LED strip lights have become very in demand indoor and outdoor lighting because of their versatility and ease of use. Instead of getting stuck with bulky and complicated light fixtures, LED strip lights give you the flexibility and modularity to create your own lighting system. Whenever the lighting requirements change, you can just change your system's configuration instead of a whole fixture. They also provide a wide variety of light fixtures to choose from depending on your needs.
When you hear the term "strip light", the first thing that comes to mind is the tape light. However, there are other strip light types that are suitable for different applications. Rope lights, neon lights, and flexible linear lights are also considered strip lights and can be used as alternatives or supplements to tape lights.
One advantage of LED strip lights over other linear lights is the LED technology. Whether you are using tape lights, neon lights, or rope lights, they all have their own LED versions now. Compared to incandescent and halogen lights, LEDs are universally more energy efficient and produce better, longer-lasting light. There is no need to change light bulbs every year or worry about over-heating and high electric costs. LED strip lights require minimal maintenance and cuts your energy costs by a lot.
Types of LED Strip Lights
LED strip lights are composed of LED chips attached to a flexible strip. These strips have various ways of being configured like the width and length of the strip, number of LED chips, voltage, and brightness of the LED. The most popular types of LED strip lights are tape lights, flexible linear lights, neon lights, and rope lights.
The first and most popular type of light strip is the LED tape light. Flexible tape lights can be found and used anywhere, either indoor or outdoor installations, or residential or commercial applications. LED tape lights are also called ribbon lights because of their form and structure. They come in single color, tunable white, RGB, or RGBW color configurations. These are normally low voltage strip lights that run on 12V or 24V input only.
LED tape lights are bought by reels, but they are field cuttable for custom lengths. You can also use tape light connectors to connect two strips together for longer runs. You can choose between standard output or high output tape lights that produce higher brightness.
Tape Light Styles
Being the most popular type of strip lights, tape lights have different styles and configurations for all types of applications.
Standard Output LED Tape Lights
Standard output LED tape lights are the most commonly used versions. They can be found anywhere from kitchen under cabinets and coves to soffits and patio lighting. They are available in both dry and wet location strips, so they are perfect for most residential and light commercial applications. Standard output HD tape lights have tightly spaced LED chips so you get more LED per foot or cuttable section.
High Output LED Tape Lights
For applications that require higher brightness, high output tape lights are the way to go. These are perfect for building lighting and landscape lighting. These tape lights have higher efficacy or lumens per watt ratio.
COB LED Tape Lights
Chip on Board LED tape lights provide a seamless linear display that eliminate dark spots. Multiple LED chips are encased in a layer of phosphor so they appear as one linear line of light. This eliminates all glare on countertops and low clearance surfaces.
Side View & Twist LED Tape Lights
Side view LED tape lights have the LED chips strategically placed towards the side of the strip so the light comes out at an angle. They are perfect for directional applications like cove lighting and accent lighting. For twist LED tape lights, these are light strips constructed in segments that can be curved and twisted to form irregular and complex shapes.
Tunable White LED Tape Lights
Tunable white LED strip lights offer adjustable color temperatures from 2700K warm white to 6000K daylight to create a full range of white LED light. This allows you to adjust the light color based on the time of day or activity. A special type of tunable white tape light is the dim to warm LED tape light that lets you go from a 3000K warm white to 1800K incandescent dim.
RGB LED Tape Lights
Color changing LED tape lights use red, green, and blue LED chips to create a dynamic color range. RGB tape lights provide millions of color possibilities for decorative and accent lighting. RGBW LED tape lights have the added bonus of white LED chips for an all-in-one tape lighting solution. For a more flexible version, RGB+TW LED tape lights provide a tunable white option for all white color temperatures.
The next type of strip light is the LED flexible linear light. These are closely related to tape lights in style, with the primary difference being that flexible linear lights run on 120V line voltage. They come with a standard wet location rating so they are ideal for outdoor applications. Also like tape lights, these outdoor light strips have different color and length configurations.
Another type of strip light is the LED neon light. These special class of strip lights come in distinctive neon colors for decorative and accent lighting. Choose from red, yellow, green, blue, pink, white, and gold LED neon lights to highlight coves, soffits, and display cases in your home.
The last common type of LED strip light is the rope light. LED rope lights provide 360-degree illumination, compared to the 180-degree light from one-sided strip lights. Rope or tube lights are enclosed in a clear PVC tube that makes them ideal for outdoor wet location applications. They are often used as Christmas or holiday lighting, as well as for accent and landscape lighting.
How To Choose The Right LED Strip Light
Finding the right LED strip light can be a challenge but knowing their different characteristics and features will help in deciding. Read on to learn more about flexible linear lights and how to choose the one you need.
12V vs 24V LED Strip Lights
In choosing the right voltage for your strip light, consider the length of the run that you need. 12V LED strip lights are typical for shorter runs, but for longer runs, use 24V strip lights. This is because as the run gets longer, there is a higher chance of a voltage drop, which is when LEDs towards the end of your strip appear dimmer due to the lower voltage they get. 24V LED strip lights work better on longer runs because they have better chance of sustaining the voltage all the way to the end.
To avoid voltage drop, check the tape light's maximum run and make sure you don't go over it. Incidentally, 24V strips have longer maximum runs than 12V strips. Your power supply also needs to match the voltage of your tape light.
One alternative to using higher voltage strip lights is to wire multiple tape lights directly to the power supply instead of another tape light. Another alternative is to use amplifiers, which amplifies power from one strip end to the start of the next strip.
LED Strip Light Colors
LED strip lights produce beautiful colors in the white and RGB ranges. Playing with color combinations adds to the aesthetic value of strip lights that you cannot achieve with other light fixtures. You can even control the color modes and intensities to suit your needs.
Single color LED strip lights offer the following colors to choose from: blue, green, yellow, pink, red, gold, and amber. They also offer white colors in the following temperatures: warm white, neutral white, cool white, and daylight. Single color strip lights have two wires, one of which controls the light.
One of the latest technologies is the tunable white strip light that lets you choose a color from warm white to cool white. It eliminates the need for multiple strip lights just to get different color temperatures. Tunable white strip lights have three wires, two of those controlling the intensity of the white color: one warm white and one cool white.
For colored light strips, RGB strip lights allow you to choose from red, green, and blue colors, or to blend them to get a different color from the spectrum. These are ideal for restaurants, clubs, and bars for mood lighting and to create a party atmosphere. RGB tape lights have four wires, with red, green, and blue chips getting one wire each.
The last color combination is the RGBW strip light, which combines RGB with a single color white LED chip. More recently there are now RGB+TW strips that have tunable white LED chips for the most flexible configuration. RGBW strips have five wires, with one each for red, blue, green, and white LED chips. The RGB+TW version has six wires: one each for the colors and one each for warm white and cool white.
Deciding whether to go with colored strip lights or white strip lights depends on your needs and where they will be installed. For ambient and task lighting, white colors would be preferable. Use white LED strip lights for under cabinet lighting, closet lighting, and cove lighting. For mood and accent lighting, you can play around with RGB tape lights for different lighting effects. You can also mix and match white and RGB so you can easily switch from work to party mode instantly.
What are High Output Strip Lights?
For simple, all-around applications like task and accent lighting, standard output strip lights should be enough. Under cabinet lighting and cove lighting also require only standard tape lights. If you need higher brightness, you can go for high output LED strip lights that produce more light with the same amount of power. These are better for ambient lighting especially outdoors around the house, or for commercial applications like sign lighting.
Indoor vs Outdoor LED Strip Lights
The versatility of LED strip lights relies on their ability to be installed indoors and outdoors. Which type of strip light you need is determined by the location you place it in.
Indoor strip lights generally do not require a wet location rating because they are not meant to be exposed to water. Indoor installation means the strip is protected from harsh environments that might damage it. Under cabinet lighting, shelf lighting, and cove lighting are the usual indoor applications for LED strip lights. For bathrooms, it is advisable to have at least a damp location rating to protect the fixture from humidity and minimal water splashes.
Outdoor strip lights have a wet location rating and could have an IP rating that determines the type of seal that the fixture has. The higher the IP rating, the more protected the interior of the fixture is from water and dust. Ideally, IP65 is the minimum rating you want for wet location strip lights, and can go up to IP66 or IP67. They are designed for landscape lighting, deck and patio lighting, and perimeter lighting. Aside from wet location tape lights, the best choices for outdoor use are rope lights and flexible linear lights.
Strip Light Accessories
To make the most out of your LED light strips, there are a lot of accessories you can use. Some of them are required for installation and operation, while some improve the way the lights work.
First, you will need a power supply or LED driver to get the strip up and running. As mentioned earlier, the voltage of your strip light, whether it is 12V or 24V, should match the voltage of your power supply. The power supply also needs to be able to handle the load of the tape light. The light's wattage should be within the power supply's rated wattage. If you are wiring multiple tapes to the driver, the total wattage should also be within driver's output.
The power supply also determines if the strip light will be dimmable or not. If a tape light is labeled as dimmable, a compatible dimming driver is required to control it. LED drivers can be configured for 0-10V, Triac, magnetic low voltage (MLV), or electronic low voltage (ELV) dimming.
If you have RGB, RGBW, or tunable white tape lights, tape light controllers allow you to control the color, brightness, and mode of the light. Controllers let you turn on or off, choose the color of the LEDs, increase or decrease the brightness, or enable color-changing mode and other light effects. They usually come with a handheld remote control, or for smart tape lights, a compatible smartphone app to operate from anywhere.
For dimmable strip lights, dimmers let you control the brightness of the LED. Turn the light up to the maximum setting for task and ambient lighting, and then turn it down for accent or mood lighting. There are a lot of different dimmer types to choose from like rotary dimmers, slide dimmers, or touch dimmers.
Strip light connectors, cables, and extensions are required to connect multiple strip lights together. If you need a longer run, connectors allow you to connect two tape lights together for the voltage to flow continuously. On the other hand, cables and extensions connect your lights to the power supply.
Mounting strip lights can be done in multiple ways with accessories. They usually come with double-sided tape at the back to stick to surfaces for easy installation. You can also use mounting clips that have double-sided tape or screws for a more secure mount.
The best way to mount tape lights and flexible linear lights is through aluminum channels. Tape light channels offer an aluminum housing for flexible linear strip lights for easy surface mounting. Also called aluminum extrusion channels, they provide a track to enclose the tape lights to protect them from damage.
Tape light channels can be rigid or bendable, and have different mounting styles like flush mount, recessed mount, and angled mount. There are shallow and deep aluminum channels too. There is a separate frosted lens accessory for strip light channels to create a diffused light effect. Lastly, they come in various lengths and widths to accommodate different strip light sizes.