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Old 02-19-2012, 12:46 AM #1
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Question Small adjustable driver for 10-20mW red diode?

Long story short, I'm trying to attach a red laser diode to a pendant, to light up a quartz crystal.

I'm not looking to build a high-powered burning laser, but if the red speckly shine is to be visible in bright situations I think I'm looking at something like 10mW -- perhaps a teensy bit more, I'm far from sure. Anything brighter than 20mW and the light would probably be blinding. Hence potentiometers! A max total output of 20mW and a min of 1mW would probably be ideal.

As the driver, diode and (button!) batteries would have to go onto the actual crystal, size is really a problem. So I don't think I can just solder something that small together myself. :<

As a proof-of-concept, I butchered a <5mW cat toy laser pointer and extracted the 3V module there, to hold up against my crystal. I removed the casing because it was in the way, and the lens because I have simply no need of one; the more the light spreads throughout the crystal, the better. Eventually I had only the driver circuitry with its embedded laser diode left. Conclusion: concept should work but the light was a mite weak, so a 10mW diode might suit this project better.

The driver itself was pretty basic. No potentiometer, no capacitors, probably no real voltage regulation or anything; just one resistor, some stuff underneath a blob of solder and a metal surface I assume is a heatsink. It was small, though; 10x10mm. Perfect for the purpose, but cheap enough to make me worried.

As such, now I'm looking for better non-cat toy alternatives! I could buy modules off of eBay and skip the whole part where I'm vivisecting toys, but there doesn't seem to be any suitable red ones in the 10-20mW range, and those thereabouts don't seem to be adjustable and/or seem to be of dubious quality.

In the end, the one wearing the pendant and adjusting it's brightness wouldn't be me -- so if I bought a super-powerful driver aimed toward (say) 80-500mW diodes, and somehow managed to coax the potentiometer to go all the way down to 0, there's simply no way the wearer would be able to tweak the brightness at all without frying everything if only the lightest touch to the pot would bump the current up to 200mA. I want a certain degree of foolproof-ness. :> Save the users from themselves!

Is there any easy, off-the-shelf solution I'm missing? There's an abundance of diodes on eBay, but I can't find any drivers in this effect range. There was one rated for 5mW reds, but as mentioned I want at least 10mW. My Google-fu and Forum-searching martial arts seem insufficient. High-power lasers seem to be the focus. :>

Any help or pointers would be greatly appreciated. I'm very green in this area. I don't want to go down in history as the scourge of cat toys.



Last edited by Zorael; 02-19-2012 at 12:51 AM.
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Old 02-19-2012, 03:28 AM #2
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Default Re: Small adjustable driver for 10-20mW red diode?

Yeah you definitely don't want to use too high of a power diode and have it be adjustable all the way to max.

Getting a driver that small with a potentiometer on it is going to be tricky and will probably have to be customized for the specific diode that you are going to use. I don't know of any offhand. I have a pretty small driver that can be set up for low current builds, but it's not adjustable. Rhd is another member here who has an even smaller driver (search for "red mosquito" on the forums) but it's not adjustable either.

The FlexDrive may be an option for you, but I think that it only goes down to around 65mA, so that may also be a problem depending on the diode you are using (and it's expensive). I don't know, I've never played around with it on a low-powered build before.

Sounds like a cool project.

Last edited by Ghostchrome; 02-19-2012 at 03:31 AM.
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Old 02-19-2012, 02:20 PM #3
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Default Re: Small adjustable driver for 10-20mW red diode?

Thanks for replying! So far I only have the crystal itself, beyond the cat toy laser. I've yet to decide on any one diode, though I imagine I want one in the 650nm range for a ruby-ish luster. I also guess that I'll have to cede some space, but even so anything larger than 20x15mm would be pushing it.

What about this "AixiZ Laser Diode Driver Board 20-300mA"? Looking at a random (expensive :<) eBay auction of a 20mW 650nm diode, the working current seems to be around/less than 60mA, so that rules out the FlexDrive. The AixiZ driver's potentiometer would still go way too high by some 240mA (!) though, by 4/5ths... Moreover the driver's size isn't listed, so for all I know it may be 20x40mm.

I take it it's not humanly possible to solder a potentiometer at a suitable trace on any of these commerically available drivers? It wouldn't have to be attached to the PCB; two cables jutting out would sort of do, I guess. But to begin with, that's assuming there are pots available out there that max out at letting through ~60mA.

It may very well be that there's a natural sweet spot at ~10mW or so, but sadly I don't have diodes around to test.

Last edited by Zorael; 02-19-2012 at 02:27 PM.
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Old 02-19-2012, 04:33 PM #4
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Default Re: Small adjustable driver for 10-20mW red diode?

Yeah, that driver looks like it could work. I would email him first though to find out what size it is. AixiZ (the owner of that driver) is a very good company.

Also, check out 660nm diodes, you may have better luck on pricing and the color will be a bit deeper as well. Here's an example:

20mW 660 | eBay

AixiZ also has very small red modules (driver and diode all in one package) that might be worth taking a look at - maybe at least you'll get a few more ideas of things that might work for you.

650nm-660nm Lasers, AixiZ

Last edited by Ghostchrome; 02-19-2012 at 04:34 PM.
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Old 02-19-2012, 07:16 PM #5
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Default Re: Small adjustable driver for 10-20mW red diode?

Those seem much cheaper, yes. Is there a rule of thumb on how much brighter a 635nm would seem to human eyes over a 650nm over a 660nm?

The 660 is listed as having an operating current of <30mA. So if I were to go with the 20-300mA AixiZ driver, I would only be using the bottom 20-30mA of that range. This is becoming difficult. :<

I sent them a message asking for dimensions, but no response as of yet. Then again it's Sunday, and I hear patience is a virtue.

Would it electrically be possible to cut a driver's current to 10% of original specs by adding a high-Ohm resistor, without affecting voltage? In this case cutting 20-300mA down to 2-30mA? Because that would be *precisely* what I'm looking for.
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Old 02-19-2012, 08:44 PM #6
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Default Re: Small adjustable driver for 10-20mW red diode?

This is the Smallest and lowest currant driver i Can find:

Power Supply Driver for 5mW 650nm/660nm Red Laser Diode LD | eBay

It can go down to 20 and up to 40mA.

It might be what your looking for. Its very small. Smaller then the Flex-Drive.

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Old 02-21-2012, 01:10 PM #7
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Thumbs up Re: Small adjustable driver for 10-20mW red diode?

That one looks absolutely glorious! :>

I just have a few more questions to confirm everything before I spend money on stuff that won't work together.
  1. Would I do well if I buy that input 20-40mA driver and pair it with this 658/+5nm <38mA diode?
  2. Pray tell, is this equally-priced 660/+5nm <30mA diode perhaps a better pick?

Does a listed working current disparity of <38mA vs <30mA make a difference over time, or should I chalk this up to normal variance? Does the latter diode draw 79% the power of the first at the cost of (a hopefully unnoticeable?) ~2nm wavelength?

As mentioned way at the top I'll be running these on low-mAh LR44/SR44 batteries, so I sort of have to keep wattage in mind. (Unless you have any other suggestions as to battery choice as well.)

Also, if the potentiometer allows for raising current to 40mA and I use a <30mA diode, I guess there's a larger chance of diode death than if I use a <38mA diode. Again, the wearer and user will be someone other than the cautious me.


You've both been of immense help. Many thanks.
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