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Basic wiring of simple RGB DMX fixture.

How to do it yourself DMX
Zachary Stoltenberg
Zachary Stoltenberg
Posts: 21
10/5/2011 9:22:20 AM
Original How-To and posting listed here

Wiring Setup - Power and Data over Cat5

At the end of last season (2010) I saw an intriguing new development in the world of LED lighting. It was the brain child of David Petryk and they were basically individually addressable LED strings that had the ability to turn Red, Green, Blue, or White on command. They utilized a "new" technology called PLC that allowed the data signal to be sent over the power wires meaning you only had a single extension chord that everything would plug into. It was a great idea but it wasn't for sale and while it was very innovative it did have some limitations as well (no color mixing). What I set out to do was build a similar string that had the same advantages and addressed the disadvantages of the system I had seen. I also had to do it on the cheap, I wanted more than a few of these strings and the price I had seen for the PLC system was outside of what I could afford. After months of research I became very well versed in some of the new pixel technology available, what was being developed, and what was already on the market. I saw what a few other users were doing, messaged back and forth with some very knowledgeable guys, watched video after video from David Moore (www.holidaycoro.com), and came to one conclusion. I was amazed at what was available, and while most of it was incredible, almost all of it exceeded the simple goal I started out with... One string of lights that light up any color, and only have one wire to plug into. What follows is what I eventually came up with, been testing them outdoors for a while now so we'll see how these first strings do this year, perhaps more will follow.


  • Instructions downloaded from www.lightuplawrence.net for free of course! Christmas Lighting is an obsession that is meant to be shared!
  • 3" long, 12v, 5050 smd RGB LED Modules. I ordered mine off of ali-express. $0.55 each or $8.80 for all 16.
  • 12mm, 12v, through-hole LED channel letter RGB LED Strings. Again, Ali express, $0.36 each or $17.90 for a string of 50.
  • 1 waterproof, 12v, DMX 512 decoder module. I ordered mine pre-addressed from ali-express for $6.21 each
  • 1 12" Cat5 pigtail, mine came from monoprice for $0.46 each
  • 1 Cat5 coupler $1.57 each at monoprice
  • 1 package heat shrink tubing, available at Radio Shack
  • 1 can liquid tape, $6 at Lowes


    I'm not an electrician, an expert in electrical things, nor do I have any training or degrees to qualify me as such. ;) I'm just a guy who figured out what works for his display. Take this information as such. If it works for you, GREAT! I've accomplished what I set out to do. If you see a problem with what I'm doing or have a question, please e-mail me. I'm always excited and willing to learn something new. I can't assume any responsibility for the outcome of your project if you chose to follow these instructions, or the fallout thereof. If you think I'm an idiot, kindly smile to yourself, click your "back" button three times, and have a nice day!


    24V DMX Decoder

    12V DMX Decoder

    5V DMX Decoder


    5050 SMD RGB Modules


    Non-Digital RGB Through Hole Node


  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Wire Nippers
  • Wire Strippers
  • Small Philips screwdriver
  • Butane Torch
  • Soldering Iron with pointed tip
  • Flux core solder
  • Exacto or other utility knife
  • Sharpie Marker
  • Super Glue, I like "Jet" brand
  • Voltage Tester
  • Bench-top Power Supply


    These are the two different types of modules/nodes I started with. Different modules work better for different applications. The 5050 SMD modules on the right are great for back lighting coro, spelling out words, and any kind of wall wash or flood light applications. They don't, however, look like christmas lights. The through-hole LED Nodes on the left definitely look more like mini lights and they are WAY brighter than the standard half-wave strings you can buy at the big-box stores, but they aren't completely perfect either. They need some additional waterproofing and have other needs I plan to cover in a separate section. To begin, you need to identify which LEDs you'd like to use. In this case, both are 12V, booth have common positive leads, and both are non-digital meaning the entire string acts together. I'm using the modules with the wreaths from my other How-To but the nodes will be used in my trees just like regular mini lights or conical LEDs.


    Here are two different DMX decoders that are affordable and commercially available. The decoder on the left is the one sold by HolidayCoro, cheap DMX, and on Aliexpress. They come pre-addressed to whatever channels you order, they are water resistant, and come with wired leads ready to solder onto. The addresses can be changed with free software available online but do require a $20 DMX dongle to do so. This dongle can also be used with several software programs widely used in the lighting community. The controller on the right is slightly more expensive and does require some kind of waterproof enclosure, but the dimming is almost perfect and the address is set with an on-board dip switch. I love using it for testing as it is easy to re-set the address and has screw terminals to attach the modules. This lets me connect it to different kinds of modules/nodes and even run more than one at the same time.


    Each of the strings has a set of "pigtails" that allow it to connect to the network of other strings. You don't have to use my version, I've seen many other variations and even commercially available plugs (seasonal entertainment). Any 5 wire or higher combination will work with this setup, but cat5 is cheap and readily available so that's what I decided to use. Each pigtail uses two couplers, a 2' long cat5 cable, and a 4" piece of 8MM heat shrink tubing.

    Clip the tab that allows for removal off of both ends of the cat5 cable. Once we put these couplers on, we don't want them coming off. Attach the couplers to each end and put a small dab of super glue where the plastics meet. Last year I covered these connections with another 2" section of 1" heat shrink to cover the coupler/plug and help make them more waterproof. After no issues last season, I'm not sure it was entirely necessary. For purposes of the How-To I'd say it's optional but recommended. One word of warning on the couplers, like everything from mono-price they are cheap but quality control is hit or miss. I ordered a gross of these things and very few of them were wired correctly inside. I ended up opening most of them to verify the correct leads were going to the correct pins and nearly all of them were incorrect. Check them before you cover them in heat shrink or you'll end up shorting something out!


    Next we want to cut the cable at the half-way point, then thread both sections together through a 4" piece of 8mm heat shrink tubing. Strip about 1-1/2" of sheathing from the end of each one to expose the 8 conductors inside. Strip another 1/4" off the ends of the smaller wires. I'm using stranded cat5 here because that's what was the cheapest from Monoprice.com.


    Arrange the wires into color pairs according to the following groups. Now, I do need to clarify that for my network, all data is sent over pins 4 and 5. LOR, D-Light, and other controllers send data on pins 4 and 5 while standard DMX uses pins 1 and 2. For my purposes I will rarely, if ever, use a standard DMX fixture. If I decide to convert my regular network controllers over to DMX, they will still work on my layout and I won't need to convert each one to use different pins. If I do ever decide to use a standard DMX fixture, I will have to build an adapter to convert the signal from pins 4 and 5 over to pins 1 and 2 and I'm OK with that. I'm also bundling all the orange, brown, and green wires together into groups in order to allow me to carry more current and provide more shielding to the data signal.


    The DMX Modules I'm using are pretty clearly marked as to what wires and what colors correspond to either power or data and how to connect the output to the modules. I did need to cut and re-strip some of these leads to make them even with the adjoining section.

    If you don't have a hand's free helper, I recommend getting one. It's not absolutely necessary but I use mine all the time, it's definitely worth the investment. You want to solder each of the leads of the controller to the corresponding wires on the pigtails. If you want to use heat shrink over these joints make sure that you slip it over one lead before soldering. I've recently switched over to liquid electrical tape for these joints, it takes more patience and drying time but it's completely waterproof. In my testing it has held up better than the heat shrink. We will still cover these liquid taped joints with 4" of heat shrink when we are done too!


    When you are finished you should have something like this. Take this opportunity to clearly label the address of the controller. Nothing complicated here, just a black sharpie. This pretty much completes the DMX/Pigtail unit. The assembly is the same regardless of what modules or nodes you are using up to this point, I do add an extension between the DMX Decoder module and the through-hole LED Nodes because I'm using those in my trees.


    If I soldered the decoder directly at the end of the node string then I have to run two cat5 cables into the tree, one up to the string and one back down. Besides being inconvenient, that requires more cable and is more expensive. Instead, I want to locate the module at the base of the tree and run a single wire up to the node string. For this I'm using standard 4 strand indoor/outdoor phone cable from Radio Shack. In this case, my wire colors match. White is the common 12v positive, and the red green and blue are the neutral wires for their corresponding colors. Not all nodes or modules are the same. I've had red wire light green LEDs, blue wires for common positive, etc.

    In the case of the 5050 modules I'm using for the wreaths, the common positive is yellow, the blue wire is blue neutral, but the red and green wires are switched for their respective colors. Test your nodes before you solder them to make sure you have the correct color wires controlling the appropriate color LEDs.


    Most of my trees are fairly new as we just built the house last year. As a result, none of them are more than 10' tall so I'm making my string extensions all 10'. I cut a 10' section of the indoor/outdoor telephone chord and soldered the 4 wires to the RGB LED nodes. It doesn't really matter what color wires you solder where as long as you match it at the other end. In this case I used yellow for the common positive, red and green for their respective neutrals, and the black wire for the blue neutral. After soldering each lead, I use the liquid tape over the joint on each and let them dry. After a second coat I pull the wires together, coat them all with liquid tape, the slide down a 4" section of 8mm heat shrink over the whole thing. Again, my testing has shown this to be the most water tight connection so far. With our brutal Kansas winters snow, ice, and moisture is a real concern.


    Our last step is to connect the DMX Decoder to the node string or modules. Just follow the color codes, solder, heat shrink or liquid tape, and repeat. When all four are done, cover the assembly with another 4" section of 8mm heat shrink and seal it up. That's it!


    Run the string through a quick test sequence to make sure everything behaves how you expect it to. Any small grounding issue can lead to multiple colors to light simultaneously. You may want to use a lens over the node to make the node string look more like traditional lights. Most of my display uses conical mini LEDs so I'll be leaving them uncovered.


    In order to power these strings we need to supply 12V D/C current to the Orange - Orange/White and Brown - Brown/White wires inside. To make the power injector, I used another standard cat5 cable, peeled back the sheathing to expose the wires, then soldered the bundled Orange and White wires onto Red and Black leads that I can connect to a power supply. The power leads are only connected to the "out" end of the injector, the end with the coupler. The end of the injector that connects to my DMX dongle is NOT connected to power in any way. Just heat shrink over the connection when your done, it's that simple.




    edited by Zachary Stoltenberg on 10/5/2011

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