After not finding many other tutorials that show how to solder RGBW LED type LED strips, I decided to make one. It was also important to keep the wiring as clean as possible - some tools used in this tutorial may not be typically mentioned in other LED soldering tutorials. Here we go!
Step 1: Gather Tools and Parts.
Before jumping into soldering the LED strips - I double checked that I had all the parts on hand.
Tools and parts:
- soldering iron (I use a Metcal solder iron, but a lower wattage 15-25 watt soldering iron should also work if you're careful)
- Solder with flux - I recommend a Sn60 / Pb40 mix solder, with flux.
- Heat gun
- Helping hands tool (not necessary but helpful - hence the name)
- Wire strippers (Note on this - when soldering RGB and RGBW LED Strip Tape, i've used a multi-conductor wire stripper (like the one found here or here) to strip back all the wires at one time. Makes things go faster, and keeps wires looking neat)
- Multi conductor wire. A 5-conductor flat LED extension wire works nicely for this kind of stuff.
- Heat shrink tubing
- Multi-channel LED Controller dimmer (I have one that came from this website. Something like this would also work if you want wireless control of the colors.)
- LED Strip.
For this tutorial, I also got some RGBW LED Strip tape from the same company - but these same steps could also be used for soldering standard RGB led tape or white/single color LED strips.
Step 2: Quick Note on "solderless" LED RGB Connectors
I do not recommend using this type of LED connector over soldering. It may work, but it is nowhere near as robust as a good ol' soldered connection, especially when it's important that the LED strips work without issue. These connectors also cannot handle as much current as soldering the wires directly to the strip. Overall if you can, I would avoid using these.
Also gives you a chance to hone your rad soldering skills!
Step 3: Strip Back the Wiring
Throw that multi-conductor flat cable into the "multi conductor" wire stripper, and pull back. I recommend stripping back only 1/8" of the wiring/jacket. If you find it difficult to solder, it's okay to strip back the wire up to a 1/2" and just cut excess wire off after the next step. Keeping it longer than 1/8" can leave higher risk for the LED pads to short against each other and create problems later on.
If you are using only two wires for white LED strip tape, standard wire strippers work OK for single wire stripping. Same recommendations otherwise.
Step 4: Tin the Wires
After your soldering iron is heated up, tin the wires before soldering to the LED strip solder pads.
To tin the wires, apply heat to one side of the wire with the soldering iron, and touch solder to the opposing side of the wire.
By using the wire as the main heat conductor for the solder to melt, it helps the solder flow much easier instead of making the solder directly contact the iron, then solder to the wire.
Not much solder is needed here - the wire should appear silver in color throughout, with little copper exposed if tinned correctly.
**Make sure to slide heat shrink tubing over the wire during this step. If you forget - it's okay, but you may have to cut and/or re-solder your wires to the strip to slide on the heat shrink tubing.
Step 5: Tin the LED Strip Solder Pads
Before soldering the wires to the LED strip tape itself, it is also helpful to tin the pads. Approach tinning in a similar manner to the wire tinning mentioned earlier - apply heat to the pad itself, then touch solder to the pad.
Make sure to avoid having excess solder! Only use what you need. Having excess solder can make things more difficult.
Step 6: Solder Wires to the LED Strip!
Finally! We're getting somewhere.
When soldering, I recommend soldering from the middle wire, out. It can be more difficult to apply heat to the inner pad later if the outer pads are soldered first.
It's also okay to "tack" them into place, and reposition them with the tip of the soldering iron to make a more solid connection and to help prevent "solder bridges" (shorts created by excess solder between pads)
Step 7: Heat Shrink!
Mentioned at the end of step three, go ahead and slide up the heat shrink over the solder pads area. The heat shrink tubing chosen should just be large enough to slide over the LED solder pads, but not larger than that. If the tubing is larger than necessary, it may not be as effective as providing protection for the solder pads and providing wire strain relief.
Please do not apply excess heat to the strip. Having more heat than necessary can damage the LED diodes on the strip.
Step 8: Connect to Your LED Controller
Connect up your power supply to your LED controller, and wire up the individual conductors to the LED outputs on the controller. Make sure to note the connection of the wire on the LED strip, and match it up with the controller output.
The LED's we used in this tutorial are 24 volts DC, so we used a 24 volt, 3 amp power adapter.
Step 9: Testing 1..2..3..
If you successfully soldered the strip up, and connected the power supply - your LED strips should be working! BAM!