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Intro to LED Strips

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Posted: 14 Mar 2020 03:17

LED strips are a very fun and effective way to give lots of glow and color to a project. In this Instructable you will learn about the basic kinds of strips and how to hook them up to the Intel Edison with Arduino breakout board. These circuits include hardware needed for external power and how to set up a button and potentiometer to blink and fade using Intel's special flavor of Eclipse IDE and their LPD8806 library.

There are two basic kinds of LED strips, analog and digital. They are controlled differently, so it's good to know which one you need for your project.

Analog strips come in mono (one color) or RGB (full color spectrum). They are sold on reels and can be cut into small segments. The segments are marked by metal contact pads and sometimes have a scissors icon screen printed right on them (love those!). The strips shown here are segmented in 5cm and 10cm lengths, each segment containing 3 LEDs. Usually strips use 30, 32, 60 or 120 LEDs per meter, which will change price and power consumption.

For each segment the LEDs are wired in series, which means the operating voltages are added up, giving the higher voltage needed. All of the segments are wired in parallel, so they get all get the same amount of voltage all the way down the strip, but the current draw adds up depending on the length of the strip. For more information on how to power your strip, skip to step 3.


The LEDs that fade and blink together, stay together. All the LEDs on the strip will act as one, they are non-addressable. One way to tell by sight is that they do not have any driver chips that you can see on the strip (that would be digital!).

Digital strips come with RGB LEDs and have a driver chip on the strip that control the LEDs individually. These are also called individually addressable or just addressable.

Shown here is a strip using the LPD8806 driver. Other popular ones you will see are using the WS2801 driver and strips using WS2812 RGB LEDs, which have the drivers build right in the LED package! They too come segmented, where they can be cut down to bite-size lengths.

These strips take 5 volts, so they can run straight off a microcontroller. They will power up when attached to 3.3 volts, just not as bright.

You will want to use a microcontroller with these to program cool patterns and make them reactive to sensors and switches. Most of the work is in the software, the hardware set up is simple and will be gone over in a later step. Digital strips get their information from one data-in pin or two data-in and clock-in pins, dependent of what strip is used. Make sure to check the datasheet for the pinout diagram, voltage ratings and other useful information.


The neat thing about addressable strips is that each LED can do it's own thing. It can be any color it wants at any time. The makes blinking patterns and color swirls possible, and so much more.

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