Control Stepper Motor with A4988 Driver Module & Arduino

For single-stepper-motor applications, a driver like the L298N is fine, but if you want to construct your own CNC machine or 3D printer, you’ll need a dedicated stepper motor driver like the A4988.

Due to the simplicity of the step motor control and the variety of stepping modes provided by the A4988 driver, it is an ideal solution for building applications that require precise and reliable stepper motor control, such as the movement control of beds, heads, and assemblies in various CNC plotting, milling, and 3D printer designs.

The fact that it only requires two pins to control the speed and direction of a bipolar stepper motor like the NEMA 17 is pretty neat, too.

Do you know how stepper motors work?

Stepper motors use a cogged wheel and electromagnets to rotate the wheel one ‘step’ at a time.

Each HIGH pulse sent energizes the coil, attracting the teeth closest to the cogged wheel and driving the motor one step forward.

stepper motor working animation

The way you pulse these coils greatly affects the behavior of the motor.

  • The sequence of pulses determines the spinning direction of the motor.
  • The frequency of the pulses determines the speed of the motor.
  • The number of pulses determines how far the motor will turn.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Chip

At the heart of the module is a microstepping driver from Allegro – A4988. Despite its small stature (0.8″x0.6″), it packs quite a punch.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Chip

The A4988 stepper motor driver has an output drive capacity of up to 35V and ±2A. This allows you to control a bipolar stepper motor, such as the NEMA 17, at up to 2A output current per coil.

Furthermore, the output current is regulated, allowing for noiseless operation of the stepper motor and the elimination of resonance or ringing that is common in unregulated stepper driver designs.

The driver has a built-in translator for easy operation. This reduces the number of control pins to just two, one for controlling the steps and the other for controlling the spinning direction.

The driver offers five different step resolutions: full-step, half-step, quarter-step, eighth-step, and sixteenth-step.

In order to ensure reliable operation, the driver has additional features such as under-voltage, shoot-through, short circuit, overcurrent, and thermal protection.

Technical Specifications

Here are complete specifications:

Motor output voltage8V – 35V
Logic input voltage3V – 5.5V
Continuous current per phase1A
Maximum current per phase2A
Microstep resolutionfull, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16

For more information, please refer to the datasheet below.

A4988 Motor Driver Pinout

The A4988 driver has a total of 16 pins that connect it to the outside world. The pinout is as follows:

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Pinout

Let’s get to know all the pins one by one.

Power Pins

The A4988 actually requires two power supply connections.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Power Supply Inputs

VDD and GND are used to power the internal logic circuitry, which can range from 3V to 5.5V.

Whereas,

VMOT and GND supply power to the motor, which can range from 8V to 35V.

According to the datasheet, in order to sustain 4A, the motor supply requires a suitable decoupling capacitor close to the board.

Warning:

Despite the presence of low-ESR ceramic capacitors on board, this driver is only partially protected against voltage spikes. In some cases, these spikes can exceed 35V (the maximum voltage rating of the A4988), potentially causing permanent damage to the board and even the motor.

One way to protect the driver from such spikes is to put a large 100F (or at least 47F) electrolytic capacitor across the motor power supply pins.

Microstep Selection Pins

The A4988 driver supports microstepping by dividing a single step into smaller steps. This is achieved by energizing the coils with intermediate current levels.

For example, if you choose to drive the NEMA 17 (with 1.8° step angle or 200 steps/revolution) in quarter-step mode, the motor will produce 800 microsteps per revolution.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Microstep Selection Inputs

The A4988 driver has three step size (resolution) selector inputs: MS1, MS2 & MS3. By setting the appropriate logic levels for these pins, we can set the motor to one of five step resolutions.

MS1MS2MS3Microstep Resolution
LowLowLowFull step
HighLowLowHalf step
LowHighLowQuarter step
HighHighLowEighth step
HighHighHighSixteenth step

These three microstep selection pins are pulled LOW by internal pull-down resistors, so if you leave them unconnected, the motor will operate in full step mode.

Control Input Pins

The A4988 has two control inputs: STEP and DIR.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Motor Control Inputs

STEP input controls the microsteps of the motor. Each HIGH pulse sent to this pin drives the motor according to the number of microsteps determined by the microstep selection pins. The higher the pulse frequency, the faster the motor will spin.

DIR input controls the spinning direction of the motor. Pulling it HIGH turns the motor clockwise, while pulling it LOW turns it counterclockwise.

If you want the motor to only turn in one direction, you can connect the DIR directly to VCC or GND.

The STEP and DIR pins are not pulled to any specific voltage, so you should not leave them floating in your application.

Pins For Controlling Power States

The A4988 has three separate inputs for controlling its power states: EN, RST, and SLP.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Power States Control Inputs

EN is an active low input pin. When this pin is pulled LOW, the A4988 driver is enabled. By default, this pin is pulled low, so unless you pull it high, the driver is always enabled. This pin is particularly useful when implementing an emergency stop or shutdown system.

SLP is an active low input pin. Pulling this pin LOW puts the driver into sleep mode, reducing power consumption to a minimum. You can use this to save power, especially when the motor is not in use.

RST is an active low input as well. When this pin is pulled LOW, all STEP inputs are ignored. It also resets the driver by setting the internal translator to a predefined “home” state. Home state is basically the initial position from which the motor starts, and it varies based on microstep resolution.

RST is a floating pin. If you’re not using this pin, connect it to an adjacent SLP/SLEEP pin to make it high and enable the driver.

After the wake-up event (logic HIGH on the SLEEP pin), wait 1 millisecond before issuing a Step command to allow the charge pump to stabilize.

Output Pins

The output channels of the A4988 motor driver are broken out to the side of the module with pins 1B, 1A, 2A & 2B.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Output Pins

You can connect any small to medium-sized bipolar stepper motor, such as NEMA 17, to these pins.

Each output pin can supply up to 2A to the motor. However, the amount of current supplied to the motor is determined by the power supply, cooling system, and current limiting setting of the system.

Cooling System – Heatsink

Excessive power dissipation of the A4988 driver IC causes a temperature rise, which could potentially damage the IC if it exceeds its capacity.

Despite having a maximum current rating of 2A per coil, the A4988 driver IC can only supply about 1A per coil without overheating. To achieve more than 1A per coil, a heat sink or other cooling method is required.

A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Heatsink

Usually, the A4988 driver comes with the heatsink. It is recommended that you install the heatsink before using the driver.

Current limiting

Before running the motor, you must limit the maximum current flowing through the stepper coils so that it does not exceed the motor’s rated current.

The A4988 driver includes a small trimmer potentiometer for setting the current limit.

There are two methods for making this adjustment:

Method 1:

In this method, the current limit is determined by measuring the voltage (Vref) at the “ref” pin.

  1. Take a look at the datasheet for your stepper motor. Make a note of the rated current. In our case, NEMA 17 200steps/rev, 12V 350mA is used.
  2. Disconnect the three microstep selection pins to put the driver in full-step mode.
  3. Hold the motor in a fixed position without clocking the STEP input.
  4. Measure the voltage (Vref) on the metal trimmer pot as you adjust it.
  5. Adjust the Vref voltage by using the formula

    Vref = Current Limit / 2.5

    For example, if your motor is rated at 350mA, you would set the reference voltage to 0.14V.
measuring vref voltage setting current limit for a4988 with multimeter

You can make this adjustment quickly and easily by connecting one end of the alligator clip test lead to the shank of a metal screwdriver and the other end to your multimeter. This allows you to measure the voltage while making the adjustment.

Method 2:

In this method, the current limit is determined by measuring the current flowing through the coil.

  1. Take a look at the datasheet for your stepper motor. Make a note of the rated current. In our case, NEMA 17 200steps/rev, 12V 350mA is used.
  2. Disconnect the three microstep selection pins to put the driver in full-step mode.
  3. Hold the motor in a fixed position without clocking the STEP input. Don’t leave the STEP input floating; instead, connect it to a logic power supply (5V).
  4. Put the ammeter in series with one of the coils on your stepper motor and measure the actual current flowing.
  5. Take a small screwdriver and adjust the current limit potentiometer until you reach the rated current.
measuring coil current setting current limit for a4988 with multimeter

If you ever change the logic voltage (VDD), you will have to redo this adjustment.

Wiring an A4988 Stepper Motor Driver to an Arduino

Now that we know everything about the driver, let’s hook it up to our Arduino.

The connections are straightforward. Begin by connecting VDD and GND (next to VDD) to the Arduino’s 5V and Ground pins. Connect the DIR and STEP input pins to the Arduino’s digital output pins #2 and #3.

Connect the stepper motor to the 2B, 2A, 1A, and 1B pins. Actually, the A4988 module is conveniently laid out to match the 4-pin connector on bipolar stepper motors, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Warning:

Do not attempt to connect or disconnect the stepper motor while the driver is running; doing so could damage the driver.

To keep the driver enabled, connect the RST pin to the adjacent SLP/SLEEP pin. Keep the microstep selection pins disconnected if you want to run the motor in full step mode.

Finally, connect the motor power supply to the VMOT and GND pins. Remember to put a large 100μF decoupling electrolytic capacitor across the motor power supply pins to avoid large voltage spikes.

Wiring Nema 17 Stepper Motor to A4988 driver & Arduino

Arduino Code – Without a Library

The sketch below will show you how to control the speed and spinning direction of a bipolar stepper motor using the A4988 stepper motor driver and can serve as the basis for more practical experiments and projects.

// Define pin connections & motor's steps per revolution
const int dirPin = 2;
const int stepPin = 3;
const int stepsPerRevolution = 200;

void setup()
{
	// Declare pins as Outputs
	pinMode(stepPin, OUTPUT);
	pinMode(dirPin, OUTPUT);
}
void loop()
{
	// Set motor direction clockwise
	digitalWrite(dirPin, HIGH);

	// Spin motor slowly
	for(int x = 0; x < stepsPerRevolution; x++)
	{
		digitalWrite(stepPin, HIGH);
		delayMicroseconds(2000);
		digitalWrite(stepPin, LOW);
		delayMicroseconds(2000);
	}
	delay(1000); // Wait a second
	
	// Set motor direction counterclockwise
	digitalWrite(dirPin, LOW);

	// Spin motor quickly
	for(int x = 0; x < stepsPerRevolution; x++)
	{
		digitalWrite(stepPin, HIGH);
		delayMicroseconds(1000);
		digitalWrite(stepPin, LOW);
		delayMicroseconds(1000);
	}
	delay(1000); // Wait a second
}

Code Explanation:

The sketch begins by defining the Arduino pins to which the A4988’s STEP and DIR pins are connected. A variable called stepsPerRevolution is also defined. You can set it to match the specs of your stepper motor.

const int dirPin = 2;
const int stepPin = 3;
const int stepsPerRevolution = 200;

In the setup section, all motor control pins are configured as digital OUTPUT.

pinMode(stepPin, OUTPUT);
pinMode(dirPin, OUTPUT);

In the loop section, the motor is rotated slowly clockwise and then rapidly counterclockwise with one second intervals.

Controlling the Spinning Direction: To control the spinning direction of the motor, the DIR pin is set HIGH or LOW. A HIGH input turns the motor clockwise, while a LOW input turns it counterclockwise.

digitalWrite(dirPin, HIGH);

Controlling Speed: The frequency of pulses sent to the STEP pin determines the speed of the motor. The higher the pulse frequency, the faster the motor runs. A pulse is simply pulling the output HIGH, waiting a few milliseconds, then pulling it LOW and waiting again. By adjusting the delay, you can alter the frequency of the pulses and thus the speed of the motor.

for(int x = 0; x < stepsPerRevolution; x++) {
	digitalWrite(stepPin, HIGH);
	delayMicroseconds(1000);
	digitalWrite(stepPin, LOW);
	delayMicroseconds(1000);
}

Arduino Code – Using AccelStepper library

Controlling a stepper without a library is perfectly fine for simple, single motor applications. However, if you want to control multiple steppers, you’ll need to use a library.

So, for our next experiment, we will use an advanced stepper motor library called AccelStepper library. It supports:

  • Acceleration and deceleration.
  • Multiple simultaneous steppers, with independent concurrent stepping on each stepper.

This library is not included in the Arduino IDE, so you must first install it.

Library Installation

To install the library navigate to Sketch > Include Libraries > Manage Libraries… Wait for Library Manager to download the library index and update the list of installed libraries.

manage libraries

Filter your search by typing ‘accelstepper’. Click on the first entry and then select Install.

installing accelstepper library

Arduino Code

Here is a simple sketch that accelerates the stepper motor in one direction and then decelerates to come to rest. After one revolution, the motor reverses its spinning direction and repeats the process.

// Include the AccelStepper Library
#include <AccelStepper.h>

// Define pin connections
const int dirPin = 2;
const int stepPin = 3;

// Define motor interface type
#define motorInterfaceType 1

// Creates an instance
AccelStepper myStepper(motorInterfaceType, stepPin, dirPin);

void setup() {
	// set the maximum speed, acceleration factor,
	// initial speed and the target position
	myStepper.setMaxSpeed(1000);
	myStepper.setAcceleration(50);
	myStepper.setSpeed(200);
	myStepper.moveTo(200);
}

void loop() {
	// Change direction once the motor reaches target position
	if (myStepper.distanceToGo() == 0) 
		myStepper.moveTo(-myStepper.currentPosition());

	// Move the motor one step
	myStepper.run();
}

Code Explanation:

The sketch begins by including the newly installed AccelStepper library.

#include <AccelStepper.h>

First, the Arduino pins are defined, to which the A4988’s STEP and DIR pins are connected. The motorInterfaceType is also set to 1. (1 means an external stepper driver with step and direction pins).

// Define pin connections
const int dirPin = 2;
const int stepPin = 3;

// Define motor interface type
#define motorInterfaceType 1

Following that, an instance of the stepper library named myStepper is created.

AccelStepper myStepper(motorInterfaceType, stepPin, dirPin);

In the setup function, the maximum permitted speed of the motor is set to 1000 (the motor will accelerate up to this speed when we run it). The acceleration/deceleration rate is then set to add acceleration and deceleration to the stepper motor’s movements.

The constant speed is set to 200. And, because the NEMA 17 takes 200 steps per turn, the target position is also set to 200.

void setup() {
	myStepper.setMaxSpeed(1000);
	myStepper.setAcceleration(50);
	myStepper.setSpeed(200);
	myStepper.moveTo(200);
}

In the loop function, an If statement is used to determine how far the motor needs to travel (by reading the distanceToGo property) before reaching the target position (set by moveTo). When the distanceToGo reaches zero, the motor is rotated in the opposite direction by setting the moveTo position to negative of its current position.

At the bottom of the loop, you’ll notice that the run() function is called. This is the most critical function because the stepper will not move unless this function is executed.

void loop() {
	if (myStepper.distanceToGo() == 0) 
		myStepper.moveTo(-myStepper.currentPosition());

	myStepper.run();
}