Picture of LEDs for Beginners

This instructable shows how to wire up one or more LEDs in a in a basic and clear way. Never done any work before with LEDs and don't know how to use them? Its ok, neither have I.

***If you have wired up LEDs before, this explanation might seem overly simplistic. Consider yourself warned.***

Step 1: Get some LEDs

Picture of Get some LEDs
So I wasn't completely honest - I have used LEDs once or twice before for simple applications, but I never really knew what I was doing, and since so many projects on instructables use LEDs, I thought I might as well teach myself and post about it too.

I know that there are many projects already posted that contain information about how to wire LEDs for simple projects - LED Throwies, LED Beginner Project: Part 2 and 9v LED flashlight - teh best evarrr!, but I think that there could still be some use for a detailed step by step explanation about the basics of LEDs for anyone who could use it.

The first step was to buy some supplies and figure out what I would need to experiment with. For this project I ended up going to Radioshack because its close and a lot of people have access to it - but be warned their prices are really high for this kind of stuff and there are all kinds of low cost places to buy LEDs online.

To light up an LED you need at the very minimum the LED itself and a power supply. From what I have read from other LED instructables wiring in a resistor is almost always a good idea.

If you want to learn about what these materials are check out these wikipedia entries:
Power supply


LEDs - I basically just reached into the drawer at Radioshack and pulled out anything that wasn't more than $1 or $2 per LED. I got:

2760307 5mm Red LED 1.7 V
2760351 5MM Yellow LED 2.1 V
2760036 Flasher Red LED 5 V
2760041 2 Pack Red LED 2.6 V
2760086 Jumbo Red LED 2.4V

Power Supply - I really didn't know what I would need to power them so I bought some 9V batteries and some 1.5V AA's. I figured that would allow me to mix and match and make enough different voltage combinations to make something light up - or at least burn those little suckers out in a puff of smelly plastic smoke.

Resistors - Again, I wasn't too sure what I would need in terms of resistors here either. Since I got a whole bunch of different LEDs with various voltages I knew that I would need a couple different types of resistors, so I just bought a variety pack of 1/2 Watt Carbon Film Resistors (2710306).

I gathered up a soldering gun, solder, needle nose pliers, electrical pliers, some primary wire and electrical tape too since I thought they might be useful.

1-40 of 706Next »
SalM35 days ago

The link below calculates LED resistor values for series or parallel arrays of any amount, color, and desired voltage.


I was just about to post this link. I've been using it for years, such a great source.

Colaris2 days ago

Nice to see a real close up of the insides of one. :)

i liked the explanation of the wiring system rely helpfull

Fotmasta2 days ago

Step 6 got me thinking about wiring batteries in parallel. If I wanted to go longer between replacing batteries how could I get 4.5V from AA batteries?

For example, wiring six 1.5v batteries. 3 in series wired to 3 in parallel.

mswope2 days ago

Nice instructable! Playing with LEDs is one of my favorite activities. I like the fact that you paid attention to voltage and current ratings - good advice for the beginners. One thing to note: you didn't use blue or white LEDs; people that do choose to play with these might use a little caution - they tend to be more sensitive to over-current and static electricity. It's a bummer to burn out a $5 LED right off the bat...

vu2aeo4 days ago

"Once I knew that I needed a resistor of 140 ohms to get the correct amount of voltage to the LED"

I think you mean to say that the resistor ensures that the CURRENT flowing through the circuit does not exceed LED's CURRENT rating of 20 mA. In your previous step...if you had an LED rated at 1.5 volts and you used a 1.5 volt battery WITHOUT a resistor, your applied voltage would be perfect but you would burn out the LED since the current flowing through it would be extremely large.

QJ Neo vu2aeo2 days ago

I thought that the LED itself can control the current passed through it when the applied voltage doesn't exceed its forward voltage? My teacher told me resistor only needed when the applied voltage exceed the forward voltage of the LED.

t.rohner made it!2 days ago

If you intend to crank as much light as possible out of a LED, (without burning it) you should probably pulse it and limit the temperature.

For regular signal LED's, it's not so important, but the optimal driving scheme is a current source. Without aktive components (transistor and Zehner diode), a current source is done by a high voltage and a high impedance(high resistor).

This way, it isn't that important, what the voltage of the LED is. With a active current source, it even doesn't matter if you have multiple LED's in series, as long as the supply voltage is high enough.

JohnM1237 days ago

Thank you so much for your very good Instructable on LEDs!

I need to build a large array of IR emitter LEDs to light my yard at night and use a CCD camera to catch a jerk who's been Night Golfing in my yard. I have a collection of about 15 golf balls he's left behind Good ones, Titlist and Nike, mostly. I may start selling them on the Internet..... (This reminds me of "Mitch Cumstein" from Caddyshack!)

I plan to get a perfboard and solder it up, using your information and a nice adequate power supply. I'll have to calculate the value of the total load at operation levels, so as not to over drive them, and burn them out early... I plan a white reflector behind the array as my house is white and it would camouflage it from being seen at night. They won't t see the IR anyhow, only the CCD camera can.

One place you CAN get lots of good stuff (I DO NOT WORK THERE OR HAVE TIES WITH THEM) is a place I have bought the odd hard to find part from is a company in Miami called Dalbani Electronics. They have the run of the mill stuff too! They can get almost ANYTHING. And their prices are NOT astronomical, and are way more reasonable than at ShadyoRack. (I used to work for them, and won't buy there ever again.) I went by to find the price of a 357 button cell for a TI-30XA calculator. They sell for $5.99 for ONE. I found a five pack at Dollar General... Mercury Free, $1.00 for five.... Never pay retail if you can help it. For the two I needed, I could have bought a new calculator....

Some other alternate sources for electronic components: MCM Electronics, Jameco Electronics, Mouser Electronics. I have purchased supplies from all three of these sources over the past 40 years and find them all equally reputable.

I frequently buy at Tayda Electronics

grt575 days ago

I dig it... well done. I'm going to share to a group that likes to build models of space ships, as I often hear people ask how someone lit up a kit...

JohnM1236 days ago
GrinninSam questions, "If I have a 3 terminal fixed voltage regulator, how do I make that adjustable? There is no Vref pin."

There are variable Voltage Regulation IC's that have what would seem to be a potentiometer inside them which is be adjusted within the stated range of the package. See the catalogs from Dalbani Electronics (Miami Florida), they'll mail you one. Or search their online catalog.

The fixed ones can be regulated in the fashion that Lee Wilkerson suggested.

Hook it up, pull out your DVM and adjust it to the voltage you need.
It's almost like a 'volume' knob for the voltage.
DarrenW86 days ago

Impressed! It’s been a long time that I got interest to read what others write to have useful information that I further discuss among my gathering and it makes our time good. We make cross questions and answer them but for all that I read articles and this site has been on top of my list for providing such information. <a href="http://www.fjackets.com/categories/Shop-By-Character/">comic character jackets</a>

JohnM1237 days ago

The only other suggestion I might make is to use a voltage regulator (triple lead IC like device) that will keep your voltage relatively constant, and avoid resistor mis-identification problems.

You can eliminate the resistor and go forward safely. They come in values in the range you need for this. They have a range of input voltages, and will put out a steady voltage (some can be had that are variable for more money). I stick with fixed values.

Any regulator IC (fixed or variable) can be used as a variable voltage regulator by varying the voltage at the reference pin with a potentiometer. Use a parallel resistor to limit maximum excursion. The resistor values will (similar to the 'ible) vary according to voltage/current requirements for the particular IC in question. If you acquire the spec sheet for the IC you intend to use, there will almost always be a variable voltage output circuit somewhere on the page.

?? If I have a 3 terminal fixed voltage regulator, how do I make that adjustable? There is no Vref pin.

michaelb27 days ago

A usufull addition to this article is how to determine the voltage of a radom LED in the junk bin

If you can access a variable voltage supply and an ammeter (if not supplied with the VVS) and a small supply of different resistors, the LEDs will be readily testable. Connect the ammeter in series with the supply resistor and the load (+ goes toward source +) then bring the voltage up slowly. Use a voltmeter paralleled with the LED in question to monitor Vf (Forward voltage drop) and watch the ammeter carefully. If the current starts to climb rapidly after the LED is lit, turn the voltage back down to limit it.

Arturisk1 month ago

So, I'm about to begin an LED project in my car, running sets of 4 LED's(3-3.2v, .02a) in series from a transistor connected to the dome light. After much reading on many sites, there's a question I can't seem to find an answer to.

The math I'm coming up with is R=(12v - 12v)/.02a


From what I can tell, this would mean a resistor wouldn't be needed, am I correct?

One thing you will need to keep in mind in an automotive setting is that the non-charging voltage is 12V., but the charging voltage will range between 14.4 - 14.8V. A fully charged lead-acid battery voltage is 2.4V - 2.47V per cell times 6 cells. You will want a resistor value which looks at the worst case scenario. Hence I would go with the understanding that the voltage supplied may go as high as 15V.

JohnT4 Arturisk28 days ago

Hey bro, your math is correct, you do not need a resistor if your supply is 12v and your led requires 12 volt.

Mark 42 JohnT47 days ago
If you have a 12V LED, it has a resistor built in somewhere.

His maths is correct, but his electronics is not!

No. An LED is basically a current-operated device;the voltage of 3.2v is the forward biased voltage that will appear across the LED when a current of 0.02amp is passing through it. You always need a supply voltage which is greater than the forward voltage of the LED with a resistor in series. You could put two LEDs in series with a series resistor of (12-6.4)/0.02 ie 280 ohms (270 is the nearest preferred value). A 1/8 watt resistorwould be adequate, but I would be safer and use 1/4 watt. You can then duplicate that for the other two LEDs.

chintans6 days ago

Can I use 5mm LED with 1V 1A load?

You can use whatever size, voltage rating, and current rating you desire. All you need to remember is to make resistor changes according to voltage supplied, voltage required, and current required.

Very nice job. You have managed to take a lot of the guesswork out for some people. I would point out: when you insert the resistor in series with 1.7v LED and 4.5v power supply, check the voltage at the LED to make sure it is going no higher than around 1.65v.

I've played with LEDs, batteries and small motors with my kids in making circuits but I don't recognize the beige block you're using with the holes in it. Where does the soldering come in? I am apparently even more beginner than you. :)


No soldering necessary!

You can find them online and cheapest from Chinese sites

Thank You! Between what I've learned from you, and about throwies, and about bristle bots....my Girl Scout troop is well on its way to making wonderful things.

1$ or 2$ per led? you can find 100 5mm leds with 2-2.5$ on ebay

Kaarst6 days ago

very nice lesson for me, thanks

chintans7 days ago

Can a 5mm led take 1v 1a load?

ktalex5 years ago
so if i use a 3v led and running 5v as power what resistor should i use? im noob sorry.
JimR2 ktalex7 days ago
3 volt will just make your led put out more light but shorten it's lifetime :-)

Search on google for ohm voltage calculater. Don't invent the wheel tvice as one says. :-)

There is no such thing as a 3v led! If you have a led with a forward voltage of 3v it is presumably a high intensity led with a rated forward current of about 20mA (0.02A). With those figures the resistor would be (5-3)/0.02 ie 100 ohmsrated at least at 0.04 watt (2 x0.02)

a resistor with color code brown, black, brown, gold would break even but brown, brown, brown, gold would be a better choice
EfrainM17 days ago

that is very truth...NEVER SOLDER INTO A BATTERY!!! EVER!

1-40 of 706Next »