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17th Jan 2021 Warning

Both the Embedded Artists and the Adafruit modules now appear to be obsolete. New users are advised to go to micropython-nano-gui which now supports two ePaper displays. Drivers for Waveshare displays may also be found here.

The driver

The driver enables the Pyboard to access a 2.7 inch e-paper display from Embedded Artists. The onboard Flash memory is optionally supported.

The display can also be bought from Mouser Electronics (a company with worldwide depots) e.g. MouserUK. Also available in Europe from Cool Components.

Support for the Adafruit module is provided but limited to the 2.7 inch display module; its onboard flash memory is not currently supported.

The driver works on the Pyboard Lite but its limited RAM means that the board's use is probably best confined to simple applications. The driver is fairly demanding on RAM especially in FAST mode or modes using the Embedded Artists (EA) flash memory. A test of the FAST mode clock demo indicated that about 50% of the Lite's memory was used.


An open source Python utility is used to create binary and python fonts from ttf or otf sources. Python fonts may be frozen as bytecode to conserve RAM, binary font files are accessed from a mounted drive.


E-paper displays have high contrast and the ability to retain an image with the power disconnected. They also have very low power consumption when in use. These displays offer monochrome only, with no grey scale: pixels are either on or off. Further the display refresh takes time. In normal mode the minimum update time defined by explicit delays is 1.6 seconds. With the current driver it takes 3.5s. This after some efforts at optimisation. A time closer to 1.6s might be achieved by writing key methods in Assembler but I have no plans to do this. It is considerably faster than the Arduino code and as fast (in this mode) as the best alternative board I have seen.

The Embedded Artists (EA) rev D display includes an LM75 temperature sensor and a 4MB flash memory chip. The driver provides access to the current temperature. The display driver does not use the flash chip: the current image is buffered in RAM. An option is provided to mount the flash device in the Pyboard's filesystem enabling it to be used to store data such as images and fonts. This is the use_flash Display constructor argument. Setting this False will save over 8K of RAM. The primary application for the onboard flash is in ultra low power applications where the consumption of an SD card would be excessive.

An issue with the EA module is that the Flash memory and the display module use the SPI bus in different, incompatible ways. The driver provides a means of arbitration between these devices discussed below. This is transparent to the user of the Display class. A consequence of this is that the SPI bus used by the display should not be shared with other devices.

One application area for e-paper displays is in ultra low power applications. The Pyboard 1.1 in standby mode consumes about 7μA. To avoid adding to this an external circuit is required to turn off the power to the display and any other peripherals before entering standby. A way of achieving this is presented here.

This driver was ported from the RePaper reference designs here. There are two reference drivers, one for resource constrained platforms (Arduino library) and another for systems with an OS. The latter attempts faster screen writes by employing a double buffered algorithm. This MicroPython driver supports both modes. By default it uses the resource constrained "NORMAL" single buffered mode: the downside is slower updates with repeated black-white screen transitions.

"FAST" mode is intended for display of (fairly) realtime data. It uses more RAM and also precludes the concurrent use of the display and its onboard Flash memory. The following instructions largely refer to NORMAL mode. FAST mode is a superset with features covered in a separate section below. In this mode the fastest update method causes the display to exhibit some "ghosting" where a trace of the prior image remains. After much effort to reduce this I'm doubtful whether further progress can be made without departing from the RePaper reference algorithms.

The driver

This enables the display of simple graphics and/or text in any font. Font files are created using the utility. This PC utility converts industry standard ttf or otf files to formats compatible with the driver. The graphics capability may readily be extended by the user.

The driver also supports the display of XBM format graphics files, including the full screen sample images from Embedded Artists.

Connecting the display

Embedded Artists hardware

The display is supplied with a 14 way ribbon cable. The easiest way to connect it to the Pyboard is to cut this cable in half and wire one half of it (each half is identical) as follows. I fitted the Pyboard with socket headers and wired the display cable to a 14 way pin header, enabling it to be plugged in to either side of the Pyboard (the two sides are symmetrical). I have labelled them L and R indicating the left and right sides of the board as seen from the component side with the USB connector at the top.

display signal L R Python name
2 3V3 3V3 3V3
3 SCK Y6 X6 (SPI bus)
4 MOSI Y8 X8
5 MISO Y7 X7
7 Busy X11 Y11 Pin_BUSY
8 Border Ctl X12 Y12 Pin_BORDER
9 SCL X9 Y9 (I2C bus)
10 SDA X10 Y10
11 CS Flash Y1 X1 Pin_FLASH_CS
12 Reset Y2 X2 Pin_RESET
13 Pwr Y3 X3 Pin_PANEL_ON
14 Discharge Y4 X4 Pin_DISCHARGE

The SPI bus is not designed for driving long wires. This driver uses it at upto 10.5MHz so keep them short!

Red stripe on cable is pin 1.

For information this shows the E-paper 14 way 0.1inch pitch connector as viewed looking down on the pins with the keying cutout to the left:

1 2
3 4
5 6
7 8
9 10
11 12
13 14

Adafruit hardware

The Adafruit module is supplied with a cable: colours below refer to this.

Display signal L R Python name
20 black GND GND GND
1 red 3V3 3V3 3V3
7 yellow SCK Y6 X6 (SPI bus)
15 blue MOSI Y8 X8
14 purple MISO Y7 X7
19 brown SSEL Y5 X5 Pin_EPD_CS
6 green Temp X11 Y11 Temperature
13 grey Border Ctl X12 Y12 Pin_BORDER
(n/c) X9 Y9
8 orange Busy X10 Y10 Pin_BUSY
18 orange CS Flash Y1 X1 Pin_FLASH_CS
10 black Reset Y2 X2 Pin_RESET
11 red Pwr Y3 X3 Pin_PANEL_ON
12 white Discharge Y4 X4 Pin_DISCHARGE

Looking at the board oriented display side up and connector on the left, Pin 1 is the top left pin (the left column are all odd numbered pins) and pin 2 is immediately to its right (right hand column is all the even pins). There is also small 1 and 2 on the PCB silk screen above the socket and a 19 and 20 below the socket.

Getting started

Copy the mandatory modules listed below to the Pyboard. Assuming the device is connected on the 'L' side simply cut and paste this at the REPL. Note that with all code samples it's best to issue <ctrl>D before pasting to reset the Pyboard: this is because the driver needs to instantiate large buffers. Memory allocation errors are likely unless RAM is first cleared by a soft reset. Note that all the following code samples assume EA hardware: if using Adafruit add mode=epaper.ADAFRUIT as a constructor argument.

import epaper
a = epaper.Display('L')
a.rect(20, 20, 150, 150, 3)

To clear the screen and print a message (assuming we are using an SD card):

with a.font('/sd/courier25'):
    a.puts("Large font\ntext here")

The above example assumes a binary font file on the SD card. If a Python font module (frozen or otherwise) were used suitable code would be as follows:

import pyb, epaper, courier25
a = epaper.Display(side = 'L')
with a.font(courier25):
    a.puts('Text here')


To employ the driver it is only necessary to import the epaper module and to instantiate the Display class. The driver comprises the following modules.

Mandatory modules:

  • The user interface to the display and flash memory.
  • Low level NORMAL mode driver for the EPD (electrophoretic display).
  • Pin definitions for the display.

Optional modules:

  • Low level FAST mode driver for the EPD.
  • Low level driver for the flash memory.

Note that the flash drive will need to be formatted before first use: see the doc below.

Files and Utilities

Sample binary font files:

  • LiberationSerif-Regular44 (Times Roman lookalike).
  • courier25 25 pixel high terminal font.

Same fonts in Python source format:


Sample full screen image files from Embedded Artists.

  • aphrodite_2_7.xbm
  • cat_2_7.xbm
  • ea_2_7.xbm
  • saturn_2_7.xbm
  • text_image_2_7.xbm
  • venus_2_7.xbm

License for fonts.

  • SIL Open Font License.txt


This is the user interface to the display, the flash memory and the temperature sensor. Display data is buffered. The procedure for displaying text or graphics is to use the various methods described below to write text or graphics to the buffer and then to call show() to display the result. The show() method is the only one to access the EPD module (although clear_screen() calls show()). Others affect the buffer alone.

The coordinate system has its origin at the top left corner of the display, with integer X values from 0 to 263 and Y from 0 to 175 (inclusive).

In general the graphics code prioritises simplicity over efficiency: e-paper displays are far from fast. But I might get round to improving the speed of font rendering which is particularly slow when you write a string using a large font (frozen fonts are faster). In the meantime be patient. Or offer a patch :)

Display class


This has one positional argument:

  1. side This must be 'L' or 'R' depending on the side of the Pyboard in use. Default 'L'. This is based on the wiring notes above. It has the following keyword only arguments:
  2. mode epaper.NORMAL or epaper.FAST - default normal mode.
  3. model epaper.EMBEDDED_ARTISTS or epaper.ADAFRUIT. Default EA.
  4. use_flash Mounts the flash drive as /fc for general use. Default False. N/A in FAST mode.
  5. up_time Applies to FAST mode only. See below.


clear_screen(show=True, both=False) Clears the screen. Argument show blanks the screen buffer and resets the text cursor. If show is set it also displays the result by calling the show() method. The both arg is ignored in normal mode. See FAST mode below for its usage.

show() Displays the contents of the screen buffer.

line() Draw a line. Arguments X0, Y0, X1, Y1, Width, Black. Defaults: width = 1 pixel, Black = True.

rect() Draw a rectangle. Arguments X0, Y0, X1, Y1, Width, Black. Defaults: width = 1 pixel, Black = True.

fillrect() Draw a filled rectangle. Arguments X0, Y0, X1, Y1, Black. Defaults: Black = True.

circle() Draw a circle. Arguments x0, y0, r, width, black. Defaults: width = 1 pixel, Black = True. x0, y0 are the coordinates of the centre, r is the radius.

fillcircle() Draw a filled circle. Arguments x0, y0, r, black. Defaults: Black = True.

load_xbm() Load an image formatted as an XBM file. Arguments sourcefile, x0, y0: Path to the XBM file followed by coordinates defaulting to 0, 0.

loadgfx() Fill a rectangular area with a bitmap. Arguments: gen, width, height, x0, y0 where gen is a generator supplying bytes for each line in turn. These are displayed left to right, LSB of the 1st byte being at the top LH corner. Unused bits at the end of the line are ignored with a new line starting on the next byte.

locate() This sets the pixel location of the text cursor. Arguments x, y.

puts() Write a text string to the buffer. Argument s, the string to display. This must be called from a with block that defines the font; text will be rendered to the pixel location of the text cursor. Newline characters and line wrapping are supported. Example usage:

with a.font('/sd/LiberationSerif-Regular45x44'):
   a.puts("Large font\ntext here")

setpixel() Set or clear a pixel. Arguments x, y, black. Checks for and ignores pixels not within the display boundary.
setpixelfast() Set or clear a pixel. Arguments x, y, black. Caller must check bounds. Uses the Viper emitter for maximum speed.

The following methods are primarily for internal use and should not be used in normal operation as in this case the flash device is mounted automatically.

mountflash() Mount the flash device.
umountflash() Unmount the flash memory.


temperature Returns the current temperature in degrees Celsius.
location Returns the x, y coordinates of the text cursor.

Font class

This is a Python context manager whose purpose is to define a context for the display's puts() method described above. It ensures that any font file is closed after use. It has no user accessible properties or methods. A font is instantiated for the duration of outputting one or more strings. It must be provided with the path to a valid binary font file or the name of a frozen font. See the code sample above.

By default fonts are proportional. Where true monospaced output is required, for best results a non-proportional font should be used. It can then be employed as follows (a is a Display instance):

with a.font('/sd/courier25', monospaced = True):
    a.puts("Large font\ntext here")

The monospaced argument, which can be used with font files or Python font modules, will force any font to be rendered with fixed spacing. Results are unlikely to be visually pleasing unless the font is designed for such rendering.

In the interests of conserving scarce RAM, font files use a binary format. Individual characters are buffered in RAM as required. This contrasts with the conventional approach of buffering the entire font in RAM, which is faster. The EPD is not a fast device and RAM is in short supply, hence the design decision. This is transparent to the user.

With frozen fonts the fonts are stored in Flash as part of the device firmware. This enables them to be accessed as a bytes instance with faster operation. It uses even less RAM than file access at the cost of having to build the firmware from source.


This provides the low level interface to the EPD display module in NORMAL mode. It provides two methods and one property accessed by the epaper module:


showdata() Displays the current text buffer
clear_data() Clears the buffer without displaying it.


This provides the low level interface to the EPD display module in FAST. Its interface is a superset of that of providing two additional methods:

refresh() Fast update using current data buffer. exchange() A faster alternative to showdata.


This provides an interface to the 4MB flash memory on the Embedded Artists display; its use is entirely optional. Its most likely use is in ultra low power applications where the Pyboard runs without an SD card.

It supports the ioctl protocol enabling the flash device to be mounted on the Pyboard filesystem and used for any purpose. There is a compromise in the design of this class between RAM usage and flash device wear. The compromise chosen is to buffer the two most recently written sectors: this uses 8K of RAM and substantially reduces the number of erase/write cycles, especially for low numbered sectors, compared to a naive unbuffered approach. The anticipated use for the flash is for storing rarely changing images and fonts so I think the compromise is reasonable.

Buffering also improves perceived performance by reducing the number of erase/write cycles.

Getting Started

The flash drive must be formatted before first use. The code below will do this, and demonstrates copying a file to the drive (assuming you have first put the file on the SD card - modify this for any available file).

import pyb, flash, uos
f = flash.FlashClass(0) # If on right hand side pass 1
vfs = uos.VfsFat(f)
vfs.mkfs(f) # To create a new filesystem (will erase any existing contents)
uos.mount(vfs, f.mountpoint)

File copy

A rudimentary cp(source, dest) function is provided as a generic file copy routine. The first argument is the full pathname to the source file. The second may be a full path to the destination file or a directory specifier which must have a trailing '/'. If an OSError is thrown (e.g. a non-existent source file) it is up to the caller to handle it.



FlashClass() This takes one argument intside Indicates whether the device is mounted on the left (0) or right hand (1) side of the Pyboard (as defined above).

Methods providing the ioctl protocol

For the protocol definition see the pyb documentation


Other methods

The following methods are available for general use.
available() Returns True if the device is detected and is supported.
info() Returns manufacturer and device ID as integers.
begin() Set up the bus and device. Throws a FlashException if device cannot be validated.
end() Sync the device then shut down the bus.

Other than for debugging there is no need to call available(): the constructor will throw a FlashException if it fails to communicate with and correctly identify the chip.

SPI bus arbitration

This information is provided for those wishing to modify the code. The Embedded Artists device has a flash memory chip (Winbond W25Q32 32Mbit chip) which shares the SPI bus with the display device (Pervasive Displays EM027BS013). These use the bus in different incompatible ways, consequently to use the display with the flash device mounted requires arbitration. This is done in the Display class show() method. Firstly it disables the Flash memory's use of the bus with self.flash.end(). The EPD class is a Python context manager and its appearance in a with statement performs hardware initialisation including setting up the bus.

On completion of the with block the display hardware is shut down in an orderly fashion and the bus de-initialised. The flash device is then re-initialised and re-mounted. This works because of the buffered nature of the display driver: the flash chip is used for operations which modify the buffer but is not required for the display of the buffer contents.


This simply provides a dictionary of pin definitions enabling the panel to be installed on either side of the Pyboard.


Fonts can be handled in two ways. The first employs binary font files located on any accessible drive including the flash device on the display. The second involves creating a Python script which includes the font data and implementing this as persistent bytecode. The font then resides on the Pyboard in flash memory as part of the firmware. These approaches are described below.

Font files are created using the utility. This runs on a PC and converts industry standard ttf or otf files to Python source or to binary format. The following examples assume you want to produce a 44 pixel high font, in the first case a binary file (-b argument) and in the second a Python source file.

./ LiberationSerif-Regular.ttf 44 -xrb lib-serif44
./ LiberationSerif-Regular.ttf 44 -xr

The -xr options must be specified. There is no need to specify -f (fixed spacing). The best approach to fixed width fonts is to use one such as Courier designed as such. Any font may be rendered as fixed pitch by specifying the monospaced option as described above.

Only Python source can be frozen as bytecode. Instructions as to how to do this are available on the MicroPython site, but in essence it involves putting the files to be frozen in a common directory and compiling the source with an option specifying the directory. The build is then flashed in the normal way. To test success (assuming a font called myfont) ensure that myfont does not exist on the device's filesystem and issue

import myfont

If no ImportError is thrown, is frozen in the firmware.

Micropower Support

A major application for e-paper displays is in devices intended to run for long periods from battery power. To achieve this, external hardware can be used to ensure power to the display and other peripherals is removed when the Pyboard is in standby. On waking the program turns on power to the peripherals, turning it off before going back into standby. For the lowest possible consumption an SD card should not be installed on the Pyboard as this consumes power at all times. Fonts and images should be stored in the Pyboard flash memory or on an external device whose power is switched (such as the flash memory on a power-switched display).

Full details of how to achieve this are provided here.

Frozen bytecode

RAM and space on the Pyboard flash drive may be conserved by freezing bytecode. Note that the optional file cannot currently be frozen because it includes Arm Thumb assembler code.

FAST mode

Fast mode offers a way to update the display in a way which avoids the flashing black and white of a normal update. It has a drawback known as "ghosting" whereby black pixels remain faintly visible if they have subsequently been turned white. In some cases careful interface design can overcome this limitation: see the epd clock demo with a novel analog clock display.

A typical fast mode application might have this general form, where on occasion a full (slow) screen update is performed, with intermediate fast updates (with potential ghosting).

epd = epaper.Display(side = 'L', mode = epaper.FAST)
with epd:
    while True:
        # Check for need to update
        if an_update_is_needed:
            if a_major_update:  # Slow display of blank screen with flashing:
                # clears any ghosting. Reset buffers to initial state.
                epd.clear_screen(True, True)
            else:  # minor update
                epd.clear_screen(False)  # Clear current buffer, don't display
            populate(epd)  # Perform graphics and/or text display of entire screen
            epd.refresh()  # Physically update display. Minor updates may have ghosting.

The graphics and text primitives operate identically in both modes: a buffer is updated without affecting the display. Then a Display method is called to update the display hardware; FAST mode offers two additional update methods.

The mode is invoked by instantiating the Display object with mode=epaper.FAST. In this mode the Display instance must be used within a context manager: this turns on the display electronics and ensures they are properly shut down. A consequence of this mode of operation is that the onboard Flash cannot be used while this context is active, so fonts must be stored elsewhere. The following additional Display methods are supported:

refresh() Quickly updates the display additively: existing content will be retained but new content will be included (overwriting the old where they overlap). Currently this is imperfect with some ghosting evident.

exchange() This takes a single mandatory boolean argument clear_data. Display data is double buffered. Calling exchange causes the current data to be displayed and the buffers to be swapped. If clear_data is True the new current buffer is cleared: this enables it to act as a faster version of show(). If clear_data is False it provides a means of switching between two images. Ghosting should not be visible with this method.

The Display constructor has an additional kwonly argument up_time applicable to FAST mode. If set it overrides the default temperature related value allowing the user to speed redrawing at the likely expense of more ghosting. Its value is in ms: if not overridden its value ranges between 630-1260ms at typical room temperatures.

The clear_screen method has an additional both arg. If this is set, the two buffers are cleared and the pointers reset: essentially the driver is restored to its power-on state. The show arg operates as above: if True the screen will be cleared. Such a reset is recommended prior to a complete redraw of the screen: after writing text and graphics refresh will update the entire display.

The following example illustrates FAST mode by means of a simple digital clock display - some ghosting is evident. Note the additional two spaces at the end of the text: if refreshing proportional fonts the physical length of the text string varies. This can lead to the rightmost pixels of the previous string failing to be overwritten unless monospaced fonts are used with the monospaced context manager argument described above.

import epaper, time
a = epaper.Display('L', mode = epaper.FAST)
with a:
    while True:
        t =time.localtime()
        with a.font('/sd/LiberationSerif-Regular45x44'):
            a.puts('{:02d}.{:02d}.{:02d} '.format(t[3],t[4],t[5]))

This example ( has digital and analog displays and better illustrates the issue of ghosting. A similar demo run on the Raspberry Pi with the reference driver resulted in an identical amount of ghosting. Reference

import epaper, time, math, pyb, gc
a = epaper.Display('L', mode = epaper.FAST)

def polar_line(origin, length, width):
    def draw(radians):
        x_end = origin[0] + length * math.sin(radians)
        y_end = origin[1] - length * math.cos(radians)
        a.line(origin[0], origin[1], x_end, y_end, width, True)
    return draw

origin = 100, 100
secs = polar_line(origin, 50, 1)
mins = polar_line(origin, 50, 2)
hours = polar_line(origin, 30, 4)

with a:
    while True:
        a.clear_screen(False) # Clear data[0], origin[1], 55, 1)
        t = time.localtime()
        h, m, s = t[3:6]
        hh = h + m /60
        with a.font('/sd/LiberationSerif-Regular45x44'):
            a.puts('{:02d}.{:02d}.{:02d}'.format(h, m, s))
        secs(2 * math.pi * s/60)
        mins(2 * math.pi * m/60)
        hours(2 * math.pi * (h + m/60)/12)
        gc.collect() # especially on PB Lite

For experimenters

The refresh method has a boolean argument fast, defaulting True. Setting this False invokes a slower method claimed by some developers to reduce ghosting. Under investigation; I'm underwhelmed so far. The code ( has web references in the comments.

RAM usage

As mentioned in "Getting started" the driver uses a significant amount of RAM, especially in FAST mode. In development, issue <ctrl>D before importing and instantiating the Display. In code which is to run unattended, instantiate the Display early to ensure it can obtain contiguous RAM blocks for its buffers. With code such as this which employs a lot of RAM, heap fragmentation can become more of an issue than usual. To avoid allocation failures issue gc.collect() periodically, notably after any large object goes out of scope.


The EPD and Flash driver code is based on C code released under the Apache licence. Accordingly I have released this code under the same licence and included the original copyright headers in the source. If the copyright owner has any issues with this I will be happy to accommodate any requests for changes.


This code is derived from that at Embedded Artists.
Graphics code derived from ARM mbed.
RePaper reference designs.
Ideas on ultra low power Pyboard systems.

Further sources of information:
device datasheet.
COG interface timing.
Flash device data (EA device only).
RePaper. This link is broken: unfortunately the RePaper site only has broken links so it's not obvious how to fix this.

Fonts acquired from fontsquirrel.

Notes on the font file layout are available here.


Driver for 2.7 inch Adafruit and Embedded Artists e-paper displays





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