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Old 10-29-2006, 03:41 PM   #1
Mechie3
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Default Gauge Cluster Color Change: LED's and Gels

Last week I redid the gauges in my 06 WRX to blue using LED's and stage gels. After being quite satisfied with my results and getting lots of questions I have put together this little tutorial.

EDIT (6-19-07): I found the originator of this mod. Cation was the first person to mention wiring in separate leds. He never wrote a tutorial, but he wrote a quick blurb about it that gave me the idea to even try this. Much thanks to him.

Disclaimer/Notes of interest:

This mod is not reversible. If you scrape the back of your gauge faces clean and end up with a blotchy mess, you can't simply just go back to stock. Keeping that in mind, if you take your time and don't take shortcuts this mod should come out without any blotchiness.

I did this mod on an 06 WRX. The STI's do not have the green film on the back. I have not done an STI, but if someone wants to try it I suggest simply cutting power to the surface mount (SMT) LED's and wiring in your own as shown in this tutorial. If you do try it and it doesn't work for you, STI owners can simply reconnect power an go back to stock.

My wires may not match yours. The colors of the harness wires may have changed between model years. I believe that in the 02/03's the way to power the LED's is through a black ground and a lavender +12VDC controlled by the dimmer.

EDIT: I did some 04 gauges last Saturday. I used the same far right harness, but tapped the second from the right wire for negative and the third from the right wire for positive. I don't recall the colors though, sorry.

This mod took my about 30 hours to do. Part of this time included figuring out how to do things and making 3 different sets of stage gels and stencils. I could probably do it again in about 10-15 hours given 20/20 hindsight and proper tools to hold the LED's and wires while I solder.

EDIT (6-19-07): I can scrape gauges in an hour and wire up leds in about 4-5 hours (depending on how many sets i'm doing at once, what's on TV, etc)

Did you read the above? Cool. Let's go.

Tools:

*Philips Screwdriver
*Wire Strippers
*LED's (I used 18 Nichia White NSPW510BS, 5mm OD, 3.6 Volt, 20 mA, 2500mcd, and 6 Nichia NSPW310BS, 3mm OD 3.6V, 20mA, 2070 mcd) EDIT: I now just use all 5mm LEDS
*Blue leds for the LCD screens. You'll need one for each screen
*Bulb cover. If you want red LCD's, use bulb covers, LED's don't work so well
*Stage Gels (I used Rosco 79, bright blue from Syracuse Scenery and Stage Lighting Co.)
*Wire (I used 20 and 18 gauge, just what I had lying around)
*Soldering Iron and Solder
*Tap Connectors (more on this later)
*Quick Disconnects (more on these later too!)
*Electrical Tape
*Nail Polish Remover (I used Sally Hansen from Wal-mart, it was not too strong as to ruin the gauge faces, but helped to soften up the film).
*Scraper (I used a cuticle remover from a pair of nail clippers)
*Ruler
*Graph Paper
*Scissors
*Shrink Tubing (Optional)
*Heat Gun (Optional)
*Power Supply (optional)

If you're lucky, you can borrow tools from work (like I did, I don't own a $300 power supply) and that makes life easier. The power supply was only for testing purposes.

First, remove the gauge cluster from your car. This is already well documented in the original gauge cluster color change tutorial here:

http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=690378

That is a very well written tutorial, it just doesn't work that well for blue color changes but is great for red with minimal hot spotting.

Take your gauges inside now, pull a table over to the couch, grab a glass of something to drink (I do not recommend being drunk while messing with your gauges), turn on the TV, and get ready to spend the day/weekend on the couch.
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Last edited by Mechie3; 05-14-2008 at 09:41 PM.
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Old 10-29-2006, 03:42 PM   #2
Mechie3
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Undo the snaps on the back white plastic cover to expose the circuit board. Just work around to get all the snaps and (on the 06 at least) there are three tabs in the center of the cover. Find the backs of the stepper motors as indicated by a dark green patch, and 3 or 4 solder balls, and some metal tabs. Without putting too much force on the circuit board (no force is better) bend the tabs into the upright position. These tabs secure the stepper motors to the circuit board.

I'll post edited pics later, for now these should do ok.

Stepper motor location on PCB


Once you've done that, you can put the white cover back on. You don't need to access this again (I actually didnt bend my tabs back when I was done) and you dont want to risk damaging the circuit board through ESD or some dumb accident. I put my board on the carpet and it was fine, but why risk it if you can't fix it.

Now remove the front clear/black cover using the same style snaps as the back cover. When this is off, remove the bezel rings/faceplate. Do your best not to touch the center of the gauge faces. They are a matte surface and pick up prints. I got a print on mine and cleaned it with Isop. Alcohol without any problems, but test first if you need to. Using a ruler or other rigid flat item, pry out the fuel gauge side of the gauges first. The first time you do it it is tight and scares the crap out of you, but they come. There are three or four pins that enter the back of the stepper that are snap fits that need to release their grip. Do not push in one spot alone, but work around.


Using a ruler to remove needle/stepper/gauge face assembly


Back of a stepper and the pins in the PCB


One you've removed the fuel side of the assembly, repeat for the speedo and tach.

I now used q-tips dipped in the nail polish remover to soften the green film/black diffusion patterns wherever I didn't want it. I left the turn signals green, CEL yellow, battery and other warnings red. These aren't usually on and so when you see a non blue light you know something is up.

The sally hansen NPR didn't seem to strong, so I also used a cuticle scraper from a set of nail clippers to scrape off the film. The NPR softening it up nicely, but it still took a little effort, but less than without the NPR. Make sure you support the fronts of the faces while you scrape so you dont poke a hole. The faces are actually quite stiff though and I was able to push quite hard.

To make it easier, I cut the speedo and tach apart (it was hard, had to use kitchen shears) so I could reach the low mph's and the high rpm's. Make sure you cut where the ring bezel hides the cut.

Once you have removed all of the film that you want to, make a pattern on graph paper for the stage gels. (I'll try to post a technical drawing later with dimensions). I made my gels one piece for ease of installation and not make sure they wouldn't slide around later. Make sure you account for things like the needle stops (tach and speedo), the center of the needles, installation, what you don't want color (redline).

Overall View:


Fuel:



Last edited by Mechie3; 10-29-2006 at 04:03 PM. Reason: Adding content to reserved spot
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Old 10-29-2006, 03:42 PM   #3
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(wow..I had a whole page written up and lost it...thanks Yahoo launchcast..... )

Tach:


Speedo:


Once you've cut out the gels, place them behind the gauges. I used some tweezers to help align them. The redline and the 0rpm areas are the hardest to get perfect. Even when the are perfect, the 8 is slightly whitish in the corner. Use a small piece of tape to secure them, but don't put the tape behind the numbers (duh). Hold the gauges up to the window to check how they look.

Gels in place:



If you want to stop here you can. The color is a bit hotspotted and is a blue jean color. I had to do this mod over the course of a couple days so I drove that way a little bit. It's encouraging to see the blue coming through though and gives you enough to keep going. If you don't want hotspotting...keep going.

Frost your LED's using a piece of sandpaper. If you want to, cut the tops off, but I didn't notice much difference for the extra minute or two it took for each LED (times 24 LEDs...yikes!). Sanding helps to eliminate the directionality and diffuse the light.

Lay out the LED's in the gauges how you want them. I put them on their sides, facing outwards, just inside the inner diameter of the gauge number rings. Once in place, mark where to bend and where to cut the LED leads. Make sure you don't place any LED's where the light pipes for the needles go into the stock lighting locations.

I used 3 led's (3mm) each for the fuel and coolant, and 9 (5mm) led's for the speedo and tach. If I were to do it again, I'd probably use all small LED's...no reason for the big ones really. Make sure that the led leads are arranged negative (short) to positive(long). This is where the power supply comes in handy so you can test each mini LED circuit. For my circuits, I had three LED's in series. I placed the resistors outside of the gauges.

LED Arrangement (tap is only temporary, they were epoxied in place later with small drops of Hysol 608, double bubble equivalent (5 min epoxy):


Use the LED calculator here:

http://hw.metku.net/index.html?path=...calc/index_eng

and figure out what resistor you need. Put the LED's in series (as many as you can as longs as the voltage ((voltage per LED x number of LED's)) is less than 12). Use 12VDC as your input voltage and and the current listed on the LED data sheet for the other values.

Solder a black wire to the negative lead of the first led. When soldering, it is helpful to "tin" the leads/wires. Basically, melt some solder on the soldering iron and spread it onto a wire or lead. When you go to solder two different wires/leads together, the solder already attached to each lead with flow much easier to the other element and still retain a good bond with the original lead/wire.

Take the positive lead of the first led and solder it to the negative lead of the next LED and repeat for all three led's. It is ok to simply solder a lead to a lead, no need to use wire in between. On the last led, solder a red wire to the positive terminal. The wire ends can be shrink tubed for protection, the other exposed leads can be wrapped with electrical tape. Place the led's back in, tape them down, and repeat for all of the different led circuits. If you are good are math, you'll notice I used 3 sets of led circuits for the speedo and tach, hence the three sets of wires coming out of each. Route the wires out of the vent holes doing your best to keep everything flat.

Wire Routing:

Last edited by Mechie3; 10-29-2006 at 04:34 PM.
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Old 10-29-2006, 03:42 PM   #4
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Tach:


Speedo:


Connected to 12VDC:


Wires routed out the back:



Once you have finished all of the wire routing, solder the appropriate resistors onto the end of the black wires for each circuilt. Having the resistors outside the cluster just saves space and reduces interior heat by a little. The free ends of the resistors can be soldered all together and attached to a single wire. The red wires can also be soldered together and attached to a single wire. On the ends of the single wires I crimped a quick disconnect (from radio shack) as I need to tap power from the gauge harness, but don't want the attachment to be permanent.

Mass of wires (note the multiple wires to one wire junctions):


You can reassemble the gauges now to protect them if you wish. Put the speedo/tach in first and then the fuel gauge (is the needle in the right spot?). Put a paper towel over the gauge faces and press firmly on both sides of a single needle to ensure you don't put too much force on one side. When all of the gauges are back in, but the ring bezel and the clear cover on. Make sure you dusted anything off that may have gotten dirty.

Last edited by Mechie3; 10-29-2006 at 04:43 PM.
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Old 10-29-2006, 03:43 PM   #5
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Quick Disconnect:


The connectors have a male and female half. Just in case Subaru ever pulls my dash I put a male on the negative and a female on the positive so they can't possibly hook it up wrong. My disconnects are on ~1.5 foot leads so that I can plug those in first and still move the gauges all around without being limited in their range or pulling on wires.

Now, remove the two lights in the bottom corners that light up the LCD screens. These are the ONLY stock lights you will remove. Leave the others in place or your needles won't light up. Make a circuit of 2 led's in series along with a resistor. Simply bend the led into the hole and let it catch on the edge of the PCB and tape it into place. Add the wires from the new led circuit to the other black and red wire bundles.

I added a switch here because originally I was going to use RGB led's for the LCD's and wanted to switch between blue and red, but they were too dim so I used plain blues. The switch was already in place so now I can turn off my LCDs if I want. Yes, pointless...very, but still a way to amaze people (not really).

LED bent into hole:


Back side of gauges:


Take a 6 inch piece of black and red wire, strip one end, and crimp them into the other half of the disconnects. If you are using male for one color and female for the other, make sure you crimp the right half on the right color lead. These will be used to tap power from the cluster harness.

All done? Good, go back out to the car, and bring the gauges with you.

Find the harness from the right hand side and locate the dimmer wire (pin 2, Orange w/white stripe) and the constant +12VDC (pin 3, white w/red stripe). Do not confuse pin 3 with pin 4 (red w/white stripe).

Connector:


Place one of your tap connectors (mine were from radioshack for 19-26 gauge wire, they were hard to get on the harness wires...so if you can find larger ones) around each of the two wires listed above in the "run wire" slot. In the "tap wire" hole, push in the two leads you made earlier. With a pair of pliers or vice grips, squeeze the connector all the way. This penetrates the insulation and makes contact to both wires.

Tap connector closeup:


Zoomed out view of connectors:

Last edited by Mechie3; 05-14-2008 at 09:39 PM.
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Old 10-29-2006, 03:43 PM   #6
Mechie3
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Attach both the quick connects and then reinstall your gauges by plugging in all three harness and stuffing the wires into their wire guides. Screw the gauges and bezel back on, and turn on the power. If you did everything right, you're gauges will light up and dim with the stock dimmer switch.

I finished these at midnight (on a worknight no less) and it looked so great I had to go for a drive. Well worth the time and effort in my opinion.

Blurry pic from the midnight ride (this pic shows the hue of the color nicely):


This pic shows the clearness, but the lapsed exposure brightened the blue (pic taken by azscooby)


Here's a pic without any stage gels at all (pic and work done by kaijubei). Red can always be added to the symbols and redline to create some contrast, but you get the idea.


I'll post some better ones (after I put my gauges back in that I took out just to make this tutorial )

Last edited by Mechie3; 04-22-2007 at 09:10 AM.
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Old 10-29-2006, 05:00 PM   #7
Mechie3
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This spot reserved for additional pics and important updates so users don't need to read 20 pages for an answer.

Let's see some pics guys (and girls!)!

If people are unable to get stage gels, I can sell you some along with a copy of the stencils (CAD printout, not hand drawn like my originals). Just send me a pm.

Last edited by Mechie3; 10-29-2006 at 05:07 PM.
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Old 10-29-2006, 05:21 PM   #8
KAX
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sorry for the electrical noob question, but why exactly do you need resistors? Is that so the LEDs arent too bright?

other then that, great writeup.
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Old 10-29-2006, 05:40 PM   #9
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Just because....jk

In any circuit, the positive side or the power source is usually considered to be the full voltage of the circuit (in this case 12 volts). The negative side is ground, or zero volts. That means, no matter what path the electricity takes from the positive to negative battery terminal, 12 volts will be discharged (or used up really). In a circuit, resistors, LED's, and other components use power and create a drop in voltage across their positive to negative terminals. The led's I used require 3.6 volts. If I hooked up just 3 in series with no resistor, then each one needs to equally split the 12 volts (which means 4 apiece). 4 volts is the max voltage that these led's can take, but it results in decreased life too. By adding a resistor, the extra 1.2 volts (12volts-3*3.6 volts) can be used up by the resistor (converted to thermal energy basically).

V=IR, or R=V/I. Therefore, if you know the voltage you need to use up (1.2V in my case) and the current (20mA = .020A) then the resistance you need is 1.2/.02 Ohms.

If you are using red led's than only need 2 volts, you can hook up 6 leds in series without a resistor and have no problems. If you hook up LED's that require more than a total of 12 volts you end up with dimmer led's, or no light at all if you don't reach the minimum requirements of each led.

Here's a quick example.
It shows 12 volts going into 3 leds. After each LED, I show the voltage at that point. Voltage is actually the different between the potential between two points. So if the source is at 12 volts and after the first LED I have 8.4, then the voltage across the LED is (12-8.4)=3.6 volts.


+12VDC---LED---8.4V---LED---4.8V---LED---1.2V---Resistor---0V

The 0 then loops around to the +12 inside a power supply (like the inside of a battery)
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Old 10-29-2006, 08:51 PM   #10
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amazing write up mechie! you've obviously got some physics/electrical engineering backround w/ that DC circuit explanation. this is going to make my mod job so much easier, especially since i've finished the most tedious part and scrped off the green layer. props to you man!

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Old 10-29-2006, 09:09 PM   #11
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ah gotcha, didnt realize the LEDs had a max voltage, but as with any light source that makes sense. once again awesome write up. I think ill try this on my RS cluster when Im done with the swap, cuz that looks beautiful.
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Old 10-29-2006, 10:18 PM   #12
Mechie3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by g8rvictor View Post
amazing write up mechie! you've obviously got some physics/electrical engineering backround w/ that DC circuit explanation. this is going to make my mod job so much easier, especially since i've finished the most tedious part and scrped off the green layer. props to you man!

I actually have a bachelor's and master's in mechanical engineering, just graduated this past May from RIT. I had to take a class in circuits (very basic) and my overall EE knowledge is quite limited.

I hope this will help out a lot of people. That's pretty much the whole point of forums right? It's no fun when people post "Look at me, I did this!!" and then don't explain it or do tutorials.

Let me know how it works out.
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Old 10-30-2006, 04:32 PM   #13
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wow, that took while to go through. especially while at work. good job.

do you have better pics?
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Old 10-30-2006, 04:39 PM   #14
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Which of the 20 do you want better pics of? JK.

I have a couple that are all right, but the camera kept trying to adjust for the dark setting and it makes the gauges appear really hotspotted by turning up the exposure.

The best I have for now:
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Old 10-30-2006, 07:31 PM   #15
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Sick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 10-30-2006, 09:22 PM   #16
Mechie3
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A few people have PM'd me asking if I can do their gauges.

Here is my response:

I'm not sure honestly. It took me about 30 hours to do mine, but part of that time (about half maybe) was figuring out what to do and making my stencils. Someone else on the forums is going to ship me their gauges and I'm going to do his to see how long these things take now that I have a process down.

I'm going to experiment with some low profile LED's...but if those don't work I'm back to the original LED's I used. While I got my first sets for free, those LED's do run about $1 a piece. I saw someone doing radio color conversions for about $60, and for the amount of time it takes to do the conversion (more than the stereo) and the cost of LED's pricing would probably start a little above that.

I'm not sure if that sounds reasonable or not.


What do you guys think is a reasonable price to charge...and/or what would you be willing to pay?
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Old 11-01-2006, 03:44 AM   #17
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I think I'd pay you prolle 100+ in labor charges... But I dont know how I'd get by without gauge cluster.... lol. I want that done though.

Keep me updated.
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Old 11-01-2006, 09:02 AM   #18
Mechie3
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I'm going to experiment with making some surface mount LED circuits premounted on FRP boards so that if people use their WRX as a daily driver (like I do) they can buy the led setup, scrape their own gauges, and have 3 wires to hook up, the rest will drop in and can be mounted.
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Old 11-01-2006, 10:11 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mechie3 View Post
I'm going to experiment with making some surface mount LED circuits premounted on FRP boards so that if people use their WRX as a daily driver (like I do) they can buy the led setup, scrape their own gauges, and have 3 wires to hook up, the rest will drop in and can be mounted.
the appeal of a drop in setup is overly diminished by the need to scrape your own gauges.
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Old 11-01-2006, 10:55 AM   #20
Mechie3
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Yes it is. But for those that either 1: don't mind 2: already scraped and got bad results with bulb covers it could be a viable option. Also, it could make it easier for me if I create a toolig fixture and make a few at a time so that when someone sends their gauges to me all I have to do is drop in the rings I already made after I scrape the film.
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Old 11-01-2006, 11:52 AM   #21
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sounds like a plan. let us know when you plan on doing this, i have my stock cluster just laying around.
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Old 11-01-2006, 01:14 PM   #22
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One person is sending me their cluster on Monday (from his dd). When I finish his and get better time/cost estimates I'll post here and let people know of a cost.
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Old 11-08-2006, 02:33 AM   #23
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I'm not sure if this was already mentioned but if you want to turn the gauge cluster colors to white, do you need a stencil or can you just leave it blank?
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Old 11-08-2006, 08:39 AM   #24
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Leave it blank I believe. The person who I'm making some led rings for now wants white. He scraped his own gauges and I'm mailing him the rings when I'm done. We're both hoping it works out nicely and if not, I'm going to modify them until they work nicely

Edit: If you don't add additional light, the stock lights will make your gagues that yellowish/brownish color you get when a flashlight is almost dead and doesn't make much light.
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Old 11-09-2006, 05:25 PM   #25
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what if we used the stock lights but added stage gels, then would it look decently blue?
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