LED strip lighting is popular with kitchen designers, cabinet makers, interior designers and anyone looking to add functional lighting to their space world-wide. In this post, we aim to provide an overview of LED strip lighting, what it is and how it all works together.
Four parts make up an LED strip lighting system:
- LED Ribbon
- LED Driver
LED ribbon is the main functional part. Essentially it is a flexible strip of plastic and copper with lots of surface mounted LED’s (or SMD’s – Surface Mounted Diodes). Usually, this ribbon requires either 12 Volt or 24 Volt DC power. This ribbon comes in 5-metre rolls, can be joined into longer runs or cut to required lengths.
Pictured above is very common SMD3528 ribbon. What does this number mean? It means the individual Surface Mounted LED chip dimensions are 3.5mm X 2.8mm. This all that the number “3528” means: “3.5*2.8”. Consecutively, SMD2216 would mean “2.2mm by 1.6mm”. All this number is the size of an individual chip.
The base strip is insulated and has a layer of adhesive at the bottom so you can peel and stick to almost any clean surface. The bottom of the ribbon is insulated so you can stick it onto metal surfaces or, preferably specialised aluminium LED channel, without any worries.
Unlike MR16 LED lamps, the polarity matters when it comes to LED Ribbon. LED ribbon cannot rectify. Always observe polarity.
LED Ribbon Voltage
The selection of LED ribbon voltage deserves a separate post, which we hope to complete shortly. Stay tuned.
Important: match the LED driver to your ribbon of choice correctly!
LED driver requires connection to mains 220V. This is a job for an electrician or a suitably qualified person.
LED Driver is the most complex component of LED lighting system and is responsible for majority of failures. Quality is important.
LED Driver is the power supply which produces a constant voltage, typically 12 or 24 volts, but other voltages are available although uncommon. Constant Voltage drivers come in all shapes and sizes. Some CV LED drivers are the size of an old matchbox, while some are the size of a brick. Some CV LED drivers look like an old halogen transformer while some resemble a computer power supply. The most common LED driver is about the size and shape of a transformer used with halogen recessed downlights and looks very similar to one.
leftmost: 12V DC 12W LED driver Meanwell APV-12-12
2nd from left: 12V DC 50W LED driver Meanwell NES-50-12 “The Brick”
top right: Tridonic Possum 12VAC 60VA electronic transformer for halogen lamps (for comparison)
bottom right: 12V DC 12W LED driver Prolux Q4-12V-12W
LED Channel and Diffuser
Both LED Channel and Diffuser turn LED ribbon into a functional strip light. LED ribbon sits inside the channel, typically covered with a diffuser so that LED’s are protected mechanically, the whole setup is easy to clean and looks good, achieving a professional finish.
While not strictly required, LED channel protects the LED ribbon mechanically and provides thermal management.
There are two major types of LED channels: Recessed, surface mounted and angle.
- Surface mounted LED channel is basically a U-shape extrusion with some grooves.
- Recessed LED channel is designed to sit inside a routed out groove. This channel has flanges on both sides to hide the edges of the routed groove.
- Angle LED channel is 90° L-shape in cross-section and typically sits in 90° corners.
In all cases LED channel acts as a heat sink, helping draw the heat away from the ribbon, thus prolonging the lifetime of LEDs. The aluminium LED channel is easy to cut. We recommend using a fine hacksaw but if you have access to a bandsaw it will make it easier.
The diffuser further protects the ribbon by covering it from dust. Also, the diffuser is easy to clean, much easier than cleaning LED ribbon itself.. The aesthetic benefit of the diffuser is that it makes the strip of light appear continuous, without the individual dots of the LED ribbon.
LED Switches and Accessories
Finally we have our LED ribbon sitting inside extrusion. What can we add to make this LED strip light more useful?
At Astrum Lighting we stock:
- Low power PIR sensors. These are sensors designed specifically for LED and low power applications.
- Touch dimmer switches. Simply hold your finger on the button to dim up or down or touch once to switch on/off.
- Infrared cupboard door switches. Completely silent door switches which are ideal for kitchen cabinetry.
These components complete the lighting systems making them more useful and user-friendly.