SUBSCRIBE
Love to stay in the know?
Sign up for our blog digest!

The Ultimate LED Strip Lighting Guide

LED strip lighting can be used for countless home, landscape, vehicle, retail, office, and industrial applications—from under-cabinet lighting to creating powerful ceiling light fixtures. They’re available in a variety of lengths, intensities, colors, and voltages. And with compatible accessories as well as peel-and-stick adhesive backings, they can be easily installed and mounted. If you’re struggling with deciding which strip is right for your application, choosing a power supply or accessories, or how to install LED strip lights, you’re in the right place.

 

LED strip lights - how to choose LED strip lightingLED strip lights - what you need for LED strip lightingLED strip lights - how to mount LED strip lighting

 

LED strip lights - obstacles in LED strip lighting

 

Popular How Tos:

LED strip lights - under cabinet LED strip lightingLED strip lights - cove LED strip lightingLED strip lights - pool LED strip lighting

 

 

Choosing LED strip lights

Indoor/Outdoor

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 that indicates the size of solids and pressure of liquids that a strip can resist.

Indoor

These strips are rated below IP65 and aren’t meant to 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.

LED strip lights - indoor LED strip lighting

Outdoor

Outdoor strips are rated IP65 and above. They’re designed for applications such as landscape lighting, vehicle lighting, motorcycle lighting, deck lighting, walkways, patios, gazebos, and railings.

LED strip lights - outdoor LED strip lighting


Length

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 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.

LED strip lights - maximum run

How to Avoid Voltage Drop:

  • After you’ve reached the max run of your strip, wire additional strips to your power supply.
    • This is an acceptable solution 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 will need to 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 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 need to make sure 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.

  • 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.

LED strip lights - amplifiers


Voltage

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.


Color

Single Color

Strip color options include pink, UV (blacklight), blue, green, yellow, amber, red, and orange. Single-color LED strip lights are also available in cool, natural, warm, and ultra 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

LED strip lights - correlated color temperature of LED strip lighting

  • Color-Rendering Index
    • 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.

what is cri

Tunable White

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

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

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.


Brightness

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.

LED strip lights - brightness of LED strip lighting

 

LED strip lights -supplies for LED strip lighting

Power Supply

LED strip lights - power supplies for LED strip lighting

Unless you’re 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:
    • You can use the power supply calculator on each strip’s product page or use an equation (explained a few lines down).
    • The voltage of your strip light must match the voltage of the power supply (12 volt or 24 volt).
    • Equation
      • 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 that’s 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.

LED strip lights - watts per foot of LED strip lighting

  • (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.

Controller/Dimmer/Sensor

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

Options include dimmers and controllers with remotes, in-line dimmers and controllers, and knob dimmers for single-color LED strip lights.

  • 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.

LED strip lights - single color dimmers and controllers

Tunable White

These controllers let you change the color temperature (from cool to ultra warm white) and brightness of a tunable white strip light.

LED strip lights - tunable white controllers and dimmers

RGB/RGBW

These controllers let you change the color, color-changing mode, speed, or brightness of your RGB or RGBW strip. Choose between many dynamic or static single-color or color-changing modes.

  • 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.

LED strip lights - RGBW and RGB controllers


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 strips.

Types of amplifiers:

See examples of how to use an amplifier in our cove lighting and pool lighting posts.

LED strip lights - amplifiers for LED strip lighting


Accessories

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.

LED strip lights - accessories for LED strip lighting

 

LED strip lights - mounting LED strip lighting

Adhesive Backing

You can quickly and easily apply your strip to any surface if it has a peel-and-stick adhesive backing. Simply 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.

LED strip lights - adhesive backing


Mounting Clips

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.

LED strip lights - mounting clips


Aluminum Channels/Klus Housings

Create your own light fixture with aluminum profile housings. Complete with end caps and lenses, the housings give strips 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.

LED strip lights - aluminum channels

 

LED strip lights - obstacles
Connecting strips
Turning a corner
Covering a gap
End of max run
Waterproofing/weatherproofing

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

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.

soldering LED strip lights

 

Connectors

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.

LED strip lights connectors


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.

LED strip lights - 90 degree corner connector

 

 

 

 

 

 

Possible supplies: interconnect jumper, 90-degree connector, pigtail connector, two-conductor, tunable whiteRGB, or RGBW wire, wire nuts, solder gun, solder


Covering a Gap

When you’re installing LED strip lights, you might come across a gap where you don’t want your strip to run.

LED strip lights - covering a gap

Examples:

Under-Cabinet Lighting: stoves, sinks, windows, cabinet junctions

Vehicle Footwell Lighting: center consoles

Deck Rail Lighting: steps

Possible supplies: interconnect jumper, pigtail connector, two-conductortunable whiteRGB, or RGBW wire, wire nuts, solder gun, solder

Visit our under-cabinet/over-cabinet post to see examples of how to cover a gap.


Max Run

After you’ve reached the maximum run of your strip, wire additional strips to your power supply.

  • This is an acceptable solution 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 will need to 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 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 need to make sure 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.

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.

Types of Amplifiers:

LED strip lights - amplifiers


Waterproofing/Weatherproofing

Strips that will be installed outside or near water should be weatherproof or waterproof. If you’ve altered your strip in any way or if you’ve connected it to another strip by soldering or with a connector, you will need make sure that all connections and exposed conductive traces are sealed.

weatherproof and waterproof LED strip lights

 

Sealant

Use sealant to apply a protective silicone coating if you’ve removed existing silicone to connect to another strip or amplifier. You can also use sealant to adhere end caps to strips.

LED strip lights - silicone sealant

 

Silicone Tubing & End Caps

This tubing makes non-weatherproof strips waterproof. It’s available in 8- and 10-mm widths and should be used with silicone sealant and silicone end caps.

End caps are designed to seal the ends of weatherproof or waterproof LED strip lights. They should be applied with silicone sealant.

LED strip lights - silicone tubingLED strip lights - silicone end caps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heat Shrink

Options include heat shrink tubes and butt connectors that create a weatherproof seal when heat is applied.

LED strip lights - heat shrinkLED strip lights - butt connectors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Tape/Self-Fusing Silicone Tape

With PVC or self-fusing silicone electrical tape, you can insulate and weatherproof or waterproof wire splices or strip connection points.

LED strip lights - electrical tapeLED strip lights - silicone electrical tape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For technical questions, don’t hesitate to call us toll free at 866-590-3533. Our customer service and technical support teams are available from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. CDT Monday-Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT on Friday.