What are the differences between LED chips (SMDs)? Which type should I choose?
LED strip lighting can be manufactured using a variety of different LED chip types.
Below, we’re going to explain the main differences between them – by comparing the most commonly used chip types on the LED tape market: the 3528 and the 5050.
What does the number of an LED chip mean?
LED chips (also known as surface mounted diodes or SMDs) are all identified by a four-digit number. This code is less complicated than it looks – it simply indicates the size of the LED chip. For example, the dimensions of SMDs on 5050 LED strip lights are 5.0mm x 5.0mm.
Which is the best LED chip?
LEDs like 3528s, 5050s, 2835s and 5630s aren’t really different types of chip at all – they’re simply different sizes. Each has its own spec: different power requirements and output brightness. The best choice depends on what’s right for your project.
You can find out more about each LED chip below.
The 3528 LED chip explained
Measuring 3.5mm x 2.8mm, the 3528 SMD is a smaller chip than the 5050 LED strip SMD. You will most often find 3528 chips on 12-volt LED strips, drawing 4.8 watts (also known as 4.8w p/m or 5w p/m LED tape) with 60 SMDs per metre.
These strip lights output around 330-360 lumens per metre, depending on colour (equivalent to a 40w halogen) – enough to produce a smooth, bright effect when shining onto any surface.
3528 60 SMD p/m LED strip lights are typically used for feature lighting – such as plinth or coving lights, in homes, bars, restaurants, hotels and other locations.
Though less common than standard 60 SMDs p/m LED tape, 3528 SMDs are also used on LED strip lights with 120 chips per metre. Pulling 9.6 watts (known as 9.6w p/m or 10w p/m LED tape), these tapes are available in the same range of colours. Light output is exactly double that of 60 SMDs p/m tape – they have twice as many LEDs – so that’s around 660-720 lumens per metre, depending on colour.
3528 120 SMD p/m LED strips are used for the same kind of feature-lighting applications as its standard alternative. We recommend them for locations with strong ambient light, where more brightness is needed than the 4.8w p/m can produce.
The cut points for our 60 SMD-per-metre 3528 LED strips are 50mm apart. The 120 SMD p/m strips have cut points at 25mm intervals. Both types are also available in waterproofed versions (IP67-rated).
Safe to touch
3528 SMDs do not give off a lot of heat – you can safely touch them. Even so, the 60 LED p/m tape requires PCBs (printed circuit boards) at least 8mm wide, and the 120 LED p/m tape should use 2-ounce thickness PCBs. As long as your LED strips meet these minimum specifications, they can be simply installed anywhere because they have a sufficient heat sink not to require an additional aluminium extrusion.
There are many manufacturers of 3528 SMDs. Epistar-branded SMDs are extremely high quality and give you the brightest 3528 SMDs on the market. They offer excellent colour consistency and reliability, with a life of 50,000 hours at 70% output. Cheaper alternatives are less bright and less reliable, and are prone to colour inconsistencies within the reel and between reels.
Double-power 3528 SMD explained
Double-power 3528 SMDs are the same size as standard-power LEDs. They are available in the same colours, drawing twice the power to give twice the output. LED strip lights manufactured using double-power SMDs have 120 LEDs per metre and pull 19.2 watts per metre (also known as 19.2w p/m, or 20w p/m).
Double-power 3528 LED strips use a 2-ounce 10mm wide PCB to disperse heat effectively, in order not to require an extra heat sink when installed. These LED strips are only available for 24-volt systems, as this carries current better. Lumen output is around 1320-1440 lumens per metre (depending on the colour). Because of its high brightness, we recommend this LED tape as general lighting, or to replace fluorescent tubes and halogens.
The 5050 LED chip explained
Measuring 50mm x 50mm, the 5050 SMD is larger than the 3528 SMD. These dimensions mean that each 5050 SMD is big enough to house four separate LED chips (sometimes called ‘quad LEDs’).
5050 LED chips are often used on 60 LED-per-metre strip lights, pulling 14.4 watts at 24 volts (commonly called 14.4w p/m or 15w p/m LED tape). With an output of around 990-1080 lumens per metre, depending on colour, this tape gives you a smooth, bright effect when shining onto a surface.
Available colours are:
- warm and cool whites (other Kelvins requirements can be manufactured on request)
- red, green, blue, and amber single-colour
- and also colour-changing – either RGB or RGBW (red, green, blue, white), using ‘tri’ / ‘quad’ chips (three or four LED chips in one).
These 60 SMD p/m 5050 LED strip lights are typically used for general lighting applications, such as corridor lighting, replacing fluorescent tube lighting, in homes, bars, restaurants, hotels and other locations.
5050 SMDs used in RGB LED strip lighting
The 5050 SMD is actually a ‘tri’ chip, meaning it has three smaller chips in every SMD. So each white LED actually has three white chips inside.
5050s can also be used for colour-changing LED tape, with red, green and blue chips inside each LED. By linking this type of RGB LED strip light to a controller, you can mix any shade of any colour you choose. (RGBW tape is similar, but uses ‘quad’ LEDs, with an additional white chip.)
RGB 5050 LED strip lights are available in two types:
- 30 LEDs per metre (known as 7.2w p/m or 7.5w p/m LED tape) outputs up to 500 lumens per metre and is ideal for feature lighting such as covings, plinths in homes, hotels, restaurants and bars.
- 60 LEDs per metre (aka 14.4w p/m or 15w p/m LED tape) produces up to 1000 lumens per metre, perfect for full wall-washes such as bar frontage, back bars in restaurants, clubs, or the home.
We can supply both types of 5050 LED tape (30 and 60 LED p/m options) in waterproofed versions (IP67-rated). The cut-points on both are spaced at 100mm intervals.
Branded Epistar SMDs are the highest quality 5050 LEDs on the market. They provide the best brightness, colour consistency and reliability with 70% output at 50,000 hours. Using cheaper alternatives instead, you’ll get dimmer and more unreliable LEDs that output inconsistent colours within each reel and also from reel to reel.
The 3014 LED chip explained
A recent development, 3014 SMD LED chips are much smaller and much more efficient than many earlier SMD models. The smaller size of the diodes (just 3.0mm x 1.4mm) means it’s possible to fit more of them on a length of PCB strip – offering more brightness, without the need for more power.
At InStyle, we use 3014 SMDs in the manufacture of our specialized dual-white colour-temp changing (CCT) LED tapes. Their compact size allows two LEDs producing different white shades to be positioned very close beside each other, making it possible to mix a varied palette of different white-light tones from a single LED tape. (A similar set-up to RGB/RGBW colour LEDs.)
The 2835 LED chip explained
The 2835 SMD is a new choice on the LED market. Instyle LED have now tested 2835 chips fully, to confirm their reliability and efficiency.
2.8mm x 3.5mm in size, the 2835 chip is so far only available for white LEDs.
In practice, you can view 2835 SMDs as a more efficient replacement for the 5050 – producing 20% more light but drawing less wattage. Each 2835 SMD pulls 0.2w (a 5050 SMD pulls 0.24w), so that’s around 12 watts per metre compared to 14.4w for the 5050 SMD, based on 60 LEDS p/m. Because the 2835 SMD is smaller and doesn’t get as hot, it’s possible to mount up to 120 LEDS p/m – that’s 24w p/m – giving up to 2600 lumens per metre!
- Cool white 5050 SMD 60 LEDS (14.4w p/m) = 1080 lumens per metre
- Cool white 2835 SMD 60 LEDS (12w p/m) = 1300 lumens per metre
- Cool white 2835 SMD 120 LEDS (24w p/m) = 2600 lumens per metre
InStyle’s 2835 LED strip lights are mounted on 2-ounce PCBs (10mm width) for better heat dispersion, superior reliability and longer life. So this really is a product for the future. We supply both 12w and 24w p/m LED tapes, in warm white, cool white or any custom white shades. We also offer splashproof IP65 and waterproof IP67 heatshrink-coated options.
Now that 2835 chips have been available long enough to prove themselves, we confidently predict that more people will switch to them from 5050 SMDs, as they realise the advantages.
The 5630 LED chip explained
The 5630 SMD has been around for several years, but has only recently become an option in the LED tape market. (Before that, most LED suppliers used these chips on thick PCB rigid strips rather than LED tape, as they require a very good heat-sink.) 5630 SMDs have dimensions of 5.6mm x 3.0mm.
A larger LED doesn’t always mean brighter – but in this case, the 5630 chip outputs far more light than the more common 5050 SMD. High-quality 5630 chips on 60 LED p/m tape can produce up to around 2700 lumens. (To give an idea of the importance of component quality, lower grade 5630 SMDs output less the 2000 lumens per metre.)
LED tapes mounted with 5630 SMDs generate more heat than some other LED chips. Because of this, we recommend installing 5630 SMDs with either an aluminium extrusion, additional heat-sink backing or a thicker and wider PCB. Without these, your LED strip lights may work initially – but brightness will likely reduce quickly, because overheating is the biggest adverse contributor to the brightness and lifespan of LEDs. Used 8 hours per day, overheating could see you lose up to 20% in brightness per year!
Instyle LED always uses thicker, wider PC boards and A-grade Epistar-branded SMDs, so you can always rely on the quality of our 5630 LED tape components. We offer this product in all shades of white.
We don’t advise the use of heatshrink to waterproof 5630 SMDs, as it can lead to overheating issues.
Summary of LED chip types
In the end, the type of SMD chip doesn’t matter – as long as it can meet your requirements. InStyle recommend branded Epistar LEDs for the reasons we discussed above (brightness, reliability and colour batching).
When purchasing LED strip lights, you should ask yourselves these questions:
- Do you want feature lighting, task lighting, colour changing, waterproof, etc?
- Dimmable or non-dimmable?
- What colour do you want?
- How bright do you need the LED strips?
|White LED Tape|
|Choose||5-watt tape for feature lighting|
|10-watt tape for feature lighting (where there is a lot of ambient light)|
|15-watt tape for general lighting or replacing fluorescent tubes etc|
|20-watt tape for general lighting or replacing fluorescent tubes etc|
|RGB LED Tape|
|Choose||7.5-watt tape for feature lighting|
|15-watt tape for ‘washing’ surfaces|