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It has been a long time coming, but I finally built a small project that allowed me to use WLED for the first time. The project was a rather basic one: Retrofit one of my boy’s lights in the shape of a polar bear, so it could be used as a nightlight as he has recently started requesting that a light be left on.

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A polar bear shaped light being lit be WS2812B LEDs and powered by WLED
This is how the first WLED project turned out

Until I got the chance to tinker with it, this light was light by a number of individual warm-white LED chips placed on a simple circuit. It wasn’t dimmable, I couldn’t set a timer without using a plug-in timer switch, and neither could I remotely control it (once he’s dropped off I want to be able to switch the light off completely). Obviously, something had to change.

Components I used for this project

The original circuit board was placed on a raised platform inside the polar bear shaped enclosure. The hollow bottom on the underside of that platform fit perfectly to a LOLIN (previously WEMOS) D1 mini. Luckily, I still had a couple lying around, so that was what I used. To allow for more LEDs to be placed inside the light and to have a more even lighting, I glued a toilet roll to the platform because sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution (and I don’t own a 3D printer). Before wrapping the LED strip around it, I added a couple of layers of tin foil. I managed to convince myself that it would help with the cooling of the WS2812B LEDs, but I doubt it will make much of a difference.

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I poked three wires though a hole I had cut to connect the LED strip to the power supply and to the ESP8266 board. As mentioned, the LED strip I used was one containing WS2812B LEDs. These types of LEDs are found just about everywhere and come in quite cheap. They are not the highest quality available, and they don’t contain a white LED, but what the are is very affordable. In total, I managed to fit 45 LEDs inside the plastic polar bear, and they manage to produce enough light for my liking.

WS2812B LEDs being retrofited in to a polar bear shaped light
WS2812B provide a colourful experience

I used a capacitor I managed to desolder from an old exercise bike, but I left out the level shifter as I had none at hand and I wanted the project to be finished by nightfall. But the fact that my wire going from the ESP8266 board to the first WS2812B LED was only about 5 cm long gave me confidence that it would work out.

Flashing WLED is as easy as it gets

Before wiring everything up, I wanted to flash my ESP8266 board because after placing it in the light the Micro-USB port would no longer be accessible. The flashing process is as easy as it gets. I downloaded the binary file matching my board and flashed it to the ESP8266 board using ESPHome flasher. And that is literally all I had to do to get WLED setup. There is no need to edit any code, compile files, or add Wi-Fi networks and passwords. Download, flash, and your ESP8266 board is ready.

An ESP8266 board (LOLIN D1 mini) running WLED fitted inside a light
There goes the D1 mini’s Micro USB port

With WLED installed, I could solder the necessary connections and place the ESP8266 board in its final resting place. For this project, I opted to solder the wires directly to the board because the space wouldn’t allow me to add any more bulk. Though in general this is not something I recommend, and I disliked the fact that I had to do so for this project. The capacitor I placed right behind the first WS2812B LED.

Setting up WLED is as easy as it gets

Are you seeing the same pattern as me? WLED seems to be rather straightforward and I can now confirm that indeed it is just that. To set up my new node all I had to do was download the WLED app from the Play Store. I then connected to the access point WLED-AP using the password wled1234. After setting up my Wi-Fi network, I could open the app, and it found the new light in a matter of seconds.

The first I did, and I advise you to do the same, is set up the LEDs. This can be done in the config under “LED Preferences”. I set the total LED count to 45 and limited the current to 1750 mA. I am using a 2 A power supply, but wanted to leave enough headroom for the ESP8266 board. With that, my setup was complete. I could now start using the WLED app and play with the many effects. Overall, the setup of WLED gets five stars out of five due to just how easy it is.

The WLED settings in the Android app

Using the WLED app to set the colour and use effects

The nice thing about the WLED app is that you don’t have to just pick from a single colour. You can configure your own, or choose from a bunch of built-in colour palettes. Those colours will then be reflected in many of the effects. Speaking of effects, there are too many to list here. You are bound to find one you like. What I like about the effects is that you get to select their speed right there in the app, too.

Integrating WLED with Home Assistant

Home Assistant automatically picked up my new WLED node while I was still playing around with the app. With that, it only took me a couple of clicks to set up the integration. Using Home Assistant I can now control the light and enable effects. There is also a handy switch to use it as a nightlight.

In summary, the integration of WLED with Home Assistant isn’t any more complicated than integrating ESPHome. Home Assistant did all the legwork and I only had to confirm that I indeed want to integrate the light.

WLED: Early conlusion

My first and lasting impression of WLED is just how easy it is to set up. I am well aware, that WLED does now also support a button and IR remotes, but the project I just completed couldn’t have been easier. I am looking forward to my next excuse to set up and ESP8266 based light using WLED.

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Liam Alexander Colman, the author and maintainer of Home Assistant Guides.

About Liam Alexander Colman

Liam Alexander Colman has been using Home Assistant for various projects for quite some time. What started of with a Raspberry Pi quickly became three Raspberry Pis and eventually a full-blown server. I now use Unraid as my operating system and Home Assistant happily runs in a Docker container. My personal setup includes many Zigbee devices as well as integrations with existing products such as my Android TV box. Read on to find out more on how I got started with Home Assistant.

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