This article is for all LED strip light users, new and experienced. After reading, new customers of LED strips will understand the factors that determine the strip's quality and be able to buy the right strip lights for their projects.
What are LED strip lights?
LED strip lights, also known as LED tape lights, are created by soldering surface mounted device(SMD) LEDs and other electrical parts onto flexible print circuit(FPC) boards. They generate strip-shaped lighting when connected to power source. So did they get the name strip lights.
Major components of a LED light strip include: SMD LEDs, FPC board, resistors, and 3M double-sided adhesive backing.
How do LED strip lights work?
For the white LED strip lights or single colored strip lights to work, they need to be connected to a power supply of proper voltage. Connect the power supply to home electrical system and the LEDs will produce lights. You can optionally install an LED dimmer for the white strip or single colored strip light to adjust the brightness level.
If RGB, RGBW, dream color or tunable white LED strips are used, an LED controller is required and should be placed between light strip and power supply.
How to choose LED controllers?
To save the trouble finding all the parts such as strip lights, power supply and dimmer or controllers, you can buy the LED strip light kits that we have designed and prepared for you. They are available for white strip series and RGB color changing strip series.
Flexible LED strip lights have ten advantages
LED light strips become more and more popular, and are widely used for residential, commercial, and architectural lighting applications. The popularity is due to the following ten advantages:
1. Easy install: With a thin and flat body, LED light strips are low profile, making them easily hide in small spaces, and creating the effects of seeing the light without seeing the fixture. These stick on LED light strips come with 3M back adhesive and can be installed without a professional installer. You can enjoy the real fun of DIY LED strips.
2. Flexible: LED light strip is flexible, able to bend to form different smooth and beautiful linear lighting shapes. It is also easy to apply to curved surfaces.
3. Cuttable and linkable: Light strips are cuttable and can be cut in small increments to adjust to the length needed. After cut, they can be linked together by using LED strip light solderless connectors or by soldering.
4. Low voltage: Strip lights operate on 12V or 24V DC low voltage power. So, it is very safe to use for both young and elder people, including children.
5. Fully dimmable: Are LED strip lights dimmable? Yes, they are fully dimmable. Paired with dimmers or controllers, LED strip lights can be easily dimmed to the desired brightness level.
6. Low energy consumption: LEDs are environment friendly lights due to their very low energy consumption. Use of LED strips saves a lot on operation cost in the long run.
7. Low heat generation: LED strip lights consume low power, generating low heat for surrounding area, but can still produce super bright light at the same time.
8. Perfect for creating atmosphere: LED strip lights are perfect to create various lighting atmosphere. There are many choices for different color temperatures and colors, such as warm white, neutral white, cool white, tunable white, red, green, blue, 5050 RGB, RGBW, UV black light, digital addressable, and dream color strip lights.
9. Various applications: Strip lights are very versatile and widely used for home, commercial, and industrial lighting.
10. Indoor and outdoor waterproof LED strip lights available.
Top nine considerations before buying LED strip lights
- All inclusive guide of LED strip light purchase
1. The color and color temperature you need.
If you need install white strip lights, the color temperature of white lights should be considered.
2400K is close to orange or amber. It is very warm lighting with reddish and yellowish tone.
2700K is similar to light color that incandescent lamps generate. It is a warm and relaxing lighting.
3000K looks like the light of halogen lamps. It is slightly brighter than 2700K, and puts a slightly yellowish or reddish tone on objects illuminated. 2400K, 2700K, and 3000K are commonly referred to as warm white.
4000K, also known as neutral white, is a whiter white than 2700K or 3000K. It is commonly used in office and commercial lighting.
6500K, also called cool white, is the brightest pure white. It mimics the natural sunlight of a sunny day. School, work and production environment widely utilize 6500K strip lights to increase productivity. 6500K light is an essential element for high end modern hotels, restaurants and clubs.
2700K vs 3000K
What can 6500K cool white LED strips do?
Tunable white LED strip lights, also called white adjustable strip lights, can produce lights with color temperatures from 2700K to 6500K. They are made by using both warm white and cool white LEDs on the same FPC board. The lights of warm white and cool white LEDs are mixed to various levels of relative brightness to produce lighting of varied color temperatures.
If colored lighting is preferred, you have the choice of single colored strip lights such as red, green, blue, or UV black. Or you can choose multi-color changing RGB LED strips or RGBW LED strips.
Please read articles of respective color temperature categories to learn more about what color lights are good for what applications.
2. Indoor or outdoor waterproof LED strip lights.
For indoor applications, please choose IP20 indoor LED strip lights. For outdoor or semi-outdoor applications, please use outdoor waterproof LED strips with IP65 or above. Waterproof LED strips are also good for indoor use, as their outside layer of waterproof tubing can protect electrical parts from dust and impact.
3. LED strip lights operate on two versions of low voltage: 12V or 24V DC.
For new users of LED strip lights, we recommend 12V LED strips, because 12V power supply or power adapters can be more commonly found on the market. In addition, the cutting increment of 12V light strips is half of that for 24V.
Common cutting increment of 12V LED strip lights is one inch, while for 24V LED strip lights, it is two inches. The smaller cutting increment means it is easier to cut and adjust LED light strips to the desired accurate length for installation.
Most cars, RVs, boats and yachts have 12V power system on board. So, 12V LED strip lights are the only choice.
Compared to 12V LED strip lights, what advantages do 24V LED strips have? 24V LED strip lights operate with half current as 12V LED strips, which is determined by the relationship of power, current, and voltage.
If a lighting project needs continuous and long installation of LED strips, 24V version is better. The reason is a commonly known issue "voltage drop". Voltage drop is the phenomenon that electrical voltage decreases along the light strip because the electrical resistance is inevitable down the road of the strip.
Due to voltage drop, the light at the beginning part of a long LED light strip will be brighter than that at the end of strip. The voltage drop is smaller for a 24V LED strip than for a 12V LED strip. Many 24V LED strips can run continuously up to 10 meters (about 32 feet) without noticeable brightness decrease from the strip beginning to end.
Current Controlled LED strip lights can resolve the voltage drop issue, to certain degree. But current controlled LED strip lights are more expensive than regular 12V or 24V LED strips, because they have more complicated electrical circuit design, utilize more electrical parts, and need longer time for manufacturing.
Brightness is an important factor for choosing LED strip lights. Light creates atmosphere via its brightness and color. In light science, brightness is measured by using lumen. It is indicated in the value of lumens.
What is lumen?
Lumen. Lumen is the measure unit for the total quality of visible light emitted during a unit of time. It indicates the brightness level of the light produced by the light source. Traditionally, electricians use foot-candle as the measure to tell the light intensity, as is the customary unit used in the United States. A foot-candle equals one lumen per square foot. The brightness level roughly equals to the light that is one foot away from a common wax candle.
If you need brighter LED strip lights, you will select strip light that is marked with higher value of lumens per unit length. Please be careful that different manufacturers may use different brightness marks.
For example, one strip is marked as "240 lumens/ft", another marked as "700 lumens/meter". We cannot say that the second strip is brighter than the first one, because the length units are different.
Unit conversion is necessary for meaningful comparison. Say we convert the brightness mark of the first strip to lumens/meter. 1 meter equals 3.28 feet. The first LED strip would be 240 lumens/ft*3.28 = 787.2 lumens/meter. Now we find out that actually the first strip is brighter than the second one.
Luminous efficacy. Luminous efficacy is another important factor regarding brightness. It is the ratio of the light strip's lumen value to its wattage. By this definition, we can see that the ratio measures the light strip's efficacy of emitting light when using one watt of power.
When consuming the same amount of power, an LED light strip with higher luminous efficacy can produce more lumens of light. To put it from another perspective, when generating the same brightness, an LED strip light with higher luminous efficacy consumes less power, saving more on operation cost.
Relationship between brightness and wattage. The brightness of an LED light strip is correlated to its wattage, the power an LED strip consumes. Similar to light bulbs, the higher wattage a light strip has, the brighter light it produces.
How many lumens do I need for a space?
When installing LED strip lights for homes, we often encounter the questions: how many lumens do I need for the space? How many lumens per square foot should be planned to illuminate the rooms optimally and comfortably?
To achieve optimal brightness for different rooms, you can refer to the following table as a general guidance:
How many lms/sf
Stair and hallway lighting
Under cabinet lighting
Under counter lighting
Kitchen island toe-kick lighting
Kitchen countertop lighting
5. The number of LEDs, LED density, and LED types.
LED density: the meaning of the number of LEDs on a light strip
The number of the LEDs populated on a light strip has meaning only when it is viewed by the length of the strip, e.g., how many LEDs per light strip. To be more accurate, LED strip lights should be marked for how many LEDs per meter or how many LEDs per foot. It is commonly referred to as the LED density of a light strip.
LED Density indicates how far away one LED from the next, indicated by the LED quantity per meter or per foot, such as 60 LEDs/meter, 120 LEDs/meter, 18 LEDs/foot, or 36 LEDs/foot.
How does LED density affect the brightness of LED strip lights?
In general, all other factors comparable, a higher density LED strip is brighter than a lower density one. This is because there are more LEDs emitting light on the higher density LED strip. By comparable factors we mean the same type of LEDs, the same current drawn by the LED strips, etc.
Light spotting: How does LED density affect light distribution?
A common phenomenon of LED strip lighting is that for certain projects, you can clearly see the light spots or light dots on the diffuser of a light strip fixture. This is so called "light spotting" in light distribution. Perfect distribution would mean no light spotting.
Light spotting is affected by two factors: the distance between LED and diffuser, and the distance between two adjacent LEDs.
Distance between LED and diffuser.
How the distance between LED and diffuser affects light spotting can be understood this way. If you stand 10 meters away from a wall and project a flashlight onto the wall, you'll see the whole wall area is lighted, we consider the light distribution good.
As you move closer to the wall, the lighted area becomes smaller and smaller till the point it reaches to the same size of the flashlight head. At this time the light distribution is not good because of the light spotting is very pronounced. This character is universal to a spot source of light.
Same as the flashlight, LED is a spot source of light. So if the light spotting is an issue, we can choose to increase the distance between LED and diffuser. If we are using aluminum channel assisting LED installation, we can choose deeper aluminum channels so that the distance between LED and the diffuser is longer.
Distance between two adjacent LEDs.
In contrast, the shorter the distance between two adjacent LEDs is, the higher the density of LEDs on a light strip, the better the light distribution of the LED strip light. It is because the shorter the distance is, the easier for the LEDs to cover each other's blind spots.
There is a situation when the distance between LED and diffuser can't be longer any more due to limitation on installation space. In this situation, in order to obtain less light spotting or better light distribution, strip lights with higher density of LEDs are the right choice.
Some models of our LED strip lights are specially designed to achieve perfect light distribution. These light strips come with high density of LEDs. Even used in shallow aluminum channel, they present very nice light distribution with no light spotting. At the same time the light strip produces high brightness with low current drawn, generates little heat, and promotes long lifespan.
The type of SMD LED package is often indicated by a number, such as 3538, 2835, 5050, and 2216. The number is actually the LED package's dimensions in size.
3528: The size of a 3528 LED is 3.5mm x 2.8mm, height is 1.9mm. Each LED usually has the power of 0.06W. They can be made to produce white light, or colored light.
2835: The size of a 2835 LED is 2.8mm x 3.5mm, height is 0.7mm. Each LED usually has the power of 0.1W, 0.2W, or 0.5W. They also can be made to produce white light, or colored light.
5050: The size of a 5050 LED is 5.0mm x 5.0mm, height is 1.6mm. Each LED usually has the power of 0.2W. They can be made to produce white light, colored light, RGB, or RGBW.
2216: The size of a 2216 LED is 2.2mm x 1.6mm, height is 0.6mm. Each LED usually has the power of 0.06W, 0.15W, or 0.2W. They are made to produce white light.
In summary, 2835 LED has bigger heat dissipation base and lower height, and is perfect to be used to make white led strips. 5050 LED has bigger light emitting surface and three chips inside, and is widely used to make white and colored strip lights. Our 5050 white strip lights have high CRI>95, with R9>80. 5050 LEDs are most commonly seen on RGB strip lights.
2216 LED has the smallest and ultra slim body, making it perfect to be used to make high density LED strip lights, such as tunable white LED strip lights. It is also the best LEDs to make ultra slim light strips to fit small grooves. Slim light strips easily fit into aluminum extrusions of small size, and produce lights with good distribution with no light spots.
6. CRI or color rendering index.
Recommended Reading： What is CRI? What is High CRI?
CRI is the measure that indicates the light source's ability to render the original colors of objects lighted by the light source. The original color is defined by the color when the object is illuminated by sunlight.
The closer the color of an object rendered by a light source is to the color of the same object under sunlight, the higher CRI the light source has. CRI has a value range running from 0 to 100. By definition, sunlight has the perfect CRI with the value 100.
Note: The higher the CRI value is, the better the quality of a light source in the sense of its ability to render colors. This is important to lighting applications where color matters.
For example, we take a look at the produce area where a supermarket sells vegetables and fruits. When light strips with high CRI are used, the produces appear in natural and saturated colors, looking juicy, glossy and fresher. Hence, they are apparently more attractive to customers.
Same with fresh meat. Under light strip of high CRI, the meat is in purple red that looks fresher. If CRI is lower than 80, the colors of the object illuminated are distorted in such way as if they were covered with a gray veil. The object looks gloss-lacking and dull.
From the perspective of protecting vision of human eyes, light strips intended to be used long time need to have CRI higher than 80. Light with CRI lower than 80 will affect human eyes' ability to differentiate colors. Long time exposure to light with CRI lower than 80 may cause various vision problems.
All of our LED strip lights have CRI 88+. For your professional needs, we also carry strip lights with CRI 95+.
7. Length and width.
The length of our LED light strip is usually 5 meters(16.4 feet), or 10 meters(32.8 feet). Why LED strips are made into 5M or 10M long? It is because of the voltage drop along light strip. For a 12V LED strip light, if it is longer than 5M or 16.4FT, the LEDs on the strip end will look noticeably lower in brightness.
When purchasing LED strips, pay attention to the length noted by sellers or manufacturers. Some sellers sell strip lights in 2M or 3M. Be aware that with the money you paid, how long the light strip you are getting.
Some of our LED strip lights kits have LED strips that are 2.5M or 8FT long. They are for the customers who don't need 5M long. If you need 8FT long strip lights, please purchase it in the LED strip lights kits category.
For the LED strip's width, usually the choices are 5mm, 8mm, 10mm and 12mm. The 5mm ultra slim version is designed to meet the needs of special lighting projects.
8. Choose LED strip power supply.
Should I choose power adapter or switch power supply?
1. Power adapter is easier to install. What you need to do is just plug the power adapter into LED light strip. Usually a power adapter can power one to two LED strips, fit for small installation.
2. Quality power adapters are UL listed. Make sure you are buying power adapters with real UL certificate. There are some power adapters with fake UL on the market.
3. For medium to large installation, choose professional brand name power supply. LED Power supplies usually can provide power for many strip lights.
4. Flicker. Quality power adapters or power supplies provide steady power and cause no flicker for LED strip lights. Inferior power supplies can cause visible or invisible flicker. In many times, you can make the selection based on if your eyes feel comfortable when looking at strip lighting.
A simple way to check flickering is to put your cellphone on camera mode and view the strip lighting on your cellphone screen. Certain flickers can be invisible to naked the naked eyes. Long time exposure to LED lighting with invisible flickers will cause vision problems, or even headache.
5. Quality power supplies like Mean Well, and quality power adapters can provide full indicated amperage for continuous operation. Inferior power supplies provide less amperage than indicated. When put into continuous operation, inferior power supplies will become too hot, and usually fail in short time.
6. Voltage and Wattage of LED strip power supplies
Voltage. LED strip power supplies should provide proper voltage for strip lights. 12V LED strips should use 12V power supplies, 24V LED strips should use 24V power supplies.
Wattage. Power supply should be able to provide enough power for the strip lights. The power or wattage needed is determined by the wattage of the strip lights to be installed.Strip lights wattage calculation formula: Wattage= LED strip Length x wattage/meter.For example, you are installing a 3.5m LED strip with 16W/m output. The total wattage = 3.5m x 16W/m = 56W.
Then we calculate the wattage of power supply needed. Rule is that power supply should not be used to its full capacity, because full load will cause too much heat and shorter lifetime for the power supply. 20% more capacity is recommended.
For example, for above installation, the power supply should be: (1+20%) x 56W = 67.2W. There is no such a power supply with this exact wattage of output. We choose the next level of output, which is 72W. A power supply with higher than necessary output won't harm LED strip lights. It will provide only necessary output wattage for the strip lights.
Quality is the result of many factors combined together as well.
1. Quality materials. Quality materials are the foundation for quality LED strip lights. They include quality LED packages, double-sided red copper FPC board, 3M double-side back adhesive, waterproof material etc. Certain material quality can be inspected by the naked eye, such as FPC board.
2. Good performance. Quality materials cannot guarantee good performance of strip lights, because design and manufacturing processes are also very important. The performance of strip light can be told by view of naked eyes, by feeling of hands, or by inspection by equipment.
Three performance features are explained:
Color temperature accuracy and consistency. Quality strip lights produce lights with very good accuracy and consistency for color temperature. Brand name LED packages can assure good accuracy and consistency of lights.
Heat management performance. It refers to how well the heat generated during LED strip operation is managed. Usually, it relates to the circuit design for the LED strips, as well as the material selected. LED aluminum extrusion is the most popuplar accessory to help achieve the best heat management performance for LED strip light.
Color rendering index(CRI). To protect eyes, a light strip should have at least CRI 80+.
3. Certification UL listed in the category of low voltage luminaire is the best, CE, ROHS is the necessary for EU market.
4. Good services for customers before and after sales.
What are the best LED strip lights? Quality strip lights vs. Inferior strip lights.
1. LED (also referred to as LED package).
LED package is the most critical part to make the best LED strip lights. The quality of LEDs has direct and decisive impact on LED strips. Major components of an LED include: LED chips, brace, lead wire, phosphor and package glue.
LED chips. LED chips are the core component for LED package. It is the part that actually emits light. Brand and size of the chip can mostly tell its quality. LED chips made by Taiwan Epistar are big, and they emit light with great color accuracy and consistency.
In general, LED chips of bigger size will have stronger performance, and produce higher brightness light. Their heat dissipation is better as well.
LED's lifespan is positively correlated with heat dissipation ability. In order to lower cost, some manufacturers choose to use small chips, which causes much shorter lifetime and less brightness of LEDs. Of course their LED's price is lower.
Brace bracket. Best LEDs use red copper silver-plated brace bracket. The silver plate should be at least 60 uin in thickness so that the brace has less resistance and better conductivity to fast dissipate the heat generated within LED. Inferior LEDs use iron brace as replacement, which is vulnerable to rust and has low heat dissipation ability.
How to tell if an LED uses red copper silver-plated brace? An easy way is to cut the LED in half and see if there is the color of red copper inside.
Bond wire. Quality bond wire uses 99.99% purity of gold wire, 1.0 mil gauge. Gold wire has the best rating of ductility and malleability, which ensure that under the glue's internal stress force, the bond wire will stretch well without getting damaged. Gold is expensive. In order to gain price advantage in competition, some manufacturers use inferior bond wire, such as copper wire, which causes low conductivity, fast decay and more heat for LEDs.
Package glue. Best quality package glue has a high refractive index, which considerably enhances LED's brightness. Package glue should deliver strong bond with brace bracket, be wet resistant and anti-cracking, and doesn't turn yellowish.
Phosphor. Phosphor is a critical material for LEDs. Advanced phosphors include indium gallium nitride (InGaN) and aluminum gallium indium phosphide. Phosphor's characters have direct impact on white LED's quality, such as brightness, color temperature, color rendering ability, and chromaticity coordinates. Good phosphor should have concentrated spectra, slow decay in brightness, and high temperature resistant.
In summary, LEDs of a batch(bin) shall emit light with the same level of brightness and the same color temperature, delivering accuracy and consistency. If the LEDs cannot achieve these performances, they are inferior in quality.
A method to inspect LED's quality is to apply 6-8 voltage DC to an LED strip light. If every LED emits slight light in low brightness, and the brightness levels of all LEDs on the strip are the same, the LEDs are considered having great consistency. If the brightness of the LEDs differs, some are brighter, some are not bright, then the LEDs are low quality.
Especially for 5050 LEDs with three color chips inside, we can tune RGB controller to check three chips separately. Every chip should light up. If not, the LEDs are defective.
2. Flexible printed circuit board(FPC).
FPC board is the strip carrier of LEDs. It uses layers of copper as conductor. With copper layers on both top and bottom sides, double-sided FPC board should be used to make the best LED strip lights.
Single sided FPC contains much less copper hence are cheaper than double-sided. In order to save cost, many manufacturers use single sided FPC. Light strips with single sided FPC will generate too much heat and their lifespan will be much shorter.
How to tell from the appearance of the LED strip light if it uses double-sided or single sided FPC? Single sided FPC has only one side printed with circuits, the other side looks smooth and even distributed color. Double-sided FPC has printed circuits on both sides.
When you hold the LED strip light with two fingers, you will tell that the double-sided FPC is thicker than single sided. The thicker the FPC board is, the better the heat dissipation.
3. Manufacturing process.
You can tell if the manufacturing process is done well by checking the soldering points of LEDs. The soldering points of quality LED strip lights look full and glossy. Those on inferior strips look shriveled and dull. Most LEDs are arranged vertically on the strip. Horizontal arrangement is vulnerable to issue of weak soldering or fake soldering, causing high rate of defective products.
4. Genuine 3M double-sided adhesive backing.
Almost all of stick on LED light strips on the market carry on the back with double-sided tape, on which the letters "3M" is printed. Unfortunately many of them are not genuine 3M, because, again, they are cheaper to gain price advantage.
Fake 3M tape has the character that when applied, it delivers strong adhesive bond at first and the light strip stay on application surface well. But as time goes by, the tape will become less and less adhesive.
In contrast, genuine 3M double-sided tape, after applied, will deliver stronger and stronger adhesiveness as time goes by. If not peeled off intentionally, the light strip will not fall off by itself.
The 3M tape we use for our waterproof LED strip lights has a transparent medium. And at times we want to remove light strips from application. Upon removal of our waterproof light strips, there will be no adhesive residue left on the application surface.
5. Waterproof material utilized.
For outdoor waterproof strips, the waterproof material used makes a difference. Best quality waterproof light strips use silicone waterproof materials, which is non-toxic and can be used to manufacture bottle nipples for babies.
Silicone has high light transmittance and does not turn yellowish later on. They have constancy of properties over a wide temperature range of -67 °F to 392 °F (-55 °C to 200 °C). So they work very well in super hot to super cold areas, no too softening to loose, no crispy, no crack.
Inferior waterproof strip lights use cheaper PU glue for waterproof material. PU glue is toxic and not good for indoor use, and it will change to yellowish and become crispy and crack in several months.
The manufacturing process with PU glue results in that the PU glue contacts the LED surface, which will shift the light color temperature. For a normal light strip of 6500K covered with PU glue waterproof material, the color temperature will shift up by about 1000K, turning into about 7500K-8000K.
How long do LED strip lights last？
Heat management determines how long LED strip lights last. Best LED strip lights easily last 50,000 hours, which is about six years of continuous use. Heat is the major factor that causes LEDs to stop working. Best LED strip lights use quality materials, are created out of better scientific design, and are manufactured with controlled processes. Thus, they achieve much better heat management performance than their inferior counter parties.
What Can LED Strip Lights Do?
LED strip lights can do much more than you would imagine. They have been becoming as the lighting source of the widest range of applications. They are the most creative and versatile lighting for lighting design professionals. Properly designed and installed, LED strip lights can be perfect for ambient lighting, accent lighting, task lighting, and bias lighting.
Difference among ambient lighting, accent lighting, task lighting, and bias lighting.
They are the professional terms for lighting design and application. It is not hard to understand their difference, because although many people don't know these terms, they have already applied the basic ideas behind these terms in everyday life.
Ambient lighting. Ambient lighting is referred to as general lighting or mood lighting. It is the start point of base amount light for a room. It is the general lighting that not only allows you safely move, but also sets the tone in the whole room.
Accent lighting. Accent lighting is the lighting that is focused on a small area or part of the room. Under counter strip lighting is often a special design to highlight the area. Accent lighting is also used with the purpose to make the area standout. Accent lighting is often used for displaying artistic pieces, photos, or trophies.