The Difference Between LED Strip Lights and Linear Light Bars
September 1, 2023

The Difference Between LED Strip Lights and Linear Light Bars

Flexible LED strip lights and LED light bars look similar and are commonly used for applications such as under-cabinet or workbench lighting. However, they have unique characteristics that set them apart. In essence, strip lights allow for a wide variety of customization with their flexible form, mounting accessories, and color displays. Light bars are a more straightforward fixture that is specifically designed for applications requiring task lighting. In this article, we discuss their differences, outline the advantages of each, and help you choose the best fit for your needs.

What is a flexible LED light strip?

An LED light strip is a flexible, thin circuit board that contains a line of LED diodes. You might also hear strip lights referred to as tape lights or ribbon lights. These lights come in a variety of lengths, color options, and indoor or outdoor ratings. Strip lights are popular because they are extremely versatile; you can bend, cut, and solder together strips to fit your installation. You can choose between various control options such as smartphone apps and remote controls. Low-voltage LED strips require a power supply and most require a controller. Single-white strips can also be controlled with a dimmer or dimmable power supply.

Close up of warm white LED strip light Close up of warm white LED strip light

Different types of LED strip lights

There are two main types of strip lights, SMD (surface-mounted device) strips and COB (chip-on-board) strip lights. For an SMD strip light, the LED chips are mounted onto the circuit board with space in between each chip. In a COB strip, the individual diodes are printed directly onto the circuit board. These diodes are placed close together and covered with a phosphor gel to create a continuous illumination effect with no hot spots. LED strip lights also come in side-emitting and multi-row options. Strips with side-emitting LEDs shine light parallel to the strip, allowing them to be installed on surfaces without being seen. Multi-row LED strip lights come in dual, triple, and quad-row options to provide brighter illumination than a single-row strip. 


Flexible strip lights are popular because they come in a variety of color displays including single-color, RGB, RGB+W, RGB+ tunable white, and addressable strip options. When choosing the best strip light for your installation, consider what strip type and color display options you want.

Blue RGB under cabinet LED strip light Blue RGB under cabinet LED strip light

Can you bend and cut an LED strip light?

Yes! Since the diodes are printed onto flexible circuit boards, you can bend an LED strip light. This makes these lights great for installation around edges or corners. You can also easily cut LED strip lights with scissors at the indicated marks on the circuit board. Because of their flexibility, strip lights are popular for both task lighting as well as decorative and accent lighting.

Where can you install strip lights?

With indoor and outdoor strips available, you can install strip lighting practically anywhere. Popular installation locations include under cabinets, display cases, bookshelves, signs, wall decor, stairs, and for bias or cove lighting. Strip lights are also great choices for RV and motorhome lighting since they both run off 12V power.

How do you install strip lights?

You can install strip lights using the 3M™ adhesive backing that is on the back side of most strips. Be sure to clean the installation surface before sticking your strip lights against it. For a more modern and professional look, you can mount the strip lights inside an aluminum channel. 

Aluminum channels give you the option to use a diffuser lens to eliminate hotspots and customize the appearance of your light fixture. These profiles are great if you need a corner, surface mount, step, cove, recessed, low-profile, or edge-lit fixture. Additionally, certain extrusions can reach an IP67 waterproof rating and can be used in wet environments such as around sinks in your bathroom or kitchen. Mounting your strip light to an aluminum extrusion can also make it easier to clean or wipe down your strip lights.

Comparison of a COB vs SMD LED strip in a diffused aluminum channel Comparison of a COB vs SMD LED strip in a diffused aluminum channel

What is a linear light bar?

A linear LED light bar is a rigid lighting fixture that features a line of LED diodes and is typically encased in metal or plastic housing. Unlike their flexible LED strip light counterparts, these light bars are designed for more robust and heavy-duty applications. Linear light bars offer consistent, uniform illumination that is mainly used for task lighting. While most light bars require an external low-voltage power source, there are some bars that connect directly to 120 V outlets. Additionally, most fixtures do not require a controller, but you can attach dimmers to certain models.

Under cabinet light bar, natural white Under cabinet light bar, natural white

Different types of linear light bars

Linear light bars come in a variety of styles and forms including low-profile, corner, surface-mounted, and linkable fixtures. You can choose between PCB (printed circuit board) styles or ones with a diffused lens. Some light bars are compatible with helpful accessories such as motion sensors, dimmers, dynamic mode controllers, and linking cables.

Can you bend and cut a light bar?

No, you cannot bend or cut a light bar. The housing of a light bar is made from firm, inflexible material that is not designed to be bent. Cutting a light bar would also damage the internal components. However, there are linkable fixtures that allow you to connect multiple lights if you need to create a fixture in a specific length or if you need a longer run.

Where can you install light bars?

Linear light bars are ideal for creating task lighting for workshops, under-cabinets, bookshelves, showcases, and RV or trailer interiors. Light bars with a rating of IP67 and above can be installed in wet environments such as sinks and bathrooms.

How do you install light bars?

Most under-cabinet light bars will come with surface mounting brackets or are designed to accommodate them. This will be the most durable mounting solution. You can also attach 3M adhesive to the back of most light bars for a drill-free installation. Certain LED linear light bars feature integrated mounting magnets for easy installation onto magnetic surfaces. These light bars are particularly useful for workshop lighting.

Under cabinet lighting- Which one should you use?

Strip lights and light bars are commonly used for under-cabinet lighting, but many people struggle to decide which fixture is right for them. The choice of whether to use strip lights or rigid light bars is entirely up to your specific installation needs. 


Strip lights might be the best option if you need customized lighting since these lights can be bent and cut to fit any installation. Most LED strip lights come in lengths of 5m or longer which allows you to easily light up your cabinets with a single light fixture or trim the strip into the exact desired length. For long runs of light, strip lights would likely be the most economical fixture. Many people also choose flexible LED strips for the wide range of color display options they offer. The aluminum extrusions for strip lights also come in a variety of colors and styles which allows you to find the best housing to match your cabinets. 


On the other hand, if you want a plug-and-play fixture that comes ready to install, choose linear light bars. Most light bars come installation-ready with their built-in diffusers and covers, unlike strip lights which require you to attach them to mounting channels or cut them into specific segment lengths. These fixtures can be more straightforward and simpler to pick out since you do not have to worry about controller or aluminum housing compatibility. For installation above stoves or locations with varying heat and moisture, light bars might be a more durable solution.

Bright under cabinet lighting in a kitchen Bright under cabinet lighting in a kitchen
Under cabinet lighting in a modern kitchen Under cabinet lighting in a modern kitchen

If you have questions about choosing an LED strip light or LED linear light bar, call us toll-free at 866-590-3533. Our customer service and technical support teams are available from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. CDT Monday-Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT on Friday.

by Elizabeth Schlaker

SEO Specialist

Elizabeth loves writing about all the creative ways you can use strip lights and landscape lights. In her free time, you can catch her trying out new DIY projects, reading books, and traveling.

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