What Does RGB Mean In LED Lighting?

LED lighting is not only energy-efficient, cool to run, and long-lasting, but it’s got a bunch of cool tricks up its sleeves. It can work hard when needed, and party harder when it wants!

As you’ll read ahead, with the myriad options of colors and features on the market, LEDs can be a bit of color junkie.

With RGB LEDs, there are color mixing programs that allow millions of colors to be output in LEDs starting with the three primary colors of red, green and blue, in the form of diodes.

The Concept of Red, Green, Blue (RGB) Colors

rgb concept

Let’s take a colorful walk down memory lane. You might remember from school that mixing blue and yellow color pencils on paper made the color green. And that primary colors are red, blue and yellow, and you mix them to make secondary colors.

Interestingly, this model of mixing colors is only ONE of the two models that exist in the visible world.

The aforementioned is the subtractive model, where the absence of color means white. The source of color is that the corresponding wavelength of sunlight not absorbed by an object, but is reflected back to our eye.

This color model is used for photos and magazine printing, for example, where various colored inks are mixed to make more hues.

Now we come to the additive model of color mixing, where the absence of color means black. The source of color is light photons using different metal alloys.

Red and amber LEDs use the aluminum indium gallium phosphide (AlInGaP) material system. Blue, green, and cyan LEDs use the indium gallium nitride (InGaN) system.

This is how the RGB colors came about, where primary colors are red, green, and blue.

This is what concerns us in this blog, as TVs, monitors, and electronics use this color mixing method. They illuminate RED, GREEN, or BLUE lights in a black pixel with varying intensities to produce over 16 million colors.

Go ahead and add to your elementary school knowledge that in the additive model, red and green lights shine together to make yellow light!

How This Applies To LED Lighting?

An RGB LED is an LED unit that can produce almost any color using red, green, and blue.

A basic version of an RGB LED device is a combination of 3 separate light-emitting diodes in one package, housed under one clear lens.

This one LED package has 4 pins, one for each of the three colored diodes, and one for the common anode or cathode.

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schematic view of RGB LED

Tying into the explanation above about RGB color mixing, an RGB LED uses the principal of the additive color mixing.

The LED unit can produce millions of shades of colors by adjusting the intensity of each of the three colored diodes to get the exact color output required.

When all three colored diodes are lit with equal brightness, a WHITE color is an output.

Moving on to the programming of the LED, the Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) is the command applied to simultaneously adjust the color intensity of the three diodes individually.

Since the diodes are packed together so tightly, it looks like one bright-colored light.

The PWM functionality is pulled from the logic board or computer connected to the LED circuit.

As the width of the pulse sent to each diode is adjusted by analog or digital setting in the program, finely tuned color values can be input.

The intensity values are set between 0 and 255, where 0 is off, and 255 is the brightest setting.

Here are two simple examples: Setting the red color diode from incremental values from 255 to 0 will give a fade-out effect. Setting red and blue diodes to 255 and green to 0 will produce bright purple light.

Amazingly, all this engineering and programming is reflected in your light fixture, multi-chip LEDs, or LED strips to create ambient and dynamic lighting for your room.

Many lamps provide control over the light settings, so you can choose cool effects for your home or work like fading, pulsing, cycling, etc.

Of course, the construction of the basic design of the RGB LEDs also gets a face-light. Or rather, a face-press.

To make smaller devices and allow mass production, LEDs and related components are surfaces mounted on circuit boards.

What Is The Difference Between RGB and RGBW LED Lights?

All those millions of colors and the story of colored LEDs is just getting started.

While an RGB LED uses 3 colored diodes, the RGBW on the other hand uses 4 diodes, the extra one being a white diode.

This white diode outputs pure white light, so when you need white color, only the white diode is working. The rest of the three kick into action when you need colors.

This is where the RGBW LEDs really shine! An RGBW LED can produce bright pastel colors in addition to all the colors the RGB light produces.

Additionally, and more importantly, owing to the High-CRI White LED, RGBW’s light output is suitable for task or mood lighting, and you can see objects well.

That’s not all! The RGBW LED can also change the color temperature of the light produced!

If you want task lighting, the white and blue diodes merge lighting to produce a cool temperature. If you want to relax, the red and white diodes give you that familiar warm white color.

If you do not require brightness or task-based lighting, then the basic RGB LED can be enough to provide color and aesthetics.

The final key difference is the quality of the white light produced.

Obviously, in the RGBW LED, the white color produced is a purer tone of white, while in RGB, the three colors come together and make a slightly bluish-white, which can be off-putting.

Here’s a cool video demonstrating the difference in the brightness and color range between an RGB and an RGBW LED.

Now check out some cool math to show you the number of possible colors from an RGB LED.

Since each of the three colors can be set to 256 values, 256*256*256 = 16,777,216 possible colors are at your disposal with the slide of a remote.

To see how ti works, you can play around with this color picker. Simply adjust the value of RGB colors and see what the end result is.

Can You Convert Standard White LED Into RGB?

All this talk about these vivid bright colors jazzing up your room or office is probably getting your imagination running.

You have an idea of setting up your cozy corner, and you think you have some LED strips in storage. Unfortunately, it turns out, they’re plain white!

Can you make them into RGB and get color somehow?

Sadly, no. Barring a few improvised sanding and coloring in home hacks, you can’t change your regular single white color LED into the three colored RGB LED.

Final Words

How was that for a dive into the head of colorful LEDs and how it produces all the colors you can imagine?

If you would like to see how many color options there truly are, you can experiment with some RGB color charts, just like the one I have mentioned earlier.

Which option would you choose, an RGB or RGBW LED?

Have you thought about playing around with a logic board to program lighting systems in your home?

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