Step 12: LEDs

Picture of LEDs
LED stands for light emitting diode. It is basically a special type of diode that lights up when electricity passes through it. Like all diodes, the LED is polarized and electricity is only intended to pass through in one direction.

There are typically two indicators to let you know what direction electricity will pass through and LED. The first indicator that the LED will have a longer positive lead (anode) and a shorter ground lead (cathode). The other indicator is a flat notch on the side of the LED to indicate the positive (anode) lead. Keep in mind that not all LEDs have this indication notch (or that it is sometimes wrong).

Like all diodes, LEDs create a voltage drop in the circuit, but typically do not add much resistance. In order to prevent the circuit from shorting, you need to add a resistor in series. To figure out how large of a resistor you need for optimum intensity, you can use this online LED calculator to figure out how much resistance is needed for a single LED. It is often good practice to use a resistor that is slightly larger in the value than what is returned by calculator.

You may be tempted to wire LEDs in series, but keep in mind that each consecutive LED will result in a voltage drop until finally there is not enough power left to keep them lit. As such, it is ideal to light up multiple LEDs by wiring them in parallel. However, you need to make certain that all of the LEDs have the same power rating before you do this (different colors often are rated differently).

LEDs will show up in a schematic as a diode symbol with lightning bolts coming off of it, to indicate that it is a glowing diode.
hottroc3 years ago
Hi, this is a great instructable but I hope you don't mind it throws up lots of questions.....regarding LEDs, if you have an LED in your hand how can you tell its rating? They never seem to have any markings on them?
It may tell on packaging if you buy them from a place like radio shack and if you get them from a place like spark fun or digikey they should have a link to the datasheet for the led. If the application isn't too serious or maybe you've scrapped the leds from something then I'd look up datasheets for an led of that color and size and it'll probly be right.