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Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

LED Selection and Usage Part 1 LED Selection and Usage Part 1 Hot video

While installing LED's on you pinball game can provide outstanding results the dizzying variety of options can be rather confusing.  This article and video covers the brands and types of LED's available, brightness comparisons, the difference between classic LED's and SMD LED's and the differences between incandescent bulbs and LED's.

NOTE: You will get the most out of this information if you read the article and view the video.

Types of LED's

All LED's (as in the actual LED, not the bulb, which can include multiple LED's) are not the same.  Many bulbs use one or more of what I would call classic LED's.  They look kind of like cylindrical light bulbs and have been around for years.

The newer version of the classic LED is a SMD (surface mount device) LED.  This type is brighter than a classic LED and one SMD chip is equivalent in brightness to a bulb with 3 classic LED's.  See Image 1 for examples of each (3 LED Ablaze and 1 SMD LED from Cointaker).

LED Brands

The four major brands are Comet Pinball (cometpinball.com), Pinball Center (pinallcenter.eu), Cointaker (cointaker.com) and Ablaze, which is carried by several pinball sites including pinballlife.com.  Of the four, Comet Pinball and Cointaker have the largest selection.

Image Gallery

LED Selection and Usage Part 1
LED Selection and Usage Part 1

I have not found as much difference between brands as between the type and configuration of the LED.

Incandescent and LED Differences

Two key differences between incandescent bulbs and LED's are directionality, dimming and the warmth of the light.  While standard bulbs are omnidirectional, LED's are directional with the light spreading out like a snow cone cup.  This is important to note since when upgrading inserts the bulb should be perpendicular to the playfield.

Note: The light from SMD type LED's although still directional is less so and spreads out faster than the classic LED's (the cone is more squat).

The second difference is that incandescent bulbs provide warm light while LED's have a cool light.  The one exception to this is you can purchase warm LED's although they are available in white only.  The color wheel in Image 2 provides info on warm and cool colors.

The last difference is dimming.  LED's require a different type of circuit for dimming and will not dim properly unless the game was designed for LED's.  On some games this is no big deal while on others where the brightness of the light indicates features, shots, etc. this can be problematic.

Selection

For inserts always match the color of the bulb to the color of the insert.  Since colored LED's provide a cool light, inserts that are purple, green or blue will pop the most.  Orange, yellow and red inserts will not have as dramatic a change when installing LED's.

For GI lighting I go with either a frosted bulb, a fluted bulb or the 170 bulb from Cointakers.  All solve the directional problem and spread the light out across the playfield.  They also prevent hotspots when there is a plastic above the bulb.  Use warm LED's with warm colors and cool LED's with cool colors.

If you're not concerned with ghosting either the Ablaze 3 LED or, Cointaker Super or Ultra or the Comet Pinball SMD bulbs are good choices.  The 2 and 4 LED from Cointaker have too narrow a cone to be generally useful.  If you're concerned with ghosting, use the Ablaze Ghostbuster, Comet Pinball non-ghosting or Cointaker Premium.

See Anti-Ghosting LED Comparison for more info.

On some games colored GI lighting can add a lot to the appearance. For example, Bram Stokers Dracula with blue GI bulbs.

Personally I don't use LED's in the backbox since they don't add much and often look worse.  If you do want to do the backbox use frosted or 170.

The last type of LED I commonly use is the flex. If the an insert bulb is mounted parallel to the playfield rather than perpendicular, the flex can be pointed towards the insert to solve the directionality issue.  There are also some unique situations where this type of LED is needed.