Selecting Parts For An LED Suit
I won't bore you with my research details, and I'm not claiming that I found the best parts or plan of attack. Again, this is just what I decided to do. You're welcome to follow along and try the same thing(s) or go your own way.
At first I thought I was going to have to buy individual RGB LEDs and build a matrix (grid) for them, and then spend hours and hours and hours and hours soldering. Then I stumbled on WS2812 RGB LEDs. These have a processor with every LED which allows you to control a number of them with just one input line. These are referred to as ADDRESSABLE LEDS. The problem was they were surface mount -- which would still mean a lot of very detailed and complicated soldering.
When I dug a little deeper, I discovered RGB LED strips with addressable (WS2812) LEDs. That provides neatly organized, pre-wired rows of LEDs. The strips can be cut between any (or all) of the LEDs with leads then soldered between them.
These strips are typically sold by the meter. The options include 30 LEDs per meter, 60 per meter, 144 per meter, white backing, black backing, dust proof, waterproof, and nothing proof.
I want fairly dense distribution of the LEDs, but not spend a fortune on them. I decided 60 per meter would work well for me as that gives me LEDs that are about 1.7 centimeters (0.67 inches) apart.
It seemed that eBay had the best price, but feel to shop around. Knowing that I had some lead time (since I was starting in January with an October 31 deadline) I bid on some 4 meter reels instead of going straight to the buy now price. I ended up getting one waterproof 4-meter reel for $34.00 US and another identical one for $37.80 US. Both prices included shipping.
I thought waterproof would be a good idea for something that would be worn outdoors, but it turned out that waterproof (in this case) meant the strip sat inside a clear vinyl tube. The tube will probably make construction tougher, so I suspect I'll be discarding it.
I already have an Arduino Mega 2560, so that's free.
I also have a wall wart that will power the LEDs while I'm prototyping and testing.
At this point I'm planning on mounting the grids to some kind of lightweight panels that can be configured and worn in different ways -- but I can't really start on those until I decide what kind of layout I want for the LEDs.