Jump to content

A noobs DIY LED lighting guide


Recommended Posts

Part 1 Gluing the Leds down.

Hey guys got my parts from rapid led yesterday so I sat down today to start it. I haven't seen any pic heavy step by step how to do this so I thought I would make an attempt at it. First time doing something like this so be easy on me.

First off here is a parts list from rapid led

24 Royal blue XP-E

12 Warm White XP-G

1 6"x20" Black anodized heatsink with cover.

1 Led tester

3 Meanwell ELN-60-48D

10' each of Black, blue, white, red 20gauge wire

Arctic thermal adhesive with spreader (arctic thermal is a awesome product and if rapid led didn't have it I would have ordered some from newegg. Been using there thermal paste compound for years and its the best out there)

Other tools

Black Sharpie

Tape measure

91% isopropyl alcohol

Paper towels

Q tips (if you can go by fry's or altex and get some tek ones for cleaning electronics you will be much happier I used some cheap ones I had in the bathroom and they came apart like mad)

Latex gloves ( not a absolute 100% need but when you get some adhesive on your hands its much easier to toss a glove then spend 5 minutes trying to get it off your hands. Also the oils on your hands will interfere with the bonding process and the thermal conductivity.)

First step is you want to lay out your LED plan and where everything is going to go. This is what mine looked like.


Now I am still not decided 100% about the reds and greens but I had the room and I am definitely going to add some ultraviolets at some point. However this is the base I need to make sure everything I want to keep will survive so I wanted to do that and then test and see where my PAR is with just this.

Step 2. CLean entire heatsink with alcohol, and lay out your design on your heatsink. I went 1.5" squares on mine this should give me plenty of breathing room between each LED (minimum from my research is LED's can be no closer than 1/2" I have close to 3/4" between each of mine and I Like the look of it. I used a sharpie to draw everything out, due to the fact that its hard to rub off while you are working, but cleans up rather easily and quickly with alcohol. Here are a few pics of mine.



Step 3. Doing one color at a time you want to clean off the back of the LED's (about 6 at a time is a good number to aim for, after that the glues starts setting up and you have to mix new). It's easier to clean them while they are stuck together but once you clean them break them off. If you don't and try to break them off one by one as you got the glue mixed, it will take more time and you will inevitably get glue on some of the LEDs.


Easier to clean all together.


Then lay them out upside down so it's easy to pick up. Don't forget if you wrote on the heatsink with sharpie you have to clean it off before applying the adhesive on top of it. I did this with alcohol and my Qtips.

Step 4. Mix some of the glue together, its a 1:1 ratio and I used a drop about the size of a .22 pellet out of each tube. This was just enough for 6 LED's and was starting to setup by the time I got to the last one. You know it is time to mix new when it starts getting hard to spread on the back of the LED. You need very little on the LED all you want is basically to turn it white. There should be no big clumps and it should be very then like you can see through it. The adhesive doesn't need much to bond and the thermal conductivity works best when it is only filling in tiny imperfections in the metal so don't over do it. Also don't get tied up in trying to cover the whole thing 100% even as little as I was using it was coming out the sides a little, so it will get coverage don't worry!



This was the first 12 of all of my whites. I had to mix the glue 3 times for the first twelve I only got 3 down the first set and 4 the next, before the glue became to tacky to spread. Set the LED down lightly and position as you need first. Once it's in position apply firm pressure to it. I found that when the glue was first put down it was so wet that the LED would slide around, so as I got better at it I would do 6 at a time, set them down lightly then do the rest. Once I got done with them I would go back and push them down gently but firmly (it doesn't take much pressure really so take it easy). Then clean off the spreader for the glue and take Qtips and go back with alcohol and get any glue off the top of the LED's that got on them.

Take breaks in between I was doing 12 or so then took off the gloves and took a break. It will make a messier job if you try to stay in one hunched over position for a hour, then if you took a few breaks in between. Don't forget to use new gloves when you get back!


Here is all 36 glued down and cleaned up. Still have some sharpie to get cleaned up, but the glue needs a few hours to cure so I will clean it before I start the next part of soldering everything together.

Soon as I can I will put up a second part of soldering the LED's

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey gibs, awesome job documenting your project! You've done an excellent job of listing materials and clearly showing each step via photograph. I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest!

I am currently working on a project as well (parts from RapidLED with drivers from LEDSupply). I'm using HexaTherm tape for mounting the LEDs instead of the thermal adhesive. It's precut into the shape of the LED and very easy to apply and mount. So far it has been easy to use for mounting with no issues of it drying out. Once I finish my prototype I'll provide feedback on how it performs.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First of all thanks Mike. Second I am interested in seeing in how yours turns out with the thermal tape. I didn't go that route just from my experience working with pcs over the years the usual thermal pads and tape have a very bad rap for not doing half as well and failing and even larger amount of the time. (xbox 360 ring of death anyone LOL). Usually I get pcs that are overheating and find out the manufacturer is using thermal pads or one has fallen off the north bridge/south bridge/ or one of the many other chipsets. Not saying they won't work for LED's comparitively they put out very little heat and the reason we use big heatsinks, is the sheer number of them we are putting in one spot. Anyway that's is my .02 hope it works for you though cause it will make my next project a ton cleaner and easier :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Part 2 soldering the LEDS

Ok so I waited a few hours for the adhesive to adhere and then finished cleaning everything off that I wanted to clean off. Also I took one of my daughters white crayons and went and marked each one of my whites just so I knew 100% what was what. Obviously if you have more than blue and whites you will need to use some different colors and mark them but this will help keep you on track on what is what and don't have to keep looking at your diagram. Also Rapid Led sends a tester with each order to test your leds. You need to test them when you first get them before you do anything else, and once you have them attached go ahead and test again before giving yourself a headache troubleshooting later, and find out one isn't working.

So here are my tools for this part.



7/16 drill bit


Soldering iron (I use a weller SP23t great iron used them for years)

Solder (I like to use the resin core so I don't have to mess with flux)


Snips or some sort of wire cutting tool

Wire Strippers (the klein auto strippers from Home Depot are 25$ and well worth for a project like this. But you can also just use your dikes or snips works just as well just more of pain)

Various lengths and sizes of heatshrink

Heat gun


Ok my first step was I wanted all my wires for the drivers to come up the middle so no wires came out the edges. I found the center on the fin side and found a appropriate size bit that would go between them, which was 7/16. Drilled a hole all the way through


Then I used my unibit to bevel the edges of the hole coming in a bit just so I didn't have any ragged edges scraping on my wires.


Not in my list of tools is a helping hand which is basically just a weighted stand with alligator clips on it. Very nice for a project like this it will hold your wire for you while you solder. Someone is bound to bring up tinning instead of using this. Tinning is where you apply a little bit of solder to your wire first and then a little bit to your LED. Once both ends are tinned you put them together and just heat them up, and since you have solder on both sides they melt together. Simple right! There is nothing wrong with this. However I have had issues before soldering DB9 connectors for work and tinning has resulted in some bad joints for me. This is most likely due to the fact that when I am out in the field I don't carry flux. If you are using resin core solder that is your flux but once you heat it up it's gone. So if you use tinning get a small jar of flux and dip the wire in it before you solder your joint. This takes a little bit more time for me so I just do it my way, but I have had a lot of experience soldering so someone just learning to solder may find tinning easier to work with.


Here are all my whites soldered together. If your wanting to know why I left some loops and extra slack, its simply I have taken apart to much stuff and found a broken solder joint somewhere and not had enough wire to attach it back...So I always leave just a little bit of slack in my wires. If it bothers you then just make it tight as you want isn't going to affect anything. If you have never soldered before it is the simplest part of this build really, no reason to be afraid of it. Just turn on your gun (some guns may take up to 15-20 minutes to fully warm up so give it time. Touch gun to your solder area trying to touch both your wire and surface soldering to. Touch solder to wire not gun. You will know it's working when it starts spreading or pooling. Soon as that is done take gun off. The whole process takes one second especially with practice it takes no time to heat up the wire or the led in this project. If you have to 5-10 seconds for the solder to start pooling then your gun is to weak or you have a high heat solder (you can tell if it's a high heat solder cause the jacket on the wiring will start melting). Also if you want to do something like this but scared of the soldering, just buy a led or 2 off rapid led and get a gun and solder from radio shack, 20$ max and you can practice soldering the tester they send to the led and then put some batteries in the tester and see if it works! It's kind of a fun thing the cree whites almost blinded me the first one I tested LOL. I was all hunched over thinking the 1.5v batteries wouldn't make it light up very much....I was wrong LOL


Ok so I have 3 drivers so I need 3 sets of leads I had all of my red and black so I cut them in half and made 2 sets of red and black for my blues. I used the blue and white wire for my leds but I still had 5' of it so I made a third lead with that. Take each set of leads and put a roll of tape around each about 2 inches from the end. Then I taped all six wires together and shoved the all of them down a piece of 3/8" tube of heatshrink 4' long. I left about 4 inches sticking out and then stuck that through my hole in the middle.


Here is the whole shebang soldered together.


Here is the look from the top.


I will do the driver section last but I couldn't wait so I hooked the driver up to my whites temporarily and used the led tester to to my dimmers on the driver.


LOL my camera didn't like all the lighting this is with the same lighting on that I took all the other pictures with and it dimmed them all out and you can only see the crees LOL

Ok last part coming in the next day or so I am going to pick up some molex connectors and other stuff so I can easily disconnect all the cables from my drivers. I also need a little more wire.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice attention to detail! Great looking build. Curious about the coloration you have listed on your diagram. Are you planning on phasing in all those colors, or are a single LED satisfying those color requirements?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well documented. Nice job


Nice attention to detail! Great looking build. Curious about the coloration you have listed on your diagram. Are you planning on phasing in all those colors, or are a single LED satisfying those color requirements?

Thanks I appreciate it! I am still undecided on what I am doing I have to so many views on colors for this that it is unreal. I know that my current setup with just the RB's and Whites will fulfill survivable light for everything. I am going to play with adding some UV's and maybe some reds and greens to see how it affects the tank and looks.

Awesome buildpunk.gif


Thanks Bimmerz!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Part 3.

First I apologize for not taking enough pictures in this part. I thought I took more but evidently not. I do think I got most of it though!


Ok first off I didn’t want to mount all the drivers for my LED’s separately on the back, side or underneath stand. I wanted something to hold them all together and I also wanted to be able to unplug all the drivers and fixture from each other. So I spent a hour wandering around Home Depot looking at project boxes and junction boxes but nothing seemed to fit my needs. If it was big enough to hold all of my drivers, then it was like 10” deep which is way over kill. So I ended up buying a plastic shallow, rectangle box with lid, plus it was 5$. I may end up painting this black but for now it’s fine with me. I mounted all 3 drivers in the box to the left side so I have room for one more driver later if needed. I drilled 1/4" holes below each driver for the AC out, or power cord to exit the box. I had a bunch of molex connectors laying around from fixing power supplies and such so I used them to disconnect the LED leads from the drivers. I used one 4 pin for both the blues using all 4 pins. And used another 4 pin just using 2 pins for my whites. I made a notch in the upper right hand side so my cables can just slide right out when I take the lid off and put a 2 piece 1/2” strain relief in to hold the cables when lid was on. Molex connectors and pins are cheap and can be found at radio shack, frys, or altex. And very easy to put on.


Ok I here you can see I finished attaching all the molex connectors and plugged them into each other. I also ran a Cat5 patch cord in through the strain relief and stripped it back. Ok I have a Neptune Apex so I am going to go over how to hook that up. If you don’t have one and just got a dimmer knob/switch you would just run cables from those to the blue and white dimmer cables on your drivers. I have no experience with any other controllers so I can’t speak to those.

Ok the apex controls dimming through 2 RJ45 ports and each one can control 2 different dimmers. Port one controls V1 and V2, Port 2 is V3 and V4. You can also control multiple dimmer drivers with one dimmer (i.e. I have 2 blue drivers so I am using V2 to control both and V1 will control my whites). Apex sells cables for these but honestly it’s easier to just grab a 10’ cat5 patch cable, or if your like me grab one of the hundred in your closet. So now we just have to figure out what pins the Apex uses. Ok Cat5 cables in 2 different pin outs (I won’t go into why here but it’s basically just the oranges and green swapped, if your really curious about PM me.) so we have to figure out which you have. Looking at the copper pins on your cable with the tab down, then look at the first color on your far left that is pin one. If it’s White with orange or orange is the second pin, it is T568B, this is 99% of the cables you will buy as a consumer. If it’s white with green or the second pin is green, then it is T568A. The only reason we need to know this is because we need to know the pin outs so we know what controls what. Below is a simple diagram of what colors are on what pin and what pins the apex uses. So if you look at the pic above I have Orange with white on the + of both the blue dimmers and soldered together, and orange on the white of both dimmers. Blue white is on the blue of my white dimmer and green is on the white. FYI if I haven’t mentioned it yet, on the meanwell drivers the dimmer cables are blue and white and Blue is + and white is - . Once I soldered these together of course I realized my patch cable wasn’t removable so I had to fix this later.

T568B pinout (if you have A just swamp the orange and greens)

Apex Meanwell driver

Pin 1 White Orange V2 + Blue + (both blue drivers)

Pin 2 Orange V2 - White - (both blue drivers)

Pin 3 White Green Not used

Pin 4 Blue Not used

Pin 5 White Blue V1 + Blue + (white driver)

Pin 6 Green V1 - White –

Pin 7 White Brown Not used

Pin 8 Brown Not used


Ok now for the power cables to the drivers. I just took some old computer power cables I had laying around and cut the end off, where it plugs in to the computer power supply. I then took off about 2-3 inches of sheathing to reveal the 3 wires. Mine were all black +, white -, and green ground. Some are a different color pattern that the meanwells use, which is brown -, blue +, green with a yellow stripe ground. Cut the greens off we are not using them, though if you are using a metal box to house your drivers in you could run one and use a screw to mount to the box. That way if there is ever a power short to your box it will ground out and trip the breaker, just a thought. Ok I took my 3/8” heat shrink and put it over the entire cable. Used 1/4” heatshrink on all the black and whites. I then stripped about a 1/4 – 1/2" of cable off all 12 ends and twisted them together black to blue and white to brown. Soldered the ends and then slid heatshrink up to cover and shrink, then bigger heatshrink to cover entire cable about 1/2" from cut to cut. I tried to get all 3 stages in picture. Far right both cables are soldered together, middle both cables have heatshrink covering the joints, far left the bigger heatshrink goes over the entire cable.


Ok here you see I cut off my earlier screw up with my cat5 cable put some heat shrink around each one and then put a jack on it. If you use a jack just follow your appropriate color code for 568A or B. I then put a new RJ45 back on my network cable and plugged it in. Every thing is finished and ready for lid to go on. Before you do this you need to adjust the dimmers on your drivers. This took a fair amount of doing with just me, so I didn’t get any good pics, however here is the link for doing so I got off Rapid LED and the second link is to Rapid LEDs maximum/recommended amperages for their LEDS.



I set my royal blues at 800ma and my warm whites at 1000ma


Ok here is the entire setup ready to go on the tank with my splash shield in place!


Here it is my LED project for my 16g nano tank! Ok kidding this is for my 85 tall. For some reason the camera pic is really purple? But it looks bright white with the naked eye? Of course I haven’t set up the apex yet so that is everything 100%....Next and last part is the fans and attach to my canopy. I am going to add some more pics in minute to show some pics I took with the lights on my nano…man I got some color going on now :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Everything 100%




Only whites


Blues only..wow





My pictures came out way different than it person. Again way small tank and everything turned up to 100%. Over all I am happy the way this project has turned out so far and can't wait to see it on by big tank!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Naw probably should have added it from the beginning. Here is my invoice from rapid led. Everything else I pretty much had. I estimate another 50-100$ at most if you need to buy a solder gun and solder, molex connectors, heatshrink....actually probably close to 40$ but I am probably forgetting some stuff. Also in retrospect I probably would have not bought my wire from here and cut up a bunch of these black power adapters I got laying around. Cat5 is just a little to small (24 gauge if I remember right) but it could probably work as a cheap wire. Don't add a tester to your order cause they send one with every Led order to test (I think you have to order more than 5 for that but not sure just know I got 2 and in the packing list it had instructions that all leds needed to be tested before soldering, cause they won't take them back if it has been). If you want to add fans that is a additional cost but usually everybody has a old pc lying around to rob a few out of......can't think of anything else big I had to buy.

6" x 20" Black Anodized Aluminum Heat Sink

(Choose Option: Add Splash Guard +$3) 1 $33.00 USD $33.00 USD

AA Battery LED Tester 1 $2.00 USD $2.00 USD

Arctic Alumina Thermal Adhesive 1 $7.00 USD $7.00 USD

Bulk Wire (Black) 10 $0.25 USD $2.50 USD

Bulk Wire (Blue) 10 $0.25 USD $2.50 USD

Bulk Wire (Red 10 $0.25 USD $2.50 USD

Bulk Wire (White) 10 $0.25 USD $2.50 USD

CREE XP-G 5W Warm White LED 15 $5.00 USD $75.00 USD

CREE XT-E Royal Blue LED RB-XTE-CREE 31 $3.40 USD $105.40 USD

Mean Well ELN-60-48D dimmable driver 3 $34.00 USD $102.00 USD

Subtotal: $334.40 USD

Shipping: $7.00 USD

Grand Total: $341.40 USD

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anyone know if the club has a PAR meter I can borrow? Or someone who has one who I can beg/borrow/steal for a day? Want to do a final write up on this and really want to give par values I am getting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anyone know if the club has a PAR meter I can borrow? Or someone who has one who I can beg/borrow/steal for a day? Want to do a final write up on this and really want to give par values I am getting.

Subsea has one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...