It seems like there’s a new type of RGB that comes out every month. What used to be a simple choice between a few types of LED light is now an endless list full of options.
Are any of these RGB lights even different? We’re going to go over all of the details and make sure that oh, by the end of this article, you are an expert on RGB lighting.
RGB are your standard LED lights that are capable of producing over 16 million colors and a very limited type of white light. Other types of RGB LED lights (including RGB-W, RGB-WW, RGB-CW and more) have enhanced features built around an ability to create more nuanced shades of white light.
Keep reading to learn more about LED color science and all the different types of LED lights you can get for your smart home.
Let’s Start With the Basics: What are Smart LED Light Strips?
Smart LED light strips are one of the most interesting options when it comes to light in your home. These light strips allow you to truly customize how your home’s lighting looks.
Depending on the manufacturer, you can use smart LED light strips to do anything from under cabinet lighting to adding safety lighting to staircases and furniture at night:
Smart LED light strips can either be plugged into a conventional outlet or they can be connected together to run over longer distances. You can control these LED lights with an app on your phone just like you could any other smart LED light.
You may have seen me say “LED” a lot – this stands for light emitting diode, and it refers to small electronic components that can produce light. LEDs exist in many types of lighting, both smart and “dumb” lights:
However the way that the LEDs are configured are especially important for LED light strips, which is why we focus more on light strips in this article. You can read more about general smart light bulbs in my article which explores the three types of Hue light bulbs.
Before we talk about the different types of RGB lighting, we need to talk about the two main types of LED light strips.
Analogue and Digital LED Light Strips
There are two main types of LED light strips. These are known as analog and digital.
Analog light strips have one chip for the entire light strip. These LEDs are connected together in a series and they are all controlled as one. This type of LED light strip is typically more affordable, but it has a more limited range of lighting options. Since all of the lights have to be the same color at the same time, analog LED light strips can’t have more intricate lighting options.
Digital LED light strips are the other side of the equation. Each LED in these light strips has its own chip attached to it. This allows each LED to be independently controlled. This allows you to sequence lighting as well as have a much finer control over lighting effects and color options.
This concept is shown more in one of my YouTube videos, which covers the Philips Hue Lab formulas:
The last thing that we need to touch on before we can talk about the different types of RGB LED light strips is color temperature.
Color Temperature 101
Color temperature is how we measure the color of white light. Yes, we know, it sounds a little strange to talk about the different colors that white light can produce. However, once you see a color temperature chart you won’t be able to unsee it:
Color temperature is measured in kelvin. The color temperature scale goes from 1,000 to 10,000. 1,000 is somewhere around the color of light produced by a dim candle while 10,000 is a bright Blue Sky.
Different types of LED lights can produce a different color temperature of white light. There are even LED lights that can change the color temperature of white light that they produce:
These are particularly useful for photographers and videographers who need to have a fine-tuned control over their lighting.
Now, let’s take a look at the different types of RGB LEDs.
Different Types of RGB LED Light Strips
You’re in for a surprise if you thought there was only one type of RGB LED light. There’s actually a wide range of options when it comes to LED lights. You are a few of the most common types of RGB lights.
These are your bread-and-butter RGB lights. Each diode has the ability to generate red, green, or blue light. It can also generate different values of these lights at the same time. Your standard RGB diode will be able to produce around 16 million different colors.
I list every single different color that can be produced below…
Just kidding. The 16 million different color choices are often depicted through a color wheel within a smart light app:
That might sound like a lot, but there are limitations to your standard RGB light – three of which are explored below.
Limitation 1 – RGB and White Light
The most notable limitation is that these ‘RGB’ lights aren’t that good at producing white light. Your standard RGB LED strip can produce white light, but it’s a very limited and crude type of white light. This LED light produces this kind of white light by cranking up red, green, and blue lights all at the same time. This is much harsher than a dedicated white light would be able to produce.
RGB lights are also bad at producing pigment colors.
Limitation 2 – RGB LEDs and Pigment Colors
In the world of color science, there’s a subcategory of colors known as pigment colors. Brown and pink are two great examples of colors that appear only as pigments. A pigment color is achieved by creating a chemical that absorbs a particular wavelength of light and only lets one wavelength reflect back. A brown color pigment will absorb every wavelength of light besides those needed to create brown as a color.
RGB lights cannot produce color pigments.They might be able to produce colors that are similar to certain pigment colors. You can imagine a light magenta or a very light red that can get close to pink. However, certain colors like brown are almost impossible to achieve with RGB lighting alone.
There is another set of colors that RGB lights struggled to produce.
Limitation 3 – Outside the RGB Triangle
RGB lights operate in what is known as the color triangle. The triangle is made out of red, green, and blue with all of the intersecting points creating over 16 million different colors. However, there are colors that exist outside of this triangle.
There are different standards for the RGB colorspace. However, there are a few colors that typically fall outside of any given RGB triangle. These can include intensely bright greens, bright magentas, and different shades of cyan.
The standard RGB LED lights are going to struggle to produce these colors.
Now that we know all the basics of your standard RGB light, we can take a look at a few of the more specific kinds of RGB LED.
RGB-W is the basic step up from your standard smart lights.
There are two configurations for RGB-W. The first is taking the standard RGB LED and adding a white light emitting diode within the RGB node and the second is created by adding a separate white emitting diode that is connected into the LED light itself. Both approaches wind up having the same effect.
The RGB-W LED light is able to produce cleaner shades of white. These whites are more brilliant and have a more accurate color temperature. RGB-W lights tend to have very bright white’s that are above 5,000 Kelvin.
The addition of a white light emitting diode also improves the RGB colors. Colors will look brighter and more vibrant with the addition of the white light emitting diode. As an added bonus, transitioning between colors will appear almost seamless thanks to that additional white light diode.
We know what you’re thinking, the RGB-WW light has two white nodes instead of just one, right?
That’s not quite the case with RGB-WW LED lights. The naming convention here is just a little bit inconsistent.
RGB-WW lights have the same configuration as RGB-W lights. However, RGB-WW lights have a white light node that is capable of producing warmer shades of light. These white LED nodes produce color temperatures 5,000 Kelvin and lower.
This allows these LED lights to produce warmer shades of white. It also improves the RGB colorspace by making color light richer and giving it more texture.
Now we’re talking. The RGB-CW light gives us the best of every world when it comes to RGB LED lighting.
Unlike the RGB-WW light, the RGB-CW light has an acronym that actually makes sense. The CW in the name of this light stands for “cool / warm.”
This means that these RGB LED lights contain both a cool and a warm white LED node. What advantages does this give the smart home lighting enthusiast?
You’ll find that the RGB-CW lights are some of the best out there when it comes to light in your home. The big advantage here is that you can select the color temperature that you want your lights to be. While the other two types of LED lighting are locked into either cool or warm color temperatures, these lights can change their call the temperature anywhere along the Kelvin scale.
This is what Philips Hue’s lightstrips offer – they contain groups of three diodes: one is a three-in-one (RGB), the other is warm-white and the other is cool-white:
This allows you to turn on a bright blue sky color temperature during the day or switch to warmer colored lights when it’s time to relax in the evening.
This also gives you both benefits when it comes to how warm and cool lighting improves our RGB colored lights.
This is a different standard for RGB lighting that manages white light in a slightly different way to normal. It does this in two ways – via the LED configuration, and software management too.
In terms of the LEDs, they contains two white light emitting diodes with a color temperature range between 2,700K and 5,600K.
The “CCT” stands for “Correlated Color Temperature” and that just means you’ll be able to switch between two different color temperatures, and this is where the software management comes in.
Some cheaper RGBW smart lights have a separate control wheel for color and white, meaning that you sometimes need to choose your color, and then separately you can switch to manage the white color temperature:
RGB-CCT makes things more seamless by allowing you to choose a nice ‘bluey white’ or ‘solid’ yellow within the same color wheel, without worrying about managing the color and temperature separately.
The last kind of LED we are going to talk about on our list today is an interesting addition to the RGB LED world.
The RGBIC returns us to the world of consistent and understandable acronyms. The “IC” stands for “Independent Control.”
RGBIC LED lights have an independent control chip built right into the LED strip. This allows them to have a much finer control over their colors as well as special effects. The one big trade off these LED lights come with is that these led strips cannot be cut. Cutting these led strips would break the circuit of the independent control chip and cause the LED light to fail.
RGBIC LED lights are a great option for people who are looking for a more dynamic and energetic LED lighting system.
If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!
4 thoughts on “RGB VS RGB-CCT vs RGBIC vs RGB-W vs… (Why So Many?!)”
Hey Tristan, thanks for all the Hue posts. I’m used to working with 3-5 pin LEDs with microcontrollers, but I’m confused how to work with the 6 pin Philips stuff because there’s no ground pin. What am I missing?
Hey Rob, no worries! Unfortunately I don’t know for sure – you’re right that there’s often a ground pin, but not with Hue’s lightstrip. I don’t know why 100%, but maybe it’s due to the Hue Lightstrip power adapter (also called the Hue lightstrip controller) connecting directly to the light strip – perhaps the power adapter handles the grounding?
Hi Tristan, I appreciate the education on RGB’zs, i am making a large dodecahedron infinity mirror for a friends wedding gift so everyone can get inside what led strip is best for this? Any ideas on DIY led drivers as well perhaps to make the strips go to music and also make it more interactive for the viewers?
Hi Evan, that sounds a fun project! When it comes to LED strips, I either use Philips Hue’s Lightstrip Plus for a simple ‘all in one’ approach. Alternatively, a cheaper (and more DIY-friendly) option would be to buy an LED lightstrip and purchase a compatible GLEDOTPO controller – this is what I done for my kitchen, and I’ve put some of my YouTube videos for this below:
ZigBee (& WiFi) Smart Light Strip Options (When Philips Hue Is Just Too Expensive!)
DIY Smart LED Light Strips: How I Built My Own (Low Cost) ZigBee Lightstrips
My Kitchen’s Smart ZigBee Light Strip Install (+ Should You Use A Diffuser Channel?!)