Friday Hack Chat: All About LED Design

There are three great enabling technologies of the last twenty years. The first is lithium batteries that hold a lot of juice. Quadcopters wouldn’t exist without them, and the Tesla Model S wouldn’t either. The second is crazy powerful brushless motors. Here, again, quads wouldn’t exist without them, but we’re also getting smaller, torquier, and more powerful motion platforms.

The third great enabling technology in recent memory is LEDs. Remember when the PlayStation 2 came out, and everyone was amazed by the blue LED? That blue LED won a Nobel Prize. Now, we have LED light bulbs, LEDs in any color of the rainbow, powerful UV LEDs, and bazillion candela flashlights. LEDs are awesome.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about LEDs. Everything from strips to rings, discrete to waterproof, COBs, weird colors, and everything in between. If you’re looking to replace your workshop lighting with LEDs, this is the Hack Chat for you. If you’ve ever wondered about the quality of LEDs, and the price-performance ratio, this is for you. This is all about blinky bling.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Metalnat], founder of the Burbank MakerSpace, a recent resident of the Supplyframe DesignLab where he designed a VR controller, and worked on Crane, a flapping automaton that glided over the playa at this year’s Burning Man. During this Hack Chat, we’ll be talking about LEDs, including installation methods, types of LEDs, suppliers, and LED manufacturing methods.

This is a Hack Chat, so we’re taking questions from the audience. Here’s a spreadsheet we’ll be using to guide the discussion.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will be going down noon, Pacific time on Friday, September 29th. Sidereal and solar getting you down? Wondering when noon is this month? Not a problem: here’s a handy countdown timer!

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

13 thoughts on “Friday Hack Chat: All About LED Design

  1. I think it’s an understatement at what LEDS have done. Not just in efficiency, but in design. Places lighting would have never been before, as well as places it would, but better. Lighting that can be driven by low-voltages (less need of an electrician) as well as blending of communications and lighting.

      1. Ah, the days of keeping a couple of spare bulbs, packed in padding, behind the reflector.
        Then practicing changing a bulb, by feel, in the dark.
        And if you were doing repairs in a dark crawlspace or attic, you kept a penlight in at least one pocket in case the main light failed or was dropped just out of reach.

  2. I’m not really interested in a Friday hack chat, but I do have a few questions maybe someone can answer.
    LED light strips. Thinking about adding these to a boat. My original plan was to just run wires from a switch that turns them off or on. Simple. I see 12V waterproof ones (different waterproof ones too) and was wondering, can I just run them from the 12V power of the boat or do I need a true12V supply? As everyone knows, the charging systems push the voltage higher (Max of 14.8V) so was wondering if this could damage the LED strips running at a slightly higher voltage.

    1. There’s waterproof and there’s waterproof. Get the gel-on-tape version and it’s mostly OK; don’t get the rope/tube style. Even if the tape is totally waterproof, its electrical connections will corrode in salty air so epoxy or RTV (NOT acetic-cure!) are your friends here.

      At 14.8V, it will work but run hotter and have a much shorter life. I recommend getting a cheap (couple of dollars) switchmode regulator off eBay. Some are waterproof, the ones that are not can be made so by drowning them in epoxy after making the electrical connections. Get a regulator rated twice the current that the LED strip will use, because the regulator will not be able to dissipate heat well once potted in epoxy and their ratings are pretty optimistic anyway.

      1. A switch mode regulator is not good in this application, it has too much voltage drop. At least one diode drop (1V) if it is non-synchronous, which most cheap ones are. A very low drop-out linear regulator would be the better choice. It gives you an efficiency of >83% (14,4V down to 12V). More than 14,4V would only occur in very cold climate (temperature dependency of the charging voltage). Then the LEDs are also cooled better.
        But I have several LED lights in my car, which are resistor based without a regulator and they work quite well.

    2. Last week on the sail-boat the were directly connected. Voltage was mostly 13,7V with engine running, 14,4 only with 230V connection to the grid. The real problem was corrosion of the connector. Although this was supposed to watertight and screwed secure, water got into the contacts, corrosion led to dimming. The LED strip was of a completely overmolded type, the stuff showed some yellowing through UV exposure.
      So don’t worry about the voltage, worry about the best possible waterproofing.

    3. You will want a PWM to drive the LEDs or else you will be using far more energy than needed. Plus, if you have a box with 3 PWMs (one for Red, one for Green, and one for Blue), you’ll be able to produce just about any color you want.

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