When I was a kid, costumes were pretty lame. Plastic masks with elastic “string” (or a lame rubber pull over mask), printed plastic sheet for the body, but we totally loved them. Thankfully, in the last decade or more, plastic sheet has changed to synthetic cloth, still plastic but much better, and rubber masks with much better molding and printing technology. However, even though the costumes are much better, sometimes they still need a little help.

A couple years ago I was afforded the opportunity to enhance a Darth Vader costume for a 5 year old. The costume was great but the chest plate was printed. I asked him if he would like me to make him a lighted chest plate and I got a very excited “Yes!!!”.


Since this was to be worn by a five year old, I did not want to make it out of materials that would hurt him if he fell, so I chose to use craft EVA foam, which is available from most craft stores.

For the electronics, I had a Parallax Basic Stamp 2 with nothing to do, so I recruited it for this project, but really any micro-controller would work for this. If I was to do this over, I would use an Arduino micro. In this build I will provide the schematics for both the Basic Stamp and Arduino Micro versions.

There is no shortage of reference photos online of Darth Vader, so I started by grabbing the best images that I could. The panel in Star Wars: A New Hope uses a simple box, where the sequels are more complex with complex bevels, so I chose to do a simple box design. Since I am using a simple box design, I decided to also limit the amount of details and change the color and position of one of the rocker switches, it just needs to look like the box and should not draw attention away from the rest of the costume. I checked out the chest panels that people built on the RPF and saw that I was going to run into a bit of a budget problem if I bought the coin slots and rocker switches so I decided that I needed to make them from scratch.


I made the coin slot and rocker switch out of sheet styrene then made silicon molds from them. Casting the rocker was straight forward, just pour the plastic resin and out came perfect rocker switches.

The coin slots have lights in them and since I was casting solid pieces I needed to get the LEDs inside the piece. I made LED bars containing five 3mm LEDs by bending the LED leads (except for the center LED) and soldering them all together, the center leads will provide power to the bar.

I drew alignment marks on the coin slot mold to help me align the LEDs and popsicle sticks to keep them in place. After the plastic resin hardened, I attached the LED wires to my power supply and they looked perfect.

I masked the coin slot opening with masking tape and painted them. Aluminum buffing metalizer spray paint gave it a perfect look, nice and shiny. After the paint dried, I removed the mask and then used a fine tip red permanent marker to color the white plastic over the LEDs. The rockers were also painted with the aluminum metalizer except for one, it was painted red.

The side rails were pretty simple, I used styrene tube and little metal washers to achieve the look of the original. The ends of the tubes were filled with a simple model putty then the rails were painted with the aluminum metalizer.

To make the box, I cut four 1 inch strips of the 5mm foam for the sides and two 5 1/2 square pieces for the top and bottom.

I glued the box parts together with Barge contact glue, this is glue that cobblers use to make/repair shoes so it is very strong so make sue that your alignment is dead on the first time.

There are two panel lights on the chest plate, one red and one green. A trip to my local electronic store did not yield any LED panel lights so I bought one that I could modify. Nothing special, just swapped the neon light for LED.