As a complete newbie to addressable LED lighting, I avoided this project for a long time simply because I thought it might be ‘too’ complicated. Boy, I was WRONG! It turned out to be a really fun build with a couple bumps along the way, but now thats its done I’m ready for more! Photos and links to all materials used will be provided at the end of this message.
Before I detail my build, a couple shout-outs to the folks at https://wled.discourse.group and in particular to @Jinx and @divsys. They seem to post a lot and were very helpful when I hit a roadblock.
For my build I wanted to use 12V Pixel Strings that were readily available from Amazon and reasonably priced. A 500 pixel package contained 10 strings of 50 pixels and each string covered about 12.75 feet. The pixels are spaced at 3" and have a 12mm outer diameter. When you start prepping your track, use either a 15/32 or 12mm drill bit. I went with the 12mm step drill which made drilling lots of holes fairly easy.
There are several options for track. I selected the vinyl J Track from Home Depot. Its inexpensive, easy to work with and available in several colors. The standard length is 12"6". I cut mine to exactly 6’ each. This made working with one section very manageable and it laid out to 24 pixels per section. I started 1.5" in from one end and marked out every 3" and ended with another 1.5" remaining. When butted up end to end this maintained to 3" spacing perfectly. Yes, I could have laid it out to cover 25 pixels per section, for a seemingly easier layout, but during the planning phase I discovered it was easier to make connections and power injection mid length. So I decided to live with 6" of wasted J Track to better randomize where the connection points fell. Tip: when installing the next track, leave out 2 pixels on the last strip as well as 2 pixels on the next strip. Its far easier to pop in the last 4 pixels once the track is in place.
Speaking of power injection. I opted for an injection point at an interval between 150 and 200 pixels. Since my house layout had several peaks that were not exactly one full string, I had to cut several strings. This left me extra pixels to splice back in later. One peak was 70 pixels, so one full string and one string of 20. This left 30 more that got added to a random point in the longer runs. So one ‘section’ may be 180 pixels before the next injection point. I never went greater than 200 pixels without power injection. Power injection wire was 14ga and was fused after the power source and on the DigQuad. I used 200’ of 14ga dual strand wire for power and about 30’ of three strand 18ga wire for controller to pixels.
That brings me to the controller. I chose the DigQuad after messing around with solder up boards, lever shifters, resistors and capacitors. Spend the money and BUY a premade board. I’m a decent solderer and can follow a schematic, but this was a new project for me with many unknowns. I was able to mash up a working circuit with a breadboard, dupont wires and lots of tinkering. But… the DigQuad was a clean, easy and perfectly suited for my needs. I’ve since ordered more to expand my holiday display.
On the DigQuad, I used all four outputs to segment out my display. This became REALLY handy with the location of the enclosure box being centered on the front of my house. The two right sided segments were reversed and the two left side segments were left at default (not reversed). In WLED this meant that Segment 0 would scroll smoothly across the entire layout just as I expected. I was really worried about this prior to getting started. I ended up with 668 pixels total on the house and can run any effect I want by adding Segments in WLED.
With all the materials decided upon, it was time to actually start building.
Step 1 was to cut and drill all 14 sections of J Track. This was monotonous, but a jig on my workbench sped up the process. It is important to note that a 1/2" drill bit is too big, and the pixels will not stay in the track! Use a 12mm step drill - it works perfectly! I didn’t try the 15/32" because I only have that size in a twist drill and it would likely bite into the vinyl rather than drill smoothly.
Step 2 was to determine the actual number of pixels needed for each portion of my layout. For the peaks I measured with the help of a second person. For the rest I simply laid out track and started doing the math. The peaks were the first place I started. At 46 and 70 pixels they were also the shortest. The right peak (46 pixels) became channel 1 on the DigQuad. Power in at the beginning and injected at the far end. The left peak (70 pixels) became channel 2 on the DigQuad and had the same power configuration. The right side gutter run was 173 pixels, with power injected at 100 pixels and again at the end of the run. Probably overkill but not difficult to do prior to getting mounted. The left gutter run was 380 pixels and included the short ‘drops’ from other runs. There were a total of 3 injections that were not exactly evenly spaced, but regular enough to prevent any voltage drop. These two gutter runs became channel 3 and 4 on the DigQuad. All of this was powered by a 29 amp 12V Meanwell power supply wrapped up with the DigQuad in a small plastic enclosure box mounted on the wall of the garage.
Installation was rather straightforward. The J Track was tucked into the soffit fascia trim and the lights faced outward towards the street. Once the track was in place I tucked the 14ga power wire under the pixel in the space behind the lip of the J Track. Its a perfect spot to secure the wire between the pixel and the track. The J Track is secured with two self tapping screws (and the friction of the soffit).
- One big note here; the lights were installed at the back of the soffit, right where the soffit meets the exterior walls. This DID NOT put the lights on the frontmost part of the roof line. Much thought and debate went into this decision. First, using the vinyl J Track in a way that put the lights at the forward most part of the soffit meant that the top of the track would be open to rain intrusion. Secondly, there would be lots more exposed fasteners. Third and most important here in Florida was the constant exposure to the bright sun. I really wanted the lights, track and fasteners to be almost invisible. The trade off is some reduced DIRECT visibility. As it turned out, the soft glow of the lights out of sight was a very pleasing effect! From the road almost all of the lights can be seen at any time, except from very steep angles. The method you choose to mount your lights will have a direct impact on the final effect. In the end I am very happy with the decisions made along the way and would probably not change anything if I had to do it again.
Optional ‘over the top’ stuff. Since I have a 3D printer and I was obsessed with a very clean and neat install, I designed and printed a variety of connectors for the J Track. Inline connectors, inside corners and outside corners were the first priority. These were printed in white PET-G and allowed the ends of the tracks to stay perfectly aligned. The inside corners were just a simple connector, but the outside corner provided a hole for the next light in the string to mount to. I also printed a custom enclosure for the DigQuad (not my design).
Conclusions: This was not nearly as difficult a project as I had envisioned, BUT… there was a lot of planning, trial and error (with the LEDs & controllers) and a huge amount of time invested in prepping the J Track. Were the savings worth the effort? I believe so. I estimate that I spent about one quarter of what commercial tracks would have cost. And I had the satisfaction of building everything the way I wanted.
Final thoughts and advice for other newbies:
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK! There are lots of good resources available to learn how to complete a similar project. Dr. Z’s videos were very helpful for me in the beginning. The QuinLED website also has tons of useful info with links to many good articles. Read up before you start.
- Voltage drop is real! Power injection is a must for long runs.
- Fuses! Don’t forget to protect your investment.
- Ask questions. I got a ton of excellent advice by asking specific questions.
Parts List and Links
J Track: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Ply-Gem-5-8-in-x-1-1-2-in-x-12-6-ft-White-J-Channel-VJC58104H/202666289
Pixel Strings: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MCQP7KP?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
Power Supply: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WHJF1Q8?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
DigQuad Controller: https://www.drzzs.com/shop/digquad/
3 Wire LED Cable: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M62HEPU?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
Step Drill: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B1LY9YF1?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
3 Wire JST Connectors: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DC0KIT2?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
2 Wire JST Connectors: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09C4J5BD2?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
14ga wire: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088RDY284?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
3D Parts STL Files: Printables