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LED ABC's
April 9, 2005
Author: Cliff Manufacturer: N/A
Department: Modding Model: N/A
Article Type: How-To Time Spent: N/A
 
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Introduction




The venerable Light Emitting Diode. They're everywhere, included in almost every piece of electronic equipment, from remote controls for your T.V. set to status lights for your electric razor. They serve a multitude of purposes, and come in a seemingly endless variety of colors, sizes and brightness. This article is geared toward the case modding community, but the information included should be of value to anyone needing to employ LED's in a custom project. I'll start off with a general discussion of the different types of LED's. Following that, you can read about some uses of LED's, how to wire them correctly, and even how to modify existing LED's that you may have in your equipment.

Types

What are Light Emitting Diodes? In the early 1960's Nick Holonyak Jr. invented them:

"A light-emitting diode is essentially a junction between a region of p-doped semiconductors having an excess of holes and an n-doped region having an excess of electrons. At the junction between the two regions, the electrons and holes can combine. Because electrons occupy a higher conduction band than holes, they have more energy, which must be released during the process of recombination." -Justin Mullins

Ok, that stuff is mostly above my head, but not to worry. The main thing to realize is that, unlike a lamp, which is just a piece of hot metal enclosed in a vacuum, an LED is actually a much more sophisticated and efficient light producer. They draw less current than a lamp, and their color output is much more defined. Another distinction to keep in mind, is that LED's are diodes, meaning that they only like to pass electrical current in one direction. This can lead to a lot of trouble for first-time users. There are ways to determine the correct polarity of LED's, which we will talk about shortly.


Form Factor


LED's come in an almost endless variety of form factors, from the venerable "bullet" shape, to square and even surface-mount styles. Typically, projects involving case modding usually concentrate on the bullet shapes, and maybe a square or rectangular shape for case-status lights and such. One way to get up to speed on the various form factors is to check out an electronics catalog. One fine example of this is the Jameco catalog. When I was doing a lot of custom case work, Jameco always gave me good service. There are other fine retailers out there, including Digikey, Allelectronics, and even Radio Shack. Although I will reference Jameco's catalog more than once, most of the terms used here are industry standard.

The typical bullet LED comes in two basic sizes, T1 and T1-3/4. The T1 - 3/4 is the larger, and is very common. Here is a size comparison chart for these two varieties.

Type Diameter Length of bulb tip
T1 0.119 in / 3mm 0.21 inch
T1 3/4 0.197 in / 5 mm 0.34 inch

 
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