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 150 LEDs on a single strip. Check out the QuinLED-Dig-Uno wiring guide for advanced examples which showcase this.

If you are looking for other “forms” of LEDs or specialty strips, please take a look here. Last, please note see the following article about the shopping links below.

Generic rules to remember

LEDs/m

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)
    • 12v ws2811 96LEDs/m is an exception and a good compromise in this and a good compromise between 30LEDs/m and 60LEDs/m!
  • Indoor generic 60LEDs/m (it’s a good compromise between power draw, feeding points and how pretty and fluent all effects will look)
  • Close by or extra pretty 144LEDs/m (or more) (Use this in projects like behind a monitor or in a PC case where you will be close to the LEDs)

 

Waterproofing

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) (also good for indoor and not in a profile)
  • 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 Addressable RGB (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 2.5m or ~150LEDs you are fine feeding only one side of the strip, starting from that, especially for 2.5m+ strips you are going to need to feed both sides of power. For 5m strips you are going to want to feed the beginning and end of the strip with power if it’s 60LEDs/m or higher strip to prevent brightness loss with dual color or full RGB white!

5m, 30LEDs/m, 5v, ws2812b, RGB

5m, 60LEDs/m, 5v, ws2812b, RGB

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 for a perfect result (or at least front + back) where with the 12v ws2815 you can get away with only feeding the beginning saving you a lot of wire and complexity 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! Their downside is that they will consume more power (watt) for the same effect vs their 5v counterpart! Up to 10m this generally isn’t too much of an issue though.

5m, 60LEDs/m, 12v, ws2815, RGB

1m, 144 LEDs/m, 12v, ws2815, RGB

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 ws2811/12v sk6812)

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. The upside is that cabling for power injection and such does become a whole lot easier!

96LEDs/m ws2811 “bright” variant

BTF has recently introduced new “bright” variants and 96LEDs/m (and a 144LEDs/m variant but I don’t like that one after testing). The 96LEDs/m variant is very interesting because it basically has the same amount of “addressable zones” per meter vs a 5v 30LEDs/m strip. But the 96LEDs/m looks a lot smoother and can output much more light having 3 LEDs in the same spot while still being easier to power inject!

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 so are a very good option in my opinion!

5m, 30/60/96/144LEDs/m, 12v, ws2811 RGB

5m, 60LEDs/m, 12v, sk6812, RGBW  !Special, 12v sk6812 RGBW (per 3 addressable)!

 

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, 5v, sk6812, RGBW

1m, 144 LEDs/m, 5v, sk6812, RGBW

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 (Also in 96LEDs variant)

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 it used to be a chip called “APA102” but in more recent years the “HD107s” chip has shown some nice improvements over it while using the same protocol. These are both dual wire LED strips which means they need a “data” wire and a “clock” wire.

HD107s LED strip

 

Ending remarks

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 which can make cabling much easier especially in smaller (up to 10m) setups!

If your controller supports higher voltages such as 12v and 24v (which the QuinLED-Dig-Uno and QuinLED-Dig-Quad do) a lot of things become easier in regards to power wiring, voltage drop, etc.. the downside is generally per 3 addressable or more with higher voltages.

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.

After getting your LED strips, also make sure to get a power supply, and maybe some wires and other tools you might need.