The Top 4 Arduino Shields To Superpower Your Projects

James Bruce 20-01-2013

You’ve bought an Arduino starter kit 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 , you’ve followed all the basic Arduino guides 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 , but now you’ve hit a stumbling block – you need more bits and bobs to realise your electronics dream. Luckily, if you have an Arduino board, you can simply stack functionality on top in the form of Shields. Shields are specifically designed for the Uno board to be the same shape and pin alignment; you simply plug them on, and you have instant upgrade of functionality.


Ethernet Shield ($45)

An official shield from the Arduino creators, the Ethernet shield is a great way to make your Arduino project work independently of a computer whilst still maintaining network contact to talk to the world. Another interesting addition this board gives you is a MicroSD card slot; so if your project requires large data files such as video or mp3s, or simply patterns for your LED cube, you can store them on there.

You can even host a website, which you can use to present your project’s sensor information to the world.

arduino shields

Before you buy, be warned: the Ethernet shields are version specific. I purchased a v3 one only to find it wouldn’t fit on my v2 Uno board – two additional pins were added in v3 of the Uno. Since the Ethernet Shield is actually more expensive than the Uno, if you find yourelf in this situation then the simplest solution is just to buy a new Uno to use with the Ethernet, then keep your old board for other projects.

Or you could just check the version number on the back of your board before buying, but where’s the fun in that?


4 Relay Shield ($20)

Now you really can turn your kettle on over the Internet!

Relays are a key component in a lot of home automation Arduino projects simply because they allow you to switch on and off higher voltage circuits, such as mains powered devices – electronically isolating one circuit from the other. You’ve probably already played with a single relay in your starter kit, and you’ll know that you need a few other components like a transistor or opto-coupler, and a diode. If you want more than one relay, your prototyping board gets very busy very quickly.

This 4 Relay Shield solves that by neatly packing 4 sets of relays and the necessary bits onto a single board. Using 4 IO pins, you then simply pull a pin HIGH to switch the corresponding relay. Each relay will handle up to 3 amps, though you can of course use relays with low power circuits too, as a replacement for an on-off switch. This particular shield can also be hooked up to an RFBee instead of an Arduino for radio control.

It goes without saying – if you’re using this to switch mains powers devices directly, be extremely careful when handling the project, as it’s basically like leaving the cover off a wall socket.


arduino shield projects

Warning: In the picture above, I’ve used stackable pin risers to avoid contact with the USB port. The legs from the relay protrude slightly underneath, and if carrying a high voltage, are likely to fry your Arduino, or even worse, your computer. Some people use insultating tape to cover the legs instead.

Protoshield (~$15)

The Protoshield doesn’t really do anything, which is why it looks so plain. However, if you’ve been using a breadboard to lay out and prototype your project and now wish to make it into something more permanent, you can solder everything to one of these, then continue stacking other shields on top. Essential!

arduino shield projects


LCD Screen With 16x Character Display, With Only 2 Pins ($20)

The advantages of having an LCD screen for your project are obvious – your Arduino can output messages. However, these typically require 7 or more IO pins, drastically cutting the number available to you. This shield is built using the I2C communications bus (a serial protocol used by many devices), meaning it only uses 2 pins, and can even be linked to other components on the same bus (the signal is passed through, down the chain).

In addition to the screen, 4 directional and a “select” button are provided, giving you an interactive interface without needing to be hooked up to a PC. If monotone isn’t your thing, upgrade to this 1.8 inch TFT 18-bit color screen.

arduino shields

Bear in mind that not all shields are fully stackable; some will need to go on the top of the stack as they don’t provide pins on top (or don’t make sense going in the middle of the stack, like an LCD screen).


Are you just getting started with an Arduino? No problem, we have quite a few cool tutorials here for you to try. Have you used an Arduino shield? If so, let us know in the comments which one and what you built with it!

Image Credit: John@TronixStuff

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  1. Bod
    January 9, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Your suggestions are horribly overpriced versions

    • James Bruce
      January 10, 2017 at 10:18 am

      It's almost as if a thriving market of open source clones has been established in the 4 years since this was written. ;)

      You're right, it could do with an update.

  2. Anonymous
    August 6, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    It is great stuff! Could I post it in Actually I work for WIZnet which designed W5100, W5500 in Ethernet shield. Thank you!

  3. Peter de Vries
    June 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Really great project that is missing is the Smart Citizen project! Good to see them go viral worldwide. A lot of people from around the world want to get their hands on one or more Smart Citizen kits.

    It will change the way we look at our environment we live in worldwide. This is a project with a lot of potential that is unleashed in the coming months. It only needs your support. So be a backer to before it's all sold out:

  4. Phil Botsky
    January 21, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    Great stuff...

  5. Max
    January 21, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Most of this stuff you can get for a third of the price on ebay. I got an ultrasonic sensor for 2 bucks, free shipping.

  6. vineed gangadharan
    January 21, 2013 at 2:44 pm


  7. Patrick Jackson
    January 21, 2013 at 5:02 am