Why choose 12v vs 5v LEDs


Here’s a comparison of 12v and 5v LED strings, to help you decide which is right for your project.

If you’ve shopped for LED strings you’ve seen they come in 2 flavors, 12v or 5v.

Not sure which you should get? Let’s compare them and decide which is best.

First point of comparison is price. When I did my first Holiday LED project I bought the 5v version, mostly because they were significantly cheaper if you buy 10 strings at a time. $10 vs $14 per string, for otherwise identical lights. If you don’t get the 10-pack then the prices are about the same.

Link for 12v or 5v LED strings – http://a.co/brD3d4I

Another important consideration is the power supply. Prices are very similar. 20 amp power supplies for both voltages are about the same price.

12v 20 amp PS: http://a.co/grHoBt9

5v 20 amp PS: http://a.co/8wNDIC0

One thing to consider about the power supply is that the controller you’re using is probably going to require 5v power. So if you plan on powering your controller from the same power supply as your lights then 5v gets a point here.

However, I have a recommended solution. Find yourself an abandoned computer, you probably have one around the house or maybe find one at the thrift store. Computer power supplies have both 12v and 5v power, and usually plenty of amps to power a lot of lights.

Next question is; are 12v lights brighter than 5v lights? Nope. Actually, the LEDs in these strings “use” or “require” the same voltage. Depending on the color between 2.1v and 3.8v. So at each LED there’s a resistor that drops the voltage from 12v or 5v to something in the range that the LED can really uses.

So then what is the point of different voltages?

The only thing left to compare is voltage drop. Voltage drop occurs when electricity travels long distances in a wire. A good wire has low resistance, but not NO resistance, and the longer the wire the more resistance it creates. Thinner wires also add more resistance than thicker wires.

So which one is right for you? Well, as usual, it depends. If your project doesn’t require lengths of more than 15-20 ft (or 5-6 meters) then you could save some money using 5v lights. If you plan to run your lights farther than that, you could use 12v lights, but adding extra 5v boosters every 15 ft isn’t very expensive. So you could still save money with the 5v lights. But if the hassle of running the extra wires seems worth the money, then go for the 12v lights.

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