This guide will show you how to install an 'embedded' LED Strip on a round railing, tube, or frame.
This is perfect for indoor and outdoor architectural railings, or outside on your motorcycle frame, bicycle frame, roof racks, or anywhere that needs some extra bling, dazzle, visibility, spark, or shine.
You will need a good quality, non waterproof LED Strip, protection rating of IP20, contact cement (optional), masking tape (optional), a fine line permanent marker or sharp pointed tool, 1" fibreglass ribbon, fibreglass resin, body filler (Bondo), a plastic yoghurt tub or similar plastic (for your spreader/shaper).
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Step 1: Attaching LED Strip & Applying Fiberglass
Best way to accurately position your new strip, once you have decided where to mount it, is to draw or scratch a guide line that you can follow with one edge of the LED strip, this will minimize handling and over working the delicate flexible PC board.
Attach the LED Strip using the adhesive back to hold it in place before applying the 1” wide fibreglass ribbon which runs along the length of the LED strip. Prepare surfaces with a solvent that evaporates quickly but first, make sure it doesn't attack your existing finishes.
Leave the end contacts exposed for final connecting and sealing .
Masking off the area where the strip will adhere and then painting or spraying contact cement on will give an exceptional bond when combined with the strip’s adhesive. Take care however, because repositioning will be a problem once it grabs.
When applying the LED strip - first, peel the backing paper back about 2 inches and press the strip into place, next, put a bit of tension on the LED strip holding it about a foot from the adhesion point while applying it and peeling back the paper backing, 2-4 inches at a time, apply good pressure with a finger every 1/2 inch or so. Make sure the adhesive has grabbed, this will assure an even line of LEDs and provides the best heat transfer, which will help extend their performance.
Never just peel the LED strip off once it has bonded to a surface, instead use a thin scraper or dull blade and slide it between the bonded surfaces while lifting the LED strip away and minimize distorting it.
When applying the fibreglass, the best results can be had by brushing the resin onto the strip/pipe area before applying the fibreglass then brushing another coat over the ribbon once it’s been applied. A small 1/2" disposable paint brush works well to dab out any air bubbles and ensure good fibreglass contact over the LEDs.
The second photo shows the set resin and fibreglass ribbon, this strip used here is the 3528 LED with 60 pcs. per meter. It is about 2mm high and 8mm wide. The brighter 5050 strip is a bit higher.
Step 2: Sanding & Bondo
Do a light sanding with a wood block and 220 grit paper to level out the glassed-over LEDs and any bumps in the glass and resin, then apply the body filler.
We used a 2-3" square-cut piece of a disposable plastic cup as a spreader, it is flexible enough to wrap around the pipe, but rigid enough to ‘flow’ the Bondo evenly over the LED strip and fiberglass and not cover the LED’s, which are the high points.
We did an initial coat, let it set then applied a final smoothing coat. The first application of Bondo can be shaped with coarse sandpaper or a blade as it sets up, but avoid contacting the LEDs.
Start with a teaspoon size amount at one end and wrap your flexible spreader over the LED strip/pipe and ‘pull’ it along, holding it at a 45 degree angle so the Bondo is contained and forced into the low points. As it flows on it should create small mounds where each LED is and the LEDs should remain visible. Tighter angle results in smaller mounds and a flatter line.
The second photo shows the finished result with the Bondo after a light sanding. The fibreglass ribbon protects the LEDs, but be careful and use a fine 220 grit or finer sandpaper.
Step 3: Applying Primer
Spray primer applied, clear the LEDs by wiping with a block wrapped in cloth, you can apply a bit of solvent to the cloth also.
This is a fairly permanent installation and we recommend using a higher quality LED Strip.
The low priced ones usually have unevenly placed LEDs and will fail more often if flexed too much when installing them, they also have a shorter lifetime.
Step 4: Finished Product & Turning on the Lights
The final finish.
Clearing the paint can be done in a number of ways, carefully coat the LEDs with vaseline before painting, then rub with a wood block covered with cloth after the paint is dry.
Another way is by lightly using a sanding block with a very fine (400 grit) emery paper.
Clear coat can be applied once it’s all cleaned up.
The LEDs will actually shine through some paints if you want them to be less visible when they are off.
These same processes could be used on flat surfaces or helmets, perhaps we will cover that next.
This looks great with any color LED Strip, if you have any questions or comments don't hesitate to ask!
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