If you’re creating an animated Christmas light display, one of your biggest buys will be pixels. And if you’ve searched for pixels before, you’ll see a wide variety of different places that sell them at various prices.
And then you begin to wonder “Is it worth it to pay a little extra to go through a US-based vendor?”, and “Are the cheapest pixels any different from more expensive pixels?
The truth is – the biggest differentiators between the cheapest and the most expensive pixels are the quality control and customer service when/if something goes wrong. Any (2) pixels from different vendors may seem identical at the surface-level, but over the long-term things can be VERY different. That’s why I recommend that most people buy through a US-based vendor,
Let’s dive in to those differences, and what you need to look for in a vendor for Christmas light pixels!
What Type of Christmas Light Vendors are There?
If you’re not already familiar, Christmas light pixels are manufactured in China. If you’re getting pixels, this is where they come from. Like other LED products, not only are the Chinese the best at making them, we just can’t manufacture them elsewhere and get the same quality/cost.
This means that you can either buy your pixels from someone based in the US themselves, or from China directly.
Of course, like many things in life, this is a sliding scale that features decent-sized companies with multiple employees that import these, to individuals with small businesses importing pixels and Chinese-based vendors with products warehoused in the US.
On the financial side, buying direct from China may seem like a great deal at first glance! But remember – at the time of this writing, tariff’s on goods from China are around 30%, and when you buy directly from a Chinese factory, that is on you.
When you buy from a US-based vendor, they pay the tariff before you buy, so you never have to worry about it. And yes – Fedex, UPS, and DHL can and will bill you for your tariff’s, even holding back deliveries if you don’t pay!
What Features Vary Most Between Vendors?
When it comes down to it, the BIGGEST job of the US-based vendor (or insert your country here) is keeping the quality control up. Pixel factories are notorious for skimping on quality for convenience, greater profit, or just to get the product out the door faster.
And if nobody is assuring that quality on the US-side, you may end up with product that doesn’t work well. This is a continuous process – you can’t just set the quality at the start of the relationship with a factory, you must keep up on it as time goes on to ensure it doesn’t change.
Not only that, but there are (2) other key features that will vary the most between vendors.
The first is the connectors that the pixels use to connect strings to your controller and other strings. The cheapest pixels will offer no connector at all, so you have to use bare wire – which is slow and offers more room for error.
They also will have questionable gauge, or thickness to their wires. When the wires between your pixels are too thin, you have to re-inject power or re-start runs of pixels more often.
Standard wire gauge for pixels is around 18awg. It’s not an exact science in the sense that gauge in “AWG” is an American standard, and factories in China sometimes promise 18awg, but then deliver something much thinner!
With wire gauge, the “one last thing” you need to remember is that this is the thickness of the actual metal that makes up the cable. When you touch the wire with your hands, you are feeling the plastic/rubber outside of the wire, which may vary in thickness…so with wire gauge, you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover! Some pixels may seem to have a thicker wire, but they may actually have a thicker insulation with a thinner wire underneath!
Do Vendors Test Their Pixels?
Yes! High-quality vendors do test their pixels. While each has their own process, they generally have their factories test the pixels while mid-production, once built, and they typically let them run for at least a few hours to verify their quality.
Then they’re packaged up, and once they hit the US, most vendors have a process to randomly test a few strings of pixels from each batch they buy.
Why not test every pixel? Simply put, if the factory is doing their job, the failure rate is very low (less than 1 pixel per 1000). Testing every light would only drive up the cost of the pixels to you!
Can Pixels Catch on Fire?
In 2019-2020, there was an uptick in bad pixels (pixels not working), and pixels that actually caught on fire. While there is a full report available on https://www.pixel.report, the “cliff’s notes” is that if you follow my guidance of using a US-based vendor, there is ZERO history of pixel fires.
Why? Because some basic quality-checking and customer advocacy from the US-based vendors does a lot in keeping the factory honest! While defective pixels can happen, it’s purely negligent to allow it to happen. The response from the US-based vendors to these reports has only re-assured me that the work they do is FULLY worth the little extra you pay!
What Vendors Do I Recommend? (And Why!)
On our resources page, I have listed a number of vendors that I’ve bought from and can recommend for US-based customers. I have also listed some international sellers that come highly recommended for Canada and the UK.
At the end of the day, I want you to be able to make an amazing light show. Using the vendors I recommend will not only give you a high-quality light, but also ensure that you have a real, US-based customer service to speak with if you have any issues.