Types of LED Strip Lights: AC, DC, Rope Lights, and High Output Strips


LED strip lights are typical in several DIY projects because they bring in an aspect of aesthetics in the form of ambient or accent lighting. However, you should pick the best types of LED strip lights to get the best form of aesthetics.

We have covered this information in detail, plus how to install and power these lights. Therefore, you need to understand the features of each one before picking the best unit for the job. Let’s get right into it.

What are LED Strip Lights?

LED strip lights are versatile forms of lighting with the following four characteristics.

  • Contain several individual LEDs attached to a narrow, flexible PCB
  • Come in the form of a trimmable long reel (about 5 meters or 16 feet)
  • Have a dual-sided adhesive on the back side for mounting purposes
  • Available in several fixed and variable brightness and color options
An LED strip ligh

An LED strip light

Anatomy of an LED Strip

LED strip lights measure about 10-12mm (0.5 inches) wide and up to 16 feet long, some longer. Each strip contains several cut lines spaced after 1-2 inches for cutting to the required length using a pair of scissors.

The strips feature LED emitters at a density of about 60-120 LEDs per meter or 18-36 LEDs per foot. Typical LED emitters mounted on the strip include 2835, 3014, 3528, 5630, and 5050 SMD. Their quality (color temperature) and brightness determine the strip’s overall brightness and color output.

A white LED strip light. Note the cut lines

A white LED strip light. Note the cut lines

Types of LED Strip Lights

There are several strip light options in the market, but all fall into the following categories.

DC LED Flex Strips

The most typical LED strip type is the low voltage DC type. They operate using 3V, 5V, 12V, 24V, 36V, or 48V and can have various LED types, such as SMD2835, SMD3020, and SMD2216.

A DC strip light

A DC strip light

Usually, these units measure 3mm x 10mm (length x width). Therefore, they are high-density strips that allow more precise cut-down measurements.

AC Plug & Play LED Strip Lights

Also known as high voltage or driverless strips, AC plug & play LED strip lights are the opposite of the DC type because they run on a high voltage AC (220V). Additionally, they contain a transparent PVC cover, making them larger than their DC counterparts.

Sizewise, these units are more significant than the ones in the DC flex type, measuring about 0.25 x 0.5 inches. Therefore, they are low-density strips with about 20 LEDs per foot.

An AC strip light

An AC strip light

AC strips can run up to 50 meters long, and the low-wattage varieties can reach 100 meters. Thus, they are better for outdoor installations and in areas where it is challenging to install drivers.

LED Rope Light

The primary difference between an LED rope light and a strip light is that the former has a round cross-section while the latter is flat and ribbon-like. Rope lights usually contain DIP LEDs encased in PVC.

This PVC case is waterproof and can bend in different directions for omnidirectional lighting. However, they are not as bright as LED strips. They work best for dim accent lighting, which is perfect for aesthetics.

An LED rope light

An LED rope light

Since the PVC case is waterproof, rope lights are ideal for outdoor lighting. Additionally, most run on AC (110V or 220V), so they can be long and cover more space outdoors.

High Output LED Strips

As the name suggests, these LEDs contain high-power LEDs, such as the SMD5050. Usually, they feature aluminum PCBs mounted in aluminum housings, and come in AC or DC options running on 110/220V or 24V, respectively.

You can use a dimmable power supply or dimmer switch to control the strip, and it is usually a low-profile board-to-board connector fixed to the strip end.

High output LED strips are ideal for high ceiling coves, accented outdoors (like gardens), reef tanks, lightbars, and cabinets.

How to Choose the Right LED Strip?

Consider the following factors when shopping for the best LED-light strips.

Location of Use

The LED strip lighting should fit into the application area, not the other way around. For instance, the water-resistant type is best if you want to add some accent lighting to your garden or patio.

Plants growing under artificial LED strip lighting

Plants growing under artificial LED strip lighting

RGB LED strip lights for television backlighting should also be different from the regular single-color LEDs because they should have syncing options. Syncing enables them to change colors to match the screen’s output.


Strip lights come in various lengths, ranging from 1 to 32 feet. Their application area and brightness level usually match their size.

For instance, flexible LED strip lights for stairs or TV backlighting tend to be shorter for hassle-free installation.

A long strip light installed in a kitchen

A long strip light was installed in a kitchen.

As for the LED strip brightness, the low lumen output type can measure about 32 feet long with roughly 300 LEDs. This length increases the lumens per foot light output. On the other hand, the high brightness type can have the same number of LEDs but on a shorter strip (about 16 feet).


A wide variety of LED strip lights contain a flexible circuit board that can curve around uneven surfaces and corners without damage. Some can be rigid, and these tend to be brighter and shorter (about 1-foot long). However, this flexibility reduces as the power level of the strip light increases.

LED Strip Brightness

The brightness of LED strip lights goes by lumens per meter (LM) or lumens per foot. Some manufacturers don’t indicate this information, but you can use the LED density to get the average brightness level.

For instance, standard density (SD) strip lights have about 30LM (9.1 LEDs/foot), while the high density (HD) type has roughly 60LM (18.3 LEDs/foot). This density is double the standard type.

Therefore, if the SD LED strip lighting produces 540 lumens, the HD strip will churn out about 1080 lumens. The former can measure up to 32.8 feet long and consume 27 watts of power. On the other hand, the HD type can be up to 16.4 feet long and have a power draw of 40 watts.

LED Density & Power Draw

The LED density determines the pitch (distance between LEDs), which then shows whether there will be dark spots between the emitters or visible hotspots.

A high density of about 120 LEDs/meter (30 LEDs/foot) gives the best light distribution effect. However, such strips can be costly because LED emitters are the most expensive components in these flexible light sources.

Strip lights with different LED densities

Strip lights with different LED densities

On the other hand, the power draw shows how much energy the strip will consume. Therefore, it will help determine the power supply needs and electricity costs.

LED Strip Colors

Most single-color-LED strip lights emit white light. However, you can get them in red, yellow, pink, UV, and even white color temperature variations like warm white and cool white.

But colored strips are more exciting to work with due to their color-changing mode. Also known as RGB strips, these light sources can display any red-green-blue combo.

An RGB strip light

An RGB strip light

However, they cannot produce shades of white light unless they are RGBW. Therefore, you should consider RGBW if you want the broadest range of color selections for your project.

Color Temperature

White strips can produce different light colors ranging from warm to cool white. Color temperature indicates how warm or cool the white light color appears.

Warmer colors are yellowish and provide better ambient light to enhance coziness. On the other hand, more excellent white colors are better for workspaces because they appear too bright and are harsh for living rooms.

A color temperature chart

A color temperature chart

Input Voltage & Power Supply

Most LED strips operate at 12V or 24V DC. Therefore, when running on AC from the standard mains supply, you need a voltage drop transformer and converter to DC power.

Also, you should ensure the power supply is sufficient for the LED strip using its power draw. For instance, a 10-foot LED strip consuming 5 watts per foot has a power draw of:

5W/ft X 10ft = 50W

Each power supply has its maximum current and wattage rating. Ensure this value equals or surpasses the strip’s power draw.

An LED strip’s power supply

An LED strip’s power supply

How to Install LED Strips?

  • Step 1: Measure the length of the installation area to determine the strip-light size to cut.
  • Step 2: Unwind the strip from its reel and trim along the cutting line after pulling the required length.
An LED strip being cut

An LED strip being cut

  • Step 3: Wipe clean, then dry the installation surface. Ensure no dust can affect heat dissipation or the effectiveness of the adhesive strip.
  • Step 4: Remove the adhesive strip backing. Next, attach the strip light to the installation surface and press firmly. 
  • Step 5: Connect the strip to the closest power supply with a wattage rating slightly higher than the unit’s power draw.
  • Step 6: Check the unit’s settings via its remote control. If it has a smartphone app controller, download the app, pair it, then adjust the brightness, mode, and speed.
An LED strip light with a remote control

An LED strip light with a remote control

How to Power LED Strips?

As stated earlier, LED strips operate on DC power. Therefore, if using AC, step down the power and then convert it. But whether you use AC or DC, you must determine how much power you need first.

You can calculate this value using the power consumption of each LED or wattage rating per strip length.

Generally, you should increase the calculated rating by 20%. After that, get a power supply that matches this value. The excess power keeps the power supply from running at max capacity, which can cause overheating. However, the power supply voltage must match that of the LED strip.

Types of LED Strip Lights: Power Supply Installation

If doing a large installation, you require multiple LED power supply drivers. Consider using a class 2 rated power supply and class 2 compliant wiring if fixing the wires inside walls.

An LED strip’s power supply

An LED strip’s power supply

Also, avoid wiring the power supply directly to the line voltage. Use a 3-prong plug instead. Lastly, ensure to fit an access panel if you install the power supply inside a wall.

Types of LED Strip Lights: How to Power Long LED Strips

For long strips, install the power supply on one end. But if working with two stripes, place the power supply in the middle. Sometimes, placing it in the center does not avoid a voltage drop. In such a case, run more wires to the required location in a technique known as power injection.

Similarly, use signal repeaters at all power injection points to synchronize signals from the controller. However, this addition only applies if using analog LED strips. Digital strips contain microcontrollers to control each LED.

Types of LED Strip Lights: How to Minimize Voltage Drop

It is possible to reduce the voltage drop by using thick wires on long strips. But thick cables are expensive, so you should get the right size wire using this calculator. The calculator requires you to know the current, strip voltage, wire length, and acceptable voltage drop variables.

How to Control LED Strips?

You don’t need a controller for single-color LEDs. However, if you want to dim the white light or adjust the color modes in an RGB strip, you should have an intelligent controller.

Types of LED Strip Lights: Light Dimming

There are two ways to dim LED lights. The first method requires a smart AC dimmer (dimmer switch > power supply > lights). But this option only works with single-color LED strips.

Two dimmer switches

Two dimmer switches

The second method requires an intelligent controller (power supply > controller > lights). This RGB controller enables you to control RGB strips and does not require a dimmable power supply.

RGB controllers should have enough outputs to match the strip’s light output. These include one for +ve supply voltage and three for R, G, and B (four is RGBW).

Types of LED Strip Lights: Wireless Control

Smart LED controllers communicate with smart home hubs using wireless protocols, and you can use Wi-Fi, Zigbee, or Z-Wave. Wi-Fi controllers are cheaper and don’t require additional seats (use a router as its hub).

A smart home hub

A smart home hub

Z-Wave and Zigbee controllers are costlier but can connect to intelligent hubs like Samsung SmartThings, unlocking automation possibilities.

Types of LED Strip Lights: How to Control Digital LED Strips

Digital-LED strips contain individually addressable LED emitters. Therefore, you should use a microcontroller like Raspberry Pi or Arduino to code and control the LEDs.


In conclusion, there are four LED light strip types, each with specific advantages that suit particular applications. But you should be able to pick the ideal strip light type using the factors described above. If you have any questions or comments, drop a message, and we’ll get in touch asap.

Need custom LED services?