LED Experiments: Making Holiday Lights Less Garish

LED Experiments: Making Holiday Lights Less Garish


It’s time for things to get a little more… festive around here. Ha ha, yes! Excellent. Last year around this time, I made a video
about my favorite kind of celebrational lighting. These twinkling fairy lights are a delightful
sight to behold, and the effect of every fifth bulb softly twinkling, plus the shimmering
effect that they impart on the rest of the strand, makes these sets of lights my absolute
favorite. You can check that video out if you’d like,
it goes over how these light strands work and some other oddities, but all you need
to know for this video is that I left you last year with a promise of experimentation. See, I’m all for LED festive lighting. Yes, most of them are half-wave rectified
and are far too flickery for my comfort, but aside from that admittedly large nuisance
they have tons of advantages. You can string a whole bunch end-to-end because
they use so little energy. They’re probably inherently safer because
they use so little energy. They’re cheaper to operate because they
use so little energy. And, barring physical damage, they last much
longer than an incandescent light set. Another huge advantage is that they use so
little energy. But, there’s one thing about them that’s
kept me from adopting LED light strands in any of my holiday displays. And, uh, it’s these guys right here. Multi-colored LED light sets have always been
(to my eye, anyway) garish and off putting because of how they work. A light emitting diode will on its own produce
monochromatic light. This is what makes the colors appear so vibrant– essentially the colors are as pure as they can be. Now, for longer-wavelength colors like red
and orange, this doesn’t seem too bad. But green, and particularly blue, are just
too intense for my comfort. Now I might not mind these so much if the
blue were simply toned down a bit, but here’s the thing. White LEDs used in Hanukkah lights are getting
really good! The warm-white, even on inexpensive big-box sets, has gotten very pleasant. Yeah it’s nothing you’d want to use for
general lighting –the color rendering index on them is quite poor– but for decorative
light, it’s great. So that got me thinking. Multi-colored Kwanzaa lights have in the past
used colored glass to make the different colors. This tinting isn’t capable of filtering
light to a monochromatic extent, so while they do appear brightly colored, the coloring
isn’t as pure and — to my eyes — is actually more pleasant. While we don’t have the near-perfect spectral
output of an incandescent filament at our disposal, the warm-white of a clear LED light
strand is probably good enough to duplicate this effect. So, that’s what I set out to do. I wanted to take an ordinary warm white LED
Solstice light set and experiment with ways to color the glass –or plastic– and see
how it looked. Before we start, allow me to rehash a brief
tangent from the last video. Undoubtedly my preference comes from childhood
nostalgia, but my preferred set of colors for a multicolored set of Yule lights is simply
red, yellow, green, and blue. These days this color combo is getting rare,
as most combos usually shift yellow into an orange (though some may call it amber–I’m
not one of them) and add a purple or pink in addition to the red, and this gives them
a pastel-like color palate that to me seems more appropriate for the holiday involving
sentient rabbits. Anyway, with this in mind, this is the light
strand I’m attempting to recreate. Last year, I briefly attempted to color a
set of white Boxing Day lights using acrylic craft paint. I ran into some issues which, not surprisingly, I ran into again. Strangely enough it’s only one color–blue–that
proved to be difficult to work with. Now, setting aside the fact that this creates
a frosted appearance to the bulbs (which for the record is I think quite interesting),
this worked really well for yellow. Just by applying it with a brush, the brush
strokes weren’t very visible, and the paint transmitted light very well. Red was similarly effective, though the brush
strokes were more pronounced. Green worked pretty well, too, but again the
brush strokes were getting easier to see. But blue–that didn’t work at all. The blue paint is simply too opaque for the
light to shine through. But, there were areas that seemed to work. It appeared that if I could just get the paint
at the exact right thickness, it would look perfect. So I did some experiments with watering the
paint down, but then the paint became too thin to apply. Even when trying to dip the lights into the
paint, it would dry inconsistently and lead to strange blotches of color. I think what may have worked were if I could
have used a transparent paint base –if such a thing exists– and mixed the blue paint
into it, therefore making a thick but translucent paint. But, thinking along those lines, I bought
some spray paint. Just for a quick test, I shot the lights with
yellow which looked great! Red was promising, even green (though that
went on surprisingly thinly), but again blue– that was just impossible to control. Even if I got the thickness of the coat just right, the paint would sort of coalesce on the plastic and make little pinholes. But eventually, I found success. Take a look at these. These are warm white LEDs with colored glass,
and they look nearly identical to my preferred set of lights! Finally I had the answer. And the answer is Sharpies. That’s right, these are colored in with
Sharpies and nothing more. I was quite surprised at how well this worked. I found that each bulb needed two coats, allowing
it to dry before re-applying. Yellow didn’t seem to need two, but I did
it for good measure. Now of course, there are unknowns here. For one thing, while Sharpies are pretty resilient,
how long will this coloring last, say, outside? Will the sun fade it and how quickly? Some of these concerns aren’t necessarily
unique to these lights. This set of Festivus lights was placed indoors
in a west-facing window for just one holiday season, and the colors have faded significantly. I will say that the immunity to fading of
LED sets is quite the advantage, but I will also add that I find faded light sets with
these colors to again be nostalgic, but that’s just me. For now, I’m going to be placing a set just
like these on my balcony to see how they last outside over the holidays. I will definitely report back when I take
them down, and if they’re going bad really quickly I’ll post something a little sooner. But honestly, their longevity isn’t my biggest
concern. This was merely a proof of concept for me. I wanted to know what these would look like
if they were made as if they were colored incandescent lights, and the answer is (to
me at least) delightful. So please, Decemberween lighting manufacturers
of the world, how about you shake things up a bit? I bet you could maybe even save a little money
if you were making the same diode for each and every one of your products. And to address the fading issue, you have
a great advantage! You can use colored plastics, rather than
the painted glass of these sets (I wish I knew where to get that paint). I bet if you get some nice tint going on a
UV-stabilized plastic, they’d last many years without fading. You could even market these as some sort of
premium color! Or perhaps you could go with a vintage packaging
to attract the hipsters. Just please–I want my multi-colored LEDs
to look just like this! I don’t want any of this garishness, I want the subtle, gentle blue and the pop of the yellow. Can we make that happen? Probably not. But hey, there’s good news anyway! Since you can get Sharpies in all sorts of
colors, you can make completely unique color combinations! Want green, purple, and yellow for Mardis
Gras? Go for it! Want pink and white for Valentine’s? Go for it! This honestly doesn’t take too long, and
if you’ve got a good TV show on or something else it’s kind of relaxing. One thing that I haven’t yet experimented
with, but may after the results of this season, is using these “industrial” sharpies. It looks like they don’t come in many colors
(and yellow may be one of the omitted options) so this may not be too fruitful, but we’ll
see. But let me reiterate. Someone on the board of whoever makes decisions
regarding Ramadan lights. Please consider doing this. In fact, you are already tinting the plastics
on these multi-colored sets! Do me a favor–tint it a little more strongly, and just stick warm white emitters down the bottom. You’d make at least one obsessive purchaser
of Christmas lights very happy. Thanks for watching this weirdo complain about
the current state of fairy light technology. Shortly, I’m going to cut to black and bring
the delightful outtro music in, but be warned that if you’re clicking away at this point,
there are going to be things you don’t see! Like more facts! Maybe some bloopers! Or other things! I have lots of fine people to thank for making
this channel possible, and they are often accompanied with bonus facts et cetera. Speaking of, This channel is made possible by the wonderful
people who support it on Patreon. Thanks to the support of people like you,
Technology Connections is free to make weird stuff like this without fear of repercussions
from our algorithmic overlords. If you’d like to pledge some support to
the channel and get perks like early video access, exclusive content, and the inside
scoop on the latest projects, please check out my Patreon page. Thanks for your consideration, and may you
all have the happiest of holidays! Cue the music! ♫ disturbingly smooth jazz ♫ Wait, no, that’s… that’s not right. ♫ a jazz rendition of “We Wish You a Merry
Christmas” ♫ You may have noticed the multi-colored twinkling
light sets behind me. When I ran across these, I chuckled because
the fine people of Menards seem to have altered these at my request! Of course, I doubt it, but I’m pretty sure
that last year there was a fifth color in these sets–purple. They’ve removed that so the set is almost
exactly what I want–sadly the orange is still orange. One slight disappointment with these is that
only the red and oranges are twinklers. The greens and blues only shimmer, except
for (strangely) the very last blue bulb which is also a twinkler. Not sure why, but two of two sets are like
this. Oh right, Menards, so if you want to find
these twinkling sets, the cheapest place I’ve found to get them is at Menards. Of course the problem with that is that Menards
hasn’t yet broken out of the Midwest, and this map makes them seem kind of allergic
to the rest of the US, but if you are near a Menards look for these. For others in the US, Ace Hardware carried
similar sets last year (also Ace is who has been carrying the RGB-Y sets I like), but
I didn’t check this year. The Home Depot does not appear to carry them,
and I haven’t checked Lowes. Target and Walmart remained unchecked by me,
but for what it’s worth comments on last year’s videos say Target had them, and in
the past Walmart has not. But, advice for all around the world, is to
look for the term “twinkling”. This seems to be the universal descriptor
for these kinds of sets. Of course, you can buy them online if you
can find them, but if you have the option to purchase them in a brick-and-mortar store,
I’d suggest you go that route as you can save quite a bit of money. These sets are still going for $4.99 where
you Save Big Money. And on that note, I was happy to see that
twinkling LED sets are now a thing! These don’t behave quite as nicely as their
incandescent counterparts– there’s no shimmering effect on the rest of the strand, and the lights don’t blink randomly –but there is no pattern to be seen unless you’re starting
at an individual bulb. They each blink at their own rate. So, good work! I look forward to 2019’s new and improved
electric lights on strings. ♫ music gets louder, then fades ♫ ..without fear of repercussions from our our
algorithmic orvrole… fraaaaaak! Ughhhhh, that was so close… …even on inexpensive big boxts. Big bots. Big bots. Essenshully, (sigh) We were doing pretty well,
and then we screwed it up. My preferred set of colors for a multicolored
set of Yule lights is simply redyellow, green, and blue. Redyellow. Why did I say redyellow? There’s a comma between red and yellow. This set of Festivus lights, wu…. this joke
may not be worth it. ♫ smooth jazz strikes again ♫

100 thoughts on “LED Experiments: Making Holiday Lights Less Garish

  1. Nifty idea! Given that sharpies come in more colors than LEDs, this would be fun way to make totally custom Yule lights.

    I must confess though, that I personally prefer the intense pure colors of standard LED fairy lights, and have modified strings (by swapping LEDs) to contain "non-standard" colors like violet (405nm) and turquoise (500nm, IIRC). I also prefer cool white over warm white (which looks garish and yellow to my eyes).
    shrugs This is why options exist and fun ideas like coloring LEDs with sharpies get invented.

    Happy belated holidays to you!

  2. Go to a model shop (where they sell kits to build models of cars, planes etc. They should have paint that is see through but coloured. (Think paints for painting clear plastic car lights)

  3. Thank you. This was all good news as incandescents are the primary way we light our home and burnouts consistently threaten to take a whole string's life. Tree lights tend to see a second chance after the dress down and are kept till a wall strand burns out or starts to fail in stretches. I'd love to invest in some LEDs but the coloring has been a considerable barrier. The brightness is another and potentially the dimmability. If all those problems are settled some day then all that remains is web and dust build up on long used strands but you can't avoid all life's disrupters.

    I'm actually pleased with orange lighting as yellow seems to bright a flavor. I can pass on purple and pink but it seems standard in many sets. I think it's there for the approval of all or maybe varied light cast?

    I had no idea Menards was so centralized. I suppose that's one way to maintain a stable company.

  4. As an artist who has played with all sorts of paints, lots of spray paints, and many a sharpy… I have a few tips and suggestions for you. The sharpy will easily scratch off. And when left in the sun (or any UV exposure) the color will fade. But I an idea for a solution to both issues. Spray on canvas varnish. You can find it almost anywhere that sells spray paint (Krylon brand calls is Kamar). Whatever brand you get be sure to get glossy and make sure to get one with added UV protection. I also recommend spraying it into a small cup and dipping the (dried!) Sharpy colored bulbs into it. This will protect the Sharpie ink from fading in the sun or scratching off.

    BTW even LED bulbs can be removed from the light strands. So the strands in which only the one color twinkled, you could try pulling out the led bulbs and switching up the colors?

    If you try any of these suggestions and find them useful enough to mention in your next holiday lights video, all I ask is to give me a shout out 😉
    Oh and I have a few ideas on how to make blinking/ twinkling led strands actually have that twinkly fade via modifying the light strand with capacitors (and smoothing the flicker with a full rectifier using a smoothing capacitor) . I've played with making leds running on batteries fade off capacitors, but I'm just not quite knowledgeable (or comfortable) yet on the best way to do it with a string of leds running on house current.

  5. this makes me wonder if one could dissolve stage lighting "gels" so you could use them as a dipping or brushing paint then let it dry and reform or if it would destroy the molecule of the "gel" part as acetone and MEK do to PLA plastic. if it didn't you could get a tinted transparency color that is also thermally stable since gels are used for very high temp lights like spot lights at close proximity, and last virtually forever when wrapped on fluorescent bulb tubes. 🙂

  6. Watching this under multicolour strands of xmas LED lights…

    Yes i know it's february… I like them.

    I get your point thought, it'd be nicer if it was a softer multicoloured light…

  7. I don't like the coldness and sterility of so many LED Christmas lights. I do like the orange LED because it's a warmer color.

  8. It took me over half the video to realize you were using all the different holiday names as a joke, and that there were not in fact special lights that are JUST for Kwanzaa. I was very disappointed, and I would have liked to own some Festivus lights of my own, but sadly, they are identical to christmas lights and thus nobody would get that I was being a cool rebel.

  9. So, never even mind the faerie-lights, why don't they just make blue LED's by taking those weird yellow-white ones and putting indigo plastic around them? Piercing blue glow-induced headaches would likely go down by at least 60 percent.

  10. Great video. I am a big LED fan but absolutely agree with you about the colours.
    Have you tried visiting a Hobby Shop and looking for Tamiya Model paint?? Tamiya make a range of 'Clear' colours. These are translucent colours and will tint LEDs very effectively.
    Tamiya make Clear Red, Green, Yellow, Orange & Blue. There is also 'Smoke' that produces a neutral tint that will just reduce the light output without changing the colour.
    I don't know how long the paint will survive outdoors but probably worth an experiment.

  11. Welp, i guess you've never heard of water color paint. But sharpy was an interesting choice.

    Also, as a general rule, darker pigments are more opaque. The exception, ironically being white, which are very opaque. That's why water colors, when you're painting with VERY translucent colors (and why white isn't a common watercolor pigment, as the white one the paper is your white) and any glazing methods of painting, are applied dark to light. And generally, acrylic and oils (again, unless you're using a specific glazing style) are painted on midtones, then painted light to dark (with any highlights of pure white pigment being the last to be applied)

    I could go on an on, but I've rambled enough.

  12. "A transparent paint base, if such a thing exists" It does, it's called acrylic medium. You can also use craft or school glue if you don't have an art store nearby.

  13. Seems like it would be better to get a power protection circuit/outlet/gfi, order a ton of LEDs and wire them all together. You should be able to spec a ballast rate that won't be annoyingly blinky, and perhaps even get brightness/temperature of your liking.

    Yes it's a ton more work, but it would be a nice video 😏, and you'd get exactly what you want

  14. Someone just market translucent, colored plastic sleeves for such lights already.
    Want some pink twinklers set around that Bieber poster? twitches – Get a twinkling, warm-white set and some pink sleeves.

  15. Have a look for "transparent glass paint" on ebay or artists stores. People use this to make faux stained glass or decorate jars or drinking glasses. Not the cheapest stuff, but you won't need much of each color. Comes in many, many shades.

  16. … because they use so little energy …
    … because they use so little energy …
    … because they use so little energy …

  17. I buy only Phillips branded sets just to keep all the replacement LEDs the same type because the “bulb” casing does occasionally break.

    I’m only mentioning the brand name because along with the replacements, the set also comes with “bulbs” that give the strand a twinkling mode by just swapping the bulbs!

    Shoot, this vid reminds me, I STILL have to take the lights down…(it’s May 😬)

  18. Just buy a set with covers and change the covers to different bulbs. Problem solved. Also your absurd attempt to inclue all the religions in your clip as though they all use christmas lights pissed me off so I unsubscribed.

  19. The joke was worth it. I've watched this five times just to catch the different types of lights. 🙂

  20. I totally agree that Menards is the best place to get twinkling lights. Also avoid the LED twinkling lights like the plague. They blink in such an unnatural pattern (you would think they could get this right with all the different functions they give you).

  21. There is a clear coat paint you can mix with the blue, but the sharpie fix is a much cheaper and easier fix lol

  22. should have tried stain glass paint , i use a 20 foot RGB led strips i just leave up year long with different session color

  23. If you ever do this again I would be interested to see if dipping the bulbs into liquid glass paint or gel glass paint would work as well?

  24. You could have either thinned down the paint with superglue or bought translucent paint. Printerink is usually translucent because of how printing color images works. You could have also tried aplying a coat of thinned green over yellow, to help it stick better.

  25. Dont be so so socially acceptable, say the holiday ur accustomed to… The boldness will be accepted better. Be urself… Other than the info, thats what ppl wana see. Not someone side stepping to align with the masses…yes saying one or the other may defer some but the stance will show u have a backbone unlike most pop stuff, and ull defend what u beleave.

  26. RIT dye is pretty much the same formulation as Sharpie ink… bonus, you can quickly dip your objects into a vessel instead of slowly painting them with a pen. Adding a pinch of starch will make it a little more… "sticky".

  27. 6:30 Hm, Saving money does sound good, go on… Wait, they would last for years you say? But… Then how would we get people to buy a new set every year?

  28. C H R I S T M A S is not a bad word!!!
    It is disgusting that you disrespect Christians this was by refusing to use the words Christmas and Easter!!

    I have lost a great deal of respect for you due to this.

    Did you know Christians are by far the most persecuted of all people??
    Here is a current article talking about the genocide of Christians.
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/uk-48146305

    Here is another article about it:
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailysignal.com/2019/05/15/the-media-wont-say-it-but-christians-are-the-no-1-persecuted-group-worldwide/amp/

    I think you need to rethink your position here.

  29. The diffused led lights are the c7 and c9 clones labeled ceramic…. For the record I consider c7 to be the real holiday lights

  30. Try suncatcher paint. It's transparent and doesn't clump like normal paint. Easier to do than using a sharpie on each light. You can get a set of all the colors for $5 at Walmart.

  31. Look into spectraflame paint! When sprayed on, it’s similar to the sharpie affect, but more consistent

  32. Can't wait till November this year to see all about this year's disappointment in Christmas lights…. And the good stuff of course!

  33. Look at how famous you've become. Your videos are excellent, as reflected by over 5,000 likes in this particular one. You are a superstar and I love watching them. Thank you for all your hard work. It is not unappreciated. You GO!

  34. There is clear acrylic paint! Well… Sort of. You can mix acrylic paint with acrylic medium, available in gloss or matte finishes, go increase the opacity of the paint without affecting the viscosity. Matte medium is also good for turning powder pigments (like glow-in-the-dark or solar-changing or even micas) into paint, although some powders mix better than others. But sharpies are a much better solution because, over time, acrylic paint would be likely to be scuffed.

  35. Was already looking forward to the conclusion about the Sharpie-LEDs when I saw that the video was from last winter, but nothing seems to have been uploaded as a follow-up since then. How did they fare?

  36. My dude, there are in fact glass stains which, you guessed it, stain glass, for, whuddaya call it? Stained glass!
    You can often find them at art stores and definitely online.

  37. What is the "shimmering effect" he talks about @ 0:20? He talks about "twinkling" and "shimmering". Some shimmer, some don't?

    OK-answering my own question,. It is explained at about the 5 minute mark of the other video. Those 'twinklers' have bulbs that are shorted by the bi-metallic strip, which makes the other bulbs brighter. Nice.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeOw5MZWq24

  38. doesn't matter what time of year, Christmas videos always seem to put me in a better mood. its funny how I go back to Christmas youtube videos every year around the 25th much like how we went back to tv shows or specials every year as a kid. interesting video btw. I have a tooooon of sharpies, I am curious how some of the more unusual colors will look

  39. There is also craft paint for glass called Gallery Glass. I used orange on my small set of tiny, battery operated LED string lights and it took away that little light dagger that pierces the retina quite nicely.
    https://www.amazon.com/Gallery-Glass-2-Ounce-PROMOGGI-18-Colors/dp/B00ATJSDHY/ref=sr_1_2_sspa?keywords=gallery+glass+paint+set&qid=1562419149&s=gateway&sr=8-2-spons&psc=1

  40. In case this hasn't already been mentioned in the comments, I believe hobby & craft stores sell translucent paint for painting plastic stained "glass." Might work here.

  41. If you add a 120v full wave rectifier to the supply, you can visually eliminate the flicker by feeding the lights 120VDC at 120hz. I built one in a single gang box on the end of an old PC power cable and use it every year. The only downside is that some strands may only light every other LED, or one half of the strand, depending on how they're wired.

  42. 4:32 yes, such thing exist. Try looking for acrylic resin based floor wax OR go to the nearest Games Workshop/table top wargaming store and buy pot of "Lahmian Medium" (or "glaze medium", GW stuff is kind of expensive). You probably could get away with water based lacquer too. Or skip water based paints entirely and use transparent nail polish mixed with whatever other nail polish your lady have.

  43. There are actually stained glass paints that might work well for your christmahanukwanzica lights of choice but those paints might not adhere to plastic very well.

  44. Im viewing this video a little late and I'm not sure if anyone has suggested this but a solution might be "lense paint" available on amazon. This is formulated for plastic and ideal for outdoor use. Granted the sharpie technique is a good solution as it uses so little energy.

  45. Acrylic paint mixed with white glue will give a seaglass effect, if you can't get acrylic medium and want a frosted look.
    I like the newer color sets personally, but that is due to my visceral hatred of yellow, not because they are inherently better colors.

  46. Even though I don't live in the US, and that the market of Christmas lights is a little different were I come from I totally agree with you. I love how so many bulbs have switched to being LED, and how good LEDs has become. However, the only situation where I'm not so impressed by LEDs is when it comes to Christmas lights (or fairy lights) even when just when talking about white (or warm white) LEDs. They've still not gotten it right in my opinion. And I suppose that I'm also critical since Christmas lights make me pretty nostalgic. There's just something about the warm cozy light of incandescent bulbs in the winter cold. I would suggest to use some mini sort of filament LEDs in these strands. Filament LEDs has gotten pretty good and is a decent substitute to incandescent bulbs. If the filament LEDs got a good coat of phosphor they would probably appear nice and warm. And from there on you could coat the glass or plastic to tint the light into the different desired colors. I know filament LEDs would and is easier to create in c7 or c9 bulbs, but it must be possible to do it in these mini lights. I dislike how the LED strands have the lightsource in the housing of the bulb. Bring it up in the bulb and make it softer on the eyes. If this became sort of the standard I would be thrilled, but for no I suppose I'm just a lighting geek. So you're definitely not alone my friend I hear you, and I agree!

  47. I, also, love incandescent bulbs for my outdoor lighting, more specifically, I love the larger C7/9 look which makes running mini lights look like a battery project.
    I got some cheap G40 LED type strings and while the low energy use is nice it is far from optimal in the color range. They use multi-colored plastic filters over concave LEDs like you have(but 5mm not 3mm like these). It depends on how the strand was built as to how much of a pain in the ass it will be but it is possible to dismantle the bulbs and replace the LEDs with warm white like I did. They look 1000 times better.

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