Low power custom LCD display modules

The lowest cost, low power custom LCD segment display is often the best option.

Engineers, as a breed, are subject to the brunt of many jokes and stereotypes. And in some ways we have deserved it.

An example of this is cell phones; we tend to like electronic products with lots of bells and whistles. This includes apps that allow you to turn on the heater at your house or alert you when someone has stolen your ID. I wonder if there is an app to run schematic capture and spice for circuit designs?

This time I went against the stereo type and upgraded, or I should say downgraded, my new cell phone. Why?

As great as it is to carry around a portable big screen TV that allows me to watch movies, check Facebook and use a GPS to find my way home. I have come to find that these new phones with supersized, high resolution color LCD displays suck power (OK, suck power is not an engineering term; maybe I should say ‘ they exhibit excessive power drain characteristics’).

Power (I2R power, not political power) is a wonderful thing, if you have unlimited amounts of it, but a majority of the new designs we receive at Focus Displays incorporating a custom LCD display module do not come with long extension cords (aka: a power umbilical cord), but are applications that need to be battery or solar powered custom LCD friendly.

That is why when it came time to upgrade my cell phone, it was tempting to move up to a Samsung GALAXY S4 ® or Apple iPhone 5 ®, but after much research I bucked the trend and chose an older, smaller phone with a 1.5 inch cell TFT phone and a slider key board.

The amount of standby hours and talk time was the deciding factor. After much research I discovered that my small, boring, slider phone could last for days without needing a recharge, versus some of the mega-phones that needed a daily dose of juice.

Custom LCDs: Breaking away from the power umbilical cord

Being an engineer, I was more driven by practical needs, than fashion (do I wear the tie that clashes with my pants or clashes with my shirt?).

At Focus Displays, many of the engineers we interface with on the designing of their custom LCD solution are limited by battery life. They all have a common goal of creating a low power LCD display module that draws as little power as possible.

Many times this means that even though their marketing department promised the customer a 10.1 inch TFT with a 1000 nit backlight, it just cannot be driven by two AA batteries. I don’t care how large of a charge pump you use.

Low power custom LCD options:

So what are your choices?


Bi-stable, also called Cholesteric and e-paper, is a newer custom LCD display technology that can be found in the Amazon® Kindle. It only draws power for the display to change the image.

Downsides to this type of display are higher cost and lack of color options. The tooling cost to build a custom zero-power LCD Display can start around $7,000. Also, at this time the only options are monochrome.

There is some research going on that is looking to mainstream color bistable display modules.


Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) have been in production for some time and can be seen on many newer products such as cell phones and digital cameras.

They offer a wide range of colors and are very bright (note: OLED’s do not use a backlight which allows them to be ultra-thin)

At this time they are limited in size and if you need a special size or shape, the cost to build a custom OLED display solution is well . . . very, very expensive.

Note: we have looked at a custom OLED module for two customers and they both had a case of severe sticker shock.


It is possible to use a monochrome LCD with a custom RGB backlight. The tooling cost is much lower than a custom OLED.


The lowest cost, low power option would be a custom segment display. The tooling cost hovers around the $1,000 range and this include design, support and samples. The display will operate at 3.3V and only requires an estimated 2 uA per CM2

Ready to talk to us in the US about a low power custom LCD requirement? We’re ready to assist you.