Basic 16x2 Character LCD - RGB Backlight 5V

This is similar to other 16x2 character LCDs that you've seen before but with one vibrant difference: The backlight is actually an RGB LED. This means that you can change the backlight of this display to any color you want by controlling the three backlight levels. It also utilizes an extremely common parallel interface so code is freely available (check below for an Arduino example). You will need ~11 general I/O pins to interface to this LCD screen, plus an extra 3 pins for the RGB backlight.

Note: It is recommended to use a current limiting resistor with the backlight colors. You can burn out your LEDs if you do not use a current limiting resistor. Try using a 1k Ohm resistor. The backlight is controlled by pins 18, 17, and 16.

Basic 16x2 Character LCD - RGB Backlight 5V Product Help and Resources

PIC-Based Serial Enabled Character LCD Hookup Guide

May 29, 2018

The PIC-based serial enabled character LCD backpack is a simple and cost effective solution for interfacing to character Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) based on the HD44780 controller. The backpack simplifies the number of wires needed and allows your project to display all kinds of text and numbers.

Basic Character LCD Hookup Guide

May 28, 2019

Liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are a great way to output a string of words or sensor data to a display for visual feedback. In this tutorial, we'll learn about LCDs, how to print a string of words to a 16x2 basic character LCD and create custom characters.

Core Skill: Soldering

This skill defines how difficult the soldering is on a particular product. It might be a couple simple solder joints, or require special reflow tools.

1 Soldering

Skill Level: Noob - Some basic soldering is required, but it is limited to a just a few pins, basic through-hole soldering, and couple (if any) polarized components. A basic soldering iron is all you should need.
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Core Skill: Programming

If a board needs code or communicates somehow, you're going to need to know how to program or interface with it. The programming skill is all about communication and code.

2 Programming

Skill Level: Rookie - You will need a better fundamental understand of what code is, and how it works. You will be using beginner-level software and development tools like Arduino. You will be dealing directly with code, but numerous examples and libraries are available. Sensors or shields will communicate with serial or TTL.
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Core Skill: Electrical Prototyping

If it requires power, you need to know how much, what all the pins do, and how to hook it up. You may need to reference datasheets, schematics, and know the ins and outs of electronics.

3 Electrical Prototyping

Skill Level: Competent - You will be required to reference a datasheet or schematic to know how to use a component. Your knowledge of a datasheet will only require basic features like power requirements, pinouts, or communications type. Also, you may need a power supply that?s greater than 12V or more than 1A worth of current.
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Looking for answers to technical questions?

We welcome your comments and suggestions below. However, if you are looking for solutions to technical questions please see our Technical Assistance page.

  • Quick question for you guys this morning, I have 4 of those screen hooked up in parallel with a different enable for each screen. I can print whatever character I want on any display. The problem that I have is that a weird characters are showing up after a couple of minutes to a couple of hour. It doesn't erase what was initially written, but it is kind of annoying.

    Any clue about what is going on?

  • -------------------- Tech Support Tips/Troubleshooting/Common Issues --------------------

    Example Code

    There was a customer [ ] that wrote example code for this product. Try looking at his GitHub repository [ ] .

    Current Limiting Resistor

    It is recommended to use a current limiting resistor with the backlight colors. You can burn out your LEDs if you do not use a current limiting resistor. Try using a 1kOHm resistor.

    LCD Backpack

    To reduce the number of connections, maybe you can use the serial enabled backpack [ ] to control the characters being sent to the LCD. One thing to note is that the RGB 16×2 LCD has a different pin out on pins 15 and 16. Also, the RGB 16×2 LCD has two additional pins to control the backlight colors. The LCD backpack would not be pin to pin compatible like the other basic character LCDs but you would be able to send serial characters.

  • Member #597480 / about 10 years ago / 4

    I'm so mad. I burnt out the red and green LEDs because no where on the data sheet does it say anything about using a resistor. Make sure you use 1k resistors on pins 16,17,18!!!

  • xaf / about 11 years ago / 3

    For them as me, that do not find schema to activate RGB backlight : Pin 15 to the GROUND + Pin 16 to +5V = RED backlight + Pin 17 to +5v = GREEN Backlight + Pin 18 to +5v = BLUE backlight Red is not very powerfull

  • Member #107907 / about 12 years ago / 2

    What's the forward voltage drop & max forward current for the LED? We need to limit the LED current externally, yes?

    • M-Short / about 12 years ago / 4

      It doesn't look like we currently have that information, but I was able to calculate the forward voltages using a 1k resistor. Email tech support if you have any other questions. Blue 2.66V Green 2.82V Red 1.78V

    • B4a5r0t / about 12 years ago / 3

      so what resistors should be used on the rgb? i dont want to burn it out too fast and i cant find the above mentioned values anywhere someone please help

  • tutman96 / about 12 years ago * / 2

    I believe you may want to mention in the description that this has a common cathod led. I had a hard time finding it in the datasheet.

  • Member #652817 / about 9 years ago / 1

    Oh come on guys, don't you know how to find out the specs of an LED? build an LM 317 variable constant current driver (you need only a small 2K Pot, 47 ohm resistor and a 317).

    put the pot and resistor in series and connect one end of this to the 317's output and the other end to the ADJ pin. connect the LED+ to the ADJ pin through a multimeter set to measure milliamps, connect the LED- to supply-, turn the pot for max resistance,

    power it up with 5V on the 317's input.

    now the led will glow dimly and the meter will read less than a milliamp. slowly turn down the pot while watching the LED which should slowly increase brightness as you're doing this. At one point, the LED's brightness will suddenly drop. stop turning the pot and back up until it's growing at max brightness again. now check the meter; this is the maximum current that LED can take.

    now disconnect the meter and connect the led directly to your CC supply and measure the voltage across it, this is the max voltage the LED can take. good luck :)

  • moxbox / about 9 years ago / 1

    If you'd like a working example schematic for this, I have posted one at :

    The Videre is an open-source hardware Arduino Shield that includes a Cortex-M0 to drive the display, and can be used with I2C,SPI, or UART from an Arduino... see


  • nsayer / about 10 years ago / 1

    I've worked a lot with 2x16 RGB LCD displays. There are a bunch of ways to use them in the Arduino space:

    1. Use the LiquidCrystal library. This takes more than half the pins of an ATMega and most of the pins of an ATTiny84. You can, however, share the four data pins with other devices that have chip select logic so that only one device masters or reads from those pins at once (that is, make it into a real data bus). I usually share 3 of the 4 with the ISP/SPI pins. As long as the LCD's E pin is not asserted during programming (which would be unlikely), it works fine.
    2. Use the AdaFruit RGB LCD shield and the LiquidTWI2 library.
    3. Use an i2c "backpack" and LiquidTWI2. The quintessential example of this is available from the OpenEVSE store, but that's not the only version. Essentially you wire an MCP23017 up to the LCD the same way as the AdaFruit shield and bring the i2c and power out to a 4 pin SIP connector, all on an 80x36 mm board that fits exactly onto the back of the LCD module.

    LiquidTWI2 is particularly nice because it not only supports the 5 button inputs, just like the AdaFruit shield, but also supports using the last unassigned pin on the MCP23017 to drive a piezo speaker to make beeps. I've designed a backpack that includes the piezo. You can find it on my OSH Park profile.

    One thing to beware of is that there are four different variations on the 2x16 char RGB LCD - positive or negative (aka transmissive or transflective) text; and common cathode or common anode backlighting. There's no wiring difference between transmissive or transflective, but for common cathode or common anode, you need to connect pin 15 either to +5 or ground and invert the sense of the RGB backlight control lines. LiquidTWI2 includes an initialization constant that lets you "hint" it that the backlight is inverted, but for most backpack/shields you would need to rework the board to change the connection on pin 15.

    It would be somewhat nicer if the makers of RGB shields and backpacks would include a two-way solder jumper to allow the buyer/assembler to select the polarity of the common pin more easily. Of course, it would also be somewhat nicer if everyone would pick an LED type and stick with it, but whatcha gonna do?

  • Why only a parallel version of the display with RGB lighting? It looks like there is a much easier serial version of all of the single color models.

  • FutureInventions / about 11 years ago / 1

    Out of stock! :(

  • Chandhooguy / about 11 years ago / 1

    Do you need to add anything extra to the pins? Because I tried to use the Arduino example and it didn't work.

  • Member #371834 / about 11 years ago / 1

    any plans to allow the serLCD backpack to work with this?

  • lImbus / about 12 years ago / 1

    I created an Arduino Shield for this thing. Please find the eagle files as much as the Arduino Sketch at

    The resistors for the RGB Backlight LED are based on the values found by M-Short in his comment.

    I diverged from the traditional LCD Pin Layout as in so that it can be used with an Arduino Ethernet or Ethernet Shield without having to change the hardware / electronics. This means that now there is no analog input pin free tho.

  • Member #261253 / about 12 years ago / 1

    Here is the link to the full datasheet:

  • JRiggles / about 12 years ago / 1

    So, I'm envisioning hooking the RGB pins up to PWM outputs on an Arduino (i.e., one each) to do a bit of color mixing. What I'm wondering is if I could then stick a pot, namely COM-11173, between GND and pin 15 of the LCD to get a sort of rudimentary 'master' brightness control. Any thoughts?

  • tingui509 / about 12 years ago / 1

    hello friends can change the RGB led to this display as a burned red when connected to GND, I thought that was the VCC PIN 15 to 16 GND

  • Vixctor / about 12 years ago / 1

    This is a comparison between Sparkfun's 16x2 LCD with RGB backlight (POSITIVE) versus Adafruit's 16x2 LCD with RGB backlight (Negative).

    Firmware and schematic for free:

  • Scotchman / about 12 years ago / 1

    I believe you may want to mention in the description that this has a common cathode led. I had a hard time finding it in the datasheet.

    I had read somewhere that this had the same pin15/16 wiring as the "LCD add-on Kit for SIK" which is a common Anode. I got concerned when I saw the datasheet for this LCD. But good news. The PCB is setup with the same pinout as the SIK add-in. It is setup with a common Anode. I modified my datasheet-PDF and renamed it as SF-version.

    My PCB pinout is: 15 A (5v) - same as SIK Add-on 16 K-RED - same as SIK Add-on (except color) 17 K-GREEN 18 K-BLUE

    So this was easy to setup, just swap boards.

    But I agree that when I saw the contrast I will save this board for later and also wait for an RGB-on-black!

    • Member #320909 / about 12 years ago / 1

      So just so I understand correctly, this backlight is common anode?

  • Member #106858 / about 12 years ago / 1

    Is the red color a lot dimmer normally? Mine is significantly dimmer than the green or blue.

    • B4a5r0t / about 12 years ago / 1

      my red is dimmer as well, green and blue are a lot brighter, are you using any resistors? what voltage are you applying?

    • JustWoz / about 12 years ago / 1

      Well, the red on mine is dimmer now. It was as bright-ish as the blue/green for a second. I thought I had burnt it out completely but I can still see the nub on the end of the backlight turn red, not enough to really light the background anymore. I wished I had known what resistor to use before hand.

      I think I half burned it out while trying to figure out that the K terminal, (pin 15), is Ground for the backlight. Pins 16(Red),17(Green)and 18(Blue) take a positive voltage to activate. I never had a backlight on my LCD display before, pretty cool.

  • Member #222384 / about 12 years ago / 1

    if somebody wants a good tutorial how to interface this lcd to a microcontroller visit this link

    for microchip pic mcu

    for TI MSP430 microcontroller

  • Calif / about 12 years ago / 1

    If the refresh time is fast enough & the font has an inverted mode, it could probably do multicolored characters.

    • Xeniczone / about 12 years ago / 1

      That is a neat idea, but if these are anything like their other color LEDs the refresh rate is no where fast enough.

  • Xeniczone / about 12 years ago * / 1

    I got excited when I read this in the new product post, but was disappointed to find that it is Black-on-RGB and not RGB-on-Black.

    Do you think it would be possible to swap the top polarizer from the white-on-black with this?

    • MissingFrame / about 12 years ago / 1

      On one similar display I was able to inverse image simply by taking it apart and flipping over the polarizer. On another similar display it didn't quite work that way because the polarizer wasn't cut at 90 degrees but some odd angle, so I had to get a piece of polarizing film I cut myself, rotated to get the best image.

      • Xeniczone / about 12 years ago / 1

        Thanks. I have a white-on-black LCD screen. I think I will get this and try swapping the polarizers and see if that will work.

    • Stev067 / about 12 years ago / 1

      I would also like to see RGB text on black background. Very cool and useful concept though. Now I just need some RGB EL-wire!

      • Blacklab1 / about 12 years ago / 1

        You might want to check out Adafruit Industries -> They have a RGB backlight negative LCD 16x2 + extras - RGB on black.

        Personally I wish SF would carry the 7 inch displays. With all the tablet computers on the market, you would think more people would want a bigger display. YES, I understand you need more horse power under your Arduino hood, but with the new Arduino out there, and the Max32 Chipkit with DMA you would think you could build a project to handle a 7 inch screen.

  • dksmall / about 12 years ago / 1

    Is the controller HD44780 compatible? Datasheet has nothing on interfacing this display. If it is compatible then you could use 4-bit mode to reduce the pin count.

  • denbo68 / about 12 years ago / 1

    Hmmm with that many pins needed might be good idea to add i2c interface.

    • check the serial-enabled backpack below. it won't directly control the RGB backlight (it's only setup to control one of the pins), but it can drive it over serial.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5

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1 of 1 found this helpful:

works; need current ratings on backlight

Everything works fine, but the red backlight on my device is quite a bit dimmer than the green and the blue for the same current. Also, I had to switch to a 330 ohm resistor to get the red to be possibly reasonable; it draws 8.4ma R, 6.3ma G, 6.14ma B. It would be nice to know the limits of the various current draws instead of merely "Try using a 1k Ohm resistor." The data sheet does not appear to specify.

Works perfectly

I am using the LCD to display oven temperature on a custom bbq setup. Setup went smoothly and the readout works exactly as needed.

Ditto to what Labreuer said...

The display works great!

It would be nice to have more info in the spec sheet (ie. current ratings for the LEDs, the fact that "K" is common ground, better suggestion for resistor)

Another thing on the resistor, I don't know if this product is similar to Adafruit's display... they say you don't need the resistors:

It would also be nice if it came with a header, at least loose in the package.