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LED light strips have completely changed the mood lighting game, and I for one am here for it!
For the uninitiated, light strips are a sequence of small (but powerful) LED bulbs installed on a flexible, narrow medium.
This bendy circuit board has an adhesive back, so you can install a strip light in a matter of seconds pretty much anywhere.
Want to line your kitchen cabinets with a gorgeous glow? No problem! Want to augment your TV or computer monitor with a beautiful backlight? LED light strips are the way to do it.
However, as much as I’m down to simply sing light strips’ praises all day long, there is one thing to consider that can be a little confusing… their length.
These handy lights arrive in exceedingly long reels, which is great in one respect, as it gives you a lot of illumination to work with in your space.
But what if they’re just too long for the intended application? Is trimming them down into smaller strips an option?
That’s exactly what I’m going to be discussing in today’s post. Stick with me, and you can join in the LED revolution with style and ease!
Is Cutting An LED Light Strip A Good Idea?
Let’s kick things off with some terrific news… you can indeed give your light strip the snip to suit your illuminative intentions!
It matters not if they’re RGB, rigid, waterproof, or monochromatic, they can all be customized. But before you go full Edward Scissorhands on your new lights, there are some important details you need to know.
Each light on the strip has its own designated circuit board. These boards are linked end to end forming a light-giving snake.
Compromising one of these boards with a haphazard cut will lead to one of three outcomes:
- That LED will die
- One of the now separate strips will die, or
- Both strips will die (boooo)
So, how do you avoid these catastrophes three and execute a good, clean cut?
Well, if you take a close look at your strip light, you should notice a sequence of vertical lines (they might be dotted or standard lines).
These, my friend, are your cutting guides. They signify a circuit board dead zone between the end of one and the beginning of another, making them the perfect location for a spot of strip light surgery.
How frequently these cutting lines occur will differ from strip to strip, but typically, you’ll see one every three lights to ensure you have plenty of flexibility in terms of length.
To confirm you’ve found a cutting line and not just some aspect of strip light design, keep an eye out for symmetrical copper patterns.
These patterns are the soldering pads and should be located either side of the line.
Will One Side Of My LED Strip Light Die Once Cut?
If you have a steady hand and a sharp pair of scissors, there’s no reason why your mitotic strip lights won’t work.
As mentioned a moment ago, the cutting line isn’t actually a part of any circuit. Its sole purpose is to provide you with a guide when you need to break the strip down into smaller sections.
Cutting this section of the strip should not affect the performance of its constituent parts post trim.
This isn’t just practical for those of us who love lighting; it’s great for the environment, as it cuts down significantly on waste.
Cutting An LED Strip Light: A Safe, Step-By-Step Guide
That’s enough of a preamble, I believe; let’s get down to business!
Although it’s an easy process, let’s take this nice and slow. Follow these steps to get the job done safely.
Do a quick general functionality test on the whole strip.
The important thing to remember here is that putting your strip lights under the knife will almost certainly void any warranties in place, so you want to make sure that you catch any pre-existing damage before you get stuck with the blame.
Now’s the time to break out the tape measure. For straight installation, I recommend using a retractable tape measure such as this one.
For a more sinuous application, you’ll want something with more flex, like this fabric tape measure.
Take some super accurate measurements of the installation point, then use these as a reference to select the most appropriate cutting line.
Grab a pair of super sharp scissors or a quality box cutter, and make a precise incision along the cutting line. If you’ve chosen the box cutter option, you’ll also need a cutting board.
A kitchen chopping board will work just fine, but if you want something specifically for the job, I’d recommend this craft cutting mat.
LED light strips arrive with a single power source, so you may be wondering how you’re going to power your freshly liberated section.
The good news is that the industry has you covered. Your options are two-fold. You can…
- Solder a new socket onto the powerless strip (requires some skill and of course a soldering kit).
- Use a strip source connector.
What If I Want To Reconnect My Strips?
We’re all human, and we all make mistakes, meaning there’s a chance you may cut your strip too short, but it’s not the end of the world.
Severed light strips can be reconnected. In fact, there are a couple ways this can be done, but by far the easiest is to invest in some strip connectors.
These handy kits essentially provide you a failsafe “undo” on your reckless snip, and best of all, they’re completely solderless.
Here’s How You Reconnect Your Severed LED Light Strips
As I said, strip connectors are your best bet here. Once you’ve picked some up, grab yourself a small, sharp knife, and move on to step 2.
Use your knife to remove the plastic covering on the copper soldering pads we discussed earlier.
Take the end of your strip with the exposed copper pads, and insert it into your connector. The key here is to ensure the connective components of the connector are aligned with the copper pads. And voilà; you’re done!
… But should you have some really good soldering skills, you’ll likely want to try it this way:
Set up your soldering kit, melt some solder, and apply it to the copper pads of your strip.
Align the polarity of your strips. Black wires correspond to negative poles, and red wires correspond to positive poles.
Use a wire stripper to remove roughly 0.5” from the ends of your two wires, give the frayed ends a twist to marry them together, then plonk them down in their corresponding pole puddles of melted solder.
Whichever method you go for, remember to plug your LED light strip in after the fact to check if the operation has been a success.
My LED Strip Light Stopped Working After Cutting — HELP
Although cuttable strips are fairly standard across the industry as a whole, there are bound to be some low-end products out there that cannot be cut in any way shape or form.
If this is the case with yours, then I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do. This is why I’d always suggest checking manuals or product pages before making the cut.
Generally speaking, though, if you can see a cutting line, you’re good to go.
The only other problem directly related to the cut will be a botched effort, i.e. cut in the wrong place. With any luck, it will only break one or two lights. Then you can try again at the next cutting line in sequence.
Other issues will be caused by connection issues when fusing strips. Luminance that degrades from one side of the strip to the other is caused by a dip in voltage, which means your strip has been made too long.
The general rule of thumb is that 12 V strips should be no longer than 10 feet, and 24 V strips should never exceed 15 feet.
One final problem you might face is the inability of part of the strip to change color.
Don’t fret, though, as this usually just means you’ve confused the polarity, in which case you can disconnect them and try again.
I know that taking a knife to your swanky new lights can be nerve-wracking, but as long as you stick to this guide, you and your lights will be just fine!
And once you’re done, you can get back to transforming your living space into a splendiferous ambient Shangri-La!