LED Strips – Understanding the different types

Artificial lighting is used by most serious African Violet hobbyists, because it gives you complete control over light intensity, duration and gives you plants that grow faster, with better symmetry, and with plenty of flowers.  

These days, there are many options for lighting, including fluorescent tubes, LED strips, and pre-made light fittings. In a previous article, I explained why LED strips are a good choice. They offer great flexibility, especially when your shelving is an irregular size. 

Purchasing LED strips can be downright confusing because there are many types and there is a lot of jargon for describing the different types. Here’s a quick overview of the most common terms

Roll of LED strip lighting

What is an LED Strip?

  • A Light Emitting Diode (LED) is a semiconductor device that emits light when an electrical current is
    passed through it.
  • A LED strip is a flexible piece of tape about 10-12mm (half an inch) thick.
  • Individual LEDs are dotted along the strip at intervals of about 60 – 120 LEDs per metre
  • They are shipped in a long reel up to 5 metres in length and can be cut to specific lengths using just a
    pair of scissors. 
  • The backside of a LED strip has double sided tape which makes it quick/easy to attach strips to surfaces
  • Are available in a wide variety of colour temperatures and brightness
  • They operate on low voltage DC power

Types of LED strips

Three features for understanding different types of LED strip are:

  1. Size of the LED
  2. Colour temperature
  3. Voltage

1. LED sizes

  • LED strips have a four-digit number that looks like this… 2835 SMD or 5050 SMD LED.
  • Your can ignore the SMD part. This abbreviation means ‘Surface Mounted Device’ which means the LEDs are stuck to the strip without using wires. This technology is what makes LED Light Strips possible.
  • The four digits after the SMD refer to the physical dimensions of the little LED chips dotted along
    the strip. For example, SMD 3528 are 3.5mm wide and 2.8mm long.
LED Chip sizes

What size for growing African Violets?

It doesn’t really matter what size of LED you use. African Violets are not fussy and so long as the light intensity is right, you can use any type. I strongly recommend 2835-SMD or as a second choice 5050-SMD.

2. Colour Temperature

  • Lighting companies often describe their products with terms such as, warm white, cool white and day light.
  • Remember these descriptions are approximate descriptions and can vary from one product to another
  • The most accurate measure of colour temperature is in Kelvins
  • LED strips are generally sold either as warm white (WW), cool white (CW). This means they emit a fixed
    constant colour.
  • Some LED strips have both WW and CW LEDs alternating across the strip. 
  • Another type of LED is colour changing option. Usually known as RGB (red, green, blue), this type allows you to mix the various colours to achieve virtually any colour. They are used in retail displays, and feature effects
Lights illustrating the effect of different colour temperatures
Lights demonstrating the scale of warm to cool white

Warm white (2000 - 3000 kelvins)

Is the closest to candle light and produced by a temperature range of 2000 to 3000 Kelvin. It has a yellow-orange tint. In your home, warm light produces a calm relaxed atmosphere and is most often used in bedrooms and living areas. For your plants, warm light is responsible for flowering.

Cool white (6000 - 10,000 kelvins)

Is the closest to sunlight  and produced by a temperature range of 6000 + Kelvins. It has a bright and blue tint. In your home, cool light produces an active bright light and is most often used in bathrooms, kitchens and work spaces.  For your plants, warm light is responsible for leaf growth.

What color temperature for growing African Violets?

  • For growing African Violets, we are interested only in the WW and CW types and not the colour changing RGB technology. 
  • You will likely find the best success by mixing together both WW and CW LEDs. You can do this, for example, by running 2 – 4 lengths of strips on your shelf, alternating between WW and CW.  Or, you can purchase LED strips that already contain BOTH WW and CW on the same strip. 

3. Voltage

LED strips are powered by low voltage DC current and therefore need a power adapter similar to a laptop computer, Christmas lights, and many other appliances around your home. 

Strips come in two power levels, either 12-volt or 24-volt. For growing African Violets, there is no difference between the two types. 24-volt strips are not brighter. However, as power travels down the line of tape, it gets lower. So, 24-volt strips can handle longer runs (lengths). They, also run cooler. The important factor is that you match the power adapter to the voltage requirements of your LED.  Where possible, I recommend 24-volt set ups.

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