How to Pick the Perfect Rope Light

Red 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 1000Bulbs.com 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.

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Benjamin is a writer for 1000Bulbs.com.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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: http://www.1000bulbs.com/category/rope-light/

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

  • http://1000bulbs.com Dennie

    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!

  • 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!

  • http://1000bulbs.com Laurie

    We are attempting to illuminate a fireworks booth. The guidelines are we can only use battery-operated lighting. We need something that is going to help us see our product inside the booth. Would like some lighting to illuminate the outside. I thought a rope lighting would be most effective. However after researching I am even more confused on what to use.

  • http://1000Bulbs Brant Casford

    Lighting a deck with about 200′ of rope lighting….going to use 12v LED…what accessories do i need? IE, power source AND range extender? end cap for spool? thanks…Brant

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      First you’ll need roughly nine LED drivers to power the rope light. LED Rope light has a maximum single run length of 24.75′ which means that you’ll need to break up your runs into multiple sets. Is the deck covered and protected from weather? We only have 2 drivers that are waterproof, for example: https://www.1000bulbs.com/product/55797/LED-MVB12030M.html

      You never want to max out the wattage rating on an LED driver (try to keep your maximum to about 80-85% of the rated maximum wattage). This is both for lifespan and to maintain maximum output for your LEDs.

      For the rope light runs you’ll need mounting hardware like clips and fasteners. We place our rope light accessories together based on size to make them easier to find (here’s a set of 3/8-inch rope light accessories: https://www.1000bulbs.com/category/2-wire-three-eighths-inch-12v-led-rope-light-accessories/).

      Since you’ll need to separate the spool into multiple runs you’ll also want to pick up connectors and some splices (just be sure to plan out where you want the rope light to be). Remember that rope light is very strong but can’t be bent at a 90-degree angle. To make a sharp turn you’ll need a connector. Extensions will also be necessary if you want to hide the LED drivers from view.

      Finally, since the installation is on a deck you’ll want to use end caps to terminate the runs and seal all connections (end caps, start of each run, and any splices or connections) with silicon glue.

      Thanks for the question Brant. I hope I was able to cover all the bases for you.

  • diane L. Tabony

    I have 2 large signs for outside of retail stores, only one of which could get wet. I have letters popped out and will run these rope lights behind for a pop of color and attention. What are your recommendations?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      From your description I’d recommend proper waterproofing with silicone glue and using one of the few waterproof power supplies we have. I’d strongly suggest you contact our customer sales department as they’ll be able to give you a more direct answer and can clarify the requirements for what you’re building.

  • Rick

    I recently purchased 150′ of 120v incandescent rope light for our outdoor vinyl fence. Little nervous after reading all of these posts if I have enough lumens to even have a nice effect. I forgot to mention the color is blue. And when you say waterproof the end cap and plug, do you mean where it connects or inside the caps?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      When it comes to the lumen value it depends on how much of an effect you want to have. The best thing would be to contact one of our sales associates since they can walk you through finding exactly what you need. For the waterproofing itself, where it connects. The plug needs to kept away from water, usually by using an outdoor receptacle that’s waterproofed. PVC connectors and end caps (the items with UL ratings for outdoors) need the silicon glue applied after you make the connection. Just seal it over like you would with any kind of silicon caulking.

  • Bryan

    If I have four sections on a deck that need lighs, how do I make so it uses just one outlet. I cannot run just one line because it is broken up by three gates.

  • Bryan

    That doesn’t work for me, I cannot run any wire over or under the gate with it still be able to open.

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      Well, if you can’t run an extension between the rope light segments you might consider switching to something that can be powered from a battery. Otherwise you’ll run extensions across or under the deck to the same outlet. Though, you could simply drop an extension between rope light segments at each gate beneath or off of the deck to connect the rope light as one long strand. A battery based system would mean LED lighting is your best call and the best thing we have that I can recommend is some of our string lights.

  • Bryan

    I can run an extension between rope light segments under the deck, but what exactly are the extensions? Can you please send me link? thank you

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      Certainly. This is a 6-foot extension cable for a 1/2-inch 12V LED rope light. If you look under the accessories page of our rope light section you can find the extension cable you need for the type and size of the rope light you’re using. Just make sure you match the diameter size (1/2-inch, 3/8-inch, etc) and the voltage type. Glad I could help.

  • DJ14

    Hello! I have just put together a project I’ve been looking forward to doing but now I’m worried about fire hazards. I have a 48′ section of incandescent rope light inside of a floor tom drum. The lights are warm. I also have the drum heads on the drum, so little ventilation, if that matters. It will be used as a lamp…sort of. Any thoughts on safety?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      That much rope light in an enclosed space is inadvisable. You should always make sure that there is some clearance around your rope light for ventilation and heat dissipation. If you’re placing 48 feet of rope light into an enclosed space (even if it has the standard hole in a floor tom), there will not be enough ventilation space and it becomes a fire hazard. It’s similar to turning on a spool of rope light without un-spooling it. The heat from the lamps can become severe enough to melt the material around them and cause a fire.

  • Jan Svejkovsky

    I want to run two 50+ foot sections of incadescent rope light around 2 of our new decks. I will use the 120V since you say the 12V is limited to @ 25 foot lengths. I understand the safety advantages of the lower voltage outdoors but it will just make the install so much cleaner and easier. However, I am worried about longevity of the lights: we have some smaller sections that we joined together on the old decks (we bought them at Home Depot) and after some months pieces of them went dead. So: 1) are your lights repairable (e.g. can the dead section be cut out and replaced)? 2) What is your spool lights’ overall life expectancy before a section goes out (if you truly know)/ Thanks!

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      Jan, the rope lights we carry are replaceable. Splicing sections in and out are completely possible when done correctly. Since you’re setting this up outdoors you should know that cutting or splicing rope light voids the UL listing for outdoors so you’ll want to weatherproof the rope light after cutting and splicing.

      Life expectancy is listed by spools, but as a general rule our incandescent 120V rope light averages 35,000 while our LED rope light has an average of 100,000 life hours.

      Hope that covers everything.

  • Deborah Marten

    I have always used incandescent rope lights above my kitchen cabinets close to the ceiling for ambiance and night lighting. I want to replace them with LED rope lights. I will need a section of 20 feet., 3 feet and 9 feet, or, whichever prepackaged length is closest to these measurements. Which brand, lumens, color, etc., would give off color warmth most like the incandescent rope lights? Thanks!

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      To ensure matching brightness, you can use rope light rated for the same voltage. The warm white rope light looks like an incandescent (provided you aren’t using a special color like red or blue). Additionally, our rope light kits for warm white are already cut to 30 and 12 ft lengths. https://www.1000bulbs.com/category/led-clear-rope-light-retail-packs/

      If you have any other questions, I’d recommend contacting customer support and they can walk you through exactly what you need.

  • Norm Halbert

    Can I connect a run of low voltage rope light to my Malibu landscape transformer? I have all that equipment already in place and want to run rope light behind and under a hedge that is growing against a short wall, Thanks. Norm

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      So long as your transformer is rated for the wattage of your run, uses the same voltage level, and you don’t run more than the recommended maximum length for a run of rope light, it should work correctly.

  • Ashley Hunter

    Do you mean more light as in “brighter” or light as in “longer”? It’s not the diameter of the rope light that determines the brightness, but rather the color of the rope light and the type of lights used inside the tubing. LED tend to give off a brighter and richer color. A warm white rope light will look more yellow, and therefore dimmer, in comparison to a more blue, cool white rope light.

    The differences in diameter depends on what you want to do. The 1/2-inch rope light is more common in outlining buildings and general holiday decorating. The 3/8-inch rope light is thinner and better suited for signs, decorative motifs, and basically anything requiring sharper curves. Either way, both can be bought in long lengths, like 150-foot spools we sell.

  • Ashley Hunter

    Yes, you absolutely can use rope light for crown molding. Although LED tape (also known as strip) lighting will also work for shorter wall lengths.

    I would suggest the brighter, Cool White color because of the ceiling height. However, it is dependent on your personal preference more than anything, since this is more for indirect, ambient lighting and not for direct task lighting like reading. Warm White is cozier and more yellow, while Pearl White would probably a good compromise between the two extremes. This is also dependent of your wall color.

  • Joshua Santa Cruz

    The short answer to your question is more than likely no, a single 12V battery will not be sufficient enough for 150’ of LED rope light. The amperage of your 12V battery, will determine the length a single run. Below is a formula which assists in determining the max run of a 12V rope light, Total Amperage of the battery x the rope light Voltage divided by the Watts Per Foot of the rope light.

    (Amps x Volts)/Watts Per Foot = Max Run

    If one 12V battery were to power a 150’ strand of rope light, a substantial voltage drop due to the insufficient amps provided would only illuminate on average a 25’ run of your rope light. For 150’ strand a minimum of 6 LED drivers but ideally 7 is needed to keep the maximum to 80-85% of the rated maximum wattage for each driver. I recommend breaking them up into 25’ strands to avoid the voltage drop and loss of power.