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Add Color to Your LED Projects, Thank Us Later

Different hues and special effects are within your grasp – and can boost your bottom line.




LED LIGHTING HAS become virtually a de facto standard for a number of sign applications. Channel letters can be easily wired using spooled modules that come in a variety of intensities, IP (weather resistance) ratings and colors. LEDs can be used in lightbox applications in a number of ways as well, including fluorescent-tube replacement or retrofit, and adhesive module strips. Even neon signage is being addressed with flexible photovoltaic (PV) tubes with embedded modules. However, some of the more interesting applications with LEDs involve the use of color.

In traditional channel letters and lightboxes the goal has been to achieve an even, white light illuminating translucent vinyl. While this is still the most economical way to go, many manufacturers are offering the possibility of using colored lighting modules as opposed to white light. The finished sign can range from using some colored lights, to enhancing a traditional design, up to using pixel-addressable LED modules that can put on quite the light show. So, let’s look at some of these colorful options.

The easiest way to introduce color via the light is to get an LED module in a discrete color. Typically you have three choices: red, green or blue. The major advantage of these standard colors is that they work essentially the same as a typical white module. These are great for design elements and having a solid-color field.

Maybe your customer wants something a little flashier or needs to display a color other than red, green or blue. Now you have entered a more complex world. You can address the need in a couple of ways. The simplest is to employ RGB modules and add a controller into the mix. The second method can be much more complex and may even require a computer or programmable controller.

The more conventional method is to use a three- or four-wire LED strip incorporating a pixel controller that can be addressed from an external control source. Off-the-shelf controllers can provide the ability to select colors and/or preprogrammed scenes, such as rainbow-changing effects or even chasing lights.

The more difficult implementation will need a controller that can provide signals at a pin level, such as a Raspberry Pi or Arduino. These will require custom programming and are probably too labor intensive to be worthwhile. If you do take the time, you can actually build in such effects as animation and display of bitmapped images.


You will need to carefully select the proper class of pixel-addressable LEDs based on the application and environmental factors. Common designations you will encounter include WS2801, WS2811, WS2812 and WS2815. There are many factors to consider when selecting the proper strips, power supplies and controller. Suppliers will typically work with you if you want to embark on an addressable project.

Color and various effects are more easily accomplished with colored LED modules and the use of controllers.

LEDs do not have to be just white or even red, green or blue. You can add color to your channel letters or lightboxes fairly easily, and with some effort, some special effects. While the cost of supplies may be higher than traditional white LEDs, the potential for profit should more than make up the difference.




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