Ask MAKE: Why are some LEDs tinted?

Ask MAKE is a weekly column where we answer reader questions, like yours. Write them in to mattm@makezine.comor drop us a line on Twitter. We can’t wait to tackle your conundrums!


Jacob asks:

I’m new to electronics, and am interested in LEDs. One thing I can’t figure out is why some of them are colored, while others are clear. What’s the deal with that?

Hey, good question! I’d never actually thought about it before, and now that you mention it, it does seem a bit confusing. My initial guess was that the coloring might be used as a filter to block out other colors, but that doesn’t make sense- in general, LEDs put out a very narrow spectrum of light, so they shouldn’t need filters (and it would probably be difficult to build a filter with that narrow of a cutoff range). One exception would be more complicated LEDs such as white ones, which normally start with blue light and then use a phosphor to convert it to white light. It seemed possible that at least for those, the color could be part of the phosphor- except that white LEDs are almost always clear! Besides, the phosphor part turns out to be located right on top of the dye.

So, the best I can tell is that the tinting is added to make it easier to tell them apart when they are off. The clear ones are a pain to sort out, because you have to plug them in to figure out what color they might be. Kind of funny, but I guess that’s how it goes!