Sunday, August 19, 2012

Let There Be Light!

I understand someone great once said that!  I have always planned to install some lights under the top deck to light the bottom deck of the layout in various locations around the layout.  As soon as you build a second or more decks on your layout, this structure stops the room lighting from having a effect on many places on the deck below.  Our Club had recently installed two lengths of 5m white LED strips on our Club HO exhibition layout.  These LED lights seemed to work quite well, and were tested a few weeks back when this layout was displayed at the Gold Coast Model Train Exhibition.  Since I have installed the new top deck to support around Park Road Sidings and South Brisbane Interstate, the old top deck around Fairy Hill Loop has become very dark, as the top deck in this area is basically a large sheet of ply.  Light does not penetrate this stuff believe me.

So a few weeks back while on holidays, I purchased a 5m reel of LED's on ebay from some of the birthday money from my Mother-in-law provided. The LED's were delivered on Friday.  For the measerly sum of $10.99 I now have a means to test lighting various locations around the layout.  Today I went down to the shed and with a few strips of masking tape, I temporarily located the string of LED's above Fairy Hill Loop.  I tested one strip and then I doubled teh strip back up the other side of the basebaord providing two strips of LED's in the test area.  I then moved the LED's to above the Kyogle Stock Siding, which has the baseboard for Fisherman Islands above it.  Again this location is also quite dark since the flat deck of Fisherman Islands was installed.  Again, I tested a single strip and then doubled the strip up and tested it again.

For a power supply, I used an old cheap 12V DC trainset transformer that I test all my DCC decoder installs with.  This apparently delivers about 0.36 Amps at 12V's.  However, by adjusting the voltage I was able to see the affects of the voltage on the strings of LED's.

Overall I'm quite happy with the results.  I think I will need to purchase about about another 24 rolls of the stuff to go anywhere near providing enough light intensity to light the various decks and peninsulars on the layout .  At this stage my plan is that I will need at least 2 and sometimes three strips of LED's in parallel for some baseboard scenes and then I can adjust the intensity with a variable resistor.  I think my next test will be with a set of RGB LED's so I can try alternate colours of LED's.  Apparently these LED's you can adjust the colour to simulate either dusk, dawn or even midday with tinges of yellow, orange, red, and blue in the colour output.  But until I get my hands on a set, I can't say for sure if they will work.

In an ideal world, all this lighting technology could be computer controlled to vary the intensity of the light to match the timetable clock.  Who knows what pieces of DCC compatible kit will be available in the future?  We can but wait!  In the meantime, I am glad I have successfully completed the first test of layout lighting.


  1. Hi,

    I too have been playing around with LED strip lighting on Stonequarry Creek. I have been using 5m strips composing of 300 5050 LEDs. I have purchased 20 metres in total, 10 of warm white and 10 of pure white. So far I have been testing the LEDs on one of my 2m modules. Like you I have been doubling the strips up, one strip of white and one of warm white. I am very happy so far. The intensity seems good and the color produced seems ok although I would love to get a second opinion. I noticed you mentioned your power supply produced 0.36 A. I am not sure how long your LED run is or what type of LEDs you are using however my 4 m run draws almost 4 amps at 12 volts. Power supply requirements for LED lighting are fairly hefty.

    I am well over due for a blog update so I will try and get some pictures up of my install. Would love some feedback on the colour.

  2. Linton,
    My string is the 3528 Superbright version, also 5M long and 60 LED's per metre. The website does state 2 Amps are required to light the string to full intensity, but I could not find a 2 Amp transformer for the test and just used my old DC power supply. The rating of 0.36A was only what was on the power transformer. Who knows if it is correct. I do intend do use a 2 Amp supply for future tests to see if there is any difference.

  3. Graig,

    Yeah you may get better results with a little more power. I had actually been testing my module with a 2 amp CDA power supply and the thermal overload would trip after a while. I bought a heap of cheap 6 amp power supplies from china the other day and tested one this afternoon. The voltage supplied, under load held at 12 volts rather than dropping to just under 11 volts. Anyway would love to see how you end up mounting the strips and what the effect looks like.



  4. I have 2x5mtr + 2.5 metre 3528 300LEDs Bright White types connected to a Chinese 6amp switching power supply & no issues what so ever, the single strand are connected by means of the 2x5mtr strips directly into the PS, by using a female connector, & screw in with the wires. The 2.5 mtr bit is soldered to the end of one 5m strip

    This method means the PS is connected roughly in the middle of the strips & there is no power drain with this setup. The lighting is purelly used for enabling acces light to the underneath the top deck runs.

    I actually find that just one strip is more than enough to provide the light I need.

    I obtained the female connector plugs from China for $15.00 for 25 of them an excellent investment.

  5. It is good practice having the power supply as central as possible. As these strips are simply a flexible PCB they do suffer from voltage drop over long distances. The 5050 LEDs have three PN junctions (3 LEDs in one chip) so use a lot more power.

    I have found I needed two runs as the distance from pelment to track is around 600 mm.

    I am really interested in finding out how you guys are mounting the strips. I have been fiddling around with a few methods but am not 100 % happy yet. My next plan is to use a dovetail router bit and cut two grooves in a thin strip of 9 mm ply and slide the strips in.

    Would love to hear about your methods.



  6. Linton

    The 3528 are simple to install as they come on a 3M sheet that has a self adhesive coating, & they stick exceptionally well to the timbers on my layout, with none coming adrift.

    When some of us in our group were looking at the LED strip lights, one fellow who has sadly since passed away had a 5050 strip for us to check out, & then another week a 3528 strip was used to compare them with each other.

    No mathematics were used just connect each to correct power supply needs & turn off the main lights. Realistically the 5050 lights did not add that much extra to the room. This test was in my layout room which is a 6x6mtr Garage that has insulation blankets fitted to the walls & insternal roof, thus the reflection from the underneath foil gave out a good show.

    After this, a couple were looking at the RGB lights in order to simulate the various daylight options, but like the 5050's they have been discarded & everyone going for the 3528's.

    I only have around 12inches between the top decks & the two lower areas, there is enough room to get access to the area, & only two lines run down the walls to get to the staging yard & return loop, with only one side of the yard under the top section.

    I do not use overhead pelments on the layout & few in the group do either, my strip lights are set against the main side frame of the top baseboard, which is 42x18 pine, I use 12mm non structural ply for the base board, & as its 5ply is quite strong, the average width is around 1metre wide, with one section of full 2440x1220.

    With the strips adhered to the side frames, the reflect the whole of the light towards the track work, & using standard bright white lights here for the purpose of providing working light for problems that may arise. I thought of using them along the back frame but that would have the lights shining into the eyes, & too bright.

    My thought, is that if you set them into any form of grooves would be that they may get a hindered light. While LED's primarilly show direct light in the facing direction, I think there is an amount of reflected light from them, would be worth testing it out first to see how it goes.

    If more light is required, what is your thoughts in having some aluminium foil near the strip lights to reflext the light? It might be possible to increase the lighting by having foil oposite the strip lights, if, they were set like I have in facing across & not down on the layout.

  7. My LED's come with a sticky backing strip as described by Colin. My plan was to use that and potentially use a bit of fast drying white glue to assist if the sticky backing is not working well enough.

    My height between decks ranges from about 200mm to over 600mm so I think I will need more runs of LED's for the larger spaced decks.


    1. Craig

      Bunnings sell a double sided black tape, its only narrow but very strong, I have used it with tremendous success to stick a 4 point power board at my work bench. The power board has each socket with its own switch a reason to have it close. I have two strips along the length of the board top & middle & it has not moved.

      The glue part of the tape is black but the covering tape is a dark green, I can highly reccomend it for any task needing strong adhesive tape.