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Understanding LED Drivers and How To Choose the Right One

LED drivers can be a confusing part of LED technology. There are so many different types and varia ons that it can seem a li le overwhelming at
mes. That’s why I wanted to write a quick post explaining the varie es, what makes them different, and things you should look for when choosing
the LED driver(s) for your ligh ng applica on.

What is an LED driver you might ask? An LED driver is an electrical device that regulates power to an LED or a string of LEDs. Using one is very
important in preven ng damage to your LEDs as the forward voltage (Vf) of a high-power LED changes with temperature. Forward Voltage is the
amount of volts the light emi ng diode requires to conduct electricity and light up. As temperature increases, the forward voltage of the LED
decreases, causing the LED to draw more current. The LED will con nue to get ho er and draw more current un l the LED burns itself out, this is also
known as Thermal Runaway. The LED driver is a self-contained power supply which has outputs that are matched to the electrical characteris cs of
the LED(s). This helps avoid thermal runaway as the constant current LED driver compensates for the changes in the forward voltage while delivering a
constant current to the LED.

Things to consider before selecting an LED driver

What type of LEDs are being used and how many?

Find out forward voltage, recommended driving current, etc.
Do I need a constant current LED driver or a constant voltage LED driver?
We go over constant current vs. constant voltage here.
What type of power will be used? (DC, AC, batteries, etc.)
Running from AC? See how an AC driver will benefit you!
What are the space limitations?
Working in a tight area? Not a lot of voltage to work with?
What are the main goals of the application?
Size, cost, efficiency, performance, etc.
Any special features needed?
Dimming, pulsing, microprocessor control, etc.

First Off, You Should Know…

There are two main types of drivers, those that use low voltage DC input power (generally 5-36VDC) and those that use high voltage AC input power
(generally 90-277VAC). LED drivers that use high-voltage AC power are called Off-Line drivers, or AC LED drivers. In most applica ons using a low
voltage DC input LED driver is recommended. Even if your input is high voltage AC, using an addi onal switching power supply will make it possible to
use a DC input driver. Low voltage DC drivers are recommended as they are extremely efficient and reliable. For smaller applica ons there are more
dimming and output op ons available compared to high voltage AC drivers so you have more to work with in your applica on. If you have a large
general ligh ng project for residen al or commercial ligh ng, however, you should see how AC drivers might be be er for this type of job.

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Second Thing You Should Know

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Secondly, you need to know the drive current that you want to put to the LED. Higher drive currents will result in more light from the LED, and will also
require more wa age to run the light. It is important to know your LED’s specs so you know the recommended drive currents and heat sink
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requirements so you don’t burn the LED out with too much current or excess heat. Lastly, it is good to know what youyour
looking for from your
ligh ng applica on. For example, if you want dimming then you need to choose a driver with dimming capabili es.
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A Little Bit About Dimming

Dimming LEDs varies with what kind of power you are using; so I will go over both DC and AC dimming op ons so we can be er understand how to
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dim all applica ons, whether DC or AC.

DC Dimming

Low voltage DC powered drivers can be easily dimmed in a couple different ways. The simplest dimming solution for these is using a potentiometer. This gives a full
range of 0-100% dimming.

This is usually recommended when you only have one driver in your circuit but if there are multiple drivers being dimmed from one
potentiometer, the value of the potentiometer can be found from – KΩ/N – where K is the value of your potentiometer and N is the number of
drivers you are using. We have wired BuckPucks that come with a 5K turn knob potentiometer for dimming but we also have this 20K
potentiometer that can easily be used with our BuckBlock and FlexBlock Drivers. Just connect the dimming ground wire to the center prong
and the dimming wire to one side or the other (choosing a side just determines what way you turn the knob to make it dim).

Your second op on for dimming is to use a 0-10V wall dimmer, like our A019 Low Voltage Dimming
Control. This is the be er way of dimming if you have mul ple units, as the 0-10V dimmer can work 20K Ohm Potentiometer

with several drivers at a me. Just hook the dimming wires right to the input of the driver and you’re
good to go.

AC Dimming

For high voltage AC power drivers there are a couple op ons for dimming as well depending on your driver. Many AC driver work with 0-10V dimming,
like we went over above. We also carry Mean Well and Phihong LED Drivers that offer TRIAC dimming so they work with many leading-edge and
trailing-edge dimmers. This is helpful as it allows LEDs to work with very popular residen al dimming systems like Lutron and Leviton.

How many LEDs can you run with a driver?

The maximum number of LEDs you can run from a single driver is determined by dividing the maximum output voltage of
the driver by the forward voltage of your LED(s). When using LuxDrive drivers, you determine the maximum output voltage
by subtrac ng 2 volts from your input voltage. This is needed because the drivers need a 2 volt overhead to power the
internal circuitry. For example, using the Wired 1000mA BuckPuck driver with a 24 volt input, you would have a maximum
output voltage of 22 volts.

What do I need for Power?

This leads us to finding what input voltage we need for our LEDs. Input voltage, a er all, equals our maximum output voltage for our driver a er we
take into account the driver circuit overhead voltage. Make sure you know the minimum and maximum input voltages for your LED drivers. For an
example we will s ck with the Wired 1000mA BuckPuck, which can take input voltages from 7-32VDC. In finding what your input voltage should be for
an applica on you can use this simple formula.

Vo + (Vf x LEDn) = Vin


Vo = Voltage overhead for drivers – 2 if you are using a DC LuxDrive driver or 4 if you are using an AC LuxDrive driver
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Vf = Forward voltage of LEDs you wish to power

LEDn = The number of LEDs you want to power

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Vin = Input voltage to the driver Get every new post delivered to
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Product Specifications from Cree XPG2 Product Page Powered By

For example, if you need to power 6 Cree XPG2 LEDs from a DC power source and you’re using the Wired BuckPuck from above, then Vin would need
to be at least 20VDC based on the following calcula on.

2 + (3.0 x 6) = 20

This determines the minimum input voltage you need to provide. There is no harm in using a higher voltage up to the maximum input voltage ra ng
of the driver, so since we don’t carry a 20VDC power supply, you will probably s ck with a 24VDC power supply in order to run these LEDs.

Now this helps us make sure the voltage works, but in order to find the right power supply we also need to find the wa age of the whole LED circuit.
The calcula on for LED wa age is:

Vf x Drive Current (in Amps)

Using the 6 XPG2 LEDs from above we can find our wa s.

3.0 V x 1A = 3 Wa s per LED

Total Wa age for the circuit = 6 x 3 = 18 wa s

When calcula ng the appropriate power supply wa age for your project, it’s important to allow a 20% ‘cushion’ to your wa age calcula on. Adding
this 20% cushion will prevent the power supply from being over-worked. Overworking the power supply can cause the LEDs to flicker or cause
premature failure of the power supply. Just calculate the cushion by mul plying the total wa age by 1.2. So for our above example we would want at
least 21.6 wa s (18 x 1.2 = 21.6). The closest common power supply size will be 25 wa s so it would be within your best interest to get a 25 Wa
Power supply with a 24 Volt output.

What if I don’t have enough voltage? Using an LED Boost Driver (FlexBlock)

The FlexBlock LED drivers are boost drivers which means they can output a higher voltage than what is supplied to them. This allows you to power
more LEDs in-series with a single LED driver. This is extremely helpful in applica ons where your input voltage is limited and you need to get

more power to the LEDs. As with the BuckPuck driver, the maximum number of LEDs you can power
with a single driver in-series is determined by dividing the maximum output voltage of the driver by
the forward voltage of your LEDs. The FlexBlock can be connected in two different configura ons and
varies when it comes to input voltage. In Buck-Boost (standard) mode the FlexBlock can handle LED
loads that are above, below, or equal to the voltage of the power-supply. You find the maximum
output voltage of the driver in this mode with this formula:

48VDC – Vin

So when using a 12VDC power supply and the XPG2 LEDs from above how many could we run with the
700mA FlexBlock? Your max output voltage is 36VDC (48-12) and the forward voltage of the XPG2
running at 700mA is 2.9 so by dividing 36VDC by this we see that this driver could power 12 LEDs. In
Boost-Only Mode the FlexBlock can output up to 48VDC from as li le as 10VDC. So if you were in
Boost-Only mode you could power up to 16 LEDs (48/2.9). Here we go over using a FlexBlock boos ng
driver to power your LEDs in depth. Follow 3/6
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Checking wattage for High Power AC Input Drivers

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Now with AC input drivers they give off a certain amount of wa s to run so you need to find the wa age of your LEDs. You can do this by using this
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[Vf x Current (in Amps)] x LEDn = Wa age
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So if we are trying to power the same 6 Cree XPG2 LEDs at 700mA your wa age would be… Join millions of other followers

[2.9 x .7] x 6 = 12.18
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This means you need to find an AC driver that can run up to 13 wa s like our Phihong 15 Wa LED driver.

NOTE: It is important to consider the minimum output voltage of off-line drivers when designing your applica on. For instance, the driver above has a
minimum output of 15 volts. Since the minimum output voltage is greater than that of our single XPG2 LED (2.9V), you would need to connect at least
6 of these together in-series to work with this par cular driver.

Tools for understanding and finding the right LED driver

So now you should have a pre y good idea on what an LED driver is and on what you need to look for in selec ng a driver with a power supply that is
sufficient enough for your applica on. I know there will s ll be ques ons and for that you can contact us here at (802) 728-6031 or

We also have this Driver Selector tool that helps calculate what driver would be best by inpu ng your circuit specs.

Thanks for following along and I hope this post helps all those wondering what LED drivers are all about.

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This entry was posted in Buying Guides, Drivers, LEDs 101 on April 1, 2015 [] by Taylor Scully.

About Taylor Scully

Marketing and technology enthusiast helping pave the way to a more energy efficient society. Living in the beautiful state of Vermont and working for a company like LEDSupply that is helping
provide LED products to save on energy is a great place to be in accomplishing this. Always exploring and staying active outdoors while keeping a close eye on different trends and new technologies
that could change the world for the better.

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10 thoughts on “Understanding LED Drivers and How To Choose the Right One”

Pingback: What You Need to Know About LEDs - LEDSupply Blog

Pingback: 1-Watt, 3-Watt & High Wattage LEDs Explained

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August 28, 2015 at 3:47 pm

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Its Very nice…I got clear idea of LED Driver….Thanks…
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Pingback: LED Drivers: Constant Current vs. Constant Voltage - LEDSupply Blog Subscribe

ray Powered By
November 12, 2015 at 3:28 am

Im looking for 30 meters of led strip with dimmable drivers 240 to 24 volt in warm white
can you suggest

Kind Regards Ray Lanham

Taylor Scully Post author

November 12, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Hi Ray,

So do you need a just one continuous piece that is 30 meters long? Only a couple of our strips take 24VDC in and those tend to be higher powered LED strips, is there a
reason you need 24VDC input?

December 6, 2015 at 9:41 pm

I want to power a bunch of 5mm leds (because they look cool, have higher CRI (Yuji) and are not nearly so bright as the XML’s). They require only about .02A each.
Thus, I want to drive 50 parallel strings of 10 using a meanwell driver rated at about 40 watts? (The 500 little leds would consume 30 watts at 1amp at 30v). I know it’s
doable at first but assume the slight differences in leds eventually cause problems which cause some parallel strings to consume more current than the others, till,
eventually, some burn out.
Therefore, the real question I’m asking is “Can I put resistors on each of the 50 parallel strings?”. I kinda think the driver “wouldn’t like that”.

Taylor Scully Post author

December 7, 2015 at 7:52 pm

You are correct that the driver would not “like” having resistors in the circuit (the driver would just increase the output to compensate).

December 6, 2015 at 10:50 pm

Hi Taylor, I have a project I am trying to figure out, I want to use the 24vDC 24 channel DMX decoder studio – 3A per channel, to run my strings of different color LEDS
(specific wave lengths not rgb).

for example one string is as follows:

28 – 5mm LEDs/ .072watts ea.(2.2watts total)/Forward Volts are 3.6(70volts total)/ 20ma (560mA total)

Do I need to be looking at the Max forward volts, and/or Max forward current mA, at all? Follow 5/6
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It will not be flashing at all but will gradually increase to the continuous forward current and decrease over long periods.

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I do want ample protection for longevity of the system so I was thinking to use resistors at each LED for a second line of protection even if I used a driver or not. I wanted
to run the LEDs in Parallel (I think it is called) each LED running off the power strip so I would not have multiple failures, would you advise this?

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My main question of course is what is the best way to do this using this system and drivers or just resistors?
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I know there is a lot to this, first problem and the biggest is the voltage drop being 70 total /24v(power supply)= 3 power supplies just Enter
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one string, correct? and will
hooking up multiple power supplies damage the DMX decoder?
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Decoder Max Load is 3A per channel which I am well under, the Max output power is 1728Watts again well under.
One thought was that all my LEDs can be run off 5VDC so would it be sensible to use a power drop from 24V to 5V in order to use the boost pucks?
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Another question concerning the Buck Pucks is I have to different forward currents 20mA and 30mA, does this make a difference in which driver I should be looking at?
for the 20mA I have the 3023-D-E-700, or can I use this for both situations?

Thank You for any and all help on this,


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