A Quick Guide to LED Drivers
24th January 2022
LED drivers are a bit like a Rubik’s Cube. Yeah—weird analogy. But, you know, they seem complex, but once you’ve got the basics down pat, literally anyone could solve the puzzle.
In this article, we’ll do the same. We’ll break down the basics of LED lighting drivers and give you what you need to solve the puzzle of lighting-driver decision-making.
And we’ll try to do it in under six minutes.
Can you just tell me what to do?
If you’d rather swap the complex for convenience—we’ve got you. You can skip the head-scratching (and save six minutes) with our LEDs—all our mains voltage products come standard with pioneering, adaptive digital drivers. If you have more than one light, or if you’re overly fond of having extra control of your lights, we’ve got lighting drivers for that too: constant voltage drivers, DALI, and Zigbee. There may be a little bit of head-scratching involved (to calculate wattage), but our lighting experts can do the scratching.
So, what’s an LED Driver?
An LED driver controls the flow of current and voltage to an LED. And literally, every LED has a driver. Some are external, others are internal (think household bulbs), but one thing’s for sure, without a driver, an LED would be zero, zip, zilch. While that’s the core of it, there’s a little bit more to digest:
LEDs operate on low voltage, direct current (DC). And from your childhood days of sticking forks in sockets, you might remember that the electricity coming out of those sockets is a higher voltage, alternating current (AC). So, an LED lighting driver is responsible for converting that AC to DC.
LEDs are designed to work at a certain current. And without a driver controlling the flow of current, an LED that’s above its limit will overwork itself and burn out. Or, if an LED isn’t receiving the appropriate current supply, its light output may weaken.
Lights use languages to communicate, and a driver will translate the message from the controller to the LED. This is particularly important for dimmable LED lights. It’s the conduit between the user, you, and the LED. Fancy.
How do I choose the right LED driver?
You’ve got the basics down pat. Let’s drive into (pun, intended) how to choose your driver. Just remember—there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and it will almost always depend on your lighting design.
While it’s always best to speak to the experts, here’s what you need to keep in mind:
#1. The Constant Conundrum (Constant Current Drivers or Constant Voltage Drivers?)
There are two main lighting-driver types: constant current and constant voltage. How do you choose?
- It seems obvious, but you should read the label. Your LED will usually tell you whether it operates on a constant current or a constant voltage.
- With our lights, there’s an easy rule of thumb. If you’re powering one LED, use a constant current LED driver (like our digital driver). If you’ve got multiple LEDs on a circuit, you’ll need a constant voltage driver for each set of lights that you want to control. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
#2. Connect the Watts (Choosing the Wattage of Your LED Drivers)
Wattage is integral to lighting-driver choice. All drivers have a maximum power output (in watts). And each LED also outputs a certain wattage of power.
When you’re connecting multiple LED lights to one driver (remember: a constant voltage driver), you want the total combined wattage of your LED lights to be less than your driver’s maximum power output. Ideally, your LED cluster will use between 80% to 90% of the driver’s maximum power output. Too low—usually below 60%—and the dimming doesn’t function properly. Too high, and you’ll compromise your driver’s lifespan.
Confused? Let’s do some quick math.
- You have 4 LEDs on your circuit, each with an output of 10W and a combined power of 40W.
- So, you’ll want a driver with a maximum output of 50W.
- 40/50 is 80%.
Simple. There are, of course, exceptions to any rule. Our Zigbee drivers can handle loadings as low as 10%.
#3.Location, Location, Location (Country-specific LED Drivers)
Would you wear thermals on a 40-degree day? Nope. (Unless, of course, you’re some sort of masochist.) You should apply the same logic to your lighting-driver choices.
In Australia, we’re exposed to some of the most volatile power in the world (think huge spikes and surges)—not to mention extreme heat in ceiling cavities and dry environments. Most imported drivers are designed for consistent 220V and repurposed for Australia. So, you need to pick the correct driver for the environment, and 220V is not enough down under.
Not to toot our own horn, but we've designed our drivers for Australian weather. You can read the stats here.
#4. Now That’s Refreshing (Refresh Rate of Your LED Drivers)
No, we’re not talking about how quickly you refresh your browser after posting a juicy photo of your chihuahua in a bikini. (Now that would get some likes.)
It’s a measurement of how many times your light switches on and off in 1 second. And the higher the refresh rate, the better. A low refresh rate causes eye strain, headaches and can even reduce light quality in your pictures and videos.
While most LEDs on the market have refresh rates around 250 Hz, our drivers operate at 70,000 Hz—faster than the flicker test machines. So, they’re studio-grade drivers, which means the light quality is the bee’s knees for shooting professional videos and photos. Hello, Scorsese!
#5. Size Matters (Slim or IP-rated LED Drivers?)
As much as we’d love to pretend it doesn’t, size does matter. All innuendo aside—a driver’s physical characteristics are critical.
Why? Think tight spaces. Think wet spaces. Think exposed spaces. You want a lighting driver that suits your space. If you’re sticking them in a box outside, an IP-rated driver is supreme. If you don’t have much space in your ceilings, you’ll want a slim driver. Best part? We’ve got both.
#6. Control Freaks (DALI, Zigbee and Casambi LED Drivers)
If standard, flicker-free dimming is not enough, and you want more control over your lights, you’ll need a DALI, Zigbee or Casambi driver. We’ve got all three available at Brightgreen, and here’s the lowdown:
- DALI: These drivers allow the user to address the dimming of each LED individually. It’s an older system, which means it doesn’t offer the same degree of control as our Zigbee drivers. And unfortunately, given the amount of cabling required, it’s also a relatively expensive system.
- Zigbee: Our Zigbee drivers were developed in-house at Brighgreen, using the Zigbee 3.0 Specification to sidestep the cost, limited control, and installation complexity of DALI drivers. Like DALI drivers, Zigbee also offers addressable, individual dimming. And there's a range of options available at Brightgreen for the desired level of control.
- Casambi: Given their price tag, we'll only recommend Cassambi drivers on a case-by-case basis after considering other cost-effective alternatives. Since these drivers are linked to Casambi's control system, you won't have the level of control you would get with Zigbee drivers that integrate openly with all automation systems.
In short, choose Zigbee drivers.