Using LED strips has a lot of advantages. First, it’s relatively cheap. Apart from the fact that RGB strips can make any color, they’re small which makes them easy to hide. Also, they’re easy to install in cars or boats since they use 12v.
Here is a complete guide with useful information and techniques on how to use LED strips as accent lighting. We included picking out lightings, controlling, powering, and different ways to hang them.
Step1: Ordering your LEDs
Searching for RGB LED strips will give a TON of options. Here’s a trick, there’s a very specific you need to do: just search for 5050 RG, 5M 300. Here’s a breakdown of the individual parts:
5050 – This is the type of LED and the standard part. It is big and bright, but can still run cool. Avoid 3528’s in LED strips—although they’re common, they’re a lot smaller and dimmer. And choosing bigger than 5050 is more expensive and is a lot hotter.
RGB – This is a tri-color strip—Red Green Blue. Mixing the different colors gives you any color in the rainbow.
5M – This means 5 meters and is the longest length I’ve found. You can use it pretty fast. You can go any shorter, but you’ll pay extra.
300 – This is the count of LEDs. Although the most common setups are a 5M strip with 150 LEDs or 5M with 300 LEDs, I still recommend the 300 count. The latter is a lot brighter and the price difference isn’t that much.
For an easy search, this set should get you started. It comes with a power supply and controller:
For a recap:
Search 5050 RGB 5M 300 on Amazon or eBay and pick one. If you are doing a large room, you have to order all the LEDs at once for the whites can be slightly off. In my own living room, I have one set of strips which has a warm, pinkish white. The other set is light cool blue. Order your LEDs all at once so they’ll all math.
I like waterproof LEDs because they make the strands easier to work with. Waterproof ones have fair weight and can flex more easily. The coating also helps prevent shorts as you mount the strips using staples or other metal fasteners. The weight can only become an issue if you want to hang them off the bottom of something and you want to rely on the built-in tape. Other than that, I don’t see any disadvantages. Also, waterproof LEDs works best if you are planning for an outdoor LED accent lighting.
Step 2: Powering Your LEDs
You can actually get the little controller that comes with the LEDs and that’s the easiest way. They are so cheap if you get them with a 5M strip of LEDs like the link posted in the last step. You can skip to step 5 if you ordered a set the has a power supply and controller.
There are two things that you should consider: volts and amps. You can alter the voltage just a little bit, but remember that messing it up can be dangerous. Going too high will definitely stress the components and can lead to fires. Going too low will make any powering not work. To be sure, just play it safe and use the recommended voltage.
Too little amps will not give the device enough power. Too many amps will allow the device to only use what it needs. So, you can actually skip on amps.
It is best to use a 12v power supply with at least 4 amps if you are using a 5M strip. Your standard 12v 1A brick won’t actually cut it; if you don’t have one, you can order it with the LED strips
If you’re planning for larger installations, I recommend you to use old computer power supplies. They actually contain 12v, lots of power, and are fused; so, you can sleep soundly at night without worrying they will burn your house down.
Step 3: Using a Computer Power Supply
You can skip this step if you’re not using a computer power supply.
Quick and Dirty:
First, get a small piece of wire. Next, short the green (should only be one) and black (any of them) lines. This will turn on the power supply. Lastly, plug the lights into the yellow and black wire.
Yellow = 12v+
Red = 5v+
Black = Ground (all -)
Take apart the case. First, cut all the wires off and leave a couple of black wires, green wires, and some yellow wires. Next, unplug the fan if you want. Then, strip the green and black wires; twist them together and hide them somewhere inside the case. You can also solder the green wire to ground if you are comfortable reading the circuit boards. Lastly, run the yellow and black wires outside of the case; put back together.
Step 4: Controlling Your LEDs
For those who have no experience in handling electronics, I suggest that you just get the controller with the RGB strips. This controller is simple and they certainly work; however, the only disadvantage is you’ll end up with multiple remotes to control the lights especially if you’re using multiple 5M strips.
You can also manage the light with a micro-controller for advanced setups. This is what I usually do, but my shield is not ready for documentation. Though I can post the power IC’s I use and give you the basic diagram in case anyone wants to make their own controller.
These power IC’s are designed for automotive use, can support PWM, can handle a lot of amps at 12v, and have built-in fuses to avoid undesirable events. That’s why they are my favorites for switching 12v with 5v. If you cross some wires and short them out, they usually stop conducting until the issues are resolved.
The above mentioned IC’s have three (3) pins—the Source, Drain, and In. Mosfets have all these three. Just imagine that the In is Gate, and you can use these just like Mosfets, but with less math.
All of the LED strips I have bought have are common anode. This means that it has one positive line and three grounds, one for each LED. If you are planning to make your own circuit design, be sure you are switching grounds.
The attached schematic is a basic circuit that you can use to switch one channel of an LED strip with a 5v logic line. If you are doing an RGB strip, you’ll have to repeat this process three times, one for each channel.
Step 5: Ordering Your Wires
If you’re looking for cheap cabling, Monoprice.com is the one stop shop for you. I ordered my stuff from there and I’m currently using the 4 strand 16AWG. The wires have decent thickness. They also have different colors that easy to identify. The only disadvantage is that the entire package is somehow stiff. If anyone can find a more loosened 4-strand wire with a comparable gauge, let me know in the comments.
Speaker cable or lamp cord will work just fair for single color runs (only two wires needed). My deck lights which only uses white color are hooked up using a cheap spool of lamp cord that I purchased from a local hardware store.
Step 6: Wiring Your Lights
You are only able to cut LED strips at certain points, or otherwise, you can no longer solder onto the ends. First, look for copper pads spaced every 3 LEDs and cut across the middle of the pads. You can also locate them through reading the labels. You’ll see + R G B or just a marking on the common power line just like in the picture. Lastly, to wire up the LED strips, just combine similar pins (e.g. + to +, R to R, etc.).
For those with a waterproof strip, you have to trim some of the plastic in order to get to the solder pads. You need to strip the wires and tin the along with the pads on the LED strip. Next, attach the wires to the pad and heat them up so you can solder them together. Just be sure to observe the gap between the wires. Lastly, use hot glue to seal the end after soldering, and be sure to glue the gaps between them.
For smaller bends, pull off the outer sheeting for cleaner wiring.
Step 7: Methods for Hanging Lights
There are different methods on how to hang your lights. Here are some:
1.)Built-in double-sided tape:
First, use the built-in tape on the back. They usually work on smooth surfaces. In my experience, my lights were perfectly stuck on the Power Wheels and at the bottom of my cabinets. When I moved them, they no longer stick as well so I have to use hot glue. You can try this technique, but if it doesn’t work, there are other ways that might work for you.
Although hot glue definitely works well, it sticks to the back of the LED strips. Adding double-sided tape could fail and would separate from the LED strip so I had a better idea. Wrap a small wire around the LED strip on where you want to apply the glue. This would give the hot glue something to grip on and hold the light.
This is pretty simple and my personal favorite. Just hammer it straight in, then bend it over the light. It also best for good solid surfaces.
4.) Staple Gun:
Staples work very well but it could easily damage the LED wire once you accidentally clip it. A standard staple gun can barely clear an RGB LED strip. Also, forcefully shooting staples makes it easy to miss.
Regular staplers only work well when you’re planning to attach the LED wire onto a soft material like pine. It’s safer because they’re much wider and you can insert them slowly.
Step 8: Placement Tips and Tricks
As a general rule of the thumb, never place the LED strips where they are directly seen. They are too bright to look at. If you have problems on how to hide the LEDs, quarter rounds are a good technique to make an extra lip. Since the shelf above my liquor has no lip to hide the LEDs, so I bought a piece of quarter round for $2. I tainted it dark enough to blend in and fixed it in front of the LEDs. Now, the piece can be hardly seen and the LEDs are hidden perfectly from the sight.
In my office, I was planning to put LED lights in my cube; however, there were only a few options. I mounted the LEDs directly on some pieces of quarter rounds. Then, I mounted those around the perimeter of my cube.
You can also try mounting LEDs off from the wall. Giving the strip some space slightly away from the wall will give you a beautiful and even glow. Also, 300 count strips vs 150 count strips can help you with this.
Step 9: Enjoy!