Soldering RGBW and RGB LED Strip Tape

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Intro: Soldering RGBW and RGB LED Strip Tape

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:

  1. soldering iron (I use a Metcal solder iron, but a lower wattage 15-25 watt soldering iron should also work if you're careful)
  2. Solder with flux - I recommend a Sn60 / Pb40 mix solder, with flux.
  3. Heat gun
  4. Helping hands tool (not necessary but helpful - hence the name)
  5. 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)
  6. Multi conductor wire. A 5-conductor flat LED extension wire works nicely for this kind of stuff.
  7. Heat shrink tubing
  8. 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.)
  9. 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!

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    15 Discussions

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    ChrisO138

    8 days ago on Step 9

    Great info! I just soldered a bunch of these and am doing an instructable on a different topic, but felt compelled to write about 10 extra pages with all these tips. I’ll link to this for that part instead. The surprising thing I discovered is: Don’t waste Your money on solderless connectors. They aren’t reliable, so you mostly end up with a false sense of hope when you buy them. I was glad to see someone else have the same experience. Nobody else seems to mention that they really don’t work.

    One suggestion that I have: I would encourage people to us a multimeter after soldering to make sure there isn’t accidental connectivity between the newly soldered adjacent pads. It’s worth spending a few seconds at that point to verify your work before covering and securing it.

    One way that I differed from what you did: Instead of heat shrink tubing, I sealed my solders with liquid electrical tape, which is 100% effective, and very easy. It’s also the most effective way i’ve found of securing solder points since it is essentially gluing them into place and putting a solid isolation barrier between them. Liquid tape also seals the part you have to cut open to access the solder pads in waterproof LED strips, so you won’t lose the waterproofing properties of those strips.

    This is great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

    3 replies
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    onetruegodChrisO138

    Reply 8 days ago

    what is liquid electrical tape? It sounds like an oxymoron.

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    ChrisO138onetruegod

    Reply 7 days ago

    https://amzn.to/2CMLxEi

    It's similar in a lot of ways to rubber cement, but better consistency for application to electrical components. You can get it at most hardware stores.

    It's great for this particular application.

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    onetruegodChrisO138

    Reply 5 days ago

    Thanks for explanation and link Chris, I've never seen it before.

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    starphire

    6 days ago

    Instead of using regular heat shrink for this application, adhesive heat shrink (also sold as dual-wall heat shrink or adhesive-lined heat shrink, basically just heat shrink tubing with a layer of hot melt glue inside) reduces the chance of a wire/solder pad being pulled off later in handling, especially if you'll need to make a tight bend near the solder point to fit it into a project. That is so difficult to repair at that point, I find the extra security highly worthwhile.

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    burzurk

    7 days ago

    FYI- I am aware that different LED strips have diff wiring conventions...however you attached the blue wire to the white pad and the white wire to the blue pad- and did not note this. It might seem nit-picky...but...

    Great Instructable!

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    JohnC430burzurk

    Reply 6 days ago

    Yeah, i noticed that too and also the black wire is on the +24V.. that LED tape is going to be sooo confused and the colors will be such a mess.

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    LaurentM

    8 days ago

    Stating the obvious for the seasoned solderer (is that a word?) I guess, but for those who are new this is a really good instructable.

    2 replies
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    glowtimeLaurentM

    Reply 8 days ago

    Thank you very much! And I'd say solderer extraordinaire next time... :)

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    tony1

    8 days ago

    did you cross solder the W to B on the LED strip?

    3 replies
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    glowtimetony1

    Reply 8 days ago

    Yes. Nice find! The wire I used had the white and blue wires swapped, so in order for the wire to sit more flush when the heat shrink was applied, I swapped the wires, but then made sure to swap the same wires on the color controller. This is not totally recommended as it's easy to get confused, but I wanted a cleaner connection area for my application. Since they are both ground voltage, it technically doesn't matter if they are swapped, but the colors would act different if you forgot to change on the color controller.

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    ChrisO138glowtime

    Reply 8 days ago

    BTW, it wasn't "the wire" that you used that had the colors swapped - it's the lights. Most sets of those lights have W and B in the other order. This is the first time I've seen them otherwise.

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    ChrisO138tony1

    Reply 8 days ago

    He did, and I can tell you why. That roll of five-lead wire comes in the order: Black, green, red, blue and white, but his light strip has the blue and white swapped. The light strips I purchased have the leads in the same order as the wires. I’m not sure which version of the light strip has B and W swapped at the end, but that’s what is pictured.

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    Sparkymancan

    8 days ago

    Fine Instructible, except for one point on soldering.

    For ages, the theory that heating a wire or terminal with the iron, waiting for the wire to heat enough to melt the solder, was the proper way. Attempting to heat the wire without having good heat transfer, will waste your time and could even cause damage to the assembly, because heat will expand over an area over time. If the wire or terminal is not soldered quickly enough, damage could occur because heat could reach sensitive areas.

    Especially, because these LED strips have only a small amount of exposed copper to terminate, the plastic insulation around that point is easily damaged with too much heat exposure.

    It is best to begin adding solder to the iron and wire or terminal as soon as you contact it. That small amount of melted solder will increase the heat transfer rapidly to the wire or terminal and will allow the solder to fully penetrate quickly, making a good connection.

    For termination to the LED strip, separately tinning the wire and tinning the exposed copper, then soldering that junction will be the best way to deal with the connections.