LED Strip Lights vs Rope Lights

LED Strip Lights vs Rope Lights: Comparative Analysis

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Table of Contents

What are the Key Differences of LED Strip Lights vs Rope Lights?

Rope lights are LED or incandescent lights within a cylindrical tube made of an epoxy or silicone. LED strip lights are LEDs mounted on the surface of a flexible printed circuit board (PCB) with adhesive backing.

Rope lights are much less bright compared to LED strip lights. Rope lights run longer in length options, but are less flexible than LED strip lights. The light quality of LED strip lights are much higher than rope lights. LED strip lights come standard with the ability to change colors while rope lights have fixed color.

LED strip lights come standard with dimming capabilities, and are more flexible than rope lights. Rope lights emit a full 360 degrees of light versus LED strip lights with only 180 degrees. In most cases, rope lights are less expensive than LED strip lights.

Which is the Winner LED Strip Lights vs Rope Lights?

  • Length: rope lights are longer
  • Brightness: LED strip lights are brighter
  • Flexibility: LED strip lights are more flexible
  • Light Quality: LED strip lights have better CRI
  • Color Options: LED strip lights can change colors
  • Dimming Capability: LED strip lights are dimmable
  • Light Angle: rope lights emit 360 degree light
  • Cost: rope lights cost less

What are Rope Lights?

Rope lights are LED or incandescent lights contained in a transparent cylindrical tube made of an epoxy or silicone. The lights within the tube are connected via a set of wires. Due to this set up, rope lights are mildly flexible. They can be bent slightly but will not withstand a 90 degree turn. The wires within the tube of a rope light can become damaged if bent too far.

Rope Light
Rope Light Elements | KRM Light +

Due to the transparent or translucent tube that rope lights are made with, the light emitted is omnidirectional. Said another way, the light emitted from rope lights can be seen from 360 degrees. No matter which way you stand in relation to a rope light, you will see the light emitted from the LED or incandescent bulbs.

Rope lights have been around for quite a long time and are used in a variety of ways. Because of their low luminosity, rope lights are commonly used for decorative purposes. Rope lights work best where they are not the main source of light or in dark spaces. People commonly use rope lights inside and outside.

Epoxy or silicone tubing will hold up relatively well outside as they are generally rated at IP65. However, if rope lights are exposed to sun and water for longer periods of time the tubing will become discolored. It is common for rope lights to have a yellow or grayish hue after sitting outside for a year or less.

Rope Light Pros and Cons

  • Pro: lower cost point than LED strip lights
  • Pro: full 360 degree lighting
  • Pro: up to 250ft/76m in length
  • Con: not bright
  • Con: limited flexibility

Ways to Use Rope Lights

  • Home Theatre
    • Rope lights are a great addition to a home theatre. You can hang the rope lights around your home theatre where the ceiling meets the walls. For some added class, install crown molding and set the rope lights on top. With crown molding you do not have to use hooks to install the rope lights. This will add the perfect ambience for your home movie viewing environment.
  • Stairway Banister
    • Holiday season is the most common time to see rope lights wrapped around stairway banisters in homes. The slight glow and twinkle of rope lights mixed in with some garland is such a cozy touch.
  • Flower Bed
    • Do you have a green thumb? Have you spent a lot of time getting your flower beds just right? Add in a rope light throughout the flower bed and watch it come to life in the evening. You can run the rope lighting along the underside of the flower bed wall or lay it on top of the substrate. Partially burying the rope light also adds a great effect.
  • Patio Gazebo
    • If your backyard is your haven chances are you have some patio furniture and maybe even a gazebo. Looking for a new lighting solution? Rope lights are great for patio gazebos. Twist the rope light from top to bottom of the gazebo legs or around the underside of the roof and you’ve got yourself great ambient lighting for your summer nights.

What are LED Strip Lights?

LED strip lights are a series of surface mounted diodes (SMD) on a flexible printed circuit board (PCB). The flat and thin shape of the flexible printed circuit board is why these are called “strip” lights. They are also called tape lights as most of them come with adhesive backing that make the installation process simple and straightforward.

LED Strip Light
LED Strip Light Elements | KRM Light +

LED strip lights come in all shapes and sizes as you can see from just the different chip types. The intended use of an LED strip light will determine what chips should be chosen, the size, brightness, color changing capabilities, IP rating, and color temperature to name a few.

LED Chips on Strip Lights

Let’s go a bit deeper into LED chips on strip lights to understand a key factor that sets apart LED strip lights from rope lights. The most common chip sizes are 2835, 3528, and 5050. What is the difference between these numbers you ask? Well, simply put: the size.

The four numbers represent the length and width of the chip. Take the first two numbers of 2835 and add a decimal in between you will get “2.8” and do the same for the last two numbers “3.5.” An SMD 2835 LED chip has a surface area of 9.8mm2 (2.8mm x 3.5mm).

Why are we talking about LED chip sizes? This is largest differentiator between LED strip lights and rope lights. Rope lights, if they are made with LEDs and not incandescent lights, are not bright compared to LED strip lights. This is because of the technology within the lights.

Rope lights have smaller and less powerful LED chips compared to LED strip lights. If brightness is not a requirement for you then rope lights can be advantageous. The tradeoff to brightness is less wattage and voltage requirements resulting in longer run lengths due to less risk of voltage drop.

It should be noted that LED strip lights are also available with various other chip types besides surface mounted diodes. These types can include dual in-line package (DIP), chip on board (COB), multiple chips on board (MCOB), multiple chips and cups on board (MCCOB), flip-chip (FC), and stereoscopic chips on board (SCOB).

LED Strip Light Pros and Cons

  • Pro: very bright
  • Pro: app controlled: change color, dimmable
  • Pro: light quality (high CRI)
  • Pro: very flexible
  • Pro: LED strip lights can be cut
  • Con: more expensive than rope lights

Ways to Use LED Strip Lights

  • Garage Shelves or Work Bench
    • Do you spend a lot of time in your garage? Want to add some extra light to showcase your car? LED strip lights for garages are a great functional and aesthetic solution. Task lighting needs to be bright so you can see what you are doing. LED strips come in varying levels of brightness and are capable of dimming.
  • Kitchen Cabinets
    • Whether you’re chopping parsley, icing a cake, or making an omelet it’s important that you can see what you’re doing. And if you’ve paid good money for granite countertops it’s important that you can see them and show them off! LED strip lights installed under cabinets accomplish just that and more.
  • Indoor Ceiling
    • At home or at work proper lighting is important. Taken to another level, lighting can create an environment that is welcoming, encourages productivity, or reduces stress. Installing LED strip lights on ceilings can give you the functionality and flexibility to set the environment at will.
  • Fish Tank
    • Your aquatic friends need some light too! If you use LED strip lights in a fish tank the right way it can be the difference between a gurgling eyesore of a fish tank or an aquarium that is the centerpiece of the room.

Parting Thoughts

Now that you’ve made it to the end of this analysis of LED strip lights vs rope lights let’s take a look back at what sets these two popular lighting solutions apart.

Brightness: LED strip lights are orders of magnitude brighter than rope lights. This is because of the technology within the two types.

Length: Due to the technology used by rope lights they require less wattage and volts resulting in longer versions compared to LED strip lights.

Flexibility: Rope lights are mildly flexible in all directions while LED strip lights have maximum flexibility vertically, but zero flexibility horizontally.

Light Quality: Being that rope lights are contained within a plastic tube, the light emitted is already hindered. On top of that, the limited technology used means that the CRI or quality of light doesn’t stack up next to LED strip lights.

Optionality: Most LED strip lights on the market come with standard functionality to change color and brightness output. When you buy a rope light the color and brightness are usually fixed.

Cost: Rope lights take the cake here as the cost of components is much less than LED strip lights. While the manufacturing of LED strip lights has become increasingly cost efficient over the recent decade they are still more expensive than rope lights due to parts used.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what you are going to use the lighting for. If you’re just looking to decorate a space and brightness is not a priority then rope lights are the way to go. If you want the ability to change colors, dim the brightness, or even sync to music then LED strip lights are the best choice.