Using E Ink displays with a Raspberry Pi

Are you interested in using an E Ink display in your next Raspberry Pi project? Let us help you get started!

Raspberry Pi E Ink Displays

Weather and new display using a Raspberry Pi Zero and Kindle e-reader by Luke Haas

E Ink displays

E Ink displays are accessible, they don’t need a lot of power, and they can display content without any power connection whatsoever — think Amazon Kindle if you’ve only a vague knowledge of the technology.

E Ink displays work using negative and positive charges. They contain tiny microcapsules suspended in a liquid within a film layer. The microcapsules consist of negatively charged black particles and positively charged white particles. By applying the correct charge, you control whether the black or white particles come to the surface.

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E Ink displays for your Raspberry Pi projects

So how and why would you use an E Ink display in your project? Simple! Aside from their low power consumption and indefinite display time, E Ink displays are relatively cheap, light, and interesting to look at. Plus, they’re easy to read in sunny conditions, which isn’t always true of LCD screens. And with e-readers now in their teens, there are plenty of forgotten devices collecting dust in drawers, ready to be repurposed.

Repurposing old e-readers

If you’ve ever tried to use the ‘experimental browser’ on a Kindle device, you’ll have found yourself transported back to the glory days of dial-up refresh rates and half-downloaded images. The only thing missing is the screeching connection tone. However, by connecting your Kindle to the same network as your Raspberry Pi, you can create a web page accessible to the e-reader to display data to your E Ink screen.

This bike computer by David Schneider makes use of that trick:

Secondhand e-readers are fairly easy to pick up from websites such as eBay, from your local carboot/yard sale, or from book-loving friends or family members. If you have one to hand and want to get making, you’ll find an abundance of tutorials for notification displays and low-power minimalist computers using e-readers.

Brand-new E Ink displays

If you want to buy a smaller display, or don’t have access to an old e-reader, you’ll find many online hobby retailers selling E Ink screens in several sizes and colours. The Pi Supply PaPiRus comes in many shapes and sizes as an easy-to-use Raspberry Pi HAT (Hardware Attached on Top). Simply push it in place on the GPIO pins, download the library to your Pi, and you’re good to go.

Raspberry Pi E Ink Displays

In case you’re looking to add a little more colour to your display, the Pimoroni red, white, and black Inky pHAT is an add-on designed for the Raspberry Pi Zero.

Raspberry Pi E Ink Displays

A quick and effective project for a smaller display like this is a Raspberry Pi Zero name badge, and we’ve seen our share of them at tech events and Picademy training sessions.

Once you’ve programmed your Pi and updated your E Ink screen, you can detach it from the Pi and wow those you meet with your magic power-free digital name badge!

And if you buy yourself an E Ink HAT, you can even have a go at this Monzo-powered money tracker.

Raspberry Pi E Ink Monzo Display

Past predictions of Liz Upton

Back in 2013, our Director of Communication, Liz Upton, wrote a post about Max Ogden’s Kindleberry Pi build, commenting the following:

Here at the Foundation, we’re watching the development of e-ink products with great interest. At the moment it’s nigh-on impossible to buy an e-ink display as a consumer unless it comes bundled as part of an e-reader like a Kindle or a Nook; and that makes them very expensive. The technology has all kinds of potential for applications we want to see the Pi being used for: the low energy requirement makes an e-ink screen a perfect choice for places where you’re off the grid or reliant on solar power. We’re looking forward to seeing prices come down and displays becoming more easily available to consumers.

How lovely to be sat here in 2018, writing a post about the growing use of E Ink displays and the wide availability of the technology to hobbyists and digital makers! It shows how far the electronics industry for home builders has come, and we’re excited to see where it’s heading next.

15 comments

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For good display projects, e.g. weather information, I would like to have bigger e-ink displays.
7 inch or bigger, maybe up to 10 inch.

Does someone here — readers or RasPi.org — have experience, where to buy such big e-ink displays and connect them to a Raspberry Pi?

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Would this display fit your requirements?

7.5inch e-Paper HAT (B) 640×384 E-ink Display Module Three-color SPI interface with examples for Raspberry Pi/Arduino/STM32

https://www.aliexpress.com/item/7-5inch-e-Paper-HAT-B-640×384-E-ink-Display-Module-Three-color-SPI-interface-with/32832768643.html

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I used a few of the 7″ Waveshare screens (with Pi HAT) for a project a few months ago. After a few failed units and returns (and one that I just had to write off, as I’d unsoldered the header, but failed in an unrelated way) I got it working.

https://medium.com/@gid/the-gidtech-where-u-at-2000-2ed715811977

A week later, it started fading and degrading. The code was also non-trivial, not supporting standard APIs, so requiring a temporary write to bitmap and then read back in to the custom driver code.

Rather than sink even more time and money, I just bought a refurb Kindle fire for about £40, rooted it and installed a kiosk-mode browser to a web-based version of my app.

Not quite as slick, but more functional (interactive) and faster. With the brightness turned down and the screen inverted (grey on black) it isn’t quite as intrusive as a fully-backlit tablet might seem.

I also tried a refurb ePaper Kindle first, but couldn’t root the new model as they haven’t exposed the firmware as easily, the cracks don’t work, and the internal serial port is much harder to connect to. Kindles can drive their eInk screens much faster and smarter than the Waveshare ones.

Also check out Ben Krasnow’s hacking on ePaper displays.

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Didn’t Eben promise us a 10″ display way back in the dark ages? Maybe it’s time for him to make good on that promise and deliver up a 10″ E-ink one! Huh, Eben? ;)

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Just visit E Ink website and click under shop, they are selling from 1 inch to 40 inch E Ink displays.

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$449? You can’t be serious.

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Gary Lu, As Chris Mitchell has already said, interfacing them to the Pi is the problem. I am well aware that I can buy a 40″ display (and smaller) from E-Ink. However, what I was suggesting (slightly tongue in cheek) was that a screen with interface and software drivers supported by the RPi Foundation would be rather nice.

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Hi Mattias Brunschen.
Hopefully I’m not too late but as R2KT mentioned, the 7.5″ E-Paper displays from waveshare (both the 2-colour and 3-colour ones) are currently the best option for price and size. Although the refresh rate is slow (6s for 2-colour, 31s for 3-colour) for some applications, there are some great projects you can make with them.

I’ve managed to write a programm for the rpi which displays the weather, calendar and events on the display. In case you’re interested, here is the project page:
https://github.com/aceisace/E-Paper-Calendar-with-iCal-sync-and-live-weather

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Such modules are easy enough to find but interfacing them to a Pi is a lot more effort; have a look at https://www.eink.com/product.html?type=productdetail&id=7

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They have a Pi HAT as well:

https://shopkits.eink.com/product/raspberry-pi-shield-board-evk1-1-017422/

But if you have to pay 350$ for the Hat and 450 for a 13″ Display. Quite expensive for a single project.

That must be affordable if Eben orders a million and resell it as a kit with a case. Shall be perfect for reading PDFs. And it fits into the education domain ;)

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Waveshare sells e-ink displays. Haven’t used them but have used their LCDs with no problem.

https://www.waveshare.com/product/mini-pc/raspberry-pi/expansions.htm

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Did anyone extract and use the display from a Kindle / kobo / whatever-e-book-reader? I’d like to see a project which uses only the bare display without the kindle electronics

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If you are interested in example of what can be done with a Inky pHAT and a Pi Zero, you can have a look as well to my project of displaying latest local weather forecast (with github link) -> https://raspicolas.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/displaying-weather-forecast-on-a-raspberry-pi-inky-screen/

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Awesome! I’d love to see a how-to.. I don’t have the money for an expensive bike computer, so I think this is a great idea. I NEED one.

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What I want is a plain old vanilla e-reader with no touch screen that will run Calibre (including the viewer). I don’t want anybody’s proprietary software shilling for their e-book store. I don’t want to have to connect via wi-fi every time I turn it all the way off (like the Nook GL3 does). I don’t want to work with their wonky reading software. I just want it to run Calibre and only calibre. How feasible is such a setup? Is there a PC or Linux ready 6″-ish e-ink screen anywhere, or is this a totally from scratch including having to write your own drivers sort of a deal?

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