What Digital 5v/12v RGB(W) LED Strip to buy
In this article I’ll highlight what I think will be the most popular strips for people to buy and what situations I’d recommend those for. I’ve written a different article here explaining the difference and chips and what makes them unique so if you are interested make sure to read that also.
Most links will be to a supplier called BTF-Lighting (Amazon / Aliexpress). I’ve placed at least a dozen orders with them and have always received quality products so I can recommend them. I have also used a few different sellers on Aliexpress for some products so not all links go towards them, but still. As mentioned in my other article, most LED chips and even LED strips only get made in a handful of factories so quality is most often going to be fine.
I am going to put up some generic use cases for most strips listed but make sure to also check out my article about 30 vs 60 vs 90 vs 144 LEDs/m strip and IP20 vs IP65 vs IP67 (waterproofing) to make sure you get the correct strip for your intended use case. Also, depending on the amount of LEDs/m and usage make sure to also check out my article about LED cooling and the wire thickness required. Especially with 5v LED strip you will probably need to add a few power injection points if you go beyond a 100 LEDs on a single strip. Check out the QuinLED-Dig-Uno wiring guide for advanced examples which showcase this. Last, please note see the following article about the shopping links below.
Generic rules to remember
This is just a quick synopsis, read the full article about it here.
- Outdoor on house 30LEDs/m, max 60LEDs/m (you will be far away with a diffuser so more LEDs/m don’t really add that much)
- Indoor generic 60LEDs/m (it’s a good compromise between power draw, feeding points and how pretty and fluent all effects will look)
- Closeby or extra pretty 144LEDs/m (Use this in projects like behind a monitor or in a PC case where you will be close to the LEDs)
This is just a quick synopsis, read the full article about it here.
- Generic Indoor: IP20 (because of best heat dissipation)
- Bathroom Indoor: IP65 (top side protected)
- Outdoor: IP67/68 (fully protected)
Black vs White PCB
In general you can say a white PCB provides a more uniform effect, coloring with the LED where a black PCB provides a clearer defined point of light, not absorbing the same color of the LED so making all the LEDs more singular.
LED strip “power sheet”
I have made a sheet and video about testing all kinds of LED strips listed below and what their real-world power usage is, often this is very different then what the manufacturer labels them as! So to do proper power calculations, take a look at the video below and/or visit the power sheet page to find the sheets directly!
Low to Medium Density/Length or General Purpose ARGB (5v ws2812b)
For general purpose Addressable RGB LED strip I recommend using the cheapest that is available and those are ws2812b strips. For up to 2m or ~100LEDs you are fine feeding only one side of the strip, starting from that, especially for 2m+ strips you are going to need to feed both sides of power. For 5m strips you are going to want to feed the beginning, middle and end of the strip with power if it’s 60LEDs/m or higher strip to prevent brightness loss with full RGB white, for just colors or effects begin + end is generally fine!
1m, 100LEDs/m, 5v, ws2812b, RGB (Preferably use 12v strip)
A 30 LEDs/m ARGB strip
Medium to High Density ARGB (12v ws2815)
For where possible I recommend using 12v ws2815 LED strip. They behave like ws2812b strip but it’s easier to use longer lengths and/or have more LEDs/m because of the higher voltage! For instance with a 5m ws2812b 60LEDs/m strip it is recommend to feed them at the beginning, middle and end where with the 12v ws2815 you can get away with only feeding the beginning and end saving you a lot of wire (thickness) and having to manually solder connections in most cases! They are generally a bit more expensive than the 5v counterpart but can save you from cable hell! Also please note that they will consume more power (watt) for the same effect vs their 5v counterpart!
If you want longer lengths of the 144 LEDs/m strip you can just solder two together. If you are adding more than that it’s again smart to inject power at both the beginning, middle and end to make sure all LEDs have enough power available and no traces will become too hot transferring the power.
A 144 LEDs/m ARGB Strip
Long Length projects (12v ws2811)
For projects where you want to have very long lengths it’s much easier to use 12v LED strip instead of 5v. Although you have the above listed ws2815, that chip sadly has the downside of being relatively in-efficient (see the power sheet for the difference). A better choice in my opinion would be using 12v ws2811, although it has the downside of only being addressable per 3LEDs, it is almost as efficient as 5v LEDs and if you are doing a long length project, at 5m or 10m distance, you’ll hardly notice the distance. Cabling for power injection and such does become a whole lot easier though!
BTF has recently introduced new “bright” variants and 96LEDs/m + 144LEDs/m variants! Those last one’s are interesting in regards to pixel density. For instance a 96LEDs/m variant would have the same amount of “addressable zones” per meter vs a 5v 30LEDs/m strip but would output a lot more light while still being easier to power inject!
In testing I didn’t really like the 144LEDs/m type of this strip but on the other hand I *really* like the bright versions of the strip. Since the ws2811 chip is external they can pair it with any type of LED package and the one’s used in the “bright” variant are much higher quality. They are much brighter and vibrant (prettier colors!) then the normal version without using more power!
Digital RGBW LED strip (5v sk6812)
A competing LED chip called the sk6812 is available in RGBW variants, if your library or software is compatible with this it can provide very beautiful colors and effects. It’s a very good chip and has worked well for me with various software such as WLED! Make sure your software configuration can handle it though because it is seen as as a 4rth channel and if not run that way, all effects and colors will look wrong. Currently you can use RGBW using xlights (ESPpixelstick) or if running Arduino code with the Adafruit library.
5m, 30LEDs/m, 5v, sk6812, RGBW (Only on Aliexpress)
5m, 60LEDs/m, 12v, sk6812, RGBW !Special, 12v sk6812 RGBW (per 3 addressable)!
A SK6812 RGBW strip with warm white
Digitally Addressable White LEDs
All color LEDs (addressable or not) make horrible white by combining colors. You can use RGBW strip like the SK6812 variant mentioned above but if you need more light or more colors white LED there are more options available. These are, in contrast to all the others mentioned above, usable for general purpose lighting, although the CRI value is unknown (unstated) in testing they look decent, especially when combining several white colors to get the shade you want.
5m 60LEDs/m, 5v, sk6812, WWA (Warm White + Cool White + Amber Color) (Aliexpress only)
5m 96LEDs/m, 5v sk6812 WWA strip (same as used in video!)
5m 60LEDs/m 5v, APA102 (Aliexpress only)
High persistence of vision/Best color
If you need a very high PWM frequency for persistence of vision or need the best color mixing abilities available or need to feed the LED strip at maximum FPS values thinkable the APA102 chip is currently your best choice. It’s also easier to drive since it’s a SPI based LED stirp and not a clockless variant like the others.
Sadly APA102 has become hard to get and more often you get the SK9822 variant, this version has a little bit different properties then the original APA102 but might still be suited for your applications.
They now also have a new variant called APA107, these are cheaper then APA102’s and should have better properties for everything. I have not been able to test these myself yet but if you want to check them out, take a look here.
As you can see there is a whole lot of different addressable LED strip available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The generic 5v ws2812b LED strips are certainly still the cheapest and most used, but if you are going to use anything but the 30LEDs/m variant you really need to think about either adding a lot of power wires or using the newer 12v ws2815 LED strip. If your controller supports this (which the QuinLED-Dig-Uno does) a lot of things become easier in regards to power wiring, voltage drop, etc.. And then there is SK6812 strip which is available in lots of different configurations such as RGBW or in the WWA variant with only 3 white colors, the effect of those is really cool too.