If you have ever spent any amount of time looking up LED strips, you have probably ran across 4 numbers throughout your search. For an example, on our site, we have our “RGB Sticks” as we like to call them. If you notice in the product description it says they are 5050SMD LEDs. The most common LED strips you will see will be “5050” or “3528” Before we get off on a tangent on LEDs, let’s answer the question that already may be forming in your head, “Hold up, what does SMD mean?!”. To be fair, that is a great question. SMD means “Surface Mounted Device”. To be completely honest, it is almost superfluous information. I don’t think I have ever seen LED strips that didn’t have the LED chips surface mounted. Nonetheless, SMD does in fact mean “Surface Mounted Device”
After a brief DE-rail off subject, we can focus back on what some of the numbers mean. To start with, 5050 is the size of the LED chip (5.0mm x 5.0mm) and 3528 is, you guessed it, 3.5mm x 2.8mm. More important then the size, is what the LED chip is actually capable of. Not only is the 5050 LED chip much brighter then the 3528 chip, the RGB (Red Green Blue) chip actually contains 3 different diodes, one for each primary color. Something else that is unique about a 5050 LED chip, is it is large enough to hold a 4th diode. Those chips are called RGBW (Red, Green, Blue, White) and are the solution to a lot of peoples issue with color change LEDs. They produce a “true white” by having their own dedicated white diode. Normally, RGB leds have to “mix” the colors to try to blend a white. If you even stop to think about it, it doesn’t quite make sense. How does red + blue + green = white? Well, it really doesn’t (obviously), if you have ever had RGBs with a controller that had a white option, then you know exactly what I am talking about.
Take a quick look at the picture above. I’ll wait… As you can see, in the last picture there is a dedicated white section on this chip. This is an example of what a RGBW strip can do for you. Now as obvious as the choice may seem to be, don’t knock our friend 3528 just yet.
Now as much as you don’t want to continue reading because you think your mind has been made up. Don’t lose hope in us just yet.
Even though the 3528 LED chip is smaller in size, and therefore cannot contain 3 separate diodes in the single housing it does have a place in the LED universe. Instead, a 3528 LED chip strip (now try to say that 5 times fast) has 3 separate housings, one for each color. For clarification, each housing has a single diode that emits one single color. So why is this a good thing? Well in regards to RGB lighting, they really are honestly not a good choice. They don’t mix colors well at all. For example, the color purple consists of the color blue and the color red. This strip would have to use the red led and the blue led at the same time. That means instead of a “truer” purple, you will see a very spaced out blend of red and blue. That’s not ideal when you put in the work to install these lights. As a more or less visual learner, I would have to see a picture to get a better understanding. Hopefully, this picture will help your understanding a little better.
Still waiting for the good news?
Well, lets say you want to save some money, and only want a single color. Well, I think these are just perfect for that. They still aren’t quite as bright as the 5050 single color variants, but the strip is most of the time physically smaller, which aids in very tight install areas.