There is a huge range of flexible LED tape on the market. Not all of it is IP rated; a lot is sold for indoor use such as cove or undershelf lighting. Even here, it is worth considering IP rated tape because it protects the LEDs from moisture and dust. Uncoated LEDs are difficult to clean and, as we all know, LEDs are easily damaged by any kind of dampness or humidity.
When I spoke to tape manufacturers, just about all of them asked me to emphasise the importance of proper installation. It is fairly easy for manufacturers to make a flexible tape that is resistant to IP66, IP67 or even submersible, IP68. But, if you want a durable, long-lasting installation, there are two aspects that need to be properly considered.
The first is the electrical connection. This is often the cause of 'tape' failure. The electrical connection should be as good, or better, than the IP rating of the tape. If your tape is IP67, you need an IP67 or IP68 electrical connection. Reputable suppliers will have a connection kit. This is often a small box that is filled with resin. Another solution uses a special crimp with thermoplastic gel. You make the connection in the usual way and then apply a hot air blower that melts the gel inside.
If you know the exact lengths of tape you require, some manufacturers will offer to supply a factory connected flying lead. This is almost certainly more reliable than a joint made on site.
The other issue is heat dissipation. The temperature of the pin-size junction point on the back of the LED determines the light output and, more importantly, its life. Some tape only consumes a few watts per metre and there shouldn’t be any problems. Higher wattage tape, say 20W/m, might require the tape to be bonded to a backing strip made of aluminium. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer.
Again, you will get a more reliable product if you ask the supplier and the manufacturer to bond the tape onto the backing strip.
Some 'tapes' are square or rectangular in section rather than just a flat ribbon.
For colour critical applications, you need to know that the silicone sealant used to give the tape its IP rating usually makes the LEDs look cooler. A nominal 2,700K indoor strip might look closer to 3,000 in its IP version. If in doubt, do a trial.
It is important to mention that the tapes reviewed are just a small selection of what is available. One supplier I know keeps 100 different types in stock.
This strip comes from their Professional range, which is available in three colour temperatures, 2,700K, 3,500K and a cool 6,750K. Red, green and blue are also available.
It is rated at IP68 and runs at 9.6W/m. A useful feature is that Aurora can supply LDT photometric data files, so you can run lighting calculations and visualisations.
Light output is in the range of 485 – 685 lm/m. The driver is 12v constant voltage.
A downside of this professional range is that the CRI is only 70. Rated life to L70 is 25,000 hrs. The maximum ambient operating temperature is 25C.
Commercial Lighting have been in business over 25 years. One reason for their success is that they like to know about the application before selling you any tape.
They have a huge range from 4.8W/m to 29W/m. Whilst they can supply regular IP67 or IP68 tape, their preferred solution is to use an IP20 tape in an aluminium channel and then fill it with resin.
The channel is much better at dissipating heat, especially at high wattages. Curves are achieved using small channels in short lengths.
Typically, the 4.8W/m at 3,000K emits 360 lm/m with a CRI of 70. The 22W/m at 4,000K emits 2,400 lm/m (6 times as much) with a CRI >80.
Collingwood have a huge range of tape from IP20 to this one at IP68 (to a depth of 1.5m) series.
It runs at just 4.8W/m with light output from 350 – 400lm/m.
There is a sensible range of colour temperatures: 2,700K, 3,000K and 4,000K.
Collingwood also offer a bespoke service where they will cut the tape to length and add the waterproof connections and flying leads.
Claimed rated life is 70,000 hrs, much longer than some of its competitors. The colour rendering is better than most at CRI >85.
iGuzzini have a large family of outdoor tape and LED extrusions under the general names of Linealuce and Underscore.
They do supply plain tape but most of the range has the LEDs mounted in aluminium extrusions.
These extrusions can be very small, the sample we had was just 16mm wide and eight mm high.
The extrusions are supplied with IP68 connections and flying leads. As you would expect, there is a large range of wattages and light output per metre.
The tape we tested is rectangular in section (many tapes have a rounded upper face) is rated at IP67 and is available in either 3,500K or 6,500K.
The power consumption is 6W/m and this equates to 325 lm/m for the 3,500K version.
An advantage of this tape is that the maximum ambient operating temperature is 60C.
However, one downside is that the claimed life is 13,000 hrs.
This is another rectangular section, fully encapsulated tape. It is IP68 and will operate in an ambient of 45C.
Life, at this temperature, is claimed as 50,000 hours. There is a full range of colour temperatures from 1,800K to 7,000K.
There is even a CRI 95 range, where you need excellent colour rendering. Their tape catalogue runs to 136 pages so it is impossible to give more than just a snapshot of what is available.
The sample we received was properly constructed with well-made seals and connections. The appearance was totally uniform.
This is the lighting designer’s flexible friend.
If you can’t find a suitable tape in the LEDvance range, it doesn’t exist.
As well as white from a really warm 2,000K to 6,500K and colour tunable versions, they offer red, green, blue, yellow and orange.
Most tape is top bending but LEDvance also offer side bending tape.
The appearance of our sample was a totally, really totally, uniform line of light.
For retail applications, they have a tape with a colour rendering with a CRI of >90. If you want serious light output, some versions emit 4,000 lm/m.
LED Linear Hydralux
Another popular tape with designers is LED Linear. The Hydralux is a rectangular section, IP 67 tape. It operates up to 40C.
You can achieve up to 1,820 lm/m, (15.4W/m), so there’s a lot of light output available if you need it.
What I really liked is the range of colour temperatures. There’s a warm 2,200K all the way up to a super cool 9,600K. There’s a choice of colour rendering, CRI 80 or 90.
One final point, is that connecting the driver to the end of the tape has been made very simple. There’s no soldering or crimping on site.
Mr Resistor have a huge range of budget tapes. Our sample was a fairly high power tape at 14.4W/m and rated at IP68 and with a CCT of 2,700K.
The electrical connections were well made and the sample was supplied with a chunky 100W driver.
One disadvantage of this tape is that the stated efficacy is only 9.1 lm/W. A 1m length emits just 132 lm. Some tapes are four times that efficacy. The datasheet does not mention CRI or life.
Rosco are maybe best known for their filters, which are used in cinematography and theatre applications.
The company also makes small gobo projectors.
This tape is specifically designed for these applications and, as such, it is available in tungsten 3,000K and daylight 5,600K versions.
Both have a CRI of > 90.
The product is quick and easy to install and there are a huge range of different ways you can control the output. This includes using rotary dimmers to PWM radio frequency remote controllers.
The construction of this tape is different from the others in that the tape, itself, is not sealed but instead it is held loosely in a silicone sleeve.
As long as both ends of the sleeve are sealed, it should retain its IP65 rating, 3,000K and 4,000K are available.
The sample supplied had an IP67 transformer, which is a useful where you can’t put the transformer inside.
The power rating of the tape is quite high at 12W/m and the efficacy of the LEDs is also pretty good so the light output of the tape is a useful 1,000 – 1,250 lm/m.