12-Volt vs. 24-Volt LED Strip Lights: What’s the Difference?
When selecting an LED strip light there are many factors to consider, such as brightness, color, weatherproofing, and more. But what about voltage? The majority of strips are available in either 12V or 24V. So what’s the difference between these two options? Is one voltage better than another? What are the advantages of each?
The simple answer is that it comes down to your project. Each voltage is better suited for specific applications, and is only compatible with strips and accessories that are the same voltage. These factors can be easily used to guide your decisions.
24 VDC is less susceptible to voltage drop, meaning that it can illuminate a strip more consistently over a greater distance. If you need a longer line of light from one power source, 24 VDC is a great choice. While a higher voltage doesn’t inherently mean a brighter light, 24 VDC is also able to sustain higher densities of LED chips.
On the other hand, 12 VDC is a common voltage, so strip compatibility may eliminate the need for additional power supplies. If you are installing lights in a vehicle, for example, a 12 VDC strip light can often be directly connected to the existing electrical system. While there are certainly exceptions to this, and it is important to check your existing system before making a purchase, 12V strips can offer a more convenient installation solution in many cases.
All LED strips, whether 12V or 24V, offer exceptional efficiency and brightness within a low profile. If you still have questions, read below for more technical information. Learn the basic components that make strip lights work and how voltage may affect performance.
Exploring LED Strip Voltage
What Is Voltage Drop?
Voltage drop is one of the most important factors when planning an LED strip system. As a circuit gets longer, the resistance of the wiring and components causes the voltage to slowly get lower as it moves further away from the power source. This means by the end of a run, the voltage will be measurably lower than at the start. The effect of this is most easily seen on LED strips if they are installed beyond their specified max run length—where excessive voltage drop causes the end of the strip to be drastically dimmed in comparison to the beginning.
While there are several factors that play into voltage drop, strip density and voltage are the variables with the most direct impact. Strip density is a measure of how spread out the LEDs are on the strip. This plays into the maximum run of a strip as the more dense the placement of the LEDs is, the shorter the max run will be (assuming all other things are equal). Voltage also directly affects the max run of an LED strip. At the same wattage and density, a higher voltage strip will have a lower current draw. The lower current draw allows higher voltage strips to have a longer max run versus comparable lower voltage strips as the lower current and higher voltage directly translates to less voltage drop. Higher voltage strips can also allow for a higher density at a similar max run compared to a lower voltage strip for the same reason.
What Is Max Run?
Max (maximum) run is a specification intended to show the maximum continuous length of an LED strip from a single power source and connection. The limit is not related to the maximum electrical power of the circuit, but instead is determined by establishing an acceptable amount of voltage drop. While density and voltage are the main factors of max run, additional power suppliers or amplifiers mounted mid run can drastically increase the run length. This is because extra power inputs spread across the run help to decrease voltage drop.
The diagrams above show methods of achieving longer runs once Max Run is reached.
How Does Voltage Affect Strips and What Are the Differences?
When shopping for LED strips, the questions “Which is better, 12-volt or 24-volt?” and “What are the advantages of a higher voltage strip?” often come up. The answers are simultaneously simple and complex—it depends on the application. Essentially, the main factors that come into play are compatibility/location and the scale/length of the project.
While some components work on a range of voltages, most (including strips) require a specific input voltage to function properly. Examine where the strip is being installed—looking at the resources already available can offer valuable information. If there is already an existing 12 VDC power source such as in a car, boat, or RV, then 12 VDC strips would be a good choice as they offer the ability to be powered without an additional power supply or transformer. In the same regard, if the installation is intended to be part of a landscape or exterior lighting system, there may already be 12 VAC power available, so 12 VAC strips would be an easier installation.
Whether installing in a similar location to those listed above or not, a higher voltage strip (e.g. 24 VDC) and a compatible power supply or transformer will make the installation easier if the project covers a large area due to the longer max run.
What Are Some Common Misunderstandings About Strip Voltage?
There are several ideas about how LED strips work that can easily be taken out of context or misunderstood.
One popular misconception is that higher voltage strips are brighter or offer higher lumen values (lumen being a measurement of the visible light a strip emits). This can be true in the sense that higher voltage strips may offer higher densities, longer max runs, and higher wattage options. If all else is the same —both higher and lower voltage strips will produce the same amount of light or lumen.
Another commonly misunderstood topic is related to cut points (or segment length) of strips and how they are determined. To understand this fully, a basic understanding of how the LED strip is constructed is necessary. LED strips are amazingly versatile in part due to the fact that they can be cut to virtually any desired length. This is because LED strips have cut points, which are predefined locations where a strip can be cut without damaging the strip’s electrical circuit. These cut points exist at the end/beginning of each LED circuit on the strip, which is in fact indirectly tied to the voltage and density of the LED strip.
Looking at an average LED strip (this will vary on specialty strips, such as COB strips), each LED chip itself is typically 3 V. When constructing the strip, individual LEDs are run together in series to create a segment, with many segments tied together to create the whole strip. When these ideas are combined, it means that a 12 VDC strip has 3 LEDs per segment while a 24 VDC strip has 6 or 7 LEDs per segment. For the end-user, this means that a comparable lower voltage strip will have a shorter segment length versus its higher voltage counterpart.
Strips with shorter segments can be cut to more precise lengths than strips with longer segments
Additionally, there are 36 VDC and 48 VCD flexible strip lights. These strip lights follow the same principles as the differences between 12 VDC and 24 VDC strip lights. They allow for longer runs with even less voltage drop and higher densities, and are best for commercial and industrial applications where you’ll need to get the most out of your LED strips.