An 8x8x8 LED cube powered by several TLC5940 LED drivers

Raspberry Pi TLC5940 library

This is a library which allows programs running in the userspace to control the TLC5940 LED driver with a Raspberry Pi. The user can specify the PWM value for each output channel of the TLC5940, and it also supports multiple cascaded TLC5940’s.

The TLC5940

The TLC5940 is a versatile LED driver from Texas Instruments. It has 16 output channels, and they can be cascaded to easily support more output channels. The TLC5940 has a 12 bit register for each output channel. The value in each register determines the time a certain channel is enabled. This allows pulse width modulation for all of the 16 channels.

To drive the outputs, the user of the chip should provide a clock signal on the GSCLK pin of the TLC5940. On each pulse, an internal counter is incremented, and the value in each register of the output channels is compared to the value of the internal counter. If the value in the register is equal to the value of the counter, then the channel will be disabled for the rest of the cycle. If the counter reaches the maximum value of an unsigned 12 bit integer (4095), the user needs to send a pulse on the blank pin to reset the counter.

The important thing to note here, is that the TLC5940 constantly needs a clock signal on GSCLK, without a signal, it won’t update the output channels. A stable and fast clock will result in a stable and clear PWM signal. This is a little inconvenient for us. Because most people have Linux on their Raspberry Pi, and because Linux is a General Purpose operating system, providing a stable clock from pure software is hard.

The program driving the TLC5940 is not the only process running on the Raspberry Pi. Each running program needs to share the ARM processor with the others. Because of that, sometimes the execution of the program driving the TLC5940 gets paused, to give an other process the processor. And with our process paused, the GSCLK signal generation gets also paused, resulting is a less stable PWM signal.

This is a bit hard to fix, because you need to keep track of the pulse count, to send a pulse to the blank pin on the right moment. Any suggestions for solutions are always welcome.


Because the TLC5940 constantly needs a stable clock, multithreading is a must in your program. You need one thread which determines which outputs need what value, and stores that in a buffer. The other thread constantly reads that buffer and sends the data to the TLC5940. Please view the provided sample program for a simple example. Luckily, multithreading isn’t that hard anymore with C++11. For a simple introduction, check this tutorial.


First you need to decide which pins you’re going to use on the Raspberry Pi. Please take a look at the wiringPi site with all the pin numbers. To control your TLC5940, you’ll need 7 GPIO pins. If you’re not going to use the “Dot Correction” feature of the TLC5940, you’ll need 5. Dot correction is also not supported in this library for now, but it will probably in the future. Below is the list of the pins on the TLC5940 which need to be controlled by the Raspberry Pi.

  • SIN
  • SCLK
  • XLAT
  • DCPRG (connect to ground if not using Dot Correction)
  • VPRG (connect to ground if not using Dot Correction)

You’re free to choose any pin on the Raspberry Pi, but keep the special pin functions in mind. Define the pins in your code using multiple instances of the class RaspberryGPIOPin:

RaspberryGPIOPin tlc_sin(1);
RaspberryGPIOPin tlc_sclk(14);
RaspberryGPIOPin tlc_blank(4);
RaspberryGPIOPin tlc_dcprg(5);
RaspberryGPIOPin tlc_vprg(6); 
RaspberryGPIOPin tlc_xlat(10);
RaspberryGPIOPin tlc_gsclk(11);


The number given with the RaspberryGPIOPin constructor represents the wiringPi pin number, not the BCM GPIO number. See the wiringPi site for the numbers.

Controlling the TLC5940 starts with an instance of the class TLCController. This class needs a template parameter, containing the number of cascaded TLC5940 chips. The class also needs to know which pins you’re going to use, so the GPIO pin instances created above are passed along.

TLCController<2> tlc_controller(&tlc_sin, &tlc_sclk, &tlc_blank, &tlc_dcprg, &tlc_vprg, &tlc_xlat, &tlc_gsclk);

If you have just a single TLC5940, you can use the SingleTLCController class.

To enable an output, you use the setChannel method. setall sets the specified value for all channels.

tlc_controller.setChannel(0, 2048); // Set channel 0 to half of the brightness
tlc_controller.setChannel(1, 4095); // Set channel 1 to full brightness

Using the update method, the data is sent to the TLC5940. Remember, this function needs to be called continuously, even if you don’t changed any output values.



This library provides a pkg-config configuration file, so you can use pkg-config to retrieve the required compiler and linker flags.

CFLAGS += `pkg-config --cflags tlc5940-raspberry-1.0`
LDFLAGS += `pkg-config --libs tlc5940-raspberry-1.0`

And if you use autotools as build system you can use the PKG_CHECK_MODULES macro, see this site for more info.

Download and Install

This project is hosted on Github. To get the latest version you can use Git to clone the repository.

git clone

Or you can just download the code from here.


Download the latest version on your Raspberry Pi, and extract its contents. Navigate to the right folder, and execute the following commands:

./autogen --prefix=/usr
sudo make install

It’s better to install the library in /usr instead of the default /usr/local, because by default pkg-config doesn’t check the /usr/local folders for package config files.

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