Let’s face it: LED lights make everything better. When compared with incandescent bulbs, LEDs consume significantly less energy. Additionally, LED bulbs emit directional light instead of 360-degree like incandescent lighting. While LEDs come in several form factors including traditional A19 light bulbs, you’ll find plenty of light strips. These are perfect for all sorts of settings, such as behind-the-TV ambilights, outdoor areas, kitchens, bedrooms, and more. Learn all about LED strip lights, from project ideas to the best options on the market!
What to Look for in LED Light Strips for Your Maker Projects
When selecting a set of LED strip lights, there’s much to consider. Here’s what you’ll need to think about.
1 - Location: Indoor vs. Outdoor LED Light Strips
Where you plan to install LED strip lights determines what you’ll need insofar as power and weather resistance. For instance, use inside simply requires access to a power outlet, whereas outside you might not have a wall socket easily available. In that case, you may need a battery-operated light strip. Similarly, a bare LED light strip works just fine inside while outdoor installation requires water-resistance or water-proofing.
2 - Project Use
Think about what you plan to utilize LED light strips for. Specific projects dictate what you’ll need in terms of features, mounting requirements, power source, housing, etc. Behind-the-TV or under-the-counter lightstrips are more multi-purpose, while incorporation into a 3D printed object might necessitate unique features.
3 - Length
Depending on where you plan to set up your LED strip lights, you might need more (or less) lighting. It’s typically easy enough to trim down light strips, although adding more can be tricky with required soldering.
4 - Individually Addressable, Programmable LED Lights
Do you need single-color or multi-color, individually addressable, programmable LED lights? Decide what color options you require, then pick out an appropriate strand.
5 - Software and Hardware Interfacing Compatibility
What software and hardware do you plan to connect with your LED strip lights? Find a set with the right compatibility, such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino support.
What Can You Use LED Strip Lights for? - LED Light Strip Project Ideas
There are loads of applications for LED strip lights. Common uses include behind-the-TV ambient lighting, under-the-counter lights, and accent bedroom LED light strips. Other maker-oriented options are do-it-yourself (DIY) lamps or cosplay items such as disco helmets.
Maker Project Ideas Using LED Strip Lights
- Ambient TV backlight
- Accent lighting (kitchen, bedroom, porch/patio, etc.)
- DIY objects (3D printed lamp, cosplay costumes, etc.)
Best LED Strip Lights
Looking for a string of LED strip lights? Here are the best options on the market for your DIYing delights!
Best LED Strip Lights for Makers Overall - Adafruit NeoPixel Digital RGB LED Strip Lights
Adafruit’s NeoPixel LEDs boast gorgeous colors and excellent compatibility with popular maker boards and microcontrollers. Its NeoPixel digital RGB LED strip lights come in several varieties and lengths such as 60 LEDs 4 meter strands, 60 LED 2 meter strings, and 30 LED 3 meter versions. Its LED lights feature a choice of white or black PCB. Colors really pop with individually addressable, programmable LED strip lights.
- Arduino compatible
- Excellent lighting
- White or black PCB backing
- Multiple lengths and LED counts are available
Best Outdoor LED Strip Lights - Seeed Studio Grove Waterproof LEDs
Seeed Studio’s Grove ecosystem is one of our favorite maker product lines. Grove offers a plug-and-play system of maker boards, microcontrollers, and accessories. Its push-style connectors eschew tricky wiring or soldering, making them great for budding makers or seasoned DIY prototypers alike. This set of Grove LED lights is waterproof for safe outside use on a porch, patio, or in a garden. It’s available in a 1 meter-long 30 LED strand or 1 meter-long 60 LED string. There are loads of potential projects you can make with Seeed Studio’s Grove waterproof LEDs, but one suggestion is a houseplant harvester with Wio terminals and Blynk.
- Available in 30 LED and 60 LED varieties
- Grove ecosystem from Seeed Studio
1 meter-long 30 LED strand:
1 meter-long 60 LED strand:
Best LED Strip Lights for a DIY Ambilight System - Adafruit NeoPixel LED Side Light
While tons of projects utilize LED light strips, some of the most common are ambient TV backlights. While you can buy tons of off-the-shelf options from the likes of Govee, Philips Hue, and Lytmi, you can also build your own DIY version. For that, Adafruit’s NeoPixel LED side lightstrip works extremely well. Its LEDs are mounted such that they emit light at 90-degrees. Coupled with their skinny design, NeoPixels side LEDs are perfect for running around edges, curves, and corners for TV backlighting or edge and accent lighting.
- Emit light at 90-degrees
- Skinny design that curves and bends
- Excellent for TV backlights, edge, or accent lighting
- Great maker board and microcontroller compatibility
Best UV LED Lightstrip - Adafruit UV Light String
For a funky maker project (think black lights and disco balls), these Adafruit NeoPixel UV lights are a fantastic choice. The LEDs themselves come encased in a weatherproofed casing making them suitable for indoors or outdoors use. NeoPixel and generic WS2812 drivers work just for ease of use with a variety of maker boards and microcontrollers.
- UV LEDs
- Weatherproof casing
- NeoPixel or generic WS2812 driver support
- Works with many maker boards and microcontrollers
Best Advanced LED Light Strips - Adafruit RGBW Strip Lights
Adafruit’s RGBW lights iterate upon its RGB LED strands. As the name suggests, the RGBW string adds a white light in addition to red, green, and blue. That way, you’ll enjoy even brighter lighting options and effects. This is actually a tactic many projectors use: an RGBW color wheel pipes in more white light to up the lumens, or brightness rating, of a projector. Similarly, NeoPixel’s RGBW lighting kits allow for super bright colors.
- RGBW - RGB + white for insane brightness
- 800kHz NeoPixel protocol
- Compatible with many different maker boards and microcontrollers including Arduino MCUs
Best LED Light strips for Cosplay - SparkFun Electronics Sewable LED Ribbon
SparkFun Electronics offers its sewable LED ribbons in several colors including blue and green. You’ll enjoy a long 1 meter string of 50 LED lights. The light strip itself is foldable and flexible. The LEDs boast 306-degree illumination, and attaching a ribbon to its sewable tabs is a breeze. A protective sleeve conceals power leads, the ribbon itself requires a 4.5V input with a maximum 250mA current. Thankfully, you can find many portable power solutions for a set of battery LED strip lights. We also like Adafruit’s NeoPixel Dots which are solid for cosplay and wearables.
- Available in multiple colors including blue and green
- Sewable - great for cosplay
- 4.5V power input required, maximum 250mA current
- 360-degree illumination
Best High-end LED Strip Lights - Adafruit DotStar Digital LED Strip
Adafruit’s DotStar LEDs tout improvements over its NeoPixels lineup. Notably, DotStar LED strips sport built-in microcontrollers and utilize a 2-wire SPI interface for significantly faster data transfer over the NeoPixel’s 800kkHz protocol. As such, you’ll benefit from higher PWM refresh rates for projects like persistence-of-vision (PoV) projects like a lightsaber.
- Embedded microcontroller
- Faster data transfer rate than NeoPixels
- Great for PoV projects
LED Strip Lights FAQs
How long do LED strip lights last?
Generally, LEDs have an extremely long lifespan of up to 50,000 hours.
How to connect LED strip lights
LED light strips are pretty easy to connect. Typically, you’ll want to hook up your lights to a maker board or microcontroller using the appropriate connector. If you need to connect more light strips to one another, you might need to cut at certain spots. Then, plug in the right connector or solder where designated.
What are the best LED light strips?
The best LED light strips vary, but overall we recommend Adafruit NeoPixels.
LED Strip Lights - Final Thoughts
Ultimately, you’ll find tons of LED light strips from the likes of Adafruit, Seeed Studio, SparkFun, and others. And there are loads of maker projects you can cobble together at home, from television backlights, edge or accent lighting, and lamps to wearables, cosplay items, and persistence-of-vision projects.
Your turn: What LED light strips do YOU recommend, and what DIY projects have you built with incorporated LED strip lights?