AC PWM Dimmer for Arduino




About: I am a physician by trade. After a career in the pharmeceutical world I decided to take it a bit slower and do things I like. Other than my hobbies that involves grassroots medicine in S.E.&P Asia. I have bu...

Before you decide to build this, you may want to have a look at acolomichi's design as well

Warning: this project uses deadly voltages, as well as a sizeable capacitor to store these deadly voltages. Even after you disconnect the circuit from the grid, the capacitor still can give you a jolt to remember!!

Over 3 years ago, I published a simpel TRIAC AC dimmer for the arduino. That proved to be a very popular design. Yet in spite of the simplicity of the circuit the software needed was a bit complicated as it needed to keep track of the zero crossing of the AC signal, then keep track of the time and then finally open the TRIAC. So to avoid letting the arduino just wait for most of the time, an interrupt and a timer were necessary.

So why can't we just use PWM, like with LED's? Well, I explained that in that instructable, but there are possibilities to do that. Someone looking for that would no doubt end up at design by Ton Giesberts/Elektor Magazine that can do PWM of an AC source. This design is on Instructables as well.

That will work, but in spite of my admiration for Giesberts and Elektor, there is something fundamentally wrong with that circuit. I think it is necessary that I explain what is wrong before I come up with improvements. If you are not interested in the technical details, just skip to the next step.


At first glance, the Giesberts circuit seems like a complicated circuit, but we can bring it back to 2 or 3 components: A lamp, and a switch, but as in fact the switching is done in DC rather than AC, it becomes a lamp, a bridge rectifier and a switch. That switch, which is in fact the MOSFET and the components around it is controlled by the Arduino (or PIC or whatever). So, switching that on and off in a certain duty cycle will switch the lamp on and off and if done fast enough the lamp won't be seen anymore as flickering, but as being dimmed, similar as we do with LED's and PWM.

So far so good. The theory behind the circuit is sound. However, the MOSFET needs a voltage on its gate to be switched on and as we cannot get that from an arduino for obvious reasons (it is only 5 Volt, which isnt enough AND you don't want your arduino to be connected to the mains grid), Giesberts uses an optocoupler. That optocoupler still needs a DC voltage and Giesberts is using the to DC rectified AC voltage for that.

giesberts2And that is where the problems start, because he is feeding the gate from the MOSFET, with a voltage that is shorted by that same MOSFET. In other words, if the MOSFET is fully opened the DC voltage coming from the rectifier is completely shorted. Therefore there will be no voltage anymore to put on the gate and the MOSFET will block again. This effect might not be so outspoken by a low dutycycle (= lamp on a low intensity), because of the presence of C1, that will retain its charge for a while and will be receiving new charge thanks to the low dutycycle, but at 25-80% dutycycle the voltage on C1 just cannot be sustained anymore and the lamp may start to flicker. What's worse is that at moments that the voltage on the gate drops, for a while the MOSFET will be still conducting, but not be fully saturized: it will slowly go from its nominal 0.04 Ohm resistance to infinite resistance and the slower this goes, the higher the power that needs to be dissipated in the MOSFET. That means a lot of heat. MOSFETS are good switches but bad resistors. They need to be switched ON and OFF fast. Currently the circuit heavily relies on D1 to keep the voltage on the gate of T1 at acceptable limits while the voltage is swinging between 0 Volt and Full peak At peak the rectified voltage is 230x1.4=330V The average rectified voltage is 230x0.9=207V

If we forget about the smoothing effect of the capacitor for a while and presume the optocoupler to be fully open the average voltage on the capacitor would be 22/88 * 207 =52 Volts and in peak 22/88 * 330= 83 Volts. That it is not is because of D1 and the fact that the MOSFET will short the Voltage.

If the optocoupler is not in saturation and its impedance therefore infinite, the capacitor C1 would charge up to full rectified voltage if not for D1. On average 3mA will flow through R3,R4 and R5 (207-10)/66k which equals a power consumption of 0.6 Watt in the resistors R3,R4, R5

Improvements giesberts3

The problems mentioned with the Giesberts circuit can be remedied by putting the lamp somewhere else: remove it from the AC line and put it in the Drain of the MOSFET. For the lamp it doesnt really matter if it is receiving DC or AC. You could make more improvements, as now there is no need to cater for a a voltage swinging between 0 and 330 Volt

Step 1: AC PWM Dimmer: IGBT or MOSFET

But as I was changing the design, I might as well take it a step further and use an IGBT (Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor) Simply put, an IGBT is a device that is a MOSFET at its gate and a bipolar transistor at its Collector and Emitter, making it an ideal switch. Thus we can come to the following circuit: igbt-11

The IRG4PC30 acts as a fast switch that either switches the lamp on or off. It needs about 12 Volt on its gate to do that. The voltage divider R1/R2 should put about 13-15 volts* max on the Gate of the IGBT, switching the lamp fully ON. As there might be some fluctuations on the grid 4k7 is a safe value. If you want to be safe, make sure you have an IGBT with a Base Emmitter breakdown voltage of >= 20 Volt and put a zenerdiode of 15 V parrallel to R2. Possible IGBT's are IRGPC40W or IRG4PC30, but basically any will do provided they have a Base emmitter voltage rating of at least 20 Volts When the optocoupler receives a signal, it opens and pulls the voltage on R1/R2 to zero, effectively closing the IGBT. The PWM signal of an Arduino is faster than the 50Hz Frequency so you will basically see the PWM signal modulated on the 50Hz rectified sine wave, making the effective voltage lower. This circuit is ONLY for incandescant bulbs. It is NOT for any inductive load as it is DC biased. With regard to the capacitor C1, I have tested it with 100uF but will probably work with lower capacity as well.


  • Although the average voltage will be 230*0.9, C1 may eventually charge to 310-330 hence 4k7 is a safe value.


Reader acolimitchi pointed out to me that if you add the zener, the 6k8 resistor isnt really necessary anymore, which is true, so the circuit becomes like this:


With regard to MOSFETs vs IGBTs both have their pro's and con's and the voltage and switching rate this circuit is operating under may just be in an overlap of both spectra. Using a MOSFET rather than an IGBT is therefore possible. MOSFETS are generally also cheaper than IGBT's. A tried and tested MOSFET is the STP10NK60Z (Thanks Pavel). This MOSFET has a gate-source breakdown voltage of 30 Volt and has clamping diodes protecting the the gate. Another one that worked quite well is the relatively cheap IRF 730. MOSFETs usually need a bit of a higher voltage than IGBTs to switch so a 6k8 resistor should be fine. If you use a MOSFET without clamping diodes a zener of 15 Volt is adviseable.

I couldnt embed a video, but you will find it here. It is a 60 Watt lamp. The slight flicker you may see when the lamp is turned up, is an artefact. It is caused by my cellphone camera trying to adapt to the changing light intensity

Conclusion: stick to the MOSFET, they are on average 4 times cheaper than IGBT's

Bridge rectifier. I used a 1 amp 400 Volt DIL pack 0.25 euro
Diode 1n4001 or 1N4007 0.10 euro
Capacitor 100uF 350-400 Volt 1.36 euro
resistor 100k 0.5-0.6 Watt (actually it dissipates abt 480mW max) 0.12 euro (play it safe with a 1 Watt resistor)
resistor 6k8 1/4 Watt 0.10 euro
Zener 15 Volt 0.5 Watt 0.08 euro
MOSFET IRF730 or STP10NK60 0.58 euro
Optocoupler 4n35 0.25 euro
Resistor between 330ohm-470ohm (possibly even 1k dpending on the Optocoupler) 0.10 euro

So, alltogether at single piece retail prices the cost is 2.94 euro

Step 2: AC PWM Dimmer for Arduino: Thoughts

Without any input signal the lamp will burn at max.

If you notice that When writing a zero PWM value to the circuit the lamp burns a bit less than when you switch off the Arduino, that means that the 4n35 is still opened a bit. Play around with t470 Ohm serial resistor, maybe you need a higher value.
The 100uF 400 Volt can be quite big. A 50 uF may work as well and maybe even a smaller value. However, you do not want the value to be too small thus as not to be able to deliver enough voltage for the Gate of the MosFet in fast switching.

Should you wonder if perhaps you can use a capacitor of a lower voltage -say 25 Volt- and connect that over the zener/6k8 resistor in order to replace the 400 Volt one... maybe that will work, but the 4N35 will make it lose its charge almost instantaneously and due to the large RC time (remember, there is 100k resistor) it might not have time to fully recharge again. At least it will make keep the MOSFET in its resistive phase longer, leading to extra heat development.

The Arduino has a PWM frequency of about 500 Hz. That is ample enough. My guess is that around 100 would be more than enough. The Attiny85 delivers I think 280 Hz on its PWM pins. Software ofcourse can always elevate that if necessary.

This dimmer is not suitable for inductive loads

This dimmer does NOT need zero cross detection.

Heat development:
I tested this with a 60 Watt lamp at full brightness, without any heatsink: the temperature rose with 9 degrees above ambient after half an hour and an hour.
Then I tried with continous dimming from zero to full and back again.: The temperature rose with 10 degrees above ambient after about 10-15 minutes and stayed like that for the hour I tried.

With a 150 Watt halogen spot the temperature went up 15 degrees. It reached max temperature after about 10 minutes and then stayed the same for the hour tested.

This was measured with a DHT11 sensor directly clamped to the MOSFET

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355 Discussions


Question 18 days ago

does it work for a one phase ac motor (220V, 1000W)? what should I change?


Question 21 days ago

I made it but i'm really worried about the MOSFET. When im dimming a 12v ac bulb the MOSFET can easily reach 176ºF in about 10 minutes. Is it normal or am i doing something wrong?
i'm using a 27v zener diode instead of the 15v you recommended and i'm using 100hz freq for the pwm i dont know if freq matters on the heat problem.


Question 4 weeks ago

Hi, you have really interesting stuff here on instructables. This dimmer is suitable for led lamps 6-13whats? I build your triac based dimmer with zero cross detection but I couldn't make it work with mora than one channel because the timer limitations of the esp12e/f. Then I saw this desing with PWM


8 weeks ago

I will connect a DC motor instead of lamp, which needs to work above 230V DC and also above 20 A. Motor's RPM is between 15000-20000.
It' s called spindle motor.
I want to drive it and also control it with pwm.
I don't know how to control such a high level DC motor.
Can you help me?
I need someone to help me!


Question 3 months ago

Nice post. I will try it out. I managed to already make a dimming circuit using zero cross detection circuit built directly with H1AA11 optocuplor and resistors + MOC3020 opto for driving a BT136 Triac. It works well and smooth. I cut the "start" wave of the current. However my concern is that for 50% dimming, I would open the Triac at the sinus peak which would stress my lamp? Using a MOSFET based circuit I could cut 25% from the "beginning" of wave (right after zero cross) and 25% before the "end" of wave (just before the wave will cross again zero).
Is my concern valid or usually the bulbs already have protection circuits inside...?


6 months ago

I make ac dimmer, input ac 220v but output only 0-110v. Whats wrong? Please help me


Question 7 months ago

I made it. and its dimming smoothly. but the issue is its working in negative mode. (when no signal (0 pwm) bulb light up with full brightness. on 255 pwm its off) can you tel me where should be the mistake?

1 answer

Reply 6 months ago

there is no mistake, that is how it is designed. If you want to reverse that, there are several suggestions in the comments on how to do that, choose the one with the extra transistor :-)


Question 10 months ago

Can you please link me the code for the Arduino board? And is the rectifier neceassary for this circuit? And to what do I connect the rectifier bridge to?

1 answer

Answer 7 months ago

The code depends on what you want to do, but the circuit is controlled by the analogWrite function from a pwm pin


8 months ago

For those who interested in trying this circuit normally-open ( when you turn the arduino off the lamp will turn off accordingly) this is the schematic (thanks to Spehro Pefhany of

stack dimmer.JPG

Question 8 months ago


I tried to make the circuit a normally-open one by placing 4n35 in series with 100k resistor and zener (first image).Uploading Fading example in arduino IDE but after the lamp turned on it won't turn off. It seems zener halt the discharging of the gate of mosfet (or maybe sth else). I want to test it by two opto-coupler as shown in my second image. Is there a better way to fix the problem?

normally-open #1.JPGnormally-open #2.JPG
2 answers

Answer 8 months ago

First, the 4N35 cannot withstand over 35 volts let alone the 3 digit line voltages when blocking, because then the zener is not protecting when out of the circuit and then back in once the semiconductor shorts out..

Second, you also have the NPN backwards to the allowed direction of current flow !

Both these serious errors will destroy the 4N35 output NPN bipolar transistor..

You should read the 4N35 data, concentrating on the allowed Voltage and Current :-)


Reply 8 months ago

Thank you very much for your comment.

So what is your idea of how to make this dimmer circuit normally-open?


Question 10 months ago

Hi, first of all I'd like to say thanks by the project, it's help me a lot.

I've been simulating the schematic below on Protheus and I've had a doubt. What's the really function of the C1 and D1?

thank you again.

2 answers

Answer 10 months ago

It is forming a PSU for the IGBT/FET that is separated from the power going to the lamp. Although theoretically you could do without D1, that would leave C1 to smooth the raw rectified voltage for the lamp as well and that is just not as effective


Answer 10 months ago

It is part of the phase delay with R1


11 months ago

Hi, i made it but my lamp is not at brightess while there is no PWM input. As i measured its just received 100 VAC. I just replace the 100uF with 120uF and use IRF730 as MOSFET. I have no idea whats wrong with my circuit. I hope u will reply this, thanks.

2 replies

Reply 10 months ago

Ardian, somehow your question escaped my attention. Apologies.
Could you perhaos measure the voltage on the gate (please be careful) and let me know what it is?


Reply 10 months ago

its 15v, on D1 around -130Vdc, on the load around 100Vdc.