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How To Choose the Right LED Driver

If you've read our previous post on "Understanding the Ins and Outs of LED Drivers and How They Work," you've learned a few basic facts:

All LED systems require some type of LED driver.

Although there are many different types of LED drivers, most fall into one of two categories: constant voltage or constant current.

Some LED lights, such as household LED general lighting bulbs, have built-in, integrated drivers.

Bulbs or systems not having a built-in driver will require an external driver in order to operate properly.

Two Types of Drivers

The two main types of LED drivers include those that utilize a low-voltage DC input power, usually somewhere between 5 and 36 volts, and those that use high-voltage AC input power, typically somewhere between 90 and 277 volts. These high-input AC-powered drivers, also called off-line drivers, may be preferred when designing a large-scale general lighting project, either commercial or residential. Otherwise, low-voltage DC-powered drivers are recommended, especially for smaller applications. They are reliable and efficient and offer more output and dimming options.

Considerations When Choosing an LED Driver

There are a number of things to keep in mind when selecting an LED driver:

  • First and foremost, determine the type and number of LED lights you'll be using in your setup and how they'll be arrayed. If your lights are wired in series, such as with ground lights or decking lights, you'll require a constant-current LED driver. If they'll be wired in parallel, such as with LED tape or LED strip lights, then you'll need to have a constant-voltage LED driver.

  • Next, you'll need to ensure that the milliamp rating on your lights matches the milli-amp rating of your LED driver. Electrical current is measured in amps and milliamps. While there are a number of different milliamp ratings for LED lights, the most common are 350mA and 700mA.

  • Next, check to ensure that the wattage rating of your LED driver is greater than or equal to the total wattage of all lights wired to that driver. As an example, if you have five 3-watt ground lights wired to your driver, the driver must have a wattage rating of at least 15 watts. When using LED tape, you need to multiply the wattage rating per meter of tape times the length of the tape. As an example, if the tape is rated at 15 watts per meter and the total tape length is 3 meters, your LED driver will have to carry at least a 45-watt rating.

  • Finally, make sure that the output voltage of the LED driver is compatible with the input voltage of your LED light(s). Some constant-current LED drivers have a wide range of output voltage, such as 6 to 24 volts, making them more universal and compatible with a number of different LED lights. Constant-current LED drivers, however, may output a very specific voltage, which may not work with your LED lights. Damage may be caused by using incorrect voltage, so it's important to carefully check this.

Recap of Important LED Driver Buying Factors

Because there are so many variations of LED drivers available, getting the correct one can be somewhat confusing to the novice. We've run through some of the more important buying considerations already, but there are a number of other factors to consider, which we'll cover here. Some of this may seem redundant but is important to repeat in order to ensure understanding.

Output Voltage – Always consider the voltage required by your light(s). If they require 12 volts for operation, use a 12-volt driver. When using a constant-current LED driver, consider the LEDs’ current output (in amps or milliamps) and ensure your driver will produce power within your lights' specified range. With constant-current drivers, both current range and voltage have to be considered. With constant-voltage drivers, only the voltage range needs to be considered.

Input Voltage – While most LED drivers will accept a range of input voltages, ensure that the voltage available at your location is compatible with the driver you're using. Most household voltage is 120 volts, while most commercial and industrial voltages are 277 volts. If you're unsure, check with your electrician. When dealing with constant-current LEDs, consider their current input as well.

Wattage – Calculate the total wattage of your light or lights and ensure your driver has a maximum wattage capability greater than this. Don't use a driver with a light or lights that exceed its max wattage or that use less than 50% of its max wattage.

Dimming – Constant-current and constant-voltage LED drivers can both be made with the ability to dim, but the dimming capability must be stated on the dimmer's specs, otherwise it's safe to assume the system is not dimmable.

Hopefully, this information has provided you with the basics needed to choose the right LED driver for your application. If you have questions, we're happy to help. Call us at 407-777-0942.