How to Cut, Connect, and Power LED Strip Lights (Quick Guide)

If you’re looking for an ideal way to make your modeling projects pop and stand out from the crowd, to add a little illumination and pizazz to your home, or want to provide a comforting night light for the youngest members of your family to help them sleep at night, then the easy, quick and effective all-purpose solution to your dilemma is LED strip lighting.

Affordable and simple to install, strip lighting is a catch-all answer to the lighting problems that are too small to call in an electrician.  It is incredibly easy to size, cut, connect, and power LED strip lights with a little know and the right equipment. 

What Are LED Strip Lights?

The most common definition of LED strip lights is that they’re flexible circuit boards that are fitted with a series of light-emitting diodes evenly spaced along in its length.

Or in layman’s terms, LED strip lights are a strip of plastic that has a lot of lights on it that can be plugged directly into the electrical supply.

Checklist - What You Need For Your LED Lighting Project

Before you get down and dirty and immerse yourself in bringing a little illumination to an area where there is none, it’s always good practice to make sure that you have everything you’ll need to do whatever job it is that you’re doing before you start. 

Making additional trips to the hardware store while you’re in the middle of the job because you forgot something, can and does add unnecessary time and expenditure (gasoline isn’t cheap) to your project.

For your LED project, you’re going to need enough LED strip lighting to cover the area you want to bring a little lighting to, the correct LED connectors (if you don’t know which connectors you need, check the packaging on the strip lighting, or ask the clerk at the store and they’ll both point you in the direction of the right connectors), an Exacto knife or sharp scissors, a measuring tape, a soldering iron, a supply of solder and an LED lighting driver (again, check with the clerk at the hardware store to make sure that the driver you purchase is the right one to power your LED lighting) to connect your lighting to the electrical supply.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Carefully measure every part of the area that you’re going to add strip lighting to, and then carefully measure your strip lighting, making sure you know how many lengths of lighting that you’re going to need and what size they each have to be.

Before you start cutting the strip lighting with a knife or scissors examine it closely. Between every two or three diodes (lights) there should be a bright copper-colored spot. These copper spots are the connection points on the strip, and you’ll need to cut the strip at these points.

Using either your knife or scissors, carefully cut your strip to the right sized lengths, and only cut through the middle of the copper-colored spots - don’t try to cut the strip at any other point, only cut through the copper parts of the strip, and always cut through the middle of these spots.

The copper-colored spots are the points that you’re going to use to connect the individual parts of your lighting strip to the other parts of your lighting project and they’ll ensure that every separate strip when it is connected to the other strips, will receive the power it needs to make it light up.

Connecting the Strips

Take a look at one of the connectors. At each end of the connector (apart from the power connector that’s going to connect the strip to the driver - put this to one side for the time being), there will be a plastic cap that can be flipped open. Open the caps at both ends of the connector, and inside there will be two (or more depending on the type of strip lighting and connectors that you’re using) silver spots.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the way the connectors look, take the end of one of your strips of LED lighting and place the copper spots on top of the silver spots inside the connector. It’s important to make sure the shiny side of the copper is in contact with the shiny part of the silver. After you’ve lined them up, snap the plastic cap closed and this will lock your LED lighting strip into the connector.

Then, simply repeat the process, making sure that every LED strip is in contact with and locked into a connector. By locking every separate segment of your strip lighting into a connector, you’ll be making a complete circuit that the power can pass through and ensure that every diode (or LED) on the connected strips gets sufficient power to light up.

Connecting The Strips To The Driver

If everything has gone according to plan, you’ll be left with one end of your LED strip still to be connected and the previously mentioned power connector. Take a look at the power connector - at one end there will be two wires, one red and one black. These are the positive and negative terminals that you’re going to connect to your driver, which will ultimately supply the power to your lighting.

At the other end of the connector, there will be another snap-open plastic compartment. Open it, and using the same methodology as you did for the rest of your strip lighting, connect the final end of your strip to the shiny terminals and lock it. Now it’s time to connect your strip lighting to the driver.

Take a look at the driver. At one end it’ll have a plug and at the other, there will be a connection point. If you’re lucky, it’ll just be a snap connector, and all you need to do is open it, place the black wire on the end of your power connector on the terminal marked with a minus sign (the negative terminal) and the red wire on the terminal marked with a plus sign (the positive terminal), snap the connector shut and plug the driver into the mains. Then switch it on, and watch your LEDs light up.

What Do I Do If There Is No Snap Connector on The Driver?

If there’s no snap connector, you’ll need to solder the power connector to the driver. Plug your soldering iron in and let it heat up.

As soon as it’s reached the correct temperature, use a small amount of solder to connect the black wire of the power connector to the negative terminal and a small amount to connect the red wire to the positive terminal.

Allow a minute or so for the solder to cool, and as soon as you’re sure that the power connector is soldered to the driver, plug the latter into the household power, and switch your LED lights on.