Introduction: Simple LED Strip Lamps (Upgrade Your LED Strips)
I've been using LED strips for quite a while now and have always loved the simplicity of them. You just cut a piece off a role, solder some wires to it, attach a power supply and you've got yourself a light source. Through the years I have found a couple of different mounting methods: Using the adhesive that comes with the strips, zip tying strips to metal bars, hot gluing them everywhere and so on. Recently my installations have been getting a lot more professional looking, just by using aluminium profiles and 3D printed end caps. I attached a couple of pictures of my latest installation in a dark closet. The first picture shows a couple of lamps with black end caps. Those are going to go into my car.
Today I want to show you, how you can build your own, professional looking LED lamps. I also want to use this Instructable to share the knowledge that I gained during those LED projects.
Without any further ado,
here is what you need
Step 1: Choose Your LED'S
LED strips come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and colors. we are just going to focus on the white ones here. There is a couple of things to consider, when buying your LED's. Don't be overwhelmed by all of my tips. They are just tips and best practices. As i mentioned in the beginning, the beauty of LED strips is their simplicity and ease of use. Your setup is most likely going to work just fine, even if you don't follow any of this advice.
Color (White is very flexible)
For me, choosing the color is the most important step. There are mainly 3 types of white LED's: warm white, natural white and cold white. However, some sellers like to stretch the term white. It is important to take a look at the color temperature in Kelvin (here is a little reference on color temperatures). Just as an example, I recently bought cold white LED's without taking a closer look at the description and ended up with 9000 Kelvin LED's. Now my cars footwell is starting to resemble the look of a blue light saber or a welding arc.
A good definition is: Warm white (3000 K), natural white (4500 K) and cold white (6000 K). Anything above 6000 K, gets more and more bluish. Warm LED's are great for use in bedrooms, while most people prefer a colder color for places of work or desks. By the way, cold LED's tend to be brighter. You could also use a strip of cold white and a strip of warm white LED's next to each other and dim them individually, to mix the colors and adjust it to your liking.
If you want a bright light, you want many LED's. An easy way to get many LED's into a limited space, is to use high density LED strips (120 LED's/m). The first picture shows a couple of my LED strips, to give you an idea, of how the different densities look.
Voltage is an option that is often overlooked, due to the lack of options in most hardware stores. This is not that bad. Most LED strips are 12V strips. This is just right for normal installations (< = 5m). If you plan on installing a lot of LED's and you want to drive them from the same power supply, you might want to consider going for 24V. Those strips are a little rare, but they require approximately half the current to drive the same number of LED's (if the LED's are the same kind). Less current means less heat loss in the wires, which might enable you to get away with thinner wires.
Most LED strip installations use a 12V Wall Adapter and a switch or dimmer on the low voltage side. The problem with this is, that the setup is never really turned off, if you don't pull the plug. This way, it is constantly using power while not in use. To me, this just doesn't seem right. I always try to place a switch on the high voltage side. In the closet installation, I used two door switches (picture 2) to completely switch off the power supply. However, I wouldn't recommend messing with high voltage wires, as it can seriously harm you. A simpler solution is to purchase a power strip with a switch or something like this switchable plug .
Keep your LED's cool
Like most electronic devices, LED's like to stay at room temperature. If they get warmer, their lifetime decreases. To keep your LED's cool, you want to mount them in a way, that allows air circulation. A good tip to achieve that, is to ditch the silicone coating on "waterproof" LED strips, if you don't plan to mount them outside.
Another way of keeping them cool is by adjusting the input voltage. That mostly applies to car installations. In a car you will most likely use 12V LED strips, while your electrical system can deliver anything from 11 to 15 Volts. At 15 V more current flows through the LED's and they get warmer. To deliver a voltage of 12V max. you could use a 12V voltage Regulator (with a proper heatsink). A simple alternative is to use a LED controller (dimmer) that is always set to a brightness below 100%.
Step 2: Choose Your End Caps
I created several different end caps, with different mounting options. The screw mount can be used for screwing the lamp to furniture or ceilings. Zip tie mounting is great for mounting the lamps to fences or to steel beams in a car. For the velcro mount, I use blank end caps and glue some velcro to the back of the strip. I used this method to stick two lamps two the carpet of my car. This allows me to illuminate the rear footwells, without having to permanently glue them in place or mount them to the seats.
For each mounting option, there is also the option of an angled or a straight bottom and the option of a hole for the wire or a blank end. This gives you 12 end caps to choose from + their mirrored counter parts (as seen in picture 3).
The fourth picture, shows the kind of aluminium profile, that i used to design the end caps. I made the whole model parameter based and marked all of the important parameters (picture 5). If you have a different aluminium profile, you can open the model in Fusion 360, change the parameters (Profile_Width, Profile_Height, Profile_WallThickness) and it should generate 24 new end caps with the appropriate measurements. You can then export those as STL files and print as many as you want. If your profile has little notches on the side, like mine does, you will also have to change the notch parameters. Otherwise you should be good with just leaving them as they are. There is also a parameter that allows you to set the angle for the angled end caps.
Step 3: Prepare Your Components
From now on, the project becomes super simple. Cut your aluminium profile to the preferred length using a metal saw. Keep in mind, that the end caps make the lamp about 9mm longer on each end (depending on the screw size, set in the 3D model). They also go 5mm into the aluminium profile and cover 10mm off each end. While you should clean of the cutting edges with a file it is not really necessary, as the end caps completely cover even the ugliest edge.
While cutting the aluminium, you can print the end caps. They are designed to be printed standing on the end-side and usually don't require any support. I print them in PLA for indoor use and in PETG for use in my car.
Cut the LED's about 10 to 20 mm shorter, than your aluminium pieces, to accommodate for the end caps.
Step 4: Assemble Your Lamps
After all of your parts are ready it is time to assemble the lamps. Start by threading the wire of the DC socket through the end cap with the cable hole and solder it to a piece of LED strip. Isolate the end with a little bit of hot glue, some tape or shrink tubing.
Clean the aluminium profile with alcohol, remove the protective tape of the led strip and stick it onto the profile, while putting the end cap with the cable on. Pressing the end caps in, should be fairly easy and only require a little bit of force. After everything is assembled, fill the end caps with hot glue, to hold them in place. This also keeps the strip from loosening over time. I also like to place a dab of hot glue in the middle of the lamp to make sure that the strip stays in place.
That's it, you now have a simple yet good looking LED lamp and the STL files, to quickly make a lot more of them.
I hope you enjoyed this Instructable and maybe learned one or two new things about LED strips. Im always happy to see your feedback and if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. I'm also taking part in the LED strip challenge, which is the main reason that brought me to sharing this project just yet. So if you think the project deserves it, you might want to vote for it in the contest.
Second Prize in the
LED Strip Speed Challenge