12 Volt LED Light Strips: Powering and Wiring

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LED strip lights have become a quick and efficient answer to providing accent lighting around your home. A relatively low cost option is low voltage, 12 volt LED strip lighting. These discrete strips are sometimes called led ribbon lights or flexible led strips, referring to the ease at which they form to any surface to provide a soft, smooth accent light. Their low 12VDC power input makes them run at an efficient rate while 5050 LEDs keep it running cool and safe to run in tight spaces. All of these factor into what makes 12V LED strips so great for under cabinet lighting, accent lighting, bookshelf lighting, task lighting, cove lighting and so much more. Since they are 12VDC powered they are also popular in car and boat applications. Throughout this post we will go through how to make sure you are powering your LED strips correctly and different ways of wiring your strips to make for the best LED lighting set up

Basic knowledge of 12V flexible LED strip
Their name says it all, and the strips come with a flexible linear base that can hold 5,050 leds. The 5050 is just the size/type of LED. These are the usual sizes of LED strip lights, which are big and bright but still cool. The 3528 is another common type of LED used in LED strips, which I avoid because they are smaller and darker. Any light greater than 5050 becomes more expensive and runs at a higher temperature, bringing heat dissipation and temperature control into the mixture.

These LED flexible strips come with natural white: 3000K (warm white), 4000K (neutral white) and 6500K (cold white). Color LED strips are available in red, yellow, green, blue and RGB. For more information on the basics of 12V flexible strips, click here.

Those who opt for white LED strips can choose between two different densities. Density is the number of leds along the strip at a certain distance. The standard density strip has 30 leds/m (150 per roll), which emits about 540 lumens per meter. Double in high density ribbon, with led 60 / m (300 per reel) and emit 1080 lumens per m! Those looking for the brightest illumination mission lighting can get should choose high density because they are very bright. Accent lighting usually requires only soft light, but you can use standard density because they are less expensive and not too powerful. Note that the high density strip will operate at higher wattage, but we will supply power below.

12V-LED- strip - bay - lighting
The cutting line of LED flexible strip
The reel length of the 12V LED strip is 16.4 feet (5 meters). At LEDSupply, we offer smaller lengths of 3,6,9 and 12 feet. Strips can be easily cut to size because standard density has a cut mark and pad every 4 inches and high density per 2 inches. Here is a simple example of how to cut custom lengths and add connectors to join strips together.

Lightweight flexible strips are easy to install because they have tape on the back sticking to your surface, flat or round. They are also coated with silicone to prevent water. Using a 12-volt LED strip will reduce setup time and total project cost. Two of the biggest problems people may have are (1) not knowing how much power to buy, or (2) how to connect multiple strips together or return the same power. Below we'll dive into some of the best ways to power an LED strip.

Power the LED strip
These strips require a constant 12VDC input. The only thing you need to know about the power supply for an LED strip is the wattage. The specifications below list the wattage of standard and high density bar lamps. This will help you easily find the power of the system and then select the right power source.

Length (feet) length (meters) 30 LED/M
Wattage: 60 LED/M
1 0.3048 2.4 4.8
2 0.6096 4.8 9.6
3 0.9144 7.2 14.4
6 1.8288 12.15 20.8
9 2.7432 22.05 33.6
12 3.6576 22.05 33.6
16.4 (complete scrolls) v 27 40
Calculate the power, example # 1: therefore, assume that you need to cover a length of about 20 feet in a single physical run of the standard density strip. This can be achieved by using a full reel and then adding four additional legs through a seamless connector. We can find this using the table above.

Power = full wattage (standard) + 3Ft. Wattage plus 1Ft. wattage

Power = 27 watts + 7.2 + 2.4

Power = 36.6 watts

You usually want to give some buffer between the wattage and the power rating. With this app, you should be able to find a 12V power supply with at least 40 watts.

Calculate power, example # 2: for example, you want to run an 18-foot high-density LED strip for other applications.

Wattage = full scroll (high density) x 2Ft. wattage

Wattage = 40 + 9.6

Power = 49.6 w

For this application, I will stick to at least 50 watts. Keep in mind that we want to provide a little bit of buffering for the power supply so that you can choose a 60-watt power supply to be more secure.

LED power options
PSAC24A-120L6 wall - mounted power supply
The first option is to use a plug-in power brick. Wall warts or desktop power will be plugged directly into the wall socket, and the line voltage down to 12VDC. This is handy for smaller applications or where there are hidden sockets. It simply plugs in to make wiring easier without having to connect the wire directly to the main line.

This is our second option, a hardwired power supply that connects directly to a 120VAC line and outputs a safe low dc voltage to the strip. These power supplies usually have a larger discrete size and are easier to hide within walls or wherever needed. Caged open power supplies generally fall into this category and are well suited to their screw-in terminals for easy connection and multiple ports. This is definitely a more professional look than just plugging straight into the wall, but it needs your lights to be ready to provide the main line.

Hardwired -LED- strip power supply
Connect the LED strip to the power supply
Connecting the strip to the power supply is very simple, it just varies depending on your power supply, etc. For those with plug power, the output connection is usually a Male Barrel plug of 2.1mm. Fortunately, the complete strip reel comes with a 2.1 mm female plug for seamless connection. If you have a short length, use the screw-in terminal connector below.

When using hardwired power supplies, they are a little different because they have lead shedding and no direct plugs. If your strip has a 2.1mm female plug, the easiest way is to connect the screw-in terminal connector (2.1 male) to the power output line so that you can make a sound connection. You can also choose to remove the connector from the tape by simply using a solder or wire nut for a line-to-line connection.

How do I connect multiple strips to a single power supply
Connecting multiple strips to a source throws a loop in the project because there is usually only one connected to the power supply. Caged open power supplies are ideal for multiple bands because they have two channels with terminal ports, each with multiple bands.

If you need a plug-in design, I recommend that you connect the two ribbon connectors to the LED Strip Splitter and seamlessly plug them into the plug of the power brick. LED strip splitter cables can provide up to 4 outputs, so you can seamlessly run 4 strips from one power connection!

When you hardwire a ribbon, you only need to establish a strong connection between all the ribbon wires and the power output. This can be done through wire nuts or by connecting all the strips to common positive and negative wires so that you can have a one-to-one connection to the hard-wired power supply.

Voltage drop and how to avoid it
A very important consideration that these flexible bars often ignore is the effect of voltage drop. In a dc circuit, the voltage is gradually reduced as it passes through a wire (or LED strip). Simply put, the available voltage at each foot of the wire falls along the length of the wire. This will affect the standard density strip that wants to exceed 32 feet and the density strip that wants to be longer than the full scroll (16.4 feet). If the length exceeds these lengths, the strips will be affected and will not work properly, so for standard density you cannot connect strips longer than 32 together and for high density you cannot have 16.4.

To prevent voltage drop, you need to divide the strip into shorter lengths. The shorter length can then be connected in parallel to the power supply. There are several different ways to do this, let's look at the different wiring Settings below.

Wiring # 1: running multiple parallel strip lights
You want to install a 60-foot LED strip under the bar for accent lighting. Since the longest distance you can run is 32 feet, you need to break it up into at least two lengths. To do two identical sections, you should run two strips at each 30 feet. Run the first strip directly from the power supply. Connect a set of parallel wires to the end of the first wire to supply power to the second wire.

LED strip in parallel
Connection # 2: intermediate power supply
This is a good idea if you can somehow put power in the middle of a strip that needs to be run. This reduces the extra wire length because you can split it in half and then run the two strips directly from the source in the opposite direction.

Parallel - LED - bar
Wiring # 3: multiple power supplies are used
Sometimes customers will choose to use separate power sources in different areas rather than running longer wires and separating them. This works well if you can supply power to a specific place you need it, but it's a tricky part.

Connect the LED strip to a useful part of the power supply
This allows you to set the LED strip with proper wiring and power. As always, we want to leave you with some useful pieces that can make the connector bar easier.

LED bar splitter: these LED Y connectors allow you to plug in a power supply and connect multiple LED lights with a simple plug connection. They have RGB and monochrome options, with two, three, and four output connections.

LED light bar connector
Screw-in terminal connectors: these small connectors are handy when you need a strong connection between two sets of wires. Simply through the male and female end, tighten both ends of the wire connection, easy insertion. It also works when you need to connect from a wire to some kind of 2.1 or 2.5mm plug.

EZ Clip LED strip connectors: these connectors Clip directly to the end of the strip where you cut them. There is an option to bring a ribbon or a strip. This makes it easy to connect LED strips or add gaps during installation without welding.

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