New! Dark mode!

Browsing Pinside at night? Getting tired of all the white? Switch to dark mode using the button in the top right (or CTRL-B)!

A Quick Guide to Tasteful LEDs

By ForceFlow

August 10, 2020

43 days ago

Since the question about "what LEDs should I use" tends to come up frequently on the forums, I thought I might write down when I generally like to do for most games.

I've been using comet pinball bulbs for years--they've always worked well for me. There are of course, other brands available, and each one has its fans, but I've been happy with comet's products & prices, so I've continued to use them. So with that in mind, those will be the bulbs I'll mainly be referring to, though I think most of the common bulb styles I'll be referring to are also available from most of the major bulb manufacturers.

When it comes to white LEDs, there are generally 3 color temperatures available--warm, sunlight, and natural/cool. With warm bulbs, the color looks a bit yellow. Sunlight is roughly neutral, and natural/cool is a bit blue. For most things, I generally go with sunlight.

Typically, for GI on solid state games, I use: 1smd sunlight frosted. Sometimes 2smd in darker areas.

For the backbox, I typically use natural/cool 1smd bulbs. Depending on the look of the backglass, sometimes I use frosted, sometimes I use no lens. Although, more often than not, I use frosted with translites, and no lens with real backglasses. I never use clear lens since those typically cast rings on the translite/backglass.

For inserts, I typically color match the red, blue, green, and purple inserts. I use sunlight bulbs for orange and white inserts. No lens on bulbs pointing directly at the insert, and for bulbs that are sideways, I either use flex head or frosted. For small inserts, I usually use 1smd. For larger inserts, I usually use 4smd or 2smd.

The only time I use warm LEDs is on EM games. The GI on EM games is also the only place where I might use clear lens blubs to try to replicate the look of incandescent bulbs, but only if the bulb is visible to the player. Otherwise, I stick to either frosted lens for bulbs hidden under plastics, or no lens bulbs for inserts. With the clear lens, the bulbs tend to cast visible rings of lights on backglasses, inserts, and plastics.

The only time I use cool/natural is in the backbox, especially with yellowed translites, to help offset the yellowing.

I never color match plastics on the playfield or colors on the backglass. I think doing that just overpowers the existing colors of the game. But, some people like to do that; however, it's just not my personal preference.

For flashers, I generally use the 5smd, 8smd flat, 8smd tower, and 8smd flex head. If a flasher is basically directly visible by a player, I'll use 5smd. If not, I'll generally use an 8smd flat or tower. Flat; I'll generally use if the bulb is basically being directed in a particular direction. Tower; if if the light is omni directional, like under a large colored dome. Flex; usually if the bulb is sideways, especially when there's a large insert in the center of pop bumpers. I generally don't color match flashers, and pretty much let the domes/plastics/inserts do the work. In special cases, I've used 10smd flashers, such as in the AFM mothership saucer.

That is generally my approach to adding LEDs to games.

As for non-ghosting bulbs, I haven't needed to use them. Most games don't actually need them, since there are often workarounds for ghosting. Plus, it's less expensive to just stock one bulb type, and non-ghosting bulbs are generally more expensive than their standard counterparts. For classic bally/stern, the siegecraft LED add-on boards work fine. For WPC, just use the LED ROM patch fix. For Gottlieb System 3, the ghosting is so minor, it's barely noticeable. I can't really comment on Stern SAM/Whitestar since I haven't worked on those extensively, but in some of those games, it sounds like they may need non-ghosting LEDs (if you aren't using LED OCD boards).

If you can install LED OCD boards, I'd highly recommend it. In most games, LEDs don't fade in and out very well. Sometimes they will just cut in and out, sometimes they will flicker. With the LED OCD board, it reproduces the dimming features for lamps very well, and greatly improves the game's look and light shows. For games that have dimming features in the GI, I'd also recommend the GI OCD board. I just wish these boards would be available for pin2000 games--proper dimming effects with LEDs on those games would look terrific!

Story photos

No photos are attached to this story.


42 days ago

Thank you. I always love it when people share their take on setups .

41 days ago

Good perspective. I have also been hesitant on using non-frosted for the same concern about casting rings of light (or shadow). I am also finding the "sunlight" LED's to be a favorite for early solid state games to help the colors pop a little bit more. I only color match playfield inserts when there is no text on the insert itself. For some reason the added color can wash out the lettering since the color is so saturated. LEDs can become a divided issue easily especially when it comes to blending colors and of course the controversial "putting LEDs in EM machines".

41 days ago

Thanks for sharing, LED perspectives are undoubtedly wide and varied and as you said, always a matter of personal taste. I agree that coloring up locations(color matching can disrupt the artist's idea and wash details(back-glasses or translites for sure.) Frankly, some artwork can use it or isn't harmed by the color matching. Pinbot seems to be an example that works well with the generally accepted blue /red partition of the playfield. Others, like wide bodies(STTNG?) coloring PF zones can work to degree. Nonetheless, it all adds up to the fun of personalization of mass produced homogeneous and sometimes pricey toys!

41 days ago

Comet bulbs are what I use too. Great product, and free candy!!

40 days ago

Great tips. Thank you!

39 days ago

These are great suggestions.

I put LEDs on 6 pins at one time a while back and I did the "Pepsi challenge" by getting bulbs from numerous companies. Comet pinball was the clear winner. They have the highest quality, best fitting bulbs, tons of choices, great prices, none...the best customer service out there. Comet has earned my business for life.

As far as lighting, Force made all solid recommendations. The only things I would add would be that I personally prefer a little brighter games, so I use the sunlight bulbs. Flashers can be FAR too bright for some, so pay special attention to how "covered" they are and where they are located. A lot of people actually keep incandescents in...but I am a fan of the 5smd.
I agree with the frosted bulbs for backglasses, but I think some games really benefit from some BG coloring, but only in the right places. LOTR, pinbot, and big guns are a few of mine that REALLY benefitted from well placed BG colored LEDs.

37 days ago

I've used comet for years. Some other led makers leds get dim over time. Comet maintains after several years. In over 20k comet leds I've maybe had 3 comet leds doa.

37 days ago

Keep in mind, for a while, there were two different types of LEDs available. The traditional LEDs technology that has basically been available since the 70s, and the more recent SMD (surface mounted) LEDs. The older traditional style LEDs are the ones that fade through use. The SMD style generally doesn't.

37 days ago

Thank you - I will use your recommendations as my guide. This is something I really struggle with. I have also had good luck with Comet.

36 days ago

Did someone say free candy?

35 days ago

Great info. I think there are still a lot of non SMD bulbs and rainbow puke designs floating out there and I was guilty of throwing any color LED on my gaming systems 8-10 years ago. It was the cool thing to do

34 days ago

Hi! Sorry, I'm a little late to the LED thing, what is "the LED ROM patch fix"?

33 days ago

Search for wpclp.

Games released after scared stiff already have the updated code. A few games with game code released well after a game's release also have it, such as:

AFM rev 1.13
WH2O rev LH-6
TZ rev 9.4H

30 days ago

good advice. White in the GI's makes the games clearly visible and playable in dark and light gamerooms, and highlights the art package of the games. Which is totally lost when using color in GI applications. Solid write up. I use 2 SMD comet frosted daylights in every game I have for GI's. Looks great in EM's, early SS and DMD games. Has great light distribution and lights up games that are normally dark with regular bulbs. They are fantastic.

29 days ago

This is some great advice. I just added some (several dozen) LEDs to a Star Trek The Next Generation. I added them piecemeal, thinking which areas would look good brighter (like the insignia arrows that indicate what to shoot for) and which could use a splash of color. I got to where I was satisfied but I'm concerned that I might have gone a little over the top.

Can you describe a bit more about OCD boards (e.g., what does "OCD" stand for?) and a link (if it's not against the rules)?

28 days ago

Thanks for the insight, being a mostly em guy, I also use the Comet and warm white. Then mix with traditional lamps. If visible from the player, traditional, if hidden, then switch to LED. Also appreciate your input on forum topics, always insightful and well thought out comments.

27 days ago

I use a lot of the comet warm white frosted 1smd or 2smd bulbs, they are a bit more yellow but appear to closely emulate the original lighting on older Bally machines. The opmax are pricey but if you need a lot of diffused gi light(in a dark corner, under dark plastics, etc.)they are the way to go. They are good under sling shot plastics if you want to use a colored bulb and still want a lot of light. Replacing backglass bulbs reduces heat build up and helps protect irreplaceable backglasses. You can still use some incandescent bulbs in gi lighting and a mixture of leds in certain areas, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Try out many different bulbs and see which looks best, trial and error is a must. You can always use bulbs in another location.

22 days ago

As per the question above, LED OCD Boards can be found here:

8 days ago

Thank you for this. LEDs need to be thoughtfully selected and applied. Too much blue light can be bad for the eyes- one more reason to go with the warm end of the spectrum.

1 day ago

great info, and if nothing else, a great starting point for someone that can then play around to find what they prefer.

Add a comment

Wanna make a comment? Click here to sign in or register.