What does LED density on an LED strip mean?

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While shopping for LED strips, you may come across a number called "LED density" or a designation such as 300 LEDs. What does this mean? This is arguably one of the most important aspects of an LED strip so keep reading to find out what this means!

LED count vs LED density

LED count refers to the total number of LEDs that are mounted on an LED strip light product, typically per 5 meter reel. LED density, on the other hand, is typically defined as an LED quantity per meter or foot. Both are simple numbers that will eventually tell you how many LEDs you are actually going to get per unit length.

Common LED densities are 30/60/120 LEDs per meter (9/18/36 LEDs per foot). For a 5-meter reel, this corresponds to 150/300/600 LED count.

How does LED density affect LED strip light output?

The LEDs mounted on an LED strip are the foundation components that emit light, so the quantity of these components is of absolute importance in understanding the overall light output of an LED strip.

The total light output of an LED strip is simply the sum of the light output from the individual LEDs on the LED strip. So therefore, LED density has a direct impact on the total amount of light output. The more LEDs per meter, the more light per meter.

Keep in mind that this assumes that you are comparing situations where the LED is the same and has the same current draw settings. In some cases, manufacturers will specify a high brightness LED at a low density, and a low brightness LED at a high density, and these could very well end up with the same total amount of light output.

How does LED density affect LED strip power draw?

Power draw and light output are roughly proportional, so the same logic as LED density's effect on light output also applies to power draw. Simply put, higher LED density LED strips will draw more power, assuming we are comparing two strips with the same LEDs, each drawing the same amount of power.

How does LED density affect light distribution?

Light distribution is perhaps the biggest concern that can arise from an LED density that is insufficient. Because the LEDs are individual "point sources" depending on how they are installed, the individual LEDs on an LED strip may create a "dotted" effect or what is also sometimes called "spotting."

What exactly is going on here? Let's use headlights on a car as an analogy. Imagine you're pulling into your garage at night with your headlights on. At first, your headlights will shine onto the back of your garage and illuminate it quite evenly. But as you get closer to the back wall, you'll begin to notice that the area directly in front of each headlight will be brighter, while the periphery will be darker. This is caused, of course, by the fact that you are shining two, separate headlights in parallel directions.

LED strips behave very much in the same way. As the distance between the LED strip and the diffuser or wall decreases, the individual LEDs are more likely to be more distinguishable. This effect is more pronounced the larger the distance between individual LEDs.

So what does this mean about LED density? It means that a higher density LED strip will have a lower chance of "spotting" and the individual LEDs cannot be seen, even if the diffuser is placed close to the LED strip. On the other hand, a lower density LED strip will usually have dark spots in between the LEDs. Depending on the application, though, this might not be such a big issue.

How does LED density affect LED strip longevity?

LED density alone should not affect the performance of each individual LED, rather the drive current and thermal performance of an individual LED determines its lifetime.

That being said, there are several factors that could indirectly affect LED strip longevity, that arises from LED density differences.

Firstly, all else equal, a higher density LED strip will generally draw more power. This means that more heat is generated across the LED strip, leading to a higher ambient temperature for all LEDs mounted onto the LED strip. This can lead to possibly accelerated light degradation.

Secondly, a lower density LED strip may have the individual LEDs driven harder to compensate for the lower quantity of LEDs overall. If the drive current for the individual LEDs is too high, this can certainly have a detrimental effect on LED lifetime.

Ultimately, you will need to evaluate thermal and drive current parameters at the individual LED level and compare this to the LED specifications in order to make a definitive determination. There are some things that you may be able to notice without such a in-depth analysis by taking a look at an LED strip that gets very hot to the touch due to its high LED count, or an 30 LED per meter LED strip that claims 30 Watts per meter - a 1 Watt LED on a flexible LED strip will have a hard time dissipating enough heat.

How does LED density affect LED strip pricing?

The LEDs on an LED strip are by far the most expensive component, and therefore the quantity per unit length is an important metric you should know before you buy and compare pricing. You will have hopefully understood the effect of LED density on performance, and have a sense of whether you will benefit from a higher LED density strip or not, and whether it is paying the higher price.

The effect of LED density will depend on the manufacturer and retailer, but typically from a materials standpoint LEDs can be anywhere between 1 cent and 8 cents each, while the LED strip and assembly typically costs less than $1.00 USD per meter. If we assume 5 cents per LED, a 30 LEDs/meter LED strip will only cost $1.50 in LEDs plus another dollar for the LED strip for a total of $2.50 USD.

Now let's double the LED density to 60 LEDs/meter, keeping the same price assumptions. We are now at $3.00 in LEDs plus another dollar for the LED strip for a total of $4.00 USD. While we are using approximate numbers, you can see how doubling the LED density has increased the pricing from $2.50 USD to $4.00 USD.


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