What is the Difference Between Tape Lights and Rope Lights?

Both tape lights and rope lights can add a splash of character to your lighting design. They both work well as accent or task lighting, and they even look similar…so what exactly is the difference?

Tape Light

Tape lights, also known as strip lights, use light emitting diodes (LEDs) mounted on one side of a circuit board. Their thin design includes an adhesive backing that allows them to stick to surfaces. Because they only use LED, they provide a higher lumen output than rope lights. Even though they cannot bend, you can use connectors to allow the light to go around corners.

For a clean and polished look, you can use tape lights with an LED extrusion or channel and a diffuser. An LED channel serves as a type of housing for the tape light and can help in dispersing heat or assisting with thermal management. When used with a light diffuser, they can eliminate lighting hotspots and protect the tape light from dust, debris, and impact.

Tape lights can also come in color changeable RGB or color tunable options. RGB lights allow you to choose different colors along the color spectrum while color tunable means you can change the color temperature from a warm white up to a cool white.

Rope Light

Where tape lights are flat, rope lights are cylindrical. They are made up of a string of lights, LED or incandescent, housed inside a clear PVC tube. This clear material allows the light to shine through. Because of their cylindrical design, they emit light in a 360-degree direction.

Rope lights come in a variety of different colors and color temperatures. Although most lights emit only one color or color temperature, some manufacturers make multicolor or color changing rope lights. Multicolor rope lights emit a mix of colors at the same time while color changing types allow you to choose which color you want!

So, which should you choose?

Rope lights are a relatively inexpensive way to light a space. Unlike tape lights, which should not bend, a rope light has a flexible design that can work around corners. While some rope lights can be cut, many cannot and cutting them can void the UL listing. To install rope lights, simply plug them into the wall!

You can use rope lights to brighten indoor areas like a railing or headboard, or as decorative lighting for a party. Additionally, rope lights work well in areas that require a long, solid strand of lighting. Use outdoor rated rope lights around a deck, stairs, pathway, and other unique options.

Tape lights provide a level of customizability unmatched by rope lights. Many tape light fixtures include evenly spaced cut points that allow you to cut the light to the length you need without causing damage. However, you must only cut along the cut points or you risk damaging the light. Additionally, double check that the tape light purchased can be cut. If not, avoid cutting these tape lights. Do not cut waterproof tape lights as it can void the waterproof rating.

Tape lights often require a more complex installation than rope lights. Though they can simply peel-and-stick, they still require a power supply or driver to convert the 120V or 240V AC power to a lower voltage 12V or 24V DC.

Use tape lights under cabinets, to line shelves, under beds, behind a screen, and in other locations that could use highlighting or accent lighting.

Avery Dietzen
Avery Dietzen

Originally from Wisconsin, Avery earned her degree in English before making the trip down to the Atlanta, GA area. Writer by day, reader by night, she prides herself on having a creative outlook and tries to instill that in everything she writes. As a content writer for HomElectrical, she uses her skills to share tips and tricks about lighting, HVAC, and going green. If she’s not writing, she’s reading, painting, hanging out with her dog, or spending time with family and friends.

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