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Solder a Digitally Addressable RGB LED Strip

So, you received an RGB LED strip that doesn't have the leads tinned for soldering? Don't worry! This guide will have you soldering your strips in a jiffy.

Solder a Digitally Addressable RGB LED Strip

Since the Digitally Addressable RGB LED Strips come in one big reel and are then cut off, occasionally you get a piece doesn’t have the leads tinned for soldering. So how do you fix this problem? Follow this guide and I’ll show you!

Once you complete this guide you can follow the Adafruit tutorial on how to hook your RGB LED strip up to an Arduino!

Steps

Step #1:

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  • These flexible RGB LED strips are very cool. They come to the warehouse in a giant reel and since it's sold by the meter, the strips are simply cut off.
  • Most of the cut off ends are tinned for soldering at both ends. However, 1 out of 3 or 4 don't have tinned ends.
  • I know what you're thinking.."What am I supposed to do if I'm missing tinned ends?" Don't worry! It's easy to solder this stuff!
  • First, just shimmy the silicone jacket down leaving the flexible strip exposed. To do this, hold on to the inner strip by pinching it with your fingers and squeeze the sides of the silicone jacket with the other hand. Slide / rub that hand down so that it gently inches the jacket downwards. Keep doing this until you have about 1/2" of it sticking out. That's all you need! Alternatively, you could cut it but then you're missing 1/2" of jacketing.

Step #2:

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  • After you have a bit of the innards exposed, lay it on a flat surface and grab your X-Acto knife (but not from the pointy end!).
  • The internals are primarily made up of thin flexible copper coated with a lacquer to prevent shorting and corrosion. We're going to scrape this off to expose the copper.
  • Use the tip of the X-Acto knife to scrape away this coating, kind of like scratching off a lottery ticket. Just use gentle back and forth motions until you have a spot about 1/16" or so exposed. All you need to do is have a tiny bit of solder stick to it so you don't need to overdo it. Make sure the spot is as free from the coating as you can get it!

Step #3:

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  • So now you should have one pad cleared off. Move on to the next one and do the same thing. Wash, rinse, and repeat until you get all four pads cleared off.
  • If you simply plan on soldering on wires to this strip for linking, go ahead and move to the soldering step. Keep in mind that the side with the D0 and C0 are output only. The side with DI and CI is for input only and can attach to a microcontroller.
  • I plan on soldering this strip directly to another one. If you choose to do the same please continue. If you just want to solder jumper wires to the input side to plug your strip into a microcontroller you can go ahead and skip to the soldering step.

Step #4:

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  • To solder this stuff, first make sure you brush or blow away all the scrapings so the copper area you scraped off is as clean as you can get it.
  • Next, place your soldering iron onto the exposed copper and slowly feed in your solder until it makes a bead. Make sure you are melting your solder onto the pad and not onto your iron!
  • Repeat this for all the exposed areas. Try to be kind of quick about it. You don't want to soak too much heat into the thin copper.
  • As I said, I'm going to connect this strip to another. If you would like to do the same please read on to the next step.
  • If you're going to attach this strip to a microcontroller, jumper wires work great! Just cut off one of the ends of the jumper wire, strip the end, then solder it into place. When you're done just follow Adafruit's tutorial listed in the introduction.
  • Make sure you're soldering the wires to the input side labeled GND, DI, CI, +5V! Plugging the output side (D0, C0) into a microcontroller could be very, very bad for the strip and your micro!

Step #5:

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  • What I'm going to do here is attach the output end of my freshly tinned LED strip to the input side of another with finished ends to make a 2 meter long LED strip.
  • The finished end of the LED strip still has some of the lacquer on the bottom side. Go ahead and use your X-Acto knife to remove it the same way as you did before.
  • After the coating is removed, go ahead and tin the bottom side just as you did on the first strip.

Step #6:

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  • MAKE SURE YOU CONNECT THE OUTPUT SIDE OF THE 1ST STRIP TO THE INPUT SIDE OF THE OTHER. The output side is labeled GND, DO, CO, +5V. The input side is labeled GND, DI, CI, +5V.
  • Once your sure you've correctly identified the inputs and outputs, align them so that the +5V connects to +5V, the GND connects to GND, and the the D0 connects to DI and the CO connects to CI. Hold it in place so the solder joints are touching.
  • Use your soldering iron to apply heat to the solder blob that is on top. What is going to happen is that the heat will liquify the blob on top, transfer that heat to liquify the blob under it, then liquify the blob on the bottom strip. Don't apply too much pressure because this can cause the solder blobs to pool out and connect to each other, which would be bad. You'll feel the strips sink into each other and at that time you can remove the heat.
  • Repeat this with the rest of the pads, repeating the process above.
  • When you're finished check to make sure you have a solid connection by bending it a bit and making sure your joints are soldered.
  • Also, use a multimeter to check the resistance between adjacent pads to make sure there are no shorts. As long as there is resistance you should be fine. If your meter reads 0.0 ohms you have a problem and should desolder it and try again!

Step #7:

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  • OK, you're almost done! Now all you have to do is slide the jacketing back into place. Just "shimmy" it back the other way on both ends until they touch.
  • To waterproof the strips, put a bead of clear silicone caulking where the two ends meet and let it dry. That's it! Now you can follow the Adafruit tutorial listed in the introduction to hook it up!

Conclusion

For a tutorial on how to hook your RGB LED strip up to an Arduino please see the Adafruit tutorial!


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