When running a lot of LEDs, it’s important to keep track of power usage. Individual LEDs don't get very hot or use tons of power, but they add up fast!

Each single 20mm RGB LED pixel can draw up to 60mA from a 5V supply. That means a strand of 20 can use up to 1.2 Amps. That’s a peak rate, which assumes that all the LEDs are on at full brightness. If most of the LEDs are kept dim or off (as when animating patterns), the average power usage can be 1/3 this or less.

Never, NEVER connect more than 5 Volts to the pixels! This will permanently damage them!
Connect ground to both your power supply and microcontroller. Then connect the 5V line from the power supply to the red wire on the LED strand. A large capacitor (1000uF or so) between 5V and ground is a nice addition to keep ripple down.

We suggest a nice switching supply for driving LED pixels:
Our 5 Volt, 2 Amp power supply is ideal for one strand of pixels.
For larger projects using multiple strands of pixels, our 5 Volt 10 Amp power supply is good for up to 8 strands (160 pixels total).
The female DC power adapter mates with either of the above power supplies. Screw terminals clamp down on the power leads at the end of a strand, reducing the amount of soldering required.

Note the embossed polarity markings. Connect the red wire to the + terminal and the blue wire to the - terminal.

Tips for powering pixel strands:

  • When linking multiple strands together, power should be split and applied to each strand. If you try to power too many LEDs from just one end of the strand, they’ll start to “brown out” the further they are from the power supply.
  • Strands can be powered from either end — “input” and “output” doesn’t apply to power, only the data signals from the microcontroller.
  • If the 10 Amp power supply isn’t large enough for your project, a slightly modified ATX computer power supply can provide 30 Amps to power upwards of 500 pixels!
  • Generally speaking, you should not try to power an LED strand from the Arduino’s 5V line. This is okay if just a few pixels are lit, but is not adequate for driving a full strand.
  • For a standalone application (not USB connected to a computer), you can power the Arduino from the same regulated 5V supply as the LEDs — connect to the 5V pin on the Arduino, not Vin, and don’t use the DC jack on the Arduino.
  • Remember to insulate or trim any unused, exposed power wires!

This guide was first published on Jul 29, 2012. It was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

This page (Powering) was last updated on Jul 18, 2012.

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