Which Resistor Should I Use with my LED?

Choosing a resistor to work with an LED is fairly simple, but does require some knowledge of the LED and a small amount of maths. Some LEDs such as colour changing LEDs, flashing LEDs and 5V LEDs are designed to run off a 5V supply and therefore don’t need a resistor. All other standard and bright LEDs will need a current limit resistor.

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode and as the name suggests, it is a diode that emits light. When a diode is put in a circuit 0.7V is dropped across it. Similarly LEDs have a voltage dropped across them know as the forward voltage, though this is different for every LED. For a standard LED the forward voltage will typically be 2V, where as an ultra bright LED will be about 3.5V.

A proportion of the battery voltage is dropped across the LED (the forward voltage) and the rest of the voltage is dropped across the resistor. This is shown in the diagram top right. We can therefore write this as:



The resistance can be calculated using Ohms Law:


LEDs typically require 10 to 20mA, the datasheet for the LED will detail this along with the forward voltage drop.

For example an ultra bright blue LED with a 9V battery has a forward voltage of 3.2V and typical current of 20mA.


So the resistor needs to be 290? or as close as is available.

Let your computer do the work


We have added a great tool to the Kitronik website that takes the strain out of calculating the current limit resistor.

Simply select which LED you are using from a drop down list. Enter the battery voltage and it will tell you what resistor to use. It even tells you what the colour bands will be on the resistor.

Click here to visit the calculator page

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4 thoughts on “Which Resistor Should I Use with my LED?”

  • Mikael
    Mikael April 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Heey, thanks for a great tutorial. I wonder what value on the resistor i need if i have a 12v LED as well as a 12V Supply? That gives me (12-12)/A. I still need to regulate the current no?

    • Rob Haywood
      Rob Haywood April 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

      The formula in this case does give you 0 Ohms. However it is still a good idea to limit the current. Put a very low value resistor in, a 1 or 10 Ohm will do. Just make sure the resistor has a suitable power rating for the amount of power it will be dissipating.

      Most 12V LEDs are actually made from lower voltage LEDs in series. It is especially important to limit the current when LEDs are being used in series as they can be slightly unbalanced and have different forward voltages meaning some would draw more current and possibly burn out faster.

  • henry
    henry August 11, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    hello i.m building a model i will use 9 volts the leds are 3mm a red, green and a blue and 4 white leds how would i know which resistor to use for each led

    • Rob Haywood
      Rob Haywood August 11, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      Hi Henry.

      You can use our LED Resistor Calculator at www.kitronik.co.uk/ledcalc and if they are our LEDs simply select them from the drop down list, enter 9V in the battery section and click calculate.


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