (or possibly another type of cutting tool), but given the mechanism’s excellent capabilities shown in the videos below, it might be worth it to have the components cut out!

In addition to the functions shown, it also has the ability to draw either raster or vector images from a computer, though it’s better suited to produce vector graphics (graphics composed of lines). Code and mechanical designs are available on GitHub, which should allow things to be updated as improvements come.

Automate your Etch-A-Sketch to recreate famous artwork

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!

Keeping time with a modded Etch-a-Sketch

Dodgey99 had never used stepper motors or real-time clocks before, but that didn’t stop this Maker from creating a really cool Etch-A-Sketch clock.

According to HackADay’s Kristina Panos, Dodgey99 originally employed two 5V stepper motors with ULN2003 drivers, but ultimately decided to upgrade to faster Nema17 motors driven by an ATmega328 powered kit.

“These [original] motors are mounted on the back and rotate the knobs via pulleys,” Panos explained.

“They are kind of slow; it takes about 2 1/2 minutes to draw the time, but the point of the hack is to watch the Etch-A-Sketch.”

Dodgey99 has already written three sketches for the clock: one to configure the RTC, a test hardware run to sample the look of the digits and the main code to replace the very first test sketch.

“The icing on this timekeeping cake is the acrylic base and mounting he’s fashioned,” said Panos.

“During his mounting trials, he learned a valuable lesson about drilling holes into an Etch-A-Sketch. You can’t shake an Etch-A-Sketch programmatically, so he rotates it with a Nema 17.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the project’s official Instructables page here.

Arduino powers this ‘Etch A Sketch’ laser cutter

Martin Raynsford and the JustAddSharks crew has created a rather unique Arduino-based ‘Etch A Sketch’ laser cutter.

“What happens when you combine a love of laser cutters with a love of cool 70’s toys and an Arduino? An ‘Etch A Sketch’ controlled laser cutter of course,” Raynsford wrote in a recent blog post.

“I always wondered… what if I could control my laser cutter just like drawing lines on an ‘Etch A Sketch’?”

The JustAddSharks crew kicked off their impressive project by using a Blacknose Laser Cutter, bypassing the control board to drive the laser tube and stepper motors. An [Atmel-based] Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega168) controller was then patched into the machine’s wiring using the existing connectors to interface with the Leetro controller.

“The schematic shows the connections we made into the control system. The onward items like the stepper motors or laser tubes have not been drawn because they were not modified and use all the existing wiring,” Raynsford explained.

“The [Atmel-based] Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega168) works as the controller. The analogue input pins are configured for use as general IO to provide the additional number of inputs required from the rotary encoders. The pulses for the stepper motor drivers are provided by the Timer 1 PWM hardware module. The laser module power is controlled by Timer 3.”

The software, says Raynsford, is relatively simple. When the machine is activated, the laser attempts to drive to the zero position. Meanwhile, both X and Y axis are driven until they hit the end stops. Once both axis are pressed against the limits, the controller moves the axis forward again until they no longer press the switches. The controller then moves the laser head to a ‘Home’ position – a fixed distance from the zero spot.

“When the laser has reached the Home position it is ready to run. The stepper motor drivers require far more pulses than the rotary encoders provide,” Raynsford noted.

“If it was left with a one to one relationship you would need to turn the dial a dozen times to get noticeable movement on the axis. The software detects rotation on the dials and creates stepper motor pulses for a set period of time, this scales up the number of output steps for each input.”

The final version of the handheld Etch A Sketch controller is custom built from laser ply and stained red with Mahogany wood dye, while the screen is actually layer of baking paper to give the device a frosted plastic look.

Interested in learning more about the Arduino-based ‘Etch A Sketch’ laser cutter? You can check out the project’s official page here.