The Ultimate LED Strip Lighting Guide
You can use LED strip lighting for countless home, landscape, vehicle, retail, office, and industrial applications—from under-cabinet lighting to creating powerful ceiling light fixtures. They’re available in various lengths, intensities, colors, and voltages. And with compatible accessories and peel-and-stick adhesive backings, they can be easily installed and mounted. If you’re struggling with deciding which strip is suitable for your application, choosing a power supply or accessories, or how to install LED strip lights, you’re in the right place.
How To Choose:
Strips are classified as weatherproof, non-weatherproof, or waterproof. The type of strip you need is determined by the environment where your strips will be installed. Each strip has an IP rating indicating the size of solids and the pressure of liquids a strip can resist.
These strips have a rating lower than IP64 and are not intended for use where they could be exposed to water. Indoor LED strip light applications include under-cabinet lighting, above-cabinet lighting, pantry lighting, cupboard lighting, bookshelf lighting, cove lighting, bias lighting, and more. Generally, indoor LED strip lights are not weatherproof or waterproof, but they should be if you’re installing them in bathrooms or other areas where they could be exposed to water.
Outdoor strips are rated IP65 and above. They’re designed for a variety of applications, such as landscapes, vehicles, motorcycles, and decks as well as walkways, patios, gazebos, and railings.
When choosing LED strip lights, you must determine how much strip you’ll be powering. Measure the length of all areas where you’ll install your strip lighting. Account for gaps as well as dips and turns around corners.
Strips are available in set lengths, and select styles are available in custom lengths. When you determine how much strip you’ll need, you’ll have to find out the maximum run of the strip you want.
- All LED strip lights have a maximum run, which is the length of a continuous strip that can be powered without experiencing voltage drop. Voltage drop happens when the supplied energy of a power source is reduced as electric current flows through wire (or any other pieces of equipment that don’t supply voltage on a circuit). If a run of strip is too long, reduced energy across the strip will lessen its intensity near the end.
How to Avoid Voltage Drop:
- If you’re interested in one of our 12-volt strips, we offer 24-volt alternatives that can be installed in longer runs. If you’re still going to exceed your strip’s maximum run, use the steps below.
- After you’ve reached the max run of your strip, wire additional strips to your power supply.
- This solution is acceptable for single-color strips that only need on/off functionality.
- If you plan on installing more than the maximum run of your LED strip lights, additional strip sections must be wired to the power supply instead of to the previous strip. After you’ve wired your next section to the power supply, you wouldn’t need to run back to power again until you’ve reached the maximum run for the new section. For example, if you need a continuous 49-foot run of strip lights for a project and your strip light has a maximum run of 16 3/8 feet, you must wire the strip back to power twice after your initial connection—once for every 16 3/8 feet of strip lighting.
- You can either run the wire from each strip to the power supply or controller, or you could use one run of a higher gauge wire and splice each strip into it using a “T” Tap Wire Splice Connector.
- You can place strips close enough together to look as though they’re connected, and if the power supply is connected to a wall switch, the strips will power on and off simultaneously. If it’s not connected to a switch, you’ll have to run all strips back to a controller that is connected to the power supply. However, you must ensure the controller can handle the amount of power the strips will draw. Controllers give an amp or wattage rating.
- If you want to dim your strips or if you have an RGB, RGBW, or tunable white strip light, you’re going to need an amplifier.
- An option for avoiding voltage drop would be to use an LED amplifier between maximum runs of strip. These devices amplify power from the end of one strip to the beginning of the next to avoid any power loss and extend the maximum run of LED strip lights.
Strips are available in 12- and 24-volt versions. The voltage you choose will depend on where you’ll install your strips. For example, most vehicles will require a 12-volt LED strip light. In most other applications, voltage usually only comes into play if you want longer runs of strip. A 24-volt strip usually has a longer maximum run than the 12-volt version of the same strip. Choosing strips with longer maximum runs will help you avoid wiring several sections of strip to your power supply or using amplifiers. You will need a power supply that matches the voltage of whichever strip you choose.
Strip color options include pink, UV (blacklight), blue, green, yellow, amber, and red. Single-color LED strip lights are also available in cool, natural, and warm white. These strips are capable of different color modes and intensities when you’re using a single-color controller. They must be used with single-color accessories.
The shade and color rendering capabilities of a white strip are determined by its correlated color temperature (CCT) and color-rendering index (CRI).
- Correlated Color Temperature
- CCT indicates the hue and tone of white light emitted from a specific LED strip light. You can find CCT in a strip’s specifications table.
- 2000K-3500K = orange/yellow called ultra warm or warm white
- 3500K-5100K = “paper white” called natural or neutral white
- 5100K+ = bluish-white known as cool white
- CRI indicates how accurately a light source reveals the true colors of objects, people, clothing, etc. when compared to how colors are shown in incandescent light or daylight. The closer a light’s CRI is to 100 (the CRI of incandescent light or daylight), the better the color rendition of objects under that light.
- High-CRI strip lights are great for retail shops, jewelry cases, supermarkets, food and meat cases, museums, galleries, videography, under-cabinet lighting, and other applications where depth of color is critical.
Tunable white strip lights provide a range of color from warm to cool white. A tunable white controller is required to change shades of white. These strips are beneficial for areas that can function for different purposes (ex. using the dining room table for dinner or homework). They must be used with tunable white accessories.
Use these LED strip lights to match time of day/natural light color. This will help keep your natural circadian rhythm. For example, use natural white in the morning, cool white in the afternoon, and warm white in the evening.
RGB strips use red, green, and blue LEDs to create a variety of colors including white. However, this white will appear with a purple hue. RGB controllers are required for color selection as well as speed, brightness, and mode control. These strips must be used with RGB accessories.
RGBW strips have separate white LED chips in addition to RGB LEDs. Separate white LEDs eliminate the strange hues typically associated with RGB “white” color. RGBW controllers are required for color selection as well as speed, brightness, and mode control. These strips must be used with RGBW accessories.
Colored LED strip light brightness is measured in millicandelas, and white strip brightness is measured in lumens. The brightness of one candle is approximately one candela. A millicandela is brightness in thousandths of a candela. There are calculators for converting millicandelas into lumens, but that will most likely result in a deceptively low lumen value.
Lumens measure light wavelengths in all colors of the visible spectrum. Because multiple wavelengths create white light and colored strips are a single-wavelength source, colored strips will have lower lumen readings. However, they will appear equally as bright as the white version of that strip.
What You'll Need:
Unless you are using a strip in a vehicle and connecting it directly to the vehicle's wiring system, you'll need a power supply.
- How to determine what power supply you need:
- Your strip light's voltage must match the power supply's voltage (12 volts or 24 volts).
- For more information on both options, see the post LED Strip Lighting: Choosing the Right LED Power Supply.
- You can use the power supply calculator to the right or use the equation explained below.
- The total wattage of your LED strip lighting has to be at least 20 percent less than the power supply's rated wattage. For example, if you have an LED strip light that requires 80 watts of power to run, you'll need a power supply rated for at least 96 watts.
- Take the length of your LED strip in feet and multiply it by watts consumed per foot, then multiply by 1.2.
- Your strip light's voltage must match the power supply's voltage (12 volts or 24 volts).
- (length (ft) x watts (ft) x 1.2
- This will give you the minimum sized power supply you’ll need to run your strips. Because power supplies are available in a variety of wattages, you’ll take the number you came up with and find the closest power supply that is rated for a wattage higher than that number. Super Bright LEDs’ power supplies range from six watts to 1,500 watts for compatibility with a wide variety of LED strip lights.
Multiple options are available for controlling LED strip lights—from dimmers that adjust only brightness to controllers with wireless remotes used to adjust colors, modes, speed, and brightness. Motion sensors are also available to operate strips automatically when someone is near them.
- Single-color controllers let you change the color, mode, speed, or brightness of your strip.
- Single-color dimmers let you adjust only the strip’s brightness.
- Use Dream-Color controllers and remotes to select or adjust color-chasing/changing patterns, speed, or brightness on Dream-Color LED strip lights.
- Control your RGB or RGBW LED strip lights using your smartphone or tablet with a Wi-Fi controller and Wi-Fi hub. Download the Milight app, and sync your device to the controller to operate your strips from anywhere.
Depending on your installation, you might need several accessories, such as pigtail connectors or interconnect jumpers to join strip sections, CPS adapters to connect strips to a power supply, extra wire for covering gaps in an installation area, mounting clips, adhesive foam pads, silicone tubing, end caps, and heat shrink tubing for waterproofing, wire nuts, and more.
How To Mount:
You can quickly and easily apply your strip to any surface if it has a peel-and-stick adhesive backing. Clean the installation area and peel off the strip backing as you install it.
If the area you wish to adhere your strip to is not entirely smooth, you can benefit from 3M Adhesion Promoter. This product will allow your strips to adhere better to the installation surface.
For added security or if your strips don’t have an adhesive backing, you can use strip mounting clips to permanently attach them to a surface.
Aluminum Channels/Klus Housings
Create your own light fixture with an aluminum profile housing, end caps, and a lens. Also known as extrusions, strip channels give LED strip lights a clean, finished look. LED linear extrusions are available in various shapes and styles. Choose from flexible extrusions for bends and turns, channels for edge-lit glass, corner-mount channels for stair nosings or shelf lighting, and more.
Click here to learn how to create a fixture with aluminum channels.
Turning a corner
Covering a gap
End of max run
When installing a strip, you might encounter certain obstacles, such as gaps, corners, reaching the end of a strip run, or the need to seal or weatherproof connections. There are accessories used to help install strip lights in all of these situations.
Connecting LED Strip Lights
Soldering is a way to securely, permanently bond LED strip lights together. You’ll need a soldering iron and solder. When soldering strip together, you might need scissors, additional wire, and silicone sealant for waterproof and weatherproof strips that have been cut and will be rejoined.
Click here to learn how to solder.
Pigtail connectors, interconnect cables and jumpers, CPS connectors, splitter cables, and angle connectors all allow you to connect strips together or to power supplies and controllers. They can be easily removed and used to easily connect strips to extra wire when covering a space that will not be illuminated, such as a kitchen window when installing under-cabinet lighting.
Turning a Corner
You might come across a corner when you’re installing bias lighting, cove lighting, sign lighting, etc. You can either solder a small run of wire between the strips on both sides of the corner or use a strip connector.