Home Made RBG LED Lights: A How-to

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I am a huge fan of ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com.  It’s a great place for inspiration and ideas for stage design.  Recently I was looking through the newer posts and came across this one – Tightly Gridded.  I was looking for a new quarterly design for our stage and honestly I just plainly ripped off this idea.  I had seen these light strips around Lowes and Home Depot before and had always wondered how you could manipulate them to be used in a DMX setting.  I had done a little research but I didn’t find much useful other than the parts you may need but without any instructions on how.

After running across this post at Church Stage Design Ideas, I was able to contact the person who put together this one and ask some more specific questions as to the application of all the employed parts.  The post itself helped more than what research I did but didn’t detail quite enough for me to be able to just up and make these LED strip lights work.  After working with a few small tests I was able to determine how to best go about building these LED light boxes.  While you may not want to build the boxes, I hope this more in depth post helps inspire you to work with the LED strip lights to create other great things.

The Light Boxes
Step 1: Measured the stage to determine what size boxes would work best.  We settled on 4’x6′ as being the best size for our stage and 4 boxes would best work.  We really wanted to keep the width at 4 foot cause the diffusion material we wanted to use for this was 4 foot wide so it made things easy.

Step 2: Built the 4’x6′ boxes. We didn’t have a huge budget so instead of MDF or nice plywood we went a little cheaper but when it is all painted and the lights are on you can’t really tell.  We painted the inside white to help reflect light and painted the outside black to help it disappear.

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Step 3: Wire up the Lighting. These are the RGB LED strips I ordered.  Yes they come with an IR remote that we had no use for but they weren’t selling the RGB strips without so we just didn’t use them.  We also ordered the package without the power supply as we were going to use a different supply to chain multiple strands together.  This is the important thing; correct power.  If you check out SuperBrightLED.com you can see the power information per foot of these strips to determine how much power you need for how many strips you want to connect together.  They come in 16′ sections.  The other option is power each strip individually and hook them up to a DMX decoder instead of chaining them together.  I found it much easier to buy an external power supply and chain them together.  Here is the DMX decoder I chose (there is a 4 channel option if you get an RGBW strip) and the Power Supply I chose based on wattage needed.  You may need some male to male connecters to chain them together; some of my kits come with them so I didn’t need them.

Here is how we hooked it all together.  You will need to order a power cord or you can pick one up at a home improvement store.  Attach ground to ground, positive to L for lead, negative to N for negative.  Plug it in and make sure the small power LED light pops on.  There was an open power cable hooked up to the IR Remote module that you can take and cut the end off of to create a nice easy power line between the Power Supply and the DMX Decoder.  Simple.

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Next you’ll need to wire up your LED strips to your DMX decoder.  It’s much easier than I thought.  You cut off one of the ends and you should find 4 wires (if you have a RGB strip not a RGBW one).  There will be either a White or Black wire (I had some with a white wire and some with a black – no matter they are the same wire) as you COM wire, then the easy part of the Red wire, Green wire, and the Blue wire.  Strangely enough they each run the light the same color of the wire. Connecting it to the DMX decoder you will see a COM port, CH1, CH2, CH3.  So after stripping the wires you place the white or black in COM, Red in CH1, Green in CH2, Blue in CH3.  Simple as that.  SIDE NOTE: I did have one strand of LED lights where the Green and Blue wires seemed to be backwards.  The simple fix was to just reverse the wires – problem solved.

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Step 4: Placing the light in the box was a little bit of a challenge. Don’t trust the idea that each strip is able to just stick to your box.  It will help hold it in place but it won’t hold them for long especially as you put a little pressure in the corners.  You will read that you can just cut the strip and solder some wire between them so you can make them bend the way you want. They guy I contacted from the Church Stage Design Posts instructed me that he has worked for many years with soldering almost anything but he had the worlds worst time trying to solder these strips.  He recommended  only cut off what you won’t use – don’t cut and try to connect them. I just trusted him since I was a little lower on time.  I may play around with different suggested solutions for cutting and reconnecting them later.
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Don’t trust the 3m tape on the back of these to completely hold them in place securely.  They will hold them in place OK but if there is any tension it will pull off.  Each bend creates a little tension so we found some cable clips to secure the strips to the box.  There is enough space between LED diodes to use the clamps without blocking any light.  We just ran the LED strips up and down the inside of the box with the one connection in the middle.
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Step 5: Diffusion and pattern.  We used LEE 216 white diffusion gel.  You can get it in a 4′ wide by 25′ long roll. which was perfect for us.  You could probably use parchment paper hiding the seams behind the lattice or I’m sure you could come up with something else that works great to help diffuse the light. Each strip has about an 18 degree throw so keeping the sides at about 12 in helped spread the light out while the diffusion gel helps make it an even light that you can look directly into – which was our purpose. We bought lattice from home depot used some double stick tape to keep the Gel on the lattice then attached the lattice to the box.  We created it in such a way that the diffusion gel and lattice would come off if need be but also cut an access hole near the power supply and DMX decoder for connection and minor issues.

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Then it was just a matter of turning them on, setting the dip switches on the DMX decoder (Here is an great cheat sheet) and hooking them all up.  We then placed a frame over the lattice on the outside edges just to clean up the box’s look just a little.
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These are pretty cool and effective RGB light boxes.  There are no special effects just simple RGB mixing but with some chases or effects programs you can make them do some pretty cool things.  They look great, are movable for multiple looks, and pretty sturdy.  I have had contact with a friend who used the LED Strip lights and he let me know they last for a long long time so you should have some great longevity out of the strips.  Here is a video of them in action.

I hope I gave you enough specifics to feel comfortable experimenting with these LED strips.  They are a great product you can create an infinite amount of projects with.  And in the long run the cost is much cheaper than buying professional LED lights to do similar projects. If you have any questions let me know, I’d be happy to answer any that I can.

He's a nice guy

8 Comments

  1. Jonathan Malm   •  

    This is awesome! So glad you spent the time to go into so much detail.

    • NathanSutliff   •     Author

      Thanks man, would have submitted it to ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com but it was a blatant rip off ha ha. Stand on the shoulders of giants…

  2. Nathan   •  

    Thanks so much for the details! Been wanting to implement these strips for a long time and have never had the time to figure out the dmx control and wiring. We will be using these for Christmas now!

    1 question: Do these lights flicker on video at all? They looked good on your sample video but they were chasing a lot and I couldn’t tell. Thanks !

    • NathanSutliff   •     Author

      thanks man! this is where I found myself not too long ago and had to dig a lot to find what I needed. hope I was able to help. blessings

  3. Neil Hitchins   •  

    hi need some help, i brought 44 LED little star lights i stuck them to a strip of aluminium solderd them all together and wired them into a 70w transformer an it turns on ok and the lights are bright :). the only problem is its dicided to be a strobe light i just want the stupid thing to stay on!. its for my aquarium any help u can give or pointing me in the right direction to get some would be very greatful.

    thanks Neil

  4. Ron   •  

    Cool set. How much did the whole thing cost? We are looking at doing something similar at my church and I am having a devil of a time figuring out everything I need (more specifically how much it would cost)

  5. Pingback: 3 Years of Stage Design

  6. Brian   •  

    I’m looking to something similar and just bought a 16′ 24V LED strip. I would prefer DMX control and your explanation sounds good. Can you not use the power supply that comes with the lights? Do you happen to have any schematics for your hookups? I’d like to be sure of what I need in total and how to hook everything up. I’m going to build 4 4′ strips and probably 4 16′ strips (necessitating the purchade of another rol of lights or two). I’d like to know if the 4′ strips can all be controlled as one with up to 30′ between them. Just looking for as much detail as I can get. Thanks.

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