Adding a display to your Arduino can serve many purposes. Since a common use for microcontrollers is reading data from sensors, a display allows you to see this data in real-time without needing to use the serial monitor within the Arduino IDE. It also allows you to give your projects a personal touch with text, images, or even interactivity through a touch screen.
In this article, we will take you through the different types of Arduino displays available, where to get them, and how to set them up.
1. Transparent OLED
Transparent Organic Light Emitting Diode (TOLED) is a type of LED that, as you can guess, has a transparent screen. It builds on the now common OLED screens found in smartphones and TVs, but with a transparent display, offers up some new possibilities for Arduino screens.
Take for example this brilliant project that makes use of TOLED displays. By stacking 10 transparent OLED screens in parallel, creator Sean Hodgins has converted a handful of 2D screens into a solid-state volumetric display. This kind of display creates an image that has 3-dimensional depth, taking us one step closer to the neon, holographic screens we imagine in the future.
Crystalfontz has a tiny monochrome (light blue) 1.51″ TOLED that has 128×56 pixels. As the technology is more recent than the following displays in this list, the cost is higher too. One of these screens can be purchased for around $26, but for certain applications, it might just be worth it.
2. Liquid Crystal Display
The liquid crystal display (LCD) is the most common display to find in DIY projects and home appliances alike. This is no surprise as they are simple to operate, low-powered, and incredibly cheap.
This type of display can vary in design. Some are larger, with more character spaces and rows; some come with a backlight. Most attach directly to the board through 8 or 12 connections to the Arduino pins, making them incompatible with boards with fewer pins available. In this instance, buy a screen with an I2C adapter, allowing control using only four pins.
Available for only a few dollars (or as little as a couple of dollars on AliExpress with included I2C adapter), these simple displays can be used to give real-time feedback to any project.
The screens are capable of a large variety of preset characters which cover most use cases in a variety of languages. You can control your LCD using the Liquid Crystal Library provided by Arduino. The display() and noDisplay() methods write to the LCD, as shown in the official tutorial on the Arduino website.
Note: If you are using an I2C adapter for your LCD screen you will need to use the LiquidCrystal_I2C library on GitHub instead.
If you prefer video tutorials, Circuit Basics have a great run through of setting up and using a 16×2 LCD:
3. Seven-Segment Displays
Are you looking for something simple to display numbers and a few basic characters? Maybe you are looking for something with that old-school arcade feel? A seven-segment display might suit your needs.
If you haven’t come across these handy little displays before, our Buzz Wire Game uses one to display the game status:
These simple boards are made up of 7 LEDs (8 if you include the dot), and work much like normal LEDs with a common Anode or Cathode connection. This allows them to take one connection to V+ (or GND for common cathode) and be controlled from the pins of your Arduino. By combining these pins in code, you can create numbers and several letters, along with more abstract designs—anything you can dream up using the segments available!
For a full primer on how these displays work, look no further than this extensive beginner’s guide from All About Circuits.
For a video guide to follow along with, Kristian Blåsol dedicated an episode of his Anything Arduino series to seven-segment displays:
4. 5110 Display
Next on our list is the 5110 display, also affectionately known as the Nokia display due to its wide use in the beloved and nigh indestructible Nokia 3310.
These tiny LCD screens are monochrome and have a screen size of 84 x 48 pixels, but don’t let that fool you. Coming in at around $2 on AliExpress, these displays are incredibly cheap and usually come with a backlight as standard.
Depending on which library you use, the screen can display multiple lines of text in various fonts. It’s also capable of displaying images, and there is free software designed to help get your creations on screen. While the refresh rate is too slow for detailed animations, these screens are hardy enough to be included in long-term, always-on projects.
Sparkfun have an extensive guide to using these little LCDs, or for a quick introduction to the 5110, check out this video from MKMe Lab:
5. OLED Displays
For a step up in resolution and functionality, an OLED display might be what you are looking for. At first glance, these screens look similar to the 5110 screens, but they are a significant upgrade. The standard 0.96″ screens are 128 x 64 monochrome, and come with a backlight as standard.
They connect to your Arduino using I2C, meaning that alongside the V+ and GND pins, only two further pins are required to communicate with the screen. With various sizes and full color options available, these displays are incredibly versatile.
For a project to get you started with OLED displays, our Electronic D20 build will teach you everything you need to know — and you’ll end up with the ultimate geeky digital dice for your gaming sessions!
These displays can be used in the same way as the others we have mentioned so far, but their refresh rate allows for much more ambitious projects. The basic monochrome screen is available on Amazon.
6. TFT LCD
Thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal displays (TFT LCDs) are in many ways another step up in quality when it comes to options for adding a screen to your Arduino. Available with or without touchscreen functionality, they also add the ability to load bitmap files from an on-board microSD card slot.
Arduino have an official guide for setting up their non-touchscreen TFT LCD screen. For a video tutorial teaching you the basics of setting up the touchscreen version, YouTuber educ8s.tv has you covered:
With the touchscreen editions of these screens costing less than $10 on AliExpress, these displays are another great choice for when you need a nice-looking display for your project.
7. E-Paper Displays
Looking for something a little different? An E-paper (or E-ink depending on who you ask) display might be right for you. These screens differ from the others giving a much more natural reading experience, it is no surprise that this technology is the cornerstone of almost every e-reader available.
The reason these displays look so good is down to the way they function. Each “pixel” contains charged particles between two electrodes. By switching the charge of each electrode, you can influence the negatively charged black particles to swap places with the positively charged white particles.
This is what gives e-paper such a natural feel. As a bonus, once the ink is moved to its location, it uses no power to keep it there. This makes these displays naturally low-power to operate.
These hi-tech displays do come at a higher cost, with the 4.3-inch Waveshare screen coming in at over $60. For a full rundown of how to wire up and program these displays, YouTuber educ8s.tv once again is here to help:
This article has covered most options available for Arduino displays, though there are definitely more weird and wonderful ways to add feedback to your DIY devices.
Now that you have an idea of what is out there, why not incorporate a screen into your DIY smart home setup? If retro gaming is more your thing, why not create some retro games on Arduino?
The possibilities are endless, and with so much choice you won’t have any trouble in finding the perfect display for Arduino projects.
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DIY smart home devices can be cheap with the right projects and instructions. These examples show you what’s possible!
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