In this three part blog series we’ll be going through the steps you need to take to design your own LED light strip system. Check back next week for part two, and the week after for part three.
The first stage in LED system design is to determine what you want your system to do and what kind of lighting and controls work within your system requirements. LED strips come in various colors, densities and styles; power supplies in dimmable and non dimmable versions; and controllers or dimmers in multicolor (RGB or RGBW), single color, and with various control options. When you’re done with Part 1, you’ll be able to make something like the statement below.
“I want single color strips in cool white for indoor use, controlled by a low voltage dial dimmer, and bright enough for task lighting. “
Editor’s note : What follows is a condensed version of LED lights strip selection. For an in-depth guide to picking your LED light strip, check out our free eBook.
To select your LED light strip, you’ll ask yourself the following questions.
1) Will I use it indoors or outdoors?
Unless your strip will be located outdoors, or somewhere it may get wet (such as a bathroom) then there’s little reason to pick outdoor strips. The only exceptions might be for added protection (if they’ll be installed somewhere they could get damaged) or if you’re interested in the added diffusion the outdoor strips offer. Read more about indoor vs. outdoor strips here.
2) What color do I want?
First, determine if you want single color (a specific shade of white) or multicolor (selectable color, usually with a remote). Multicolor strips can output white, but if your system will use primarily white, then we recommend single color (for various reasons, discussed here).
If you’re picking single color, then you have an additional choice - which color? HitLights has lights ranging from Warm White to Cool White, each with their own benefits. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference, however. Warm whites produce a soft, cozy light and are great for homes, while cool whites produce something close to a bright outside day and are often preferred for business use. Neutral whites are somewhere in between, and put out a very pure white. If color reproduction is important, Neutral white is the way to go. Read more about color temperature selectionhere.
If you’re picking multicolor, you have the additional choice between RGB (Red, Green, Blue) or RGBW (Red, Green, Blue, White) strips. RGB strips do output white, but it’s a mix of the Red, Green, and Blue LED chips and does not reproduce white 100% accurately. The independent white chip on RGBW strips produces 100% accurate white, but is a little bit more expensive and has less controller options.
3) How much light do I want?
For single color strips, you’ll have choices ranging from around 100 to 800 lumens per foot (a traditional incandescent light bulb, for reference, puts out around 800 lumens). On the low end of that scale, the strips are ideal for accent lighting, and won’t put out quite enough to light up a room, for example (unless you use a lot of them!). On the higher end, you can use them to light up entire rooms, or for high intensity task lighting to work by.
|Lumen Output||Suggested Use|
|< 100 Lumens per foot||Accent lighting only|
|100 - 200 Lumens per foot||Accent lighting or General lighting|
|200 - 400 Lumens per foot||General lighting or Task lighting|
|400 - 800 Lumens per foot||High intensity task lighting|
RGB strips come in just two brightness options, low density or high density, and do not have a lumen rating (although they can be, respectively, roughly equated to accent and general lighting)
4) Other strip considerations
- Do you have very long runs of strips?
Unless you have special length requirements (long runs of LED greater than 33 feet) then 12 volt strips will be fine - otherwise you might consider 24 volt strips that are more suitable for longer runs.
- Are you powering your setup with a battery?
If you’re using a battery, then you might have certain power requirements and wish to use less powerful strips to meet those.
- Do you have any other special requirements of your strip?
Do you need accurate color reproduction? Then our high CRI Premium Strips might be more suitable. Do you need to meet electrical code in your state or locality? The same Premium strips will be UL-Listed and will meet most codes.
For more information on these special strip considerations, check out our full LED strip light guide here.
Single color strips do not require a control option - they can connect directly to a power supply for ‘always on’ power (if you so desire) or controlled with a low voltage or high voltage dimmer. Multicolor strips MUST have a controller to function. Below you’ll find various power / control options to select from.
Option 1 : No control
You’ll connect your strip directly to your power supply. If the power supply is connected to power, your strip is on. There is no way to control brightness of the strip.
You might use this option if you want your strip to turn on at the flick of a light switch.
Option 2 : Low voltage dimming
You’ll use a low voltage dimmer or switch between the strip and the power supply. HitLights sells a variety of control options, from simple on/off switches, to dial dimmers, to remote controlled dimmers. These dimmers use PWM dimming. You can use any of our regular power supplies for this option.
You might use this option for simple installations where you want some degree of dimming ability.
Option 3 : High voltage dimming
You’ll use a high voltage dimmer switch between a dimmable power supply and the power supplies connection to your house wiring. The high voltage dimmer switch controls the dimmable power supply, causing the strip to dim.
You might use this option for higher end installations where you want to keep wires hidden and you want more accurate and permanent dimming options.
Option 4 : Switchex
Our Switchex Dimmer / Driver combination takes the high voltage dimmer switch and dimmable power supply from Option 3 and combines them into one compact unit.
You might use this option in all cases you’d use Option 3 - but especially if you’re concerned about installation time, complexity, or reliability.
Option 1 : Inline push button control
Inline push button controllers are a super simple control solution that has control buttons integrated into the control unit. They’re effective, simple, and inexpensive.
You might use this option if your control demands are few, or if you’re concerned about losing a remote.
Option 2 : Remote control
Remote controllers are ideal if your controller is installed in a hard to reach location, such as above kitchen cabinets or in crown molding. Remote controls are available in Infra-Red (IR) options that require line of sight and in Radio-Frequency (RF) options that do not (and can function through most walls.
You might use this option if your controller is installed in a hard to reach location.
Option 3 : DMX control
DMX control provides you with unlimited control options. The DMX controller is programmed with the included software bundle, meaning you can program your own custom colors, patterns and more.
You might use his option if you have custom colors, patterns, or other specific control needs that are not met by the other control options.
Part 2 and Part 3 will be difficult or impossible if you cannot clearly define what you want. Write down your ‘What do you want?’ statement in the format of one of the examples below.
I want single color strips in cool white for indoor use, controlled by a wall dimmer switch, and bright enough for task lighting.
I want RGB multicolor strips for indoor use with DMX control for accent lighting.
I want single color strips in warm white for outdoor use, with no control options, and bright enough for simple accent lighting.
Next week we’ll return with part 2 (What do you have?), where we’ll work to define and measure where you’ll be installing your LED system so that you can accurately answer part 3 (What do you need?)
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