A Magic Wand That Paints Light

Light Painting was already a photographical miracle. But with this new device, the whole genre is born anew.

The phantasmic exposures behind light painting feel a bit like magic on earth. In reality, the technique is just a clever hack: You take a photo with a long exposure, and by waving a bright light, you fake the persistence of vision effect, allowing you to draw trails that will blur into an unbroken image within the exposed frame. So why doesn’t everyone paint with light? The technique is easy to learn but hard to master. And at the end of the day, the images are only as good as the light painter behind them.


Pixelstick–a new Kickstarter project by Brooklyn’s Bitbanger Labs–takes the artform of light painting to the next level. It’s a simple device–a staff of 198 LEDs–but it can be programmed to blink in any combination of color and succession to make any image you can imagine appear in a photo, perfectly. So painting anything from a 300-foot fluorescent ribbon to a life-sized, pixel-perfect Mario is no harder than pressing a camera shutter and waving the wand.

“‘Automated’ is probably not the right word for it,” the team admits. “Maybe it’s best to say we’ve streamlined it and removed some of the limitations.“

Practically, that streamlining means that users can edit an image in Photoshop, then load that into the Pixelstick to produce an extremely complex light painting in a single exposure. Or–and here’s where the potential gets really exciting–you can load a collection of frames into the Pixelstick to be photographed one at a time in order to create an animation that blinks, writhes, and glows in the real world. (A 35-frame animation that lasts a few seconds is still a bit of work, but Pixelstick can handle such a job in under an hour.)

If Pixelstick looks amazing to you, you’re not alone. The Kickstarter campaign crushed its funding goals almost immediately after going live. But you can still get in on the pre-order rounds. The Pixelstick costs $300.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.