Pre-Nixie digital: the amazing world of edge-lit displays

Originally published at:


Is that a bank of uniselectors in the video? Not so much EMI, almost EMP.

It ended on 1033, you know what that means?

Yes. Only 33 years to the Norman invasion.


I’m actually making myself some virtual nixie tubes at the moment, but I’m still trying to think up something interesting to do with them. This font gave me a head start on the project.


still working on it…


Virtual. Nixie. Tubes???


What’s old is new again, edge-lit LEDs now exist to simulate nixie tubes without the high-voltage headaches:


Paging user @edgelitetchedacrylicpanelbunny


I’m actually making myself some virtual nixie tubes

I, V, X and L will give you everything you need - provided you take a fairly conservative approach to timekeeping:


Nice ! That’s a technology way easier to replicate than the nixie, you don’t need glasswork, vacuum machine, or filament !

I remember the department when I did my PhD in the 70’s had a digital voltmeter whose display worked like this. The numbers where white for positive and red for negative. It was about the size of a tower PC on its side. I had it inked to a paper-tape punch to record the results.

I now have a 128 GBy USB drive in the machine I am typing this on that is scarcely bigger than the USB plug. That was probably more memory than all the computers in the world then. This is so awesome that the amount of awesome is itself awesome. God, I love technology.


Actually sounds like a great weekend project! Some LEDS, an Ardu/Rasp/SoC and a Dremel and you’d be most of the way there.

1 Like

And you don’t have to make numbers, you can do animation loops !


I owned one of NLS’ portable oscilloscopes that was accompanied with an IVIE sprectrum analyzer for sound studio optimization.

Non-Linear Systems is also notable for being where Andy Kay - founder of Kaypro Computer came from.

Had one of those Kaypro 4 ‘portable computers’ in the CPM days. A real workhorse!

1 Like

Make a wristwatch out of that, @nixiebunny


That’s very clever.

That said, the high voltages aren’t too big of a deal. If a neophyte like me can build a PSU for nixies, anybody can.

The hard thing these days is the ever dwindling parts supply. The big and pretty tubes are very rare and expensive now. IN12s are still plentiful but they definitely lack the panache of an IN14 or IN18.

(Also, paging @nixiebunny)

I still have a display from a military installation that uses small bulbs to project the numbers onto a translucent screen. Each bulb projects through a grid of lenses to a 1.5" screen.


My good friend Tom Jennings has a Cubic V45 voltmeter with these edge-lit displays, and a bunch of stepper relays. It’s quite noisy, but it gets the job done.

I used to have a voltmeter with an odometer type display, driven by a servo motor referenced to a 10 turn pot and a 1.000V standard cell in a Wheatstone bridge. It took a while to get to the answer, but it was good to 0.1%, straight from the surplus store.


There’s also this:

Which honestly looks much cooler without the owl housing.


Since they’re getting rare, as @ficuswhisperer mentions below, you might consider 3D printing some. Though it might take some more development . . . . Can you 3D print a vacuum yet?