How do LED light strip work

How do LED Light Strips work?

led strip lights

LED strip lights have become an increasingly popular lighting option in homes and businesses due to their energy efficiency, versatility, and sleek modern design. But how exactly do these flexible ribbons of light work? This comprehensive guide will explain the key components, operating principles, installation, and benefits of LED strip lighting.

What are LED Strip Lights?

LED, short for light-emitting diode, refers to a type of semiconductor that emits light when electrical current passes through it. LED strip lights contain a series of surface-mounted LED diodes placed in a line along a flexible circuit board. The LEDs are coated in a protective epoxy resin.

The circuit board is slim, flexible, and can be cut to desired lengths. Manufacturers often pre-apply an adhesive backing for easy installation onto surfaces. LED strips are powered by connecting the ends to a 12V or 24V DC power supply.

Main Components of an LED Strip

Here are the main components that make up a typical LED strip light:

LED Diodes

The light-emitting diodes serve as the light source itself. LEDs come in different colors, like warm white, cool white, blue, red, green, etc. Higher density LEDs spaced more closely together will result in brighter light output.

Printed Circuit Board

The PCB is a thin, flexible board that contains conductive copper traces. These traces distribute electricity evenly across the entire strip to power each LED.

Current-Limiting Resistors

Resistors regulate and control the voltage flowing to each individual LED diode. This prevents issues from overheating or overload.

Protective Casing

The waterproof plastic or silicone casing encapsulates the components to protect against weather, dust, and impacts. Outdoor LED strips need fully sealed casings.

Adhesive Backing

Many LED strips have a self-adhesive backing, usually 3M tape. This allows direct installation onto various surface materials.

Connecting Wires

Wires or solder points at both ends of the strip connect to the DC power supply or controller. Some include connectors to link multiple strips.

How LED Strips Produce Light

The lighting process of an LED strip is simple:

  • Electricity flows from the power supply into the copper traces printed on the flexible PCB.
  • This electric current is distributed evenly across the entire strip through the traces.
  • The resistors regulate voltage to each LED, preventing uneven brightness or diode damage.
  • The LEDs illuminate when the diodes receive the current, emitting visible light photons.
  • LED color depends on the semiconductor material composition; white LEDs blend blue with yellow phosphor.
  • A higher density of LEDs results in greater overall brightness.
  • Strips can be cut between sections without harming other LEDs. Each part gets direct power.
  • Waterproof casings prevent shorts, current leaks, and component corrosion.

In summary, electricity energizes the series of LEDs to emit various colors of bright, vibrant light. The modular LED sections allow for flexible placement in any shape.

LED Strip Light Installation Tips

Installing LED strip lighting is generally quick and easy. Here are some guidelines for optimal LED strip placement:

Indoor Installation

  • Thoroughly clean and dry the chosen mounting area first. Dirt or moisture reduces adhesive effectiveness.
  • Peel off the backing strip and firmly press the LED strip along the entire length to maximize hold.
  • For a permanent fixed installation, use mounting clips or tracks to reinforce the adhesive. This prevents sagging.
  • Carefully align copper pads and connectors when joining strips to avoid bending or twisting.

Outdoor Installation

  • Use only outdoor-rated LED strips with fully waterproof casings to prevent shorts.
  • Fix firmly to surfaces using screws, tracks, or silicone adhesive for the strongest hold.
  • Seal all connection points between strips and wiring using watertight connectors and silicone.
  • Check local electrical codes for any restrictions when installing outdoor lighting.

Proper LED strip placement and adhesion keeps the lights securely mounted in any location while protecting against weather and physical impacts.

Powering LED Strip Lights

LED strips require direct current (DC) electricity at either 12V or 24V to operate. Hooking the lights up is straightforward:

  • Use a compatible UL-listed DC power supply matched to the LED strip’s voltage and wattage ratings.
  • Connect the supply’s low voltage wires to the solder points or terminals at the strip’s end.
  • Ensure correct polarity – positive to positive, negative to negative. Reversed wires can damage the LEDs.
  • Connect multiple LED strips in parallel to a sufficiently rated power supply. Do not overload its capacity.
  • Limit total strip length to prevent excessive voltage drop. 10-15 meters is ideal for most 12V strips.
  • Use an LED controller to adjust colors, dimming, automation, and synchronize effects.

Choosing an adequate power supply and carefully wiring the LED strips preserves their lifespan and prevents shorts.

Benefits of LED Strip Lights

There are many advantages that make LED strip lighting a top choice for accent, display case, cove, under cabinet, and task lighting:

Energy Efficient

LEDs consume up to 90% less electricity than incandescent bulbs for the same brightness. This saves energy and money.

Long Lifespan

Quality LED strips can last over 50,000 hours with negligible light output decrease over time. Their lifespan far exceeds traditional bulbs.

Low Heat Emission

LEDs run cool without getting hot like halogens or incandescents. This allows safe installation in tight spaces.

Thin and Flexible

The thin, flexible form factor allows LED strips to fit almost anywhere. They take up very little space.


With no filaments or glass, LED strips are very rugged and resistant to vibrations, drops, and weather.

Bright and Vibrant Light

High-density LEDs produce bright, vibrant illumination perfect for accent lighting applications.

Color Changing Effects

Choose from cool or warm white, colored, RGB, and tunable color changing LED strips.


Many LED strip lights are dimmable when paired with the proper compatible LED dimmer controller.

With impressive longevity, efficiency, versatile lighting effects, and ruggedness, it’s clear why LED strips are the top lighting pick for displays, task lighting, indirect lighting, and more.


LED strip lighting provides an extremely versatile, durable, and energy-efficient lighting solution. The simple modular design allows for convenient shaping, linking, and installation almost anywhere. By following proper mounting and wiring guidelines, LED strips can safely produce perfect lighting effects for many years given their 50,000+ hour lifespan. Whether you’re looking to add accent lighting, illuminate display cases, or light up task areas, LED strips are an easy-to-use lighting option with many benefits compared to traditional bulb-based fixtures.


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