Unique Seven-Segment Display Relies on FR-4 Fluorescence

Unique Seven-Segment Display Relies on FR-4 Fluorescence

It’s interesting what you see when you train a black light on everyday objects. We strongly suggest not doing this in a hotel room, but if you shine UV light on, say, a printed circuit board, you might see what [Sam Ettinger] did, which led him to build these cool low-profile seven-segment fluorescent PCB displays.

As it turns out, at least some FR-4 PCBs fluoresce under UV light, giving off a ghostly blue-green glow. Seeing the possibilities, [Sam] designed a PCB with cutouts in the copper and solder mask in the shape of a traditional seven-segment display. The backside of the PCB has pads for UV LEDs and current-limiting resistors, which shine through the board and induce the segments to glow. Through-slots between the segments keep light from one segment from bleeding over into the next; while [Sam] left the slots unfilled, they could easily be filled with solder. The fluorescent property of FR-4, and therefore the brightness and tint of the segments, seems to vary by board thickness and PCB manufacturer, but it looks like most PCBs will show pretty good results.

We’d say the obvious first improvement might be to cover the back of the display with black epoxy, to keep stray light down, and to improve contrast. But they look pretty great just as they are. We can also see how displays with other shapes, like icons and simple symbols. Or maybe even alphanumeric characters — say, haven’t we seen something like that before?

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