Thursday, 18 February 2016

Installing LED strip lighting

Lighting is one of the most important finishing touches you can add to a model railway display, and there are many ways that you can approach the subject of lighting installation depending on the location, shape and accessibility of your layout. Of course it always pays dividends to plan ahead, which is where the structural support beam I added across the top of my bookshelf will come into play. Not only is it required to support the valance that rests on top, it was my plan all along to use the underside to add a strip of LED lighting. For that I chose the remote-controlled 36 colour LED strips that come in a pack of 4 strips and are made by ARLEC, thinking it might be fun to use the colour shades to simulate some sunsets over Philden Station.

The only option for mounting the LED control adaptor was on the nicely varnished outside panel at the end of my layout.

I've used ARLEC's LED strip lighting before, with mixed results, on a small bench top layout I constructed and later sold. Although the instructions say the strips are able to be bent to a 90 degree angle, bending them to fit a 90 degree corner must have caused the red wire to break within the strip on my first attempt, resulting in no red LED lighting at all. To avoid a repeat, this time I was only going to install them along a level surface. What I had forgotten about however, was the small lead wire from the control adaptor. It wouldn't be able to be installed beneath the layout like I had imagined. It had to be somewhere within reach of the beginning of the LED strip, and unfortunately that called for mounting it on the outside panel of my nicely varnished bookcase end.

The widened oval shaped hole is for the 4 pin plug to pass through and is lined up with the blue support beam that is visible.

For now the LED control adaptor looks like a bit of an eyesore. I'll have to see what I can do to disguise this later.

With the control adaptor secured in place with some small brass wood screws, I could now join the LED strips together ready to mount to the underside of the support beam. The instructions were fairly straightforward and within moments I had a strip of LED's ready to install on my layout.

A 4 pin joiner connects each strip. The only thing to watch for is that the G R B and +DC12V plugs all match up.

The now joined strip of LED's and the support beam they are about to be fixed to.

I next laid the now joined strip of LED's out along the length of my layout area. There are scissor lines on each strip at set locations to enable you to trim the strip to the length you require. I simply located the nearest one that would fit within the allowable space and neatly cut it where and as instructed. I bought 3 packs of the ARLEC 4 strip LED's, simply because I needed 6 strips to complete my 6 foot long layout section, and a further 6 when I build the upper addition in the near future. By buying 3 packs rather than add-on strips which were available at Bunnings Warehouse, I have a spare control and power adaptor just in case they are ever needed in the distant future. Bunnings sell them for $39.95 a pack.

The strips can be trimmed to size where indicated by the scissor lines.
Finally I measured the space where the now cut LED strip would not reach to, divided it by 2 and made a small pencil mark on the underside of the support beam to ensure my lighting would be centered above my layout.

Test that the lighting control works properly before you peel the adhesive backing away.
This is the point where you should always test that the lighting works correctly before you peel the adhesive backing away and begin sticking it firmly in place. Despite doing this, I only noticed that the second strip of LED lights was a different shade of white after pausing part way through to take a photograph. It seems that ARLEC's quality control had let a bright white LED strip get mixed into the packet. The rest were all shinning a cool white. The difference would have been infuriatingly annoying had I not detected it. Fortunately I was able to peel it back off and replace it with a strip from another pack before the adhesive had set.

The self adhesive backing pulls away leaving the LED strip to be easily pressed into place.

The adhesive is actually quite strong. I can attest to that having had to pull one off only seconds after I had pressed it in place. The gum however will come away from the LED strip, making it unable to be re-used. Fortunately ARLEC's customer service department came to the rescue after reading this post by mailing out a replacement set free of charge.

Finally it was time to sit back and take a look at the finished results. Without any additional lighting on in the background, I cycled through the various shades of colours to get the below results. Surprisingly, my favourite ended up being the lightest yellow shade. There's something about it that resembles the golden warmth of the outback sun. The cool white setting tends to come across a bit bluish in the photos, perhaps on account of this being a coloured LED lighting project rather than just a pure white LED lighting kit. But I'll let you be the judge. All up, this project cost me less than $80.

Cool white is a little too much on the bluish side when it comes to photography, but seems fine when viewed in person.

Soft yellow is already my favourite, either in person of when photographed. It just says warm Australian sun to me.

And finally soft blue-green gives the layout a nocturnal night time feel. Hopefully it doesn't bring out the bats!
Anyway, finally there is some artificial lighting in place on my layout. For a small layout that wasn't space friendly when it came to adding lighting, I'm quite pleased with the results. What do you think?

See also; Lights, wiring, toasted marshmallows and Making awful look awesome


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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil