How to Light Shelves for an Awesome Collectibles Display
There are two different ways for me to guide you on how to light shelves. One way is much easier, but you sacrifice customization. The other way is a bit more time-consuming but, you can set up your display exactly how you’d like. This way, any type of display case you have can be lit with a custom setup. And it looks so awesome when you set it up specifically for your collectibles!
And this DIY guide will make the task of setting up your own lighting much less intimidating for beginners. This is my guide on how to light shelves to create a fantastic display. But first, why don’t we check out some of the easiest options that work straight out of the box?
What are we covering today?
- How to light a bookshelf with a few simple products that don’t require any DIY work.
- Some facts about LED lights.
- Tools and items you’ll need to complete the task.
- How to light bookshelves and how to put it all together.
Don’t have an awesome display case or shelf? Check out This guide to help solve your problem!.
1. Easy way with LED strips (Not DIY)
So the easy way involves purchasing an LED lighting kit. These usually include all of the following:
- A remote control (If you can adjust the strip such as RGB color changing or dimming the lights)
- The LED Light Strip
- A connector from the light strip to the controller
- The power supply that connects the outlet to the controller
This is all you need. Pretty simple huh?
These are sets of plug and play strips that are simple and easy to figure out. No knowledge of wiring required. That said, sometimes the backs of the LED strips are not as sticky as we’d like them to be. And for that, I think this product is really going to help you out.
Here are a few options that work really well for LED strip kits:
2. The easy way with puck light LEDs (Not DIY)
These are pretty much the same as the LED strips above. Just plug it in and you’re good to go. I love puck lights however, they do not offer the same light coverage as you can get with strips. These have more of a spotlight type of effect which can be wonderful.
3. The easiest way with light up shelving (Not DIY)
Want to know how to light shelves without any work? Buy floating LED shelving. They are absolutely fantastic. It’s super neat for display and I highly recommend them.
4. The more rewarding way: How to light shelves with a custom set up (DIY)
It’s my favorite way to light a display. The more complicated and main section of the DIY guide starts here.
The more rewarding way involves some DIY installation work that is a little bit more in-depth than the easier ways I’ve listed above. Some knowledge of basic wiring will be helpful but, if you’re not familiar, don’t worry, I’m here to walk you through it. You’ll be a pro in no time.
This set up will allow you to customize your lighting in terms of how many lights you can use, how you arrange them and it’s the best way to keep the cables out of sight for your display. Here’s some necessary information if you’re new to LED lights. It will help you choose what type of lights will be best for your setup. That said I do have some recommended lights listed. So this is how to light up a display with cool white LEDs.
3 Types of LED Strips
- Analog one color
- Analog RGB – Multicolor (the whole strip must be one color at a time)
- Digital RGB – Multicolor (Each light can be its own color because each light has its own chip)
The one color analog LED strip is what I’ll be going over today. This is my recommendation for today’s tutorial on how to light a bookshelf. It has two wires a red wire and a black wire.
Alternatively, the analog RGB has 4 wires and is slightly more complicated because of that. And the digital RGB also has 4 wires but also requires that the wires run through a chip. That’s because the Digital RGB strips are programmable.
Colors of LEDs
So even though we are going over the single color analog, they still come in different colors. White is generally what you will go for with these. And there are a few types of white. They do have other colors but, I would not recommend those. Just because having straight up green LED lights that can’t change colors seems a little odd to me.
- Warm white (this is a lower temperature white that gives off a warm light like the sun)
- Cool white (this is a higher temperature white that looks cool as in both cold and totally awesome!)
It’s up to you to decide what you want to go for but, for most collectors, I’d recommend the cool white. I think it looks… Cooler. Haha.
There are many sizes of LEDs but two of the most common sizes are the 5050 (5.0 mm x 5.0 mm) and the 3528 (3.5 mm x 2.8 mm). It’s up to you which sizes you’d prefer but, the 5050 are larger and can be brighter but, take more power. While we’re talking about the power needed, there are many types of densities for LED strips.
There are two densities for LED strips. One is 300 lights on a 16.4ft strip and one is 600 lights on a 16.4ft strip. There are usually two differences between these two densities. One can be brightness although that’s not always the case because even though there are more lights the different strips may have different brightness levels measured in Lumens.
The other main difference is the smoothness of the lighting. With 300 lights the lighting is more spaced out so it doesn’t light the space as evenly as the 600 lights will.
Want to know how to light a display case? Here’s what you’ll need
- LED Strip Lights
- Power Supply – See Choosing a power supply
- Main Wiring – WHITE 22AWG Stranded 300V Hook Up Wire – 100′ Roll
- Remote Control and LED Controller
- Heat Shrink Tubes
- Wire Adapter
- Power Splitters
- Double-sided tape
- Zip Ties
- Soldering Iron
- Solder – Rosin Core Solder for Electronics like what we’re using it for
- Helping hand – if needed
- Pair of good scissors
- Wire Cutter/Stripper
- Hair Dryer
- Measuring Tape
- Screw Driver
LED Strip Lights
Pretty much self-explanatory but, if you want to know how to light bookshelves, you’ll be needing these. And as stated above there are tons of options on LED Strips.
Choosing a power supply
You’re gonna have to use some math here. The amps, watts, and volts are important for picking out your power supply. Most of these light strips are going to use a 12 Volt DC power supply. If you have a light strip that requires 60 Watts, you need a power supply with 60W/12V = at least 5 Amps.
Watts/Volts = Amps
So if you have a light strip that is 5 meters long and it says it requires 25 watts. Divide 25 Watts/5 meters = 5 Watts/Meter. That means if you use 1 meter of the strip you need 5W/12V = at least .42 Amps.
So decide on what power supply you need, based on the requirements of your light strips, and take a look at how much of the strip you will use. I’d recommend going with amps slightly higher than what you need just in case.
American Wire Gauge (AWG) is the standard for diameters of wire. 22 is thin enough to hide in your cabinet/shelving easily. Just make sure your wire cutters/strippers match the size of your wiring. It’s not fun to accidentally cut your wires.
Remote Control and LED Controller
If you don’t have a way to switch on the lights like an outlet connected to a light switch, you’ll need one of these. The controller connects to the power supply and either the wire adapter or the splitter if you use one of those. It allows you to use the remote control. In addition to turning the lights on and off, you will be able to dim them too! And some of the fancier RGB Strips have remotes that can adjust the colors. That’s how to light up a display with the press of a button.
Heat Shrink Tubes
These are very simple. They are tubes that shrink as you heat them. It’s what we’ll use on our soldered wire joints to protect them and keep them tidy. We’ll use our hair dryer to heat them up.
These are also known as power plug adapters. They will convert your black and red wires into something that can plug into your power supply/LED controller.
The wire connectors, well, connect your LED strip to your Main Wires. You can get these without clasps but, the clasps make it a little less permanent.
The splitter is going to allow you to split the power coming from your power source between multiple sets of wires. So you could do multiple bookcase lights.
Double Sided Tape
The double sided tape is just something a little extra to make sure our LED lights actually stick to whatever surface we put them on.
Of course, the zip ties are just going to help us keep things a little tidy in our display. Just so we don’t have loose wires running everywhere.
The soldering iron will help us melt solder onto our joints to glue them together. Scissors are simply to cut our LED strips into whatever custom sizes we’ll need for the project. We’ll need a wire cutter/ stripper for all of our wiring concerns. The hair dryer will allow us to heat up our heat shrink tubes without damaging them. Measuring tape is for…. measuring. Finally, the screwdriver will let us craft those fine hooks for our wires.
If you’re setting up a bookshelf with a closed back, you may need to drill some holes in the back of the case to feed the wires through.
There is a tool called a helping hand that can help you with soldering wires. It’s two clamps to hold each wire so you have a “helping hand”.
How to light a bookshelf? This is how it works
So this is the order for things on how to light a bookshelf. You have LED strips(See 2)>connected to more LED strips depending on your setup (See 1)>wiring connectors(See 3)>Main Wires that go up and down your display(See 4)>power jack adapter(See 5)>connected to splitter depending on your setup/if you need multiple cases lit (See 6)>LED Controller(See 7)>power supply (See 8)>outlet (See 9).
This is our simple diagram that shows exactly how to light up a display.
LED Strip Measuring
Now you’ll want to measure out your LED strips specifically to fit your setup. For example, if your shelf is 20″ long, you may want to cut your strip to 16″ so you have 2 inches of clearance on each side. How much clearance you want is up to you for your own display needs. And if you need more than one strip for a shelf you’ll need to decide that now too. You may have a strip for the front of the shelf and one on each of the sides.
If you have multiple LED strips on one shelf, remember you’ll need a little clearance to put in the wires that connect your LED strips together. Measure appropriately.
To sum it up: Make sure your LED strips fit your shelf with room for wires.
For example, in the diagram above you’ll see that the top LED strip is connected to a second strip using wires. I’ll tell you how to do that in the section “Connecting your LED strips together” below.
Cutting the LED Strip
When you are cutting the LED strips, make sure you only cut in specific spots where you are supposed to. On each LED strip there’s a spot every once in a while where it’s safe to cut. If you choose to cut in a spot that isn’t marked, your LED strip may not function properly.
And definitely, make sure you test out the strip before you install it. I can’t repeat this enough. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this how to light bookshelves guide, it’s to test out your lights before you install.
Measuring the Main Wires
So you’ll want to measure your main wires (you’ll need 2) to run the whole length of your shelving (See number 4 in the diagram above). Measuring it out a little bit longer than you need is the best idea. You can cut it at the bottom if you don’t need as much wire. At the top of the wire, you’ll want to strip a quarter inch of the insulation off so you can connect it and the wire connector together.
At each different shelf, you’ll want to strip a small section of wire away to attach the wire connectors. In a moment I’ll talk about how we’re staggering the Wire Connectors so make sure you are stripping your main wires in the proper spots to account for that. In fact, it may be easier to do one of the main wires first. Then once it’s connected, you can do the second wire and you’ll know exactly where to strip it.
Measuring the Wire Connectors
Using wire connectors will allow you to remove them from the LED strips for easy adjustments. This is better than soldering on the wires and not being able to remove them because you know, they’re glued together with metal.
An important note here, before you install the wire connectors, make sure the clasps open outward away from your shelf. Since you are going to be mounting these wires to the top of the cabinets, you don’t want them to open against the top of the shelf where you won’t be able to open them.
Also, make sure that you are lining up the wires correctly, black is negative and red is positive.
Anyways, in order to make sure you don’t have a ton of bulky wires sticking out, we’re going to stagger the connections to the main wire. So pick a wire from the connector that will be long and pick one to be short. Just like for the top of the Main Wires we are going to strip a quarter-inch off of the end of each wire. So the long wire can be 2.5 inches with an extra quarter inch of exposed wire and the short can be 1.5 inches with a quarter inch of exposed wire.
How to Solder Wires Together
The next section will require us to solder our wires together. For the soldering iron, you’ll want to plug it in and let it heat up. In order to clean it before you start you may want to apply some solder to the iron and wipe it off with a wet sponge. We want it nice and clean so it can apply heat properly.
You may want to apply a little bit of solder to your iron after it’s clean too. This is called tinning your soldering iron. In addition, you can tin your wires too. This makes it so it takes less time to heat up your wires.
Now that it’s clean and ready to go, you can apply the soldering iron to the wires to heat them up and then apply the solder directly to the heated wires. NOT TO THE IRON. This is the best way. Just be careful you don’t heat your wires for too long because the heat can mess them up after a bit. Make sure you twist your wires together before you apply the solder. You want as much metal to metal contact as you can get to get the best connection.
If you need to redo solder or take something out, you can apply fresh solder and that will help it heat up better to melt the old stuff.
Also, slightly important, don’t touch hot metal!
Connecting the Wire Connectors to the Main Wires
Before you connect the wires you’ll want to put some of those heat shrink tubes over the wire because once it’s connected you can’t get it on. You can cut the tubes a little over a half inch, 5/8ths maybe.
Remember when we stripped the top of the Main Wires a quarter inch? Well, now we want to take that exposed wire and curl it into a hook. You’ll want to do the same for the wire connectors at the top. A tip I learned is to wrap the wire around a screwdriver to get a quick circular hook shape.
Hook the two wires together and twist them to fully connect them. Next, you can solder the joint together and once it’s cool you can slide the heat shrink tube over top and warm it with our trusty hair dryer.
For the rest of the connectors, you’ll do the same thing. The only difference is you won’t have two hooks. You’ll have some of the exposed main wire which you can wrap the wire connectors exposed wire around. And once again make sure you put the heat shrink tube on before you connect it. Then solder it and slide the tube over and heat to shrink.
Connecting your LED Strips together
If your setup requires you to have multiple strips per shelf, you’ll need to connect them together. Cut a few strips of your main wire to fit how close together your strips are. Once again strip a quarter inch of your wire on both sides. Twist the stranded wires to make it one tight wire. Lay the wire on the LED strips. Trim the exposed wire back as short as possible and solder onto the LED Strip.
How to light a display case: Closing
That’s how to light a display case! You can now connect your wire connectors to your LED Strips. Once again make sure the clasps can open out and not into the shelf above so you can reach it.
It’s also time to connect your Main Wires to your wire adapters to the LED controller and to the power supply.
Use your zip ties to neatly tie your long cords around the columns of your shelving. Use your double sided tape to stick on the LED strips. Sometimes the default tape on the strips doesn’t hold as well as we’d like it to.
If you’re doing this for multiple bookshelves or cabinets/cases, you’ll want to invest in a splitter. This will allow you to connect multiple shelving units to a single LED remote and power supply.
It may take a little effort to get this done however, this is the best way to get perfect custom lighting for your cabinet. And for a low price!
Now you know how to light shelves with your own LED strips. And with these concepts, you can make any type of design you’d like.
These pictures were altered from their originals.
White LED Lights by Windell Oskay
Soldering LED strips by Tony Buser
Anime Expo case by The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek
LED Strip image by Max Pixel