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What's LED (Light Emitting Diode)? What are the advantages?

light-emitting diode (LED is a semiconductor light source. LEDs are used as indicator lamps in many devices and are increasingly used for other lighting. Introduced as a practical electronic component in 1962, early LEDs emitted low-intensity red light, but modern versions are available across the visible, ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, with very high brightness.

When a light-emitting diode is forward biased (switched on), electrons are able to recombine with electron holes within the device, releasing energy in the form of photons. This effect is called electroluminescence and the colour of the light (corresponding to the energy of the photon) is determined by the energy gap of the semiconductor. An LED is often small in area (less than 1 mm2), and integrated optical components may be used to shape its radiation pattern. LEDs present many advantages over incandescent light sources including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved robustness, smaller size, faster switching, and greater durability and reliability. LEDs powerful enough for room lighting are relatively expensive and require more precise current and heat management than compact fluorescent lamp sources of comparable output.

Light-emitting diodes are used in applications as diverse as replacements for aviation lighting, automotive lighting (particularly brake lamps, turn signals and indicators) as well as in traffic signals. The compact size, the possibility of narrow bandwidth, switching speed, and extreme reliability of LEDs has allowed new text and video displays and sensors to be developed, while their high switching rates are also useful in advanced communications technology. Infrared LEDs are also used in the remote control units of many commercial products including televisions, DVD players, and other domestic appliances.


Light-emitting diode

Red, pure green and blue LEDs of the 5mm diffused type


Parts of an LED. Although not directly labeled, the flat bottom surfaces of the anvil and post embedded inside the epoxy act as anchors, to prevent the conductors from being forcefully pulled out from mechanical strain or vibration.
LEDs are produced in a variety of shapes and sizes. The 5 mm cylindrical package (red, fifth from the left) is the most common, estimated at 80% of world production. The color of the plastic lens is often the same as the actual color of light emitted, but not always. For instance, purple plastic is often used for infrared LEDs, and most blue devices have clear housings. There are also LEDs in SMT packages, such as those found on blinkiesand on cell phone keypads (not shown).

The main types of LEDs are miniature, high power devices and custom designs such as alphanumeric or multi-color.


Different sized LEDs. 8 mm, 5 mm and 3 mm, with a wooden match-stick for scale.

These are mostly single-die LEDs used as indicators, and they come in various-sizes from 2 mm to 8 mm, through-hole and surface mount packages. They are usually simple in design, not requiring any separate cooling body.] Typical current ratings ranges from around 1 mA to above 20 mA. The small scale sets a natural upper boundary on power consumption due to heat caused by the high current density and need for heat sinking.

A green surface-mount LED mounted on a circuit board.


Medium power LEDs are often through-hole mounted and used when an output of a few lumen is needed. They sometimes have the diode mounted to four leads (two cathode leads, two anode leads) for better heat conduction and carry an integrated lens. An example of this is the Superflux package, from Philips Lumileds. These LEDs are most commonly used in light panels, emergency lighting and automotive tail-lights. Due to the larger amount of metal in the LED, they are able to handle higher currents (around 100 mA). The higher current allows for the higher light output required for tail-lights and emergency lighting.

High power

High-power light emiting diodes

High power LEDs (HPLED) can be driven at currents from hundreds of mA to more than an ampere, compared with the tens of mA for other LEDs. Some can emit over a thousand lumens. Since overheating is destructive, the HPLEDs must be mounted on a heat sink to allow for heat dissipation. If the heat from a HPLED is not removed, the device will fail in seconds. One HPLED can often replace an incandescent bulb in a torch, or be set in an array to form a powerful LED lamp.

LEDs have been developed by Seoul Semiconductor that can operate on AC power without the need for a DC converter. For each half cycle, part of the LED emits light and part is dark, and this is reversed during the next half cycle. The efficacy of this type of HPLED is typically 40 lm/W. A large number of LED elements in series may be able to operate directly from line voltage. In 2009 Seoul Semiconductor released a high DC voltage capable of being driven from AC power with a simple controlling circuit. The low power dissipation of these LEDs affords them more flexibility than the original AC LED design.




Efficiency: LEDs emit more light per watt than incandescent light bulbs. Their efficiency is not affected by shape and size, unlike fluorescent light bulbs or tubes.

  • Color: LEDs can emit light of an intended color without using any color filters as traditional lighting methods need. This is more efficient and can lower initial costs.
  • Size: LEDs can be very small (smaller than 2 mm2) and are easily populated onto printed circuit boards.
  • On/Off time: LEDs light up very quickly. A typical red indicator LED will achieve full brightness in under a microsecond. LEDs used in communications devices can have even faster response times.
  • Cycling: LEDs are ideal for uses subject to frequent on-off cycling, unlike fluorescent lamps that fail faster when cycled often, or HID lampsthat require a long time before restarting.
  • Dimming: LEDs can very easily be dimmed either by pulse-width modulation or lowering the forward current.
  • Cool light: In contrast to most light sources, LEDs radiate very little heat in the form of IR that can cause damage to sensitive objects or fabrics. Wasted energy is dispersed as heat through the base of the LED.
  • Slow failure: LEDs mostly fail by dimming over time, rather than the abrupt failure of incandescent bulbs.
  • Lifetime: 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 10,000 to 15,000 hours, depending partly on the conditions of use, and incandescent light bulbs at 1,000–2,000 hours.
  • Shock resistance: LEDs, being solid state components, are difficult to damage with external shock, unlike fluorescent and incandescent bulbs which are fragile.
  • Focus: 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.