If you’re shopping for LED strip lights, you’ll probably notice that they often have a four-digit number on the box or listed in the product detail.
It’s likely to either be 2835, 3528, or 5050 (although there are other options too). What does that code mean, and what are the differences between them?
The four digits refer to the size of the LED chips in millimeters. The larger the chip, the larger the diode and brighter the light – but other factors, including density, are just as important to how bright the strip is overall.
In this article I’ll explain:
- What those four digits mean in full
- Whether the chip size matters
- If bigger LED chips use more electricity
- The importance of density vs size
What Are The Four Digit Numbers On The Strip?
The four digits on a light strip refer to the size of the LED chips being used, measured in millimeters.
The first two digits are the width of the chip, and the second is the height – so a 3528 strip has chips that are 3.5mm wide and 2.8mm tall, while a 5050 strip has chips that are 5mm wide (5.0) and 5mm tall.
That means that 3528 and 2835 light strips have chips of the same size but in a different orientation.
Except that just because they’re the same size, that doesn’t mean they’re the same chips. Let’s talk more about that now.
Why Is LED Chip Size Important?
The size of the chip impacts the size of the diode that the chip can hold, and a larger diode can be brighter. Note that I said can – it won’t always be.
With a 5050 chip, you’re getting a much brighter output than you would on a 3528 chip. That’s because the chip is larger and can therefore produce more light.
However, 2835 isn’t the same thing because it’s not just a simple rotation of the same chip.
They’re more efficient than a 5050 chip because they often produce the same brightness level while drawing less power.
Part of the reason is that the chip uses a diode that makes much better use of the space available.
On a 3528 or 5050 chip, the diode will be circular, but on 2835 it takes up almost the entire surface of the chip itself.
It’s worth noting that 2835 also generally has other advantages, like better heat dispersion, which means it has a longer lifespan.
But there’s one particular reason you may still prefer a 5050 light strip – if you want one with customizable lighting colors.
The 5050 chip is what you’ll buy if you choose an RGB lighting strip, as it combines the three different diodes.
It’s worth considering whether you really need an RGB strip, though – while they can create up to 16 million colors, the one that they struggle with is white.
A strip that’s dedicated to white will be able to produce a better quality of white light, instead of the combination of the red, green and blue diodes in an RGB strip.
Do Bigger LED Chips Use More Electricity?
Bigger and brighter chips will use more electricity, but again they aren’t the only factor. And the efficiency of the 2835 chip does mean it’s not a simple scale again, either.
It’s easiest to show a comparison. This is with what would be considered a high-density strip – it shows a really clear difference.
|LED chip type||Power draw per chip||Power draw per meter (60 LED strip)||Average lumens per meter|
You can see that, for a 1-meter light strip, the 5050 chip will draw more power than either the 3528 or 2835. But often, 2835 will be brighter.
Again, we’re comparing like-for-like in terms of density here too, but that’s where there’s another benefit of the 2835 chip.
Related: Do LED Strips Damage Walls?
Higher Density vs Bigger LED Chips: What Is Better?
So as well as the size of the chip, there’s also the density to consider. Density just means how many LED chips there are on the strip.
It’s always measured in LEDs per meter because you can have light strips much longer than a single meter. So this gives a standard comparison.
The standard tends to have 30 LEDs per meter, but you can get light strips with 60, 120, or even more.
But not with every chip size.
Think about it – a 5050 chip measures 5mm across. You can’t have chips touching. There needs to be space in between them for wiring.
Most 5050 strips are 30 or 60 LEDs per meter because that’s all the space you have.
Not so with a smaller chip like 2835, which can quite comfortably fit up to 120 LEDs per meter, which means you can get a much brighter strip – up to 2,600 lumens per meter!
But it’s not all about brightness. The biggest benefit of a high-density LED strip is more uniform lighting.
The closer the LEDs are packed together, the more the light looks like one continuous source.
If the LEDs are spaced out, you can see each chip’s individual glow – you can see the individual spots of light.
That doesn’t mean you have to buy a high-density strip if you want a uniform light, though. Depending on where you place the strip, you might still get the same effect.
If you can diffuse the lighting behind a cover or place it near the surface you want to illuminate – such as in coving, facing upwards – you’re more likely to get that clean uniform effect.
Also read: Can You Cut LED Strip Lights?
While the most obvious difference between 2835, 3528, and 5050 LED strips is the size of the chip, that actually has a big impact on brightness, power efficiency, and how many LEDs can fit into a strip.
There are many other things to consider, including making sure you pick a power supply that can handle the length of the strip, finding the right color, how to fit your strip… it’s a minefield.
Thankfully I’ve got a guide that covers everything.
But unless you want an RGB lighting strip, the brightest and longest-lasting one will be a 2835 strip. And it’ll also be the most expensive, so bear that in mind too.
Which type of LED strip have you got in your home? And have you had any problems with finding the right brightness or getting a nice uniform glow?