If you’re here, then I assume I don’t have to spend time convincing you of all the reasons why you should learn Arduino! You already know how awesome it is and want to get started building all kinds of projects with sensors, motors, servos, screens and hundreds of other components. The good news is that there’s no better time to learn how to code sketches and build circuits using the Arduino microcontroller and IDE than now!
In the past you needed expensive equipment and a robust physics and math background. But today, you can get started with Arduino and electronics for about $100 or less, assuming you already have a computer. And I don’t mean tinkering with a few hobby components here or there because today there’s a lot of electronics to choose from. With a good Arduino starter kit, you can begin gaining experience that will take you from blinking your first LED to building robots and prototyping your first invention.
Is Arduino Hard to Learn?
Arduino is great for beginners looking to get started with electronics for the first time. Yet it’s flexible enough to keep even the most advanced users busy. You don’t need any specialized knowledge of physics, math or even a computer science degree – as long as you’re comfortable using computers in general which most of us are through school or work.
In terms of programming, Arduino is easier to learn because it’s a simplified version of C/C++. Most of you will be able to pick up the basics within 2-3 months. If you already have some programming experience you should be able to learn Arduino within 1-3 weeks. These time frames aren’t set in stone and you can accelerate your abilities the more you practice.
This multi-part guide to the Arduino will get you started with the Arduino board, Arduino IDE software and have you coding your first Arduino sketches to control LEDs!
For a more comprehensive Arduino course, check out our Beginner’s Crash Course to the Arduino, a build- and code-along style video course presented in real-time. We start at the beginning and progress to more advanced Arduino programming and circuit building techniques that will prepare you to build virtually any Arduino project. Watch the first lesson FREE!
What is an Arduino?
Arduino is an open-source electronics platform consisting of a microcontroller board, the hardware that you can hook components to, and software, the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that runs on your computer used to write and upload code, known as a sketch, to the board. The Arduino Software (IDE) is cross-platform, meaning it runs on Windows, Macintosh OSX, and Linux operating systems.
There are a variety of different Arduino boards which are all able to read inputs – values from sensors, a button that’s been pressed, or when a potentiometer’s knob has turned – and then turn inputs into outputs – turning on a motor, LED, or even sending a text or email. You can tell the board what to do by writing a set of instructions called a sketch within the Arduino IDE software and then upload it via a USB cable directly to the board.
You can find an Arduino at the core of thousands of projects, from everyday hobby builds to complex scientific instruments. And it’s not just for engineers! Arduino projects feature a combination of circuits, coding, DIY, problem-solving, and creativity, that sparks thinking across disciplines. Artists, designers and musicians also use Arduino to enhance experiences like building custom musical instruments, personalizing wearables, adding sound, lights and movement to props and cosplay or controlling life-like animatronic characters for theme parks or film.
Which Arduino Board is Best?
Since its release, hundreds of different “Arduino boards” have flooded the market, not only due to their popularity but also because the hardware is open source which means that anyone can produce, modify and sell them. Having so many official Arduino and off-brand (clone) options can be a double-edged sword. On one side, there’s an Arduino board to solve just about every kind of specialized need, but on the other, it can be over-whelming to choose the best Arduino board to learn on.
The Arduino Uno is a great choice for beginners and the board we’re going to use in this tutorial. It’s by far the most popular Arduino board because it’s well-supported and has everything you need to get started without the frills. With an ATmega328 chip and plenty of pins, it’s a great workhorse for a wide variety of Arduino projects. As your projects become more complex, it will be easy to explore other boards because they are all based on the Arduino Uno.
Other popular Arduino boards include:
As its name suggests, the Arduino Mega is bigger than the Uno with a ton more memory and pins. The chip, the ATmega2560, is also an upgrade to the one that comes with the Uno. For larger and more complex projects that use more components than the Uno can handle, the Mega is a great choice.
Because of its small size, the Arduino Nano is great for projects where you want to hide the electronics like props, art, or small robots.
The LilyPad Arduino board is a wearable e-textile technology cleverly designed with huge connecting pads and a smooth back allowing it to be sewn into clothing using conductive thread. They’re even washable!
What are the Best Arduino Components / Accessories to Get Started With?
When you first start learning electronics, you’ll be tempted to buy all kinds of cool Arduino components. I certainly did – breadboards, LEDs, all kinds of sensors, motors, servos, LCDs and more! Rather than buying components individually, I recommend Arduino beginners start with a kit. Not only do you get all of the most popular components in one shot, these bundles are almost always less expensive than trying to buy components one-by-one. With a good foundation of Arduino components, you can then start adding new components to your arsenal as your projects become more specialized.
For my Beginner’s Crash Course to the Arduino, we use the Elegoo Super Starter Kit. It has some of the most popular Arduino components you need to get started learning Arduino for one of the best prices I’ve seen so far. But there are even bigger Arduino Starter Kits to choose from depending on how much you want to initially invest.
At the very least, you’ll need:
Solderless breadboards let you build circuits quickly without soldering. This means you can make adjustments to your circuit on the fly which is helpful for prototyping. The pins of a component can be inserted into the breadboard and then connected to the Arduino with jumper wires. Breadboards come in different sizes from full to half and mini and I suggest you get a few of each so you can prototype a few Arduino projects at the same time.
Jumper wires are necessary to connect components to a breadboard and create circuits with the Arduino. They come in a variety of different lengths, colors and male/female combination of ends. Some jumper wires have male pins on both sides, others are female on both and others are male on one end but female on the other. It’s a good idea to have all types and you can usually get them in a jumper wire kit.
Resistors are used to limit current or voltage to a component, make voltage dividers and/or RC (resistor-capacitor) circuits. You’ll definitely be using these in your projects so a selection from 100 Ohms up to 100K Ohms should be enough to build most Arduino projects.
LEDs are among the most important components to have throughout your Arduino and electronics journey. As an Arduino beginner, you’ll build your first circuits with resistors and LEDs and learn to code your first sketches by making them blink and fade on and off. They’re also great for troubleshooting circuits and provide you with a visual cue if a device is getting power or not. As a more advanced Arduino user, you can incorporate LEDs as part of props, cosplay, animated art and more!
There’s a good chance all these starter components and more will be included in any kit you’re thinking of buying.
Now that you’re familiar with some of the most popular Arduino boards and components to get started with, I encourage you to pick up an Arduino Uno (or clone) as well as these components either separately or get more for less with an Arduino Starter Kit so you can follow the rest of this Arduino tutorial and learn by doing!
BEGINNER’S CRASH COURSE TO THE ARDUINO
Go from absolute beginner to building and coding your own projects from scratch using the most popular Arduino components, even if you’ve never coded or built a circuit before.
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