When I was asked to review the new Neon LED strip from Altronics, I must admit, I wasn’t terribly excited. I had in my head notions from experience with ‘neon’ rope lights and other LED strips. I was expecting the usual flat flexible PCB full of high-brightness LEDs with a diffused resin coating on the top, in place of the clear version often used.
I was so wrong! And I have never been happier about being wrong! This LED strip was very different from my expectations, and out-performed anything I have seen on the retail market before. The name ‘neon’ really is apt because the LED strip is a very fitting replacement for the original formed glass tubing, full of gases, such as Argon, Helium, Xenon, Krypton, etc. that gave the concept its name. The differences with Altronics’ version are that you don’t need a 15,000 volt transformer, or any glass-working skills.
My first surprise when I opened the packet was the physical orientation of the strip. It has a cross-section in the form of an extended, inverted ‘U’ shape, with the bottom and sides formed from opaque white soft plastic. On top of this, seamlessly bonded, is a translucent, colourless top made of a silicone-like material. The light is actually emitted from the curved top, which means that the whole length is highly flexible and can be turned around quite a tight radius, 10mm in fact, which is unusually tight for an LED strip.
The string is IP65 rated, so it is appropriate for outdoor signage. It is not suitable for applications where water may pool and submerge the string. The Ingress Protection scale, from where ‘IP’ is derived, is a fixed standard where the first digit is solid ingress protection, and the second is water ingress protection. Look it up if you want the exact limitations and protections involved.
There are one hundred and twenty LEDs per metre, and the material is supplied as five metre rolls. It draws 750mA per metre according to the documentation, which is about par for LED strip. The ultra-high brightness variety usually draw 1000mA per metre. This means that the total string draws 3.75A, beyond the range of the average plug pack. It can be powered by a big enough inline power supply, also known as a desktop supply, or you could use an old PC power supply, as I did.
Altronics supply a packet of ten clips that can hold the strip side-on, which is different to clips meant for regular LED strip. These enable mounting of the strip in curved patterns or shapes, and will help when tight radii are involved. The documentation states that silicone adhesives work as well, although take care in selecting these - some products in the same section of the hardware store are not silicones, and contain some solvents very harmful to most plastics. For the sample, I used some strong double-sided tape, though I doubt this would be permanent.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to take a knife to the end of the strip and have a look inside. The photos show the cross-section, and the LED strip removed from the plastic. I was surprised to find that, instead of having LEDs facing upwards, they face sideways and light is transmitted through the silicone material. This has two advantages over having lensed LEDs facing up: It is much simpler to make the PCB, and more importantly, the light output is far more diffused. There are no individual LEDs visible with dark spots in between.
The strip can be cut with a knife every 25mm, and sections can have new power wires soldered on. You will need to bare a little of the case for this, and make sure it is sealed if you need the IP65 rating. Altronics sell silicone end caps for this purpose. A black line is visible through the side to guide you. Finally, while the sample is blue, the neon flex is available in blue, pink, red, green, UV, warm white, and natural white. Yellow is missing, and a WS2812 addressable version would be positively amazing! The actual colour shades really do reflect the neon history they are nodding to. Overall, it is an exciting product with myriad possibilities.
The 5m Neon Tube Style Strip Lighting and accessories are available at Altronics
- UV, Warm White, Natural White, Green, Red, Blue and Pink from $85