A Guide for Buying LED's on E Bay




About: The name comes from the First Star Trek movie, that pretty much says it all.

I have had a number of people ask about where to get the LED's that I used in my recent instructable,


Rather than just give a link to something I thought it would be better to share some of what I have learned about the new LED's that have been coming up for sale and the process of buying them on E Bay.

I will provide links here but because the listings on E Bay are constantly changing I have no idea for how long any of them will be valid.

In order to avoid being thought of as spam I am not going to recommend any one company to buy from. I, in fact, have bought from many, it all depends on who has the best deal at the moment. The ones I am showing should be thought of as examples of what is for sale. You should do a search at the time you are thinking of buying so you can get the best price. E Bay is a very fluid place and you need to learn how to go with the flow in order to get the best deals.

Step 1: Type

There is a myriad of LED's out now. The specific ones I used for my light were in a strip arrangement. They are mounted in modules with varying numbers of LED's and varying colors and wired together in parallel and held together with double stick tape. The tape holding them can be cut and the modules can be spaced out in a string. The basic types of LED's are white, either warm white or daylight, and RGB which stands for Red Green Blue. RGB can be made to appear as any color using a controller to mix the colors.

RGB's are usually limited to just 3 LED's per module. They have 4 wires connecting them, one for power and then 3 others, one for each color. In order to work correctly you HAVE to use a controller. If you buy a strip with an included controller then you have no problem. If you buy a strip alone you will need to get one for it. The good news is that you can control many strips with just one controller.

I made it a habit to test each strip as I received them and discovered that they are not all wired the same. The power is always the same but sometimes the color wires don't control the color they are. So one strip will be green and the other red. This is really annoying but also really good to know BEFORE you solder everything together. Always test them to find out which color is which.

RGB's are more expensive than single color. And I can understand that. They take more work to wire them up.

Step 2: Number

The first strip I bought was a single 3 light strip of 20. I wanted to see what they were and what they could do. I had seen (and bought) the long string of LED's but these strip ones were new to me. The 3 LED's per module was pretty standard. Then some with 5 showed up and lately some with 6. There is a square one that has 4, either in one color or RGB. The most so far that I have seen has been 6 LED's on one module. All the modules always require 12 volts no matter how many LED's they have.

Keep in mind that the more LED's there are the higher the power requirements to run them. For some things the 3 's work great. But if you need more light then the higher number might work. The more LED's per module, the more they cost.

There is something strange going on with the power requirements. The manufacturer often gives a number of watts for each individual LED. But in experimenting with them the numbers don't add up right. Now I have been seeing disclaimers from the sellers that the manufacturers numbers don't add up and that you can't rely on the wattage being what they say. So no body appears to really understand just what the ratings are. I used my own meter and went by that. Basically if the power supply you are using doesn't overheat then your OK. If it does then you need a bigger power supply.

The number that you often see in the description refers to the physical size of the LED's. The 5050 LED is the larger brighter one. I avoid the smaller ones. Most of the strips have 5050 LED's. A lot of the long strings have smaller LED's because they are not intended for lighting as much as decoration.

Step 3: It All Comes From China

Almost all of the LED's being sold on E Bay are coming from China. That is why they are cheaper. Most of the LED's are made in China anyway. Your just buying direct this way instead of going through a third party that adds their own packaging and doubles or triples the price.

Many of them have poor English translations and translators. While the listings are often well written and correct, if you have to deal with an issue with them it can get to be a problem. Their time zones are 12 hours different from ours so don't expect an answer right away. It may take several messages to get them to understand. Use simple English that can be translated easily. They are usually very eager to please and resolve issues. Bad feedback on E Bay can totally destroy a sloppy vender and they have learned that. They don't want you to open a case with E Bay and they don't want you giving them bad feedback. SO they will work hard at fixing mistakes. But beware, if a seller does have a bad feedback number, don't bid on their stuff no matter how good it looks.

E Bay has a special guarantee program that E Bay will refund your money if something happens like stuff getting destroyed in the mail. But my experience has been that the Chinese company will often reship at their own expense rather than have you open a case. So be patient and work with them first.

It takes forever for stuff to get here. Mail service from China is going to take weeks. There is nothing you can do about it. You save a bunch on buying stuff from them, but you wait a while for it to get here. Sometimes there are customs delays too.

Don't plan on sending anything back. While most of the companies say they accept returns the reality is the postage to send it there will be more than the item is worth. I don't know how they can do the shipping and still make money but they have figured it out. But it is essentially a one way deal. And if they ship you the wrong item by mistake they will not usually ask you for it back. They take it as a loss.

So, to date, the majority of my dealings with Chinese companies on E Bay has been very positive. I don't hesitate to buy from them.

By the way --- I love the items that are free shipping. I ALWAYS look at shipping charges and consider that as part of the price. Some underachievers try to make money on the shipping and will disguise an items real cost and add unreasonable shipping charges. I saw an item recently, a laser pointer, that said it would ship first class mail and would cost $25.00 for shipping. When was the last time you sent a letter that was under a pound and paid $25.00 for the stamp? E Bay has a policy against unreasonable shipping charges. They view it as a way to try and get around the sale fees. Yet people still try and do it. So always consider shipping charges when you bid/buy an item.

Step 4: Buying in Bulk

Sometimes the best price breaks are from buying in quantity, but not always.

With LED strips you literally need to do the math. Always figure it out to the cost of a 20 module strip since that is the way the are almost all sold.

For example one strip might have a price of $8.00 while another company will sell the same thing only they are offering 100 modules for $50.00 of the same thing. Well 100 modules is 5 strips of 20. Five strips for $50. is $10.00 a strip so they are $2 more per strip than the other one. Always do the math.

The LED's that I used were ones I bought in a bulk pack, buy it now deal. The are similar to this :


The ones I bought were a little cheaper than this, but notice the free shipping. They will send you a large box with 30 LED strips (3 of the packages in the picture) all the way from China and do it for no charge. Not to bad.

600 modules is 30 strips. Thirty strips for $212. comes out to be close to $6.90 each.

Now when you do an EBay search for similar items (it's one of the options in the category view) you find this :


Right away this item shows up


So that is one strip for $10.00. A little more than the price of the 600 but if you only need to buy one---. Might not be a bad deal. But how about this, you buy the 600, keep the ones you need and sell the rest to your friends for $10 each and make a small profit.

How adventurous are you feeling?

Here is another one:


That is for 1000 and $329.00 Doing the math it comes out to be $6.60 each strip. Not that great a deal except these are warm white which tend to cost a little more. Still only 30 cents less is not a huge amount.

Continue through the search and you find this one:


That's $8.55 with free shipping and you can buy as many as you want (says 9 available) . That is not a bad deal. Might be what your looking for. Ok, you get the idea, then you run across this one:


Notice it's a 6 LED unit and it costs less than the 5 LED one that you just looked at.

Actually these (the 6 LED) have dropped in price a lot lately. They used to be over 10 each and no one had them in bulk. Well they are still not in bulk but the price is now equal to the 5 LED unit. Maybe I should pick up a few of them.

So there are a lot of choices but by smart shopping you should be able to get a reasonable deal.

Step 5: Some RGB

This is a search for some RGB modules.


This search has a lot of other stuff with it. So it's a bit more confusing.

I think the average range for a 20 strip RGB is in the $10 range. Anything under 8 I would consider to be a good price now.

There are also a lot of single color strings. You can get all green, or blue or whatever.

Step 6: Power and Control

To power the string you need a power adapter. You can use any 12 volt adapter if it can provide enough amperage to power the string. You can get all kinds of connectors on E Bay that allow you to connect the power to the string. RGB strings use 4 wire connectors.If you are hooking up multiple strings and need a heavy duty power supple you can find those on E Bay also.

To turn the string on and off and control the brightness you need a controller. For single color ones there are simple in line switches. Some of the better controllers work on RF with little remotes. Interestingly I discovered that most of them operate on the same frequency so one remote can control multiple switches.

The little in line units have a limited power capacity. You can burn them out if you go past what they are rated for. Bigger unites that can handle more power are not as mobile. There are lots of choices available with new designs showing up all the time.

For the RGB units you need a special controller. The most common one is an infrared one with 2 different key size remotes. They work. But a way better one that I tried is the touch sensitive remote that is RF. I really like the unit. Below are a few searches for different controllers.






Step 7: Defective Stuff

A few rare times I have received what I would call seconds. Items that still worked but had things wrong with them. Like the picture shows, a few modules had some melting on them and the resin coat seal was messed up. It has been a very rare thing, but like in any thing you always take a risk. If it's really bad then let the company know and if necessary file a complaint. If it not a big deal make note of the company name and either don't buy from them again or buy with caution.

All in all I have found shopping on E Bay is safe and allows you to get interesting products that you can't get elsewhere. But use caution with it just like you would with anything else.

Step 8: Wire LED's

This is just something I came across that I thought someone might be interested in seeing.

They have been making wire with tiny LED's in it. The wire is coated with a clear insulation. They are also on E Bay.

A search result for those if anyone is interested.




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    49 Discussions


    I have been trying to figure out the led ebay thing for a while now. I've widdled it down to buying just the led chips and not even led specifically marketed drivers, just random raw dc power supply circuit boards. My electronics skills are low. I havent actually built a fixture yet. I have figured out that the square 10 watt leds chips clip on to a 9 volt battery to make an instant flashlight. The way the vendors from china can make money after paying shipping is that they dont pay shipping. Shipping is free for them and thats why its free for you. Its a trade agreement between the usps and certain chinese vendors to encourage trade. Different vendors have different shipping deals. Theres standard international shipping for a couple dollars which doesnt take too long. Theres epacket for a couple dollars which is about 2 weeks. Then theres the world bank vendor world leader shipping rate-Priority usps mail delivered for free. Theyre all secretly in cahoots. like coke and pepsi. or mac and ibm. or god and the devil. you know...yea.

    4 replies

    please tell me that your 10watt led is heatsinked or not on for very long when powered. Any LED that is high powered should be heatsinked to help the lifespan. just like any other light, they produce heat. if the heat is not disapated the chip will burn out.


    Reply 3 years ago

    No. The 9 volt flashlight? You just bend the tabs and it clips onto a 9 volt and its real bright. I dont have any at the moment. But when i tried it i left it clipped on for a minute or so to see if it would get hot and there was no noticable heating. Of the led or the battery.


    3 years ago

    I too want to use energy saving bulbs. So, I bought some corn bulbs (110 volt screw base) I bough 36 led ones, and 56 led ones. the 56 led were very bright but I have gone through 3 already and am leery of using more. I am guessing that something in the electronics is burning out or shorting to the point that the leds will only burn dim or only a couple light in the bulb. not being an electronic educated person, but curious I looked inside of the ones that failed and t0 see only a couple of electronic pieces, so my thought is that the electronic pieces are not big enough to st5and up to the load they are subjected to.

    I also purchased strip lights to replace the Christmas tree style lights on our back deck to add more light, with a transformer to drive them. They have been great and give a lot of light. This is actuly a reply to your second guide on Instructables.


    3 years ago

    what's wattage of each 5050 led strip with 12 volt supply


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I'm involved in designing Coast Guard PCB LED lights where the
    technology changes faster then the government procurement cycle ( see
    first 2 pics of 6-Red+24-Wht ) a few years ago and the brighter lower
    current replacement light 7-Red+7-White SMD of last year. Oddball LED
    counts are to match ever changing LED forward voltage specs and a strict
    Navy operating voltage range.

    The point being ... that even
    CREE LEDs are going to be changing for our lifetime and it is useless to
    worry about power semantics especially China LED vapor-wear.

    Just buy the amount of LEDs you need, run your own tests on them and modify your design to work them as you need and want !

    30 LED COM.jpeg30LED-SOL.jpegphoto09.JPGphoto14.JPGphoto02.JPG

    3 years ago on Introduction

    I have not seen anyone mention this so i will. Be very careful and look that the specs for the RBG LEDs. There are 2 types and both use 4 wires, but are very different. There is Digital and Analogue LED strips. Digital RGB LEDs are unique from the Analogue LEDs in that every led in the strip can be controlled individually through unique code or special controller. What usually gives this away is the color of the wires used. Digital LEDs have red and black which is power, but then have 2 other wires that are typically Green and Yellow. The green is clock and yellow for data. Analogue will typically be Red,Green,Blue,Black. and there are 2 types of those. Majority are common anode, the black wire is positive voltage and the 3 color wires are the grounds for each color. The other type of analogue is common cathode where black is ground. Based on this info, the RGB LEDs shown on the first page appear to possibly be digital LEDs, if you were to send power through the green or yellow wire the unit would be destroyed. Just want to get this info out there to help.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    "Buying from China skips the entire QA process that Compan(ies) in the U.S. require." If only it were so simple as that! I fear your generalization is going to mislead some people into the very type of unhappy experience you are trying to prevent.

    First, which Companies in the U.S. require a QA process on LED strips and modules? It's certainly not even close to being a universal "requirement" (some might even interpret your statement as though there was a law meant to protect them from QA evaders). There are tons of small time U.S.-based vendors (on eBay and such), small hobbyist outlets in the US and other developed countries that most certainly DO NOT have the resources or even interest in doing their own QA, or sending buyers to China to inspect the factories personally - they are simply buying from those exact same sources in China in wholesale quantities and selling smaller quantities at retail from the US or wherever.

    Second, of the companies that DO care to protect their reputations and customers from poor quality goods, unless they are Really Big (i.e. multinational) companies with major buying contracts from a particular factory and a full-time onsite QA inspector at the factory, they really have no guarantee of what they are getting with each batch either. Instead, they can offer a warranty to replace your LEDs if they turn out to be defective - which is built into the higher price they charge. This is not the same thing as having that super close direct factory connection as I described above. If you know of ANY such company based in the US, in fact, please tell us!

    I generally agree with the basic message that you get what you pay for, more or less. Usually. But this particular market is not a good example of that being true all the time - there are ripoffs, fly-by-night sellers, counterfeits, good guys, bad guys, but in the end the fact remains that ALL of these strips and modules with LED packages costing just a few pennies each at the factory are subject to having little or no quality control beyond a power-up test to see if it all lights up. Reliability is quite often dependent not just on how good the parts are, but in how appropriately they were used in the application. Trapping heat and overdriving them is the #1 cause of early failures in the LED world, whether the parts are of the highest quality and price or the cheapest nameless stuff you could find on deal extreme.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    buying from China -if you are a bit careful what you buy- is usually a good deal.
    If I buy electronics goods online ina local store here, The minimum order is 6.50 euro. at least 2.50 euro is added for shipping and another 50 cts to handle the payment.
    If I shop at Dealextreme or Aliexpress, I have had e.g. an Arduino nano delivered to my door for in total 1.90 euro.
    Sure it can take some time to arrive, but usually that is no problem. If I really need something the next day, I just have to order at a local webshop and if I need it today I have to go in town at an electronics shop where an attiny85 costs 7 euro's(!) and I probably pay 2 euro in gas.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I have found that using Amazon, and/or direct sites from asia such as DHGate.com and AliBaba.com, end up with far better prices. Of course, with those options you are almost guaranteed to have to buy in bulk - but if you plan to anyway, you can save a lot of money!

    You do still need to do the math; at every site and even in offline catalogs, there are plenty of seemingly good deals that are not so great when you figure cost per bulb. But I've found, at least for me personally, I save half or more by avoiding ebay for bulk purchases from china.




    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Also of note - when shopping amazon as a prime member, you may notice a lot of them are prime eligible; free 2nd day shipping. Watch out for how soon the product actually ships, though. It might get to you within 2 days of shipping, but not shop out for a week or a month. Sometimes you actually do get 2nd day though...


    3 years ago on Step 6

    I use that exact dimmer module to control the strips I use as backlight on my TV/monitors and vinyl display lighting. For the most part, it works great, but every once in a while the power button on the remote doesn't work until I've unplugged and re-plugged in the AC adapter, (effectively "rebooting" the device, I guess). Small inconvenience, especially considering the price and functionality, so I just deal with it.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    What if the item is not as described or doesn't work? Do you get shipping cost back then or still no?


    Anything that says reurns accepted on ebay, you will get your money back if you want to return it. Look at the chinese vendors star ratings, 10s of thousands of sales made and always near 100% average rating. They will take it as a loss, theyre just banking on people being honest and their products being as described. The whole ebay site is terribly sided on the side of the buyers. the buyers can screw over the sellers with basically no consequences to them as buyers.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    A note to UK bulk buyers.

    Anything bought from outside the EU is subject to VAT if over the value of £15.
    Most of the Asian sellers mark their goods as 'Gift' but not all.
    According to the .GOV website, items marked as GIFT are exempt from VAT until the value is £36 or more.
    But exercise caution. Often it's cheaper to buy in multiples less than £15.

    Royal Mail add their own charge if they feel they have to open the package to check it's VAT/Duty ratings. Which I *think* is still £8. Plus the VAT you may be payable on the item(s) themselves.

    So yes.
    Buying from China can often be much cheaper than 'local' buyers. I buy a lot of electronics components this way myself. Just be careful of any VAT or Duty charges.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Several weeks ago I started buying from China and I found that all the "waterproof" ones that had a silicone covering would turn brown over time which was not usable for undercounter ighting which I needed. I wonder if they have improved that yet?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    i buy since 3 years directly from china on ebay because, my local shops just buy there too and just sell it for the 10x price. So buying directly saves huge amounts of money and so the waiting time is really worth it. A good tip i have too: Test and note out the sellers delivery times(buy 2x), some sellers may be more "expensive" (~1-8%) but they use other postal services so often the delivery time is 50-75% faster (10-20days) than the standard chinese post (30-40 days). To overcome the delivery lag, i just buy 1-3 items per day so i have a constant item flow :D. You should think today what you will need/like to have the next month. :)