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Top 4 considerations before buying flexible LED strip lights

Flexible LED Strip light buying guide: How to choose LED strip Lights

Compare LED strip Lighting GuideAccent cove lighting example with UltraBright Design Series LED strip lighting  

90% of customers found this information helpful before choosing their LED strip lights

The use of flexible LED strip lights is rapidly rising in modern lighting design around the world.  Architects and lighting designers are implementing LED strip lights into residential, commercial, and industrial projects at an increasing rate. This is due to an increase in efficiency, color options, brightness, and ease of installation. A homeowner can now design like a lighting professional with a complete lighting kit and an hour or two. 

There are many options on the market for LED strip lights (also called LED tape lights or LED ribbon lights) and there is no clear-cut standard for how to choose LED strip lights.  We have created this guide to educate experts and newcomers alike. 

New to LEDs?

What are LED strip lights and what can they do? 

LED strip light customer-submitted project photos

LED strip Light Comparison Sheet

Flexfire LEDs Catalog with many photo examples

Important notes before getting your project started:

Step 1: Get a clear vision! Because each project is unique, there is no all-in-one solution. Different projects require different types of LED strips. 

1. What will you be lighting? 
2. Where will it be installed?
3. Do you want to dim your lights or control them with a remote or wall switch
4. What overall look do you want to achieve? 
5. What color do I need? 
6. What materials am I lighting? 
7. Are there other lights in the area and if so, what color are they?

Ready? Let's Go!

 - Top 4 things you need to know before choosing or comparing LED strip lighting -  

1. Compare Lumen, CCT, and CRI (Color Rendering Index)

1.1 Lumen (Brightness)

Lumen is the measurement of brightness as perceived to the human eye. Because of incandescent lighting, we are all accustomed to using watts to measure the brightness of light. Today, we use lumen. Lumen is the most important variable when choosing which LED strip light you need to look at. When comparing lumen output from strip to strip, note that there are different ways of saying the same thing.

The questions you should be asking is “Lumens per what? Per foot, meter, or reel? How long is the reel?” 

Different projects require a certain amount of brightness to achieve a desired look. Our advice is to always go brighter than needed and add a dimmer. Running your LEDs below their full power and brightness can also increase lifespan.

Below is a general guide. We are always available to help design your project with you.

Quick Guide:

Example Application Lumen required / foot of LED strip 
Accent Lighting and Mood Lighting ~ 156 - 350
Under cabinet Lighting ~ 175 - 525
Task Lighting with low distance from light source ~ 280 - 437
Task Lighting with higher distance from light source  ~ 344 - 687
Indirect lighting in a bedroom/ hotel / vehicle / lobby  ~ 375 - 562
Industrial lighting / signage / tube replacements ~ 500 - 950

Below is a photo that shows our LED strip lights and the lumen they emit

Comparison of Lumen in LED strip lights

Important: Be careful if the company does not state the lumen output. You will have no idea what the brightness will be until you purchase them. Flexfire LEDs has some of the brightest LED strip lights in the world. If quality is important to you, always request the test data sheets from any company to verify their claims of "lumen output".

Using Lumen as the only comparison can be tricky! Some brands over-power their LEDs to make them brighter. Sadly, this will make them fail faster and burn up. We under power our LED chips to make sure they last longer than rated.

1.2 CCT - Color Temperature 

CCT (Correlated Color Temperature) refers to the color temperature of light, measured in degrees Kelvin (K). The temperature rating directly affects what the white light will look like; it ranges from cool white to warm white. For instance, a light source that has a 2000 – 3000 K rating is seen as, what we call, warm white light. Warm white light looks very orange and/or yellow. When increasing the degrees Kelvin, the color will change from yellow to yellowish white to white and then a bluish white (which is the coolest white). Although the varying temperatures have different names, it should not be confused with actual colors such as red, green, or purple. CCT is specific to white light or rather, the color temperature.

examples of different cct whites

"Can I order a 6000k light from amazon and a 6000k light from you and they will look the same?" The answer is quite possibly no. All CCTs are not created equal also. You may notice that some lights that are "cool white" may not look pure white. They may give off a greenish, purplish, or bluish hue to them? This is because the LEDs have been selected from a presorted pile (bin) that is far from true white. It is important to ask the manufacturer of the LED strips how they BIN their LEDs and what their selection process is. 

Which color should you choose?

Here is an example of the same kitchen under 3000k, 4200k, and 6200k lights. Notice how lighting changes everything!

Comparing Color Temperatures

1.3 CRI - Color Rendering Index

Article: What is CRI? CRI Explained

Can’t tell the difference between the black and navy colored socks in your walk in closet? Could be that your current lighting source has a very low CRI! Color Rendering Index (CRI) is the measurement of how colors look under a light source when compared with sunlight. The index is measured from 0-100, with a perfect 100 indicating that colors under the light source appear the same as they would under natural sunlight.

- This rating is also a measurement in the lighting industry to help discern naturalness, hue discrimination, vividness, preference, color naming accuracy, and color harmony. 
- Lighting with a CRI that is measured greater than 80 is considered to be more than acceptable for most applications.
- Lighting with a CRI that is measured greater than 90 is considered “High CRI” lights and mainly used in commercial, art, film, photography, and retail locations. -See our High CRI 93+ Lights

2. Compare LED strip size and number of LEDs on the strip 

Traditionally, LED strip lights are packaged on a reel (spool) of 5 meters, or 16' 5''. The machines used to "pick and place" the LEDs and resistors on the flexible circuit board are typically 3' 2'' in length, so individual sections are soldered together to complete a whole reel. If purchasing, make sure you are purchasing by the foot or by the reel. Confirm length before checking out. 

Measure how many feet you need of LED strips before you start. This will make it easier to compare price (after quality is compared, of course). Once you determine the number of feet on the reel being sold, look at how many LED chips are on the reel and the LED chip type. This can be used to compare LED strips between companies. 

What do the numbers of the LED chips mean?

Below is an example of what the numbers mean when companies talk about LED strip lights. Full page here on What is the difference between 5050 and 3528 and 3014 LED chips? Not all chips are created equal either.  

What are the best LED strip lights?

Types of LED chips and meaning of their indicated numbers

3. Wattage consumed per strip of LEDs

Power consumption is one of the reasons we as a society have begun switching to LEDs. Wattage tells us how much power we are consuming while these lights are on, and in turn how much we’ll have to pay at the end of each month. Once again, be sure to verify the wattage per foot, meter, or reel before you buy.

Some may read “24 watts” on a reel and then get home and realize this is per meter or per foot, meaning the whole reel actually uses much more. Making matters worse, they have bought a power supply that covers 30 watts, thinking that would be enough. This often occurs when a seller doesn’t properly list important information in an easy to read format.

Finally, make sure you understand the voltage that your flexible LED strip lights use. An LED strip light that uses 24 volts will not work if you purchase a 12-volt power supply, and also may result in risk of fire. You need to choose the correct power unit for your lights.

4. Verifiable Quality

You are looking for a "set-and-forget" lighting system that can be used for years to come. To make sure that your LEDs last their intended lifespan, are safe around your home and business, and don't require extra maintenance costs to replace, you need to verify the quality claims.

1. Thermal Management -  Heat = death to LEDs. Ask if and how the LED strip lights have been designed for proper thermal management and heat dissipation. If they have not, the LED's 50,000+ hour LED chip life span may drop to 10,000 or 20,000 hours. This can be done on a chip level and on a PCB level. Do not solely rely on an aluminum heat sink to dissipate heat away from the LEDs. The product should be designed at a component level to ensure a longer lifespan.

2. Color Quality and Accuracy - When you purchase a 'warm white' producing LED strip light you should not expect to get a bright white color from the LEDs. Ask for test reports that prove the color you are purchasing is what will arrive.

3. Safety Certifications - It is difficult to verify a seller’s safety claims using Amazon or Ebay alone. Check the UL listing or RoHS registry to make sure the LEDs are safe and do not contain lead or other hazardous materials.

4. Material Quality - Product performance and longevity is determined not just by the quality of the LEDs, but the thickness and materials used in the PCB, resistors, wires, and lead-free soldering. 

5. Test Reports - Ask for test reports to verify claims of brightness and longevity. These may include LM-79 testing, IES reports, etc.

6. Warranty, Customer Service, and Installation/Design Assistance - We are here to help design your project, no matter what the size. Our LED strip lights represent the highest quality found on the market today, and will be lighting your project area for many years to come.

Other considerations when choosing your LED strip lights: 

You need a product you can trust and will produce a good clean light for years to come and save you money in the process. 

The LED market is highly saturated with manufacturers and distributors offering various levels of quality, cost, and specifications. Due to safety and quality purposes, we have created this page and video to ask the question of what the difference is between Flexfire LEDs and other competitors like the ones on Amazon - LED Strip Light Reviews - Flexfire Vs Amazon Strip

Flexfire LEDs' strip lights have been used by NASA, Lockheed Martin, JPL, US airports, Disney, Hilton Hotels, major retail chains, and thousands of happy homeowners. Chances are you've seen our lights somewhere.  

Save this comparison chart and compare with other LED strip lights:  

LED Strip Light Comparison Sheet

Download the Strip Light Comparison Chart

View our catalogs for design ideas: 

Architectural LED Strip Light Brochure

Flexfire LEDs 2017 Catalog / Brochure

Need help with your project or selecting the perfect lights?

LED project design help and support

We have LED project design specialists ready to help educate and assist you in your project.

 Please contact us or call us at 1-844-FLEXFIRE OR 1-925-273-9080

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