AskDefine | Define led

Dictionary Definition



1 a soft heavy toxic malleable metallic element; bluish white when freshly cut but tarnishes readily to dull gray; "the children were playing with lead soldiers" [syn: Pb, atomic number 82]
2 an advantage held by a competitor in a race; "he took the lead at the last turn"
3 evidence pointing to a possible solution; "the police are following a promising lead"; "the trail led straight to the perpetrator" [syn: track, trail]
4 a position of leadership (especially in the phrase `take the lead'); "he takes the lead in any group"; "we were just waiting for someone to take the lead"; "they didn't follow our lead"
5 the angle between the direction a gun is aimed and the position of a moving target (correcting for the flight time of the missile)
6 the introductory section of a story; "it was an amusing lead-in to a very serious matter" [syn: lead-in]
7 an actor who plays a principal role [syn: star, principal]
8 (baseball) the position taken by a base runner preparing to advance to the next base; "he took a long lead off first"
9 an indication of potential opportunity; "he got a tip on the stock market"; "a good lead for a job" [syn: tip, steer, confidential information, wind, hint]
10 a news story of major importance [syn: lead story]
11 the timing of ignition relative to the position of the piston in an internal-combustion engine [syn: spark advance]
12 restraint consisting of a rope (or light chain) used to restrain an animal [syn: leash, tether]
13 thin strip of metal used to separate lines of type in printing [syn: leading]
14 mixture of graphite with clay in different degrees of hardness; the marking substance in a pencil [syn: pencil lead]
15 a jumper that consists of a short piece of wire; "it was a tangle of jumper cables and clip leads" [syn: jumper cable, jumper lead]
16 the playing of a card to start a trick in bridge; "the lead was in the dummy"


1 take somebody somewhere; "We lead him to our chief"; "can you take me to the main entrance?"; "He conducted us to the palace" [syn: take, direct, conduct, guide]
2 result in; "The water left a mark on the silk dress"; "Her blood left a stain on the napkin" [syn: leave, result]
3 tend to or result in; "This remark lead to further arguments among the guests"
4 travel in front of; go in advance of others; "The procession was headed by John" [syn: head]
5 cause to undertake a certain action; "Her greed led her to forge the checks"
6 stretch out over a distance, space, time, or scope; run or extend between two points or beyond a certain point; "Service runs all the way to Cranbury"; "His knowledge doesn't go very far"; "My memory extends back to my fourth year of life"; "The facts extend beyond a consideration of her personal assets" [syn: run, go, pass, extend]
7 be in charge of; "Who is heading this project?" [syn: head]
8 be ahead of others; be the first; "she topped her class every year" [syn: top]
9 be conducive to; "The use of computers in the classroom lead to better writing" [syn: contribute, conduce]
10 lead, as in the performance of a composition; "conduct an orchestra; Bairenboim conducted the Chicago symphony for years" [syn: conduct, direct]
11 pass or spend; "lead a good life"
12 lead, extend, or afford access; "This door goes to the basement"; "The road runs South" [syn: go]
13 move ahead (of others) in time or space [syn: precede] [ant: follow]
14 cause something to pass or lead somewhere; "Run the wire behind the cabinet" [syn: run]
15 preside over; "John moderated the discussion" [syn: moderate, chair] [also: led]LED n : diode such that light emitted at a p-n junction is proportional to the bias current; color depends on the material used [syn: light-emitting diode]led See lead

User Contributed Dictionary

see LED



  • /'lεd/, /"lEd/
  • Rhymes with: -ɛd






  1. ice


  1. size



  1. ice




  • /lɛt/


, inanimate



  1. limb



  1. ice

Cyrillic spelling



  1. ice




  1. tired; bored
  2. disgusting, repulsive, loathsome; evil

Usage notes

The second sense is still in some use in the expression den lede frestaren or simply den lede, as a name for the Devil.



sv-noun-n-zero [[]]
  1. A queue; a row of people
  2. term
    högerledet = the right hand side; what's on the right hand side of the equality
  3. stage
    Ett led i processen = A stage in the process


  1. joint; the part of a limb where it can bend; such as a knee or a wrist; phalanx
    any mechanical joint where two parts are supposed to move (bend) with respect to each other
  2. track, route; along which one may walk; go by bike

Derived terms



Extensive Definition

A light-emitting diode, usually called an LED (), is a semiconductor diode that emits incoherent narrow-spectrum light when electrically biased in the forward direction of the p-n junction, as in the common LED circuit. This effect is a form of electroluminescence.
An LED is usually a small area light source, often with optics added to the chip to shape its radiation pattern. LEDs are often used as small indicator lights on electronic devices and increasingly in higher power applications such as flashlights and area lighting. The color of the emitted light depends on the composition and condition of the semiconducting material used, and can be infrared, visible, or ultraviolet. LEDs can also be used as a regular household light source. Besides lighting, interesting applications include sterilization of water and disinfection of devices.


In the early 20th century, Henry Round of Marconi Labs first noted that a semiconductor junction would produce light. Russian Oleg Vladimirovich Losev independently created the first LED in the mid 1920s; his research, though distributed in Russian, German and British scientific journals, was ignored. Rubin Braunstein of the Radio Corporation of America reported on infrared emission from gallium arsenide (GaAs) and other semiconductor alloys in 1955. Experimenters at Texas Instruments, Bob Biard and Gary Pittman, found in 1961 that gallium arsenide gave off infrared radiation when electric current was applied. Biard and Pittman were able to establish the priority of their work and received the patent for the infrared light-emitting diode. Nick Holonyak Jr., then of the General Electric Company and later with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed the first practical visible-spectrum LED in 1962 and is seen as the "father of the light-emitting diode". Holonyak's former graduate student, M. George Craford, invented in 1972 the first yellow LED and 10x brighter red and red-orange LEDs.
Shuji Nakamura of Nichia Corporation of Japan demonstrated the first high-brightness blue LED based on InGaN, borrowing on critical developments in GaN nucleation on sapphire substrates and the demonstration of p-type doping of GaN which were developed by I. Akasaki and H. Amano in Nagoya. In the 1995 Alberto Barbieri at the Cardiff University Laboratory (GB) investigated the Efficiency and Reliability of high-brightness LED demonstrating very high result by using a transparent contact made by indium tin oxide (ITO) on (AlGaInP/GaAs) LED. The existence of the blue LED and high efficiency quickly carried to the first white LED, which employed a Y3Al5O12:Ce, or "YAG", phosphor coating to mix yellow (down-converted) light with blue to produce light that appears white. Nakamura was awarded the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize for his invention.


The first known report of a light-emitting solid-state diode was made in 1907 by the British experimenter H. J. Round. However, no practical use was made of the discovery for several decades. Independently, Oleg Vladimirovich Losev published "Luminous carborundum [silicon carbide] detector and detection with crystals" in the Russian journal Telegrafiya i Telefoniya bez Provodov (Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony).)
With this wide variety of colors, arrays of multicolor LEDs can be designed to produce unconventional color patterns.

Ultraviolet and blue LEDs

Blue LEDs are based on the wide band gap semiconductors GaN (gallium nitride) and InGaN (indium gallium nitride). They can be added to existing red and green LEDs to produce the impression of white light, though white LEDs today rarely use this principle.
The first blue LEDs were made in 1971 by Jacques Pankove (inventor of the gallium nitride LED) at RCA Laboratories. However, these devices were too feeble to be of much practical use. In the late 1980s, key breakthroughs in GaN epitaxial growth and p-type doping by Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano (Nagoya, Japan) ushered in the modern era of GaN-based optoelectronic devices. Building upon this foundation, in 1993 high brightness blue LEDs were demonstrated through the work of Shuji Nakamura at Nichia Corporation.
By the late 1990s, blue LEDs had become widely available. They have an active region consisting of one or more InGaN quantum wells sandwiched between thicker layers of GaN, called cladding layers. By varying the relative InN-GaN fraction in the InGaN quantum wells, the light emission can be varied from violet to amber. AlGaN aluminium gallium nitride of varying AlN fraction can be used to manufacture the cladding and quantum well layers for ultraviolet LEDs, but these devices have not yet reached the level of efficiency and technological maturity of the InGaN-GaN blue/green devices. If the active quantum well layers are GaN, as opposed to alloyed InGaN or AlGaN, the device will emit near-ultraviolet light with wavelengths around 350–370 nm. Green LEDs manufactured from the InGaN-GaN system are far more efficient and brighter than green LEDs produced with non-nitride material systems.
With nitrides containing aluminium, most often AlGaN and AlGaInN, even shorter wavelengths are achievable. Ultraviolet LEDs in a range of wavelengths are becoming available on the market. Near-UV emitters at wavelengths around 375–395 nm are already cheap and often encountered, for example, as black light lamp replacements for inspection of anti-counterfeiting UV watermarks in some documents and paper currencies. Shorter wavelength diodes, while substantially more expensive, are commercially available for wavelengths down to 247 nm. As the photosensitivity of microorganisms approximately matches the absorption spectrum of DNA, with a peak at about 260 nm, UV LEDs emitting at 250–270 nm are to be expected in prospective disinfection and sterilisation devices. Recent research has shown that commercially available UVA LEDs (365 nm) are already effective disinfection and sterilisation devices. – red, green, and blue, and then mix all the colors to produce white light. Hence the product is called multi-colored white LEDs (sometimes referred to as RGB LEDs). Because its mechanism is involved with sophisticated electro-optical design to control the blend and diffusion of different colors, this approach has rarely been used to mass produce white LEDs in the industry. Nevertheless this method is particularly interesting to many researchers and scientists because of the flexibility of mixing different colors. In principle, this mechanism also has higher quantum efficiency in producing white light. On the other hand, the second method of producing white LED is involved with coating a LED of one color (mostly blue LED made of InGaN) with phosphor coating of a different color to produce white light. Depending on the color of the original LED, phosphors of different colors can also be employed. By applying several phosphor layers of distinct colors, we can effectively increase the color rendering index (CRI) value of a given LED. The term CRI will be defined more elegantly in the following section. Because this method of producing white LEDs heavily employs the usage of phosphor, the resultant LEDs are called phosphor based white LEDs. Although easier to be manufactured than multi-colored LEDs, phosphor based LEDs have a lower quantum efficiency and other phosphor-related degradation issues. However it is still the most popular technique of manufacturing high intensity white LEDs as well as high intensity LEDs of other colors because it requires much easier material processing and therefore suits today’s applications. Much effort has been spent on optimizing the operating environment, namely temperature and current, for this type of LED.
There are several types of multi-colored white LEDs: di-, tri-, and tetrachromatic white LEDs. Several key factors that play among these different approaches include color stability, color rendering capability, and luminous efficiency. Luminous efficiency is a term expressing the luminous flux per unit electrical input power. It is a key factor in discussing energy efficiency. In principle, if perfect solid-state lighting devices can be fabricated, the same level of luminance can be achieved by using merely 1/20 of the energy that incandescent lighting source requires. Color stability is a self-explanatory term which means the stability of color. Color rendering capability is hard to grasp without being traced back to its origin. In 1777, George Palmer first found that an object’s perceived color strongly depends on the illumination source,. He discovered that by varying the illumination sources, an object’s color appeared differently. Because of their conflicting nature, there is always a trade off between the luminous efficiency and color rendering. For example, the dichromatic white LEDs have the best luminous efficiency (425 lm/W), but the lowest color rendering capability. Oppositely although tetrachromatic white LEDs have excellent color rendering capability, they often have poor luminous efficiency. Trichromatic white LEDs are in between, having both good luminous efficiency (>300 lm/W) and fair color rendering capability.
Phosphor based white LEDs encapsulate InGaN blue LEDs inside of a phosphor coated epoxy. A common yellow phosphor material is cerium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Ce3+:YAG). Although the phosphor based white LEDs have a relatively easier mechanism, they reach the fundamental limitation due to the unavoidable Stokes energy loss6, a loss that occurs when short wavelength photons are converted to long wavelength photons. Regardless this technique of manufacturing is adopted by most of the LED industry because of its low cost and high output. All the high intensity white LEDs now on the market are manufactured by this method.
What multi-color LEDs offer is not merely another solution of producing white light, but is a whole new technique of producing light of different colors. In principle, all colors in the visible spectrum can be produced by mixing different amount of three primary colors, and this makes it possible to produce precise dynamic color control as well. As more effort is devoted to investigating this technique, multi-color LEDs should have profound influence on the fundamental method which we use to produce and control light color. However before this type of LEDs can truly play a role on the market, several technical problems need to be solved. These certainly include that this type of LEDs’ emission power decays exponentially] with increasing temperature, resulting in a substantial change in color stability. Such problem is not acceptable for industrial usage. Therefore, many new package designs aiming to solve this problem have been proposed, and their results are being reproduced by researchers and scientists. On the other hand, phosphor based white LEDs are the optimal solution to produce high intensity white light. Since its simplified mechanism, this type of LEDs has attracted much interest from the lighting industry. Because of their more stable performance over a range of temperatures, prototypes as well as products based on this phosphor based mechanism have already appeared on the market. And more high intensity white LEDs are expected to be produced in the near future. However the biggest challenge these phosphor based white LEDs face is solving the seemingly unavoidable Stokes energy loss. Again this can be done by adapting a better package design or by replacing a more suitable type of phosphor. Philips Lumileds patented conformal coating process addresses the issue of varying phosphor thickness, giving the white LEDs a more consistent spectrum of white light.
White LEDs can also be made by coating near ultraviolet (NUV) emitting LEDs with a mixture of high efficiency europium-based red and blue emitting phosphors plus green emitting copper and aluminum doped zinc sulfide (ZnS:Cu, Al). This is a method analogous to the way fluorescent lamps work. However the ultraviolet light causes photodegradation to the epoxy resin and many other materials used in LED packaging, causing manufacturing challenges and shorter lifetimes. This method is less efficient than the blue LED with YAG:Ce phosphor, as the Stokes shift is larger and more energy is therefore converted to heat, but yields light with better spectral characteristics, which render color better. Due to the higher radiative output of the ultraviolet LEDs than of the blue ones, both approaches offer comparable brightness.
The newest method used to produce white light LEDs uses no phosphors at all and is based on homoepitaxially grown zinc selenide (ZnSe) on a ZnSe substrate which simultaneously emits blue light from its active region and yellow light from the substrate
A new technique developed by Michael Bowers, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, involves coating a blue LED with quantum dots that glow white in response to the blue light from the LED. This technique produces a warm, yellowish-white light similar to that produced by incandescent bulbs.

Quantum Dot LEDs

Quantum Dots are semiconductor nanocrystals that possess unique optical properties. Their emission color can be tuned from the visible throughout the infrared spectrum. This allows quantum dot LEDs to create almost any color on the CIE diagram. This provides more color options and better color rendering white LEDs. Quantum dot LEDs are available in the same package types as traditional phosphor based LEDs.

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs)

If the emitting layer material of the LED is an organic compound, it is known as an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED). To function as a semiconductor, the organic emitting material must have conjugated pi bonds. The emitting material can be a small organic molecule in a crystalline phase, or a polymer. Polymer materials can be flexible; such LEDs are known as PLEDs or FLEDs.
Compared with regular LEDs, OLEDs are lighter, and polymer LEDs can have the added benefit of being flexible. Some possible future applications of OLEDs could be:
  • Inexpensive, flexible displays
  • Light sources
  • Wall decorations
  • Luminous cloth
OLEDs have been used to produce visual displays for portable electronic devices such as cellphones, digital cameras, and MP3 players. Larger displays have been demonstrated, but their life expectancy is still far too short (<1,000 hours) to be practical.

Efficiency and operational parameters

Most typical LEDs are designed to operate with no more than 30–60 milliwatts (mW) of electrical power. Around 1999, Philips Lumileds introduced power LEDs capable of continuous use at one watt (W). These LEDs used much larger semiconductor die sizes to handle the large power inputs. Also, the semiconductor dies were mounted onto metal slugs to allow for heat removal from the LED die.
One of the key advantages of LED-based lighting is its high efficiency, as measured by its light output per unit power input. White LEDs quickly matched and overtook the efficiency of standard incandescent lighting systems. In 2002, Lumileds made five-watt LEDs available with a luminous efficacy of 18–22 lumens per watt (lm/W). For comparison, a conventional 60–100 W incandescent lightbulb produces around 15 lm/W, and standard fluorescent lights produce up to 100 lm/W. (The luminous efficacy article discusses these comparisons in more detail.)
In September 2003, a new type of blue LED was demonstrated by the company Cree, Inc. to provide 24 mW at 20 milliamperes (mA). This produced a commercially packaged white light giving 65 lm/W at 20 mA, becoming the brightest white LED commercially available at the time, and more than four times as efficient as standard incandescents. In 2006 they demonstrated a prototype with a record white LED luminous efficacy of 131 lm/W at 20 mA. Also, Seoul Semiconductor has plans for 135 lm/W by 2007 and 145 lm/W by 2008, which would be approaching an order of magnitude improvement over standard incandescents and better even than standard fluorescents. Nichia Corporation has developed a white light LED with luminous efficacy of 150 lm/W at a forward current of 20 mA.
It should be noted that high-power (≥ 1 W) LEDs are necessary for practical general lighting applications. Typical operating currents for these devices begin at 350 mA. The highest efficiency high-power white LED is claimed by Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. with a luminous efficacy of 115 lm/W (350 mA).

Potential of OLEDs

Today, OLEDs operate at substantially lower efficiency than inorganic (crystalline) LEDs. The best luminous efficacy of an OLED so far is about 10% of the theoretical maximum of 683 for “white” light, or about 68 lm/W. These claim to be much cheaper to fabricate than inorganic LEDs, and large arrays of them can be deposited on a screen using simple printing methods to create a color graphical display.

Failure modes

The most common way for LEDs (and diode lasers) to fail is the gradual lowering of light output and loss of efficiency. However, sudden failures can occur as well.
The mechanism of degradation of the active region, where the radiative recombination occurs, involves nucleation and growth of dislocations; this requires a presence of an existing defect in the crystal and is accelerated by heat, high current density, and emitted light. Gallium arsenide and aluminium gallium arsenide are more susceptible to this mechanism than gallium arsenide phosphide and indium phosphide. Due to different properties of the active regions, gallium nitride and indium gallium nitride are virtually insensitive to this kind of defect; however, high current density can cause electromigration of atoms out of the active regions, leading to emergence of dislocations and point defects, acting as nonradiative recombination centers and producing heat instead of light. Ionizing radiation can lead to the creation of such defects as well, which leads to issues with radiation hardening of circuits containing LEDs (e.g., in optoisolators). Early red LEDs were notable for their short lifetime.
White LEDs often use one or more phosphors. The phosphors tend to degrade with heat and age, losing efficiency and causing changes in the produced light color. Pink LEDs often use an organic phosphor formulation which may degrade after just a few hours of operation causing a major shift in output color.
High electrical currents at elevated temperatures can cause diffusion of metal atoms from the electrodes into the active region. Some materials, notably indium tin oxide and silver, are subject to electromigration with the conseguence of leakage current and non radiative recombination along the chip edges. In some cases, especially with GaN/InGaN diodes, a barrier metal layer is used to hinder the electromigration effects. Mechanical stresses, high currents, and corrosive environment can lead to formation of whiskers, causing short circuits.
High-power LEDs are susceptible to current crowding, nonhomogenous distribution of the current density over the junction. This may lead to creation of localized hot spots, which poses risk of thermal runaway. Nonhomogenities in the substrate, causing localized loss of thermal conductivity, aggravate the situation; most common ones are voids caused by incomplete soldering, or by electromigration effects and Kirkendall voiding. Thermal runaway is a common cause of LED failures.
Laser diodes may be subject to catastrophic optical damage, when the light output exceeds a critical level and causes melting of the facet.
Some materials of the plastic package tend to yellow when subjected to heat, causing partial absorption (and therefore loss of efficiency) of the affected wavelengths.
Sudden failures are most often caused by thermal stresses. When the epoxy resin used in packaging reaches its glass transition temperature, it starts rapidly expanding, causing mechanical stresses on the semiconductor and the bonded contact, weakening it or even tearing it off. Conversely, very low temperatures can cause cracking of the packaging.
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) may cause immediate failure of the semiconductor junction, a permanent shift of its parameters, or latent damage causing increased rate of degradation. LEDs and lasers grown on sapphire substrate are more susceptible to ESD damage.

Research on DNA

The DNA in salmon sperm has recently been discovered to amplify the effects and quality of an LED light.
See research at University of Cincinnati:

Considerations in use

Unlike incandescent light bulbs, which light up regardless of the electrical polarity, LEDs will only light with correct electrical polarity. When the voltage across the p-n junction is in the correct direction, a significant current flows and the device is said to be forward-biased. If the voltage is of the wrong polarity, the device is said to be reverse biased, very little current flows, and no light is emitted. Some LEDs can be operated on an alternating current voltage, but they will only light with positive voltage, causing the LED to turn on and off at the frequency of the AC supply.
While the only definitive way to determine the polarity of the LED is to examine its datasheet, these methods are usually reliable: Less reliable methods of determining polarity are: While it is not an officially reliable method, it is almost universally true that the cup that holds the LED die corresponds to the cathode. It is strongly recommended to apply a safe voltage and observe the illumination as a test regardless of what method is used to determine the polarity.
Because the voltage versus current characteristics of the LED are much like any diode (that is, current approximately an exponential function of voltage), a small voltage change results in a huge change in current. Added to deviations in the process this means that a voltage source may barely make one LED light while taking another of the same type beyond its maximum ratings and potentially destroying it.
Since the voltage is logarithmically related to the current it can be considered to remain largely constant over the LED's operating range. Thus the power can be considered to be essentially proportional to the current. In order to keep power nearly constant with variations in supply and LED characteristics, the power supply should be a “current source”, that is, it should supply an almost constant current. If high efficiency is not required (e.g., in most indicator applications), an approximation to a current source is made by connecting the LED in series with a current limiting resistor to a regulated voltage source.
Most LEDs have low reverse breakdown voltage ratings, so they will also be damaged by an applied reverse voltage of more than a few volts. Since some manufacturers don't follow the indicator standards above, if possible the data sheet should be consulted before hooking up the LED, or the LED may be tested in series with a resistor on a sufficiently low voltage supply to avoid the reverse breakdown. If it is desired to drive the LED directly from an AC supply of more than the reverse breakdown voltage then it may be protected by placing a diode (or another LED) in inverse parallel.
LEDs can be purchased with built in series resistors. These can save PCB space and are especially useful when building prototypes or populating a PCB in a way other than its designers intended. However the resistor value is set at the time of manufacture, removing one of the key methods of setting the LED's intensity. To increase efficiency (or to allow intensity control without the complexity of a DAC), the power may be applied periodically or intermittently; so long as the flicker rate is greater than the human flicker fusion threshold, the LED will appear to be continuously lit.
Multiple LEDs can be connected in series with a single current limiting resistor provided the source voltage is greater than the sum of the individual LED threshold voltages. Parallel operation is also possible but can be more problematic. Parallel LEDs must have closely matched forward voltages (Vf) in order to have equal branch currents and, therefore, equal light output. Variations in the manufacturing process can make it difficult to obtain satisfactory operation when connecting some types of LEDs in parallel.
Bicolor LED units contain two diodes, one in each direction (that is, two diodes in inverse parallel) and each a different color (typically red and green), allowing two-color operation or a range of apparent colors to be created by altering the percentage of time the voltage is in each polarity. Other LED units contain two or more diodes (of different colors) arranged in either a common anode or common cathode configuration. These can be driven to different colors without reversing the polarity, however, more than two electrodes (leads) are required.
LEDs are usually constantly illuminated when a current passes through them, but flashing LEDs are also available. Flashing LEDs resemble standard LEDs but they contain an integrated multivibrator circuit inside which causes the LED to flash with a typical period of one second. This type of LED comes most commonly as red, yellow, or green. Most flashing LEDs emit light of a single wavelength, but multicolored flashing LEDs are available too.
Generally, for newer common standard LEDs in 3 mm or 5 mm packages, the following forward DC potential differences are typically measured. The forward potential difference depending on the LED's chemistry, temperature, and on the current (values here are for approx. 20 mA, a commonly-found maximum value).
Many LEDs are rated at 3 V maximum reverse potential.
LEDs also behave as photocells, and will generate a current depending on the ambient light. They are not efficient as photocells, and will only produce a few microamperes (µA), but will produce a surprising electrical potential—as much as 2 or 3 V. This is enough to operate an amplifier or a CMOS logic gate. This effect can be used to make an inexpensive light sensor, for example to decide when to turn on the LED illuminator.

Advantages of using LEDs

  • LEDs produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs; this is useful in battery powered or energy-saving devices.
  • LEDs can emit light of an intended color without the use of color filters that traditional lighting methods require. This is more efficient and can lower initial costs.
  • The solid package of the LED can be designed to focus its light. Incandescent and fluorescent sources often require an external reflector to collect light and direct it in a usable manner.
  • When used in applications where dimming is required, LEDs do not change their color tint as the current passing through them is lowered, unlike incandescent lamps, which turn yellow.
  • LEDs are ideal for use in applications that are subject to frequent on-off cycling, unlike fluorescent lamps that burn out more quickly when cycled frequently, or HID lamps that require a long time before restarting.
  • LEDs, being solid state components, are difficult to damage with external shock. Fluorescent and incandescent bulbs are easily broken if dropped on the ground.
  • LEDs can have a relatively long useful life. One report estimates 35,000 to 50,000 hours of useful life, though time to complete failure may be longer. Fluorescent tubes typically are rated at about 30,000 hours, and incandescent light bulbs at 1,000–2,000 hours.
  • LEDs mostly fail by dimming over time, rather than the abrupt burn-out of incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs light up very quickly. A typical red indicator LED will achieve full brightness in microseconds; Philips Lumileds technical datasheet DS23 for the Luxeon Star states “less than 100ns.” LEDs used in communications devices can have even faster response times.
  • LEDs can be very small and are easily populated onto printed circuit boards.
  • LEDs do not contain mercury, unlike compact fluorescent lamps.
  • Due to the human eye's visual persistence LED's can be pulse width or duty cycle modulated in order to save power or achieve an apparent higher brightness for a given power input. The eye will tend to perceive the peak current light level rather than the average current light level when the modulation rate is higher than approximately 1000 hertz and the duty cycle is greater than 15 to 20%. This is also useful when applied to the multiplexing used in 7-segment displays.

Disadvantages of using LEDs

  • LEDs are currently more expensive, price per lumen, on an initial capital cost basis, than more conventional lighting technologies. The additional expense partially stems from the relatively low lumen output and the drive circuitry and power supplies needed. However, when considering the total cost of ownership (including energy and maintenance costs), LEDs far surpass incandescent or halogen sources and begin to threaten compact fluorescent lamps. In December 2007, scientists at Glasgow University claimed to have found a way to make Light Emitting Diodes brighter and use less power than energy efficient light bulbs currently on the market by imprinting holes into billions of LEDs in a new and cost effective method using a process known as nanoimprint lithography.
  • LED performance largely depends on the ambient temperature of the operating environment. Over-driving the LED in high ambient temperatures may result in overheating of the LED package, eventually leading to device failure. Adequate heat-sinking is required to maintain long life. This is especially important when considering automotive, medical, and military applications where the device must operate over a large range of temperatures, and is required to have a low failure rate.
  • LEDs must be supplied with the correct current. This can involve series resistors or current-regulated power supplies.
  • The spectrum of some white LEDs differs significantly from a black body radiator, such as the sun or an incandescent light. The spike at 460 nm and dip at 500 nm can cause the color of objects to be perceived differently under LED illumination than sunlight or incandescent sources, due to metamerism. Color rendering properties of common fluorescent lamps are often inferior to what is now available in state-of-art white LEDs.
  • LEDs do not approximate a “point source” of light, so cannot be used in applications needing a highly collimated beam. LEDs are not capable of providing divergence below a few degrees. This is contrasted with commercial ruby lasers with divergences of 0.2 degrees or less. This can be corrected by using lenses and other optical devices.
  • There is increasing concern that blue LEDs and white LEDs are now capable of exceeding safe limits of the so-called blue-light hazard as defined in eye safety specifications such as ANSI/IESNA RP-27.1-05: Recommended Practice for Photobiological Safety for Lamp and Lamp Systems.


There are three main types of LEDs: miniature, alphanumeric, and illumination.

Miniature LEDs

These are mostly single-die LEDs used as indicators, and they come in various-size packages:
  • surface mount
  • 2 mm
  • 3 mm (T1)
  • 5 mm (T1³⁄₄)
  • Other sizes are also available, but less common.
Common package shapes:
  • Round, dome top
  • Round, flat top
  • Rectangular, flat top (often seen in LED bar-graph displays)
  • Triangular or square, flat top
The encapsulation may also be clear or semi opaque to improve contrast and viewing angle.
There are three main categories of miniature single die LEDs:
  • Low current — typically rated for 2 mA at around 2 V (approximately 4 mW consumption).
  • Standard — 20 mA LEDs at around 2 V (approximately 40 mW) for red, orange, yellow & green, and 20 mA at 4–5 V (approximately 100 mW) for blue, violet and white.
  • Ultra-high output — 20 mA at approximately 2 V or 4–5 V, designed for viewing in direct sunlight.

Multi-color LEDs

A “bi-color LED” is actually two different LEDs in one case. It consists of two dies connected to the same two leads but in opposite directions. Current flow in one direction produces one color, and current in the other direction produces the another color. Alternating the two colors with sufficient frequency causes the appearance of a third color.
A “tri-color LED” is also two LEDs in one case, but the two LEDs are connected to separate leads so that the two LEDs can be controlled independently and lit simultaneously.
RGB LEDs contain red, green and blue emitters, generally using a four-wire connection with one common (anode or cathode).

Five- and twelve-volt LEDs

These are miniature LEDs incorporating a series resistor, and may be connected directly to a 5 V or 12 V supply.

Flashing LEDs

These miniature LEDs flash when connected to 5 V or 12 V. Used as attention seeking indicators where it is desired to avoid the complexity of external electronics.

Alphanumeric LEDs

LED displays are available in seven-segment and starburst format. Seven-segment displays handle all numbers and a limited set of letters. Starburst displays can display all letters.
Seven-segment LED displays were in widespread use in the 1970s and 1980s, but increasing use of liquid crystal displays, with their lower power consumption and greater display flexibility, has reduced the popularity of numeric and alphanumeric LED displays.

Lighting LEDs

LED lamps (also called LED bars or Illuminators) are usually clusters of LEDs in a suitable housing. They come in different shapes, among them the light bulb shape with a large E27 Edison screw and MR16 shape with a bi-pin base. Other models might have a small Edison E14 fitting, GU5.3 (Bipin cap) or GU10 (bayonet socket). This includes low-voltage (typically 12 V halogen-like) varieties and replacements for regular AC mains (120-240 V AC) lighting. Currently the latter are less widely available but this is changing rapidly.
Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd produces LEDs that can run directly from mains power without the need for a DC converter. For each half cycle part of the LED diode emits light and part is dark, and this is reversed during the next half cycle. Current efficiency is 80 lm/W.

LED applications

List of LED applications

Some of these applications are further elaborated upon in the following text.

Devices, medical applications, clothing, toys

  • Remote controls, such as for TVs and VCRs, often use infrared LEDs.
  • Glowlights, as a more expensive but longer lasting and reusable alternative to Glowsticks.
  • Movement sensors, for example in optical computer mice
  • The Nintendo Wii's sensor bar uses infrared LEDs.
  • In optical fiber and Free Space Optics communications.
  • Toys and recreational sporting goods, such as the Flashflight
  • Lumalive, a photonic textile
  • In pulse oximeters for measuring oxygen saturation
  • LED phototherapy for acne using blue or red LEDs has been proven to significantly reduce acne over a three-month period.
  • Some flatbed scanners use an array of red, green, and blue LEDs rather than the typical cold-cathode fluorescent lamp as the light source. Having independent control of three illuminated colors allows the scanner to calibrate itself for more accurate color balance, and there is no need for warm-up.
  • Computers, for hard drive activity and power on. Some custom computers feature LED accent lighting to draw attention to a given component. Many computer manufacturers use LEDs to tell the user its current state. One example would be the Mac, which tells its user when it is asleep by fading the LED activity lights in and out, in and out.
  • Sterilization of water and other substances using UV light.


  • Grow lights composed of LEDs are more efficient, both because LEDs produce more lumens per watt than other alternatives, and also because they can be tuned to the specific wavelengths plants can make the most use of.
  • Light bulbs
  • Lanterns
  • Streetlights
  • Large scale video displays
  • Architectural lighting
  • Light source for machine vision systems, requiring bright, focused, homogeneous and possibly strobed illumination.
  • Motorcycle and Bicycle lights
  • Flashlights, including some mechanically powered models.
  • Emergency vehicle lighting
  • Backlighting for LCD televisions and displays. The availability of LEDs in specific colors (RGB) enables a full-spectrum light source which expands the color gamut by as much as 45%.
  • Stage lights using banks of LED's as replacement for incandescent bulbs. LED's produce less heat so LED stage lighting is cheaper to operate and reduces the risk of fire considerably.
  • LED-based Christmas lights have been available since 2002, but are only now beginning to gain in popularity and acceptance due to their higher initial purchase cost when compared to similar incandescent-based Christmas lights. For example, as of 2006, a set of 50 incandescent lights might cost US$2, while a similar set of 50 LED lights might cost US$10. The purchase cost can be even higher for single-color sets of LED lights with rare or recently-introduced colors, such as purple, pink or white. Regardless of the higher initial purchase price, the total cost of ownership for LED Christmas lights would eventually be lower than the TCO for similar incandescent Christmas lights since the LED requires much less power to output the same amount of light as a similar incandescent bulb. More to the point, LEDs have practically unlimited life and are hard-wired rather than using unreliable sockets as do replaceable bulbs. So a set of LED lights can be expected to outlive many incandescent sets, and without any maintenance.

Indicators and signs

  • Status indicators on a variety of equipment
  • Traffic lights and signals
  • Exit signs
  • Railroad crossing signals
  • Continuity indicators
  • Elevator push-button Lighting
  • Thin, lightweight message displays at airports and railway stations, and as destination displays for trains, buses, trams, and ferries.
  • Red or yellow LEDs are used in indicator and alphanumeric displays in environments where night vision must be retained: aircraft cockpits, submarine and ship bridges, astronomy observatories, and in the field, e.g. night time animal watching and military field use.
  • Red, yellow, green, and blue LEDs can be used for model railroading applications
  • In dot matrix arrangements for displaying messages.
  • Because of their long life and fast switching times, LEDs have been used for automotive high-mounted brake lights and truck and bus brake lights and turn signals for some time, but many high-end vehicles are now starting to use LEDs for their entire rear light clusters. Besides the gain in reliability, this has styling advantages because LEDs are capable of forming much thinner lights than incandescent lamps with parabolic reflectors. The significant improvement in the time taken to light up (perhaps 0.5s faster than an incandescent bulb) improves safety by giving drivers more time to react. It has been reported that at normal highway speeds this equals one car length increased reaction time for the car behind. White LED headlamps are beginning to make an appearance.
  • As a medium quality voltage reference in electronic circuits. The forward voltage drop (e.g., about 1.7 V for a normal red LED) can be used instead of a Zener diode in low-voltage regulators. Although LED forward voltage is much more current-dependent than a good Zener, Zener diodes are not available below voltages of about 3 V.

Optoisolators and optocouplers

The LED may be combined with a photodiode or phototransistor in a single electronic device to provide a signal path with electrical isolation between two circuits. An optoisolator will have typical breakdown voltages between the input and output circuits of typically 500–3000 V. This is especially useful in medical equipment where the signals from a low voltage sensor circuit (usually battery powered) in contact with a living organism must be electrically isolated from any possible electrical failure in a recording or monitoring device operating at potentially dangerous voltages. An optoisolator also allows information to be transferred between circuits not sharing a common ground potential. An optocoupler may not have such high breakdown voltages and may even share a ground between input and output, but both types are useful in preventing electrical noise, particularly common mode electrical noise, on a sensor circuit from being transferred to the receiving circuit (where it may adversely affect the operation or durability of various components) and/or transferring a noisy signal. Optoisolators are also used in the feedback circuit of a DC to DC converter, allowing power to be transferred while retaining electrical isolation between the input and output.

Light sources for machine vision systems

Machine vision systems often require bright and homogeneous illumination, so features of interest are easier to process. LEDs are often used to this purpose, and this field of application is likely to remain one of the major application areas until price drops low enough to make signaling and illumination applications more widespread. LEDs constitute a nearly ideal light source for machine vision systems for several main reasons:
  • Size of illuminated field is usually comparatively small and Vision systems or smart camera are quite expensive, so cost of LEDs is usually a minor concern, compared to signaling applications.
  • LED elements tend to be small and can be placed with high density over flat or even shaped substrates (PCBs etc) so that bright and homogeneous sources can be designed which direct light from tightly controlled directions on inspected parts.
  • LEDs often have or can be used with small, inexpensive lenses and diffusers, helping to achieve high light densities and very good lighting control and homogeneity.
  • LEDs can be easily strobed (in the microsecond range and below) and synchronized; their power also has reached high enough levels that sufficiently high intensity can be obtained, allowing well lit images even with very short light pulses: this is often used in order to obtain crisp and sharp “still” images of quickly-moving parts.
  • LEDs come in several different colors and wavelengths, easily allowing to use the best color for each application, where different color may provide better visibility of features of interest. Having a precisely known spectrum allows tightly matched filters to be used to separate informative bandwidth or to reduce disturbing effect of ambient light.
  • LEDs usually operate at comparatively low working temperatures, simplifying heat management and dissipation, therefore allowing plastic lenses, filters and diffusers to be used. Waterproof units can also easily be designed, allowing for use in harsh or wet environments (food, beverage, oil industries).
  • LED sources can be shaped in several main configurations (spot lights for reflective illumination; ring lights for coaxial illumination; back lights for contour illumination; linear assemblies; flat, large format panels; dome sources for diffused, omnidirectional illumination).
  • Very compact designs are possible, allowing for small LED illuminators to be integrated within smart cameras and vision sensors.

Power sources

LEDs have very low dynamic resistance, with the same voltage drop for widely varying currents. Consequently they cannot connect directly to most power sources without self destruction. A current control ballast is normally used, which is sometimes constant current.

Indicator LEDs

Miniature indicator LEDs are normally driven from low voltage DC via a current limiting resistor. Currents of 2 mA, 10 mA and 20 mA are common. Some low current indicators are only rated to 2 mA, and should not be driven at higher current.
Sub-mA indicators may be made by driving ultrabright LEDs at very low current. Efficacy tends to reduce at low currents, but indicators running on 100 μA are still practical. The cost of ultrabrights is higher than 2 mA indicator LEDs.
LEDs have a low max repeat reverse voltage rating, ranging from approximately 2 V to 5 V, and this can be a problem in some applications. Back to back LEDs are immune to this problem. These are available in single color as well as bicolor types. There are various strategies for reverse voltage handling.
In niche applications such as IR therapy, LEDs are often driven at far above rated current. This causes high failure rate and occasional LED explosions. Thus many parallel strings are used, and a safety screen and ongoing maintenance are required.

Alphanumeric LEDs

These use the same drive strategy as indicator LEDs, the only difference being the larger number of channels, each with its own resistor. Seven-segment and starburst LED arrays are available in both common-anode or common-cathode form.

Lighting LEDs on mains

A CR dropper followed by full wave rectification is the usual ballast with series-parallel LED clusters.
A single series string minimises dropper losses, while paralleled strings increase reliability. In practice usually three strings or more are used.
Operation on square wave and modified sine wave (MSW) sources, such as many invertors, causes heavily increased resistor dissipation in CR droppers, and LED ballasts designed for sine wave use tend to burn on non-sine waveforms. The non-sine waveform also causes high peak LED currents, heavily shortening LED life. An inductor & rectifier makes a more suitable ballast for such use, and other options are also possible.

Lighting LEDs on low voltage

LEDs are normally operated in parallel strings of series LEDs, with the total LED voltage typically adding up to around two-thirds of the supply voltage, with resistor current control for each string.
LED current is proportional to power supply (PSU) voltage minus total LED string voltage. Where battery sources are used, the PSU voltage can vary widely, causing large changes in LED current and light output. For such applications, a constant current regulator is preferred to resistor control. Low drop-out (LDO) constant current regs also allow the total LED string voltage to be a higher percentage of PSU voltage, resulting in improved efficiency and reduced power use.
Torches run one or more lighting LEDs on a low voltage battery. These usually use a resistor ballast.
In disposable coin cell powered keyring type LED lights, the resistance of the cell itself is usually the only current limiting device. The cell should not therefore be replaced with a lower resistance type, such as one using a different battery chemistry.
Finally, LEDs can be run from a single cell by use of a constant current switched mode invertor. The extra expense makes this option unpopular.

See also


External links

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