Decision 2 – What types of lights should I use?

There is wide debate on the internet as to whether to use strip lights, or nodes/bullets. To start off with, here is a description of each type.

Strip Lights

Strip lights come on a flexible PCB, with surface mounted LEDs, and often an adhesive backing. These are either WS2812B style (LED and IC in the one package) or WS2811 (where the LEDs are separate from the driver chip). There is a variance on LED density, from roughly 30 per metre, all the way up to super dense at 144 LEDs per metre. 5V ones are generally individually controllable, whereas 12V are grouped into threes, to cope with the voltage differences.
These are able to be cut and rejoined on specific markers, and include the PCB pads to attach wiring for this purpose. They can either be bare PCB, resin coated, or in a silicone tube – each providing increased levels of water ingress protection. In the image below you can see the difference between the different densities.

Bullets / Nodes

Pixel nodes/bullets are individual 8mm RGB LEDs soldered to a little PCB which contains a WS2811 driver chip. It may also include either resistors or voltage regulators on 12V versions to drop the voltage to 5V. They are connected by various lengths wiring – often around 100mm – to the next pixel, forming strings of either 50 or 100 nodes.
Each pixel is encased in epoxy to provide water proofing. These can be pushed into props, held in place with cable ties or various other mechanical holding techniques. The wiring can be cut at any place to add or remove individual or groups of pixels, and rejoined as necessary.
Whilst I talk about bullets primarily here, there are also square nodes, which I am not using to begin with. They have very similar properties to bullets, but are a different shape and slightly different design. The pros & cons below apply to both equally. The image below shows the bullet vs square node type.

Pros & Cons

So – why would you choose one of the the other?

  • Nodes are much easier to repair than strips, as strips require carefully cutting out the bad section and solding fine pads, and then re-waterproofing the assembly
  • Nodes can be pushed into props, whereas strip cannot
  • Nodes are more durable whereas strip is quite fragile
  • Strip is easier to get in a nice straight line, without loose wiring
  • Strip provide a less ‘pixelated’ look, and give a cleaner finish once installed

So there are some places where strip is great, and some where nodes/bullets are great.

Can they be mix and matched?

Absolutely! They all use the same protocol, so they can even be part of the same string. There’s nothing stopping you having a line of LEDs which is Strip then Nodes then Strip again.

Decision Time

I’ve decided that I will use bullets for the majority of the props, roof outlines, gutter lines, and mega tree. This is because it’s easier to work with and repair.
However, for the arches, strip will be used as it’ll be encased in plastic tubing, providing protection, and it’ll give a nice even lighting. Additionally, I’m also going to mount strip on the eave to shine onto the house which will provide a nice neat out-of-the-way look.
As for the mini-trees, those have yet to be decided. I have budgeted to do them in either, and I’ll give both a try and see what looks the best and is easiest to manage.

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