How to Pick the Perfect Rope Light

Mar 23, 12 How to Pick the Perfect Rope Light

We’ve talked about rope lights in this blog before, but we’ve noticed that most rope light guides focus solely on the installation of rope light, neglecting to explain the first and most important step: Buying the right type of rope light. At we have nearly 200 different rope light variations including LED, incandescent, steady, chasing, 2-wire, 3-wire, and more. So how do you make sense of all this?

Kit or Spool?

Are you doing a small, temporary installation like a party, wedding, or other special occasion? Or are you going all-out with a permanent installation like under cabinet lighting, deck lighting, or even decorating a restaurant or retail space? If you’re in the first group, keep things simple and buy a rope light kit. All you’ll need to do is pull the kit out of the packaging, screw the ends together, and you’re done! On the other hand, if you’re looking to create something that will make you the envy of your neighbors, your best choice is to buy a rope light spool. A rope light spool can be cut into individual lengths of your choosing and connected to controllers, allowing almost infinite decorative possibilities.

120 Volt or 12 Volt?

If a rope light kit is out of the question, you have to decide what voltage spool you need. You may not be familiar with voltage in anything other than a superficial sense, so let’s make it easy: Where do you plan on installing your rope light? If you install it indoors and shield it from moisture, go with a 120 volt spool. If you want to light up your deck, a tree, a railing, or anything else outside, go with 12 volt rope light. No rope light should come into direct contact with water, but in the event it does (which is likely to happen outdoors), the lower voltage will provide an added degree of electrical safety. One note: For low voltage rope light, you’ll also need to buy a rope light transformer.

Incandescent or LED?

Do you want to save a little money now or a lot of money later? Incandescent rope light will set you back just a couple dollars per foot, but at 3 watts per foot, it’s going to use much more electricity than LED rope light. If you go with LED rope light, you’ll cut your energy usage by two-thirds. Of course, there’s always some give-and-take with choices like these. With LED you’ll save money, but you’ll also lose some functionality, including dimming and some special effects. As a rule of thumb, the longer your rope lights will be powered on, the more likely you’ll want to use LED rope light. Using a less-efficient source like incandescent for only short periods of time will not do much to harm your bottom line.

Need Special Effects?

As stated before, you’ll save a lot of money in energy savings with LED, but you’re limited in what you can do in terms of special effects. With the right rope light controller, you can flash or chase your LED rope light, but that’s about it. An incandescent rope light, on the other hand, gives you many more possibilities. Not only are more controllers available for incandescent, but you also have options beyond standard 2-wire rope light. The potential functions of 2, 3, and 5-wire rope light are far too much to address in this article, but in short, the more wires in the rope, the more special effects you can create.

Questions or suggestions? Drop us a line in the comments section, “like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Benjamin is a writer for

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  1. Neil Crump /

    My understanding is that if you field modify a length of rope light (i.e., install connector) that the product’s UL listing is voided (even if done by a licensed electrician). Can you offer any advice on this?

    • Benjamin /

      You’re exactly right, Neil. Cutting a rope light, even according to manufacturer instructions, voids the UL listing.

      That said, a 150-foot spool is intended to be cut. You have to weigh the risks of voiding UL listing with the needs of your installation.

      There are ways to cut and splice rope lights that are safer than others. None are UL approved, but here are a few pointers:

      – Always end your run with an end cap and use weatherproof glue to seal it.
      – Use splice connectors with shrink wrap sleeves.
      – Don’t install the rope light near paper, fabrics, or other materials that can easily catch fire.
      – Never leave rope light unattended.
      – Check your building or homeowner’s insurance to see what the warnings and restrictions are on non-UL listed electronics.

  2. Derek E Miller /

    Which would be most efective for lighting the inside of a work truck box (30″x 9″ x 10″). Is incondecent brighter than LED? Power supply is not an issue.

    • Benjamin Rorie /

      Incandescent and LED are the same brightness, but LED uses less energy and runs cooler. For any type of automotive use, I would highly suggest 12 volt LED rope light.

  3. Bacchu5 /

    So I thought that LED rope lights were dimmable, but here you say that is not the case. Going for dimmable under cabinet lighting. Any advice?

    • Jordan Loa /

      Thanks for the question, Bacchu5!

      When it comes to under cabinet lighting, we have lots of choices for many lighting styles. Below is a link to our under cabinet lights. Hope this helps! Let us know if there’s anything else we can do!

  4. Stephanie /

    I would like to use rope lights for an indoor wedding reception. I don’t know if led or incandescent would be a better look for lighting the room… Are led lights much brighter and piercing to the eye or are they about the same look? I don’t want my guests leaving with headaches.

    • Jordan Loa /


      We thank you for reaching out to us, and we appreciate your question!

      First off, good choice on wanting to use rope light for your indoor wedding reception, as rope light is a simple yet effective way to brighten up any space.

      While it depends on just how much rope light you’re planning to use, we recommend that you probably stick with incandescent rope light. The incandescent rope light produces about 10 lumens per foot, while the LED rope light produces a whopping 80 lumens per foot. So, if you don’t want your guests leaving with headaches, we suggest going with the incandescent.

      Here’s a link to our incandescent rope light:

      If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact us!

  5. I have an area where I have 2-6 ft. fluorescent lamps stacked for 12 linear feet of lighting. They are in a box with a grill covering them. How many lumens does a 12ft led rope light put out? I could double strand if needed to be compatible with the fluorescent.

    • Jordan Loa /

      Thanks for the question, Dennie!

      Incandescent rope light produces about 10 lumens per foot, while the LED rope light produces 80 lumens per foot. So, 12 feet of LED rope light would produce a whopping 960 lumens, which, depending on your layout, may be too bright. The same length of incandescent rope light would produce 120 lumens. Depending on your layout, that may not be bright enough. I’ve included a link to our rope light, which includes both LED and incandescent rope light. Let us know if there’s anything else we can help you with!

  6. Becky /

    Is there a type of rope light that can be stepped on? I’m hoping to use some to make a floor mat.

    • Jordan Loa /

      Great question here, Becky!

      As a matter of fact, any type of rope light can be stepped on. In fact, it can even be run over with vehicles and it won’t be damaged. The only limitation rope light has is that it cannot be bent at a 90-degree angle. Other than that, it’s pretty indestructible. Hope that helps! We’d love to see the final product when you’re finished with it!

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