So You Just Bought an Arduino Starter Kit. What Now?

Joel Lee 08-02-2016

So you just bought your first Arduino starter kit — or you’re planning on buying one soon 4 Best Starter Kits for Arduino Beginners There are plenty of great beginner Arduino projects that you can use to get started, but you'll need an Arduino and some components first. Here's our pick of 4 of the best starter kits for... Read More — but you don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry, that’s okay! Everyone feels that way at first, especially if you’ve never tinkered with electronics before. It’s completely normal.


That being said, there is a learning curve. The Arduino isn’t overly complicated What Is Arduino & What Can You Do With It? The Arduino is a remarkable little electronics device, but if you've never used one before, just what exactly are they, and what can you do with one? Read More , but it’s not a walk in the park either. The good news is that the Web is full of awesome resources that will help you get started, and as long as you’re willing to put in a modicum of effort, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough What is Arduino: Everything You Need to Know (In Video) What is an Arduino and why should you care? In this video, I attempt to answer that question, and more. Read More .

If you’re feeling lost, here’s what you should do.

Note: This guide was written from the perspective of an Arduino Uno owner. The Uno is the most newbie-friendly Arduino available as most tutorials target the Uno, so that’s the model we recommend for first-timers. It’s also the one included in most starter kits. 

What’s In Your Starter Kit?

The very first thing you should do is get comfortable with the starter kit you have. Depending on the actual kit you purchased, the components available to you will differ. For example, yours may include an LCD display but lack any sensors.

However, there are several components that are considered “essential” to most Arduino projects, and most starter kits come with these included What’s Included In An Arduino Starter Kit? [MakeUseOf Explains] I have previously introduced the Arduino open-source hardware here on MakeUseOf, but you’re going need more than just the actual Arduino to build something out of it and actually get started. Arduino "starter kits" are... Read More (because you wouldn’t be able to do much without them):


Modern starter kits also come with their own unique array of “non-essential” components, which have specialized uses that you may or may not care about. For example: accelerometers, motors, potentiometers, etc. Check our guide to common starter kit components What's in Your Arduino Starter Kit? [Arduino Beginners] Faced with a box full of electronic components, it's easy to be overwhelmed. Here's a guide to exactly what you'll find in your kit. Read More for more in-depth coverage.


Spend some time on Google and Wikipedia and briefly study each component just to get a sense of what everything can do. You don’t need to know the nitty-gritty details yet, but it’s helpful to know the potential of your starter kit.

Lastly, there is some initial computer setup to do. You have to install the Arduino software (which you’ll use to write code), install the Arduino drivers (so the code can be uploaded to the Arduino itself), and then make sure the two can connect properly. Read our guide to setting up your Arduino Getting Started With Your Arduino Starter Kit - Installing Drivers & Setting Up The Board & Port So, you’ve bought yourself an Arduino starter kit, and possibly some other random cool components - now what? How do you actually get started with programming this Arduino thing? How do you set it up... Read More for more details.


Where to Learn Arduino Skills

Once your Arduino is set up and ready to go, it’s time to take a step back. One of the biggest reasons why people get frustrated with the Arduino is because they don’t understand how electronics work, and as a result, the learning curve is too steep — so they quit.

So instead of diving straight into your first basic Arduino project, we actually recommend learning about circuits instead. I know you’re probably itching to build something right away, but trust that this will make your Arduino journey much more fun and pleasant in the long run.

Fortunately, since circuits are the foundation of all electronics (not just Arduino), you’ll find no lack of help and guidance on the Web. Two resources I found particularly helpful are SparkFun’s Electrical Engineering tutorials and KhanAcademy’s free Circuits course. Both cover the fundamentals, so start there.

Once you have a rudimentary understanding of circuits and electronics, it’s time to learn the fundamentals of Arduino. Again, before you get hands-on and practical, we recommend getting acquainted with the basic concepts first, such as the layout of an Arduino and how a breadboard works.


We have a few tutorials that can help you there. Start with our introduction to the Arduino board First Steps With The Arduino: A Closer Look At The Circuit Board & The Structure Of A Program Last time I left you having set up your Arduino to work with Mac or Windows, and having uploaded a simple test app that blinked the on-board LED. Today I’m going to explain the code... Read More , which covers the hardware layout and the bare minimum for a working Arduino program, but our beginner guide to Arduino Getting Started With Arduino: A Beginner's Guide Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to use hardware and software. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments. Read More is better if you want more depth. SparkFun’s newbie guide to breadboards is also a must-read.

There are also hundreds of Arduino video tutorials on YouTube Learn Electronics and Arduino Just By Watching These Videos Learning to program your own electronics is empowering and rewarding, but it can be difficult to get started without guidance. We've rounded up the best videos, YouTube channels and online courses to get going. Read More , Udemy, Coursera, and elsewhere. These may be more effective for you since it’s easier to learn hardware when you can see exactly what’s happening. Here are a few we like:

But if you prefer written tutorials — and I know a lot of people do, so you wouldn’t be alone in that — there are a number of useful collections to learn from.

Obviously, you should start with the Official Arduino Guide, which does a good job covering the fundamental concepts, provides examples to work off, and even has some advanced material when you get more serious. The Adafruit Arduino Lessons and TronixStuff Tutorials are great as secondary resources.


Project Ideas for Arduino Newbies

By now, you should know what an Arduino is, what all the different components in your starter kit are, how circuits work at a basic level, and what you can potentially accomplish with all of this. That means it’s time for you to actually build something!

If your starter kit was any good, it probably came with a few sample projects to try. If so, you should work through them one by one — assuming the instruction book is any good. Some starter kits have terrible instruction books that are more confusing than helpful, in which case you should shelve it for now.

Built-In Examples

The official Arduino software comes with several built-in examples that provide a good progression for learning. Start with the projects called Bare Minimum, Blink, and Digital Read Serial (in that order) as they are the simplest.


You should also go through the rest of the built-in examples if you have the patience for it, as they’ll get you familiar with the coding side of Arduino and really build your confidence. When you’re feeling confident with the workflow, you can start trying out a few awesome Arduino projects for beginners 15 Great Arduino Projects for Beginners Interested in Arduino projects but not sure where to begin? These beginner projects will teach you how to get started. Read More .

Traffic Light Controller


We have a traffic light controller project Arduino Programming for Beginners: Traffic Light Controller Project Tutorial Building an Arduino traffic light controller helps you develop basic coding skills! We get you started. Read More (depicted above) that simulates the lighting pattern and behavior of a traffic light. Not only is it simple, but it’s also a wonderful introduction to working with a breadboard. Your starter kit should have everything you’ll need.

Motion-Sensing Alarm

The alarm system in the video above detects movement using a motion sensor, and when detected will let out a high-pitch tone and flash LED lights. It requires a component that probably isn’t in your starter kit, but it’s cheap to order. Otherwise, the project tutorial is fairly straightforward How To Make a Simple Arduino Alarm System Detect movement, then scare the heck out of an intruder with a high pitched alarm sounds and flashing lights. Does that sound fun? Of course it does. That's the goal of today's Arduino project, suitable... Read More .

Intermediate Projects

For something a bit more difficult, you can try: creating your own ambient lighting Make Your Own Ambilight for $60 Ambient lighting that reacts to the image on your TV is easier and cheaper than you think - and it makes for a great upgrade to your home cinema experience. Read More , making a pulsating LED cube How To Make a Pulsating Arduino LED Cube That Looks Like It Came From The Future If you’ve dabbled with some beginner Arduino projects, but are looking for something a little permanent and on a whole other level of awesome, then the humble 4 x 4 x 4 LED cube is... Read More , recreating Pong on your TV How To Recreate The Classic Pong Game Using Arduino Pong was the first ever videogame that reached the mass market. For the first time in history, the concept of a "video game" was brought into the family home, thanks to the Atari 2600 -... Read More , or even building a giant LED pixel display Weekend Project: Build a Giant LED Pixel Display I love LED pixels: bright, easy to control, cheap, and so versatile. Today, we'll be turning them into a big pixel display that can be hung on the wall. Read More (as shown in the video above). These projects are nice because they are somewhat practical, but the real value is in the skills you’ll learn while making them.

Seasonal Projects

For a bit of seasonal fun, you can use your Arduino to scare folks during Halloween 8 Amazing Halloween Frights You Can Make With An Arduino Learning electronics with an Arduino is fun, but using one to scare the life out of trick-or-treating children is just downright heavenly. Read More or bring some laughter to Christmas Forget Pies & Brandy: 8 Arduino Projects To Fill Your Holidays Has your Arduino been sitting around gathering dust? Well, no more. Today I’ve scoured Instructables to find 8 fun, family friendly, or just really cool Arduino projects for you to have a go at these... Read More . For example, the moving skull in the above video is an easy yet perfect way to terrorize your neighbors as they trick-or-treat. You could also make a candy dispenser, a fire-breathing pumpkin, or even a laser maze.

Other Cool Projects

Once you have enough Arduino experience, your imagination is the only limit to what you can accomplish. With a bit of ingenuity, you can even use an Arduino to automate aspects of your home Arduino Project Ideas for an Automated Home Wouldn't it be great to water your greenhouse without leaving your chair? An Arduino can be engaged as the key component of some home automation projects - here's five! Read More . For example, with an Ethernet shield you can integrate an Arduino with a Philips Hue lighting system How to Control Philips Hue Lights from an Arduino (and Add a Motion Sensor) Today I'll be showing you how to control your Hue lights from an Arduino - then adding a simple motion sensor. Read More  (though at that point, you might want to upgrade to a Wi-Fi integrated NodeMCU/ESP8266 development board Meet the Arduino Killer: ESP8266 What if I told you a there's an Arduino-compatible dev board with built-in Wi-Fi for less than $10? Well, there is. Read More , which is Arduino-compatible and perfect for Internet of Things projects).

Need more ideas? Search for Arduino projects at Instructables to find thousands of projects that may interest you. Start with the easier ones, but remember that you’ll eventually be able to build some really cool things, like these Arduino-powered robots 8 Arduino Robots You Can Build for Less than $125 The Arduino can do a lot, but did you know it can create full-fledged robots? For quite cheap, too! Read More .

How to Find Arduino Help

There’s one more thing you need to know: Arduino is not something you can pick up overnight. If you don’t have any prior tinkering experience, it’ll take at least a few weeks before you really grasp the concepts — and throughout that time, you’re going to run into a lot of obstacles and questions.

And while there are a lot of great Arduino answers and resources that you can find by searching on the Web, sometimes it’s just faster to ask real people. Interacting with others will probably make the answers sink in better, plus you may make a few friends along the way.

Here are some communities to check out:

  • Official Arduino Forums: With more than 2.5 million posts from over 350,000 users, this is the largest Arduino community on the Web by far. Whether newbie or veteran, there are subforums for every aspect of Arduino. The international boards are a bonus, too.
  • /r/Arduino: Reddit has a lot of active communities dedicated to electronics and DIY, but this particular one is great for Arduino newbies. You can also try /r/AskElectronics for more advanced circuit inquiries.
  • Electronics Stack Exchange: Like Reddit, Stack Exchange is a collection of many communities, and this one is specifically for electronics. Arduino is one of the more popular topics here, so if you have an issue, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

If you got this far, you should now be well equipped to learn everything you need to know about Arduino and how to progress even when you run into trouble. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask us below.

Did this help? Are there any Arduino resources worth mentioning that we missed? Got any advice or recommendations for an Arduino newbie? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credits:lost in reverie by R.Iegosyn via Shutterstock

Related topics: Arduino, Electronics.

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  1. Nikhil Chandak
    February 9, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Great to know about Arduino tricks. But could please post up a similar article for Raspberry Pi.I just bought a Raspberry Pi B+ with the starter kit a few days back. I can make some little things out of it but none of the cool ones. Would love if you wrote a similar article on Pi.