Introduction to The Light Emitting Diode

Recommended Posts

Light Emitting Diodes or LED´s, are among the most widely used of all the different types of semiconductor diodes available today. They are the most visible type of diode, that emit a fairly narrow bandwidth of either visible light at different coloured wavelengths, invisible infra-red light for remote controls or laser type light when a forward current is passed through them.

The “Light Emitting Diode” or LED as it is more commonly called, is basically just a specialised type of diode as they have very similar electrical characteristics to a PN junction diode. This means that an LED will pass current in its forward direction but block the flow of current in the reverse direction.

Light emitting diodes are made from a very thin layer of fairly heavily doped semiconductor material and depending on the semiconductor material used and the amount of doping, when forward biased an LED will emit a coloured light at a particular spectral wavelength.

When the diode is forward biased, electrons from the semiconductors conduction band recombine with holes from the valence band releasing sufficient energy to produce photons which emit a monochromatic (single colour) of light. Because of this thin layer a reasonable number of these photons can leave the junction and radiate away producing a coloured light output.

light emitting diode construction

LED Construction

Then we can say that when operated in a forward biased directionLight Emitting Diodes are semiconductor devices that convert electrical energy into light energy.

The construction of a Light Emitting Diode is very different from that of a normal signal diode. The PN junction of an LED is surrounded by a transparent, hard plastic epoxy resin hemispherical shaped shell or body which protects the LED from both vibration and shock.

Surprisingly, an LED junction does not actually emit that much light so the epoxy resin body is constructed in such a way that the photons of light emitted by the junction are reflected away from the surrounding substrate base to which the diode is attached and are focused upwards through the domed top of the LED, which itself acts like a lens concentrating the amount of light. This is why the emitted light appears to be brightest at the top of the LED.

However, not all LEDs are made with a hemispherical shaped dome for their epoxy shell. Some indication LEDs have a rectangular or cylindrical shaped construction that has a flat surface on top or their body is shaped into a bar or arrow. Generally, all LED’s are manufactured with two legs protruding from the bottom of the body.

Also, nearly all modern light emitting diodes have their cathode, (  ) terminal identified by either a notch or flat spot on the body or by the cathode lead being shorter than the other as the anode ( + ) lead is longer than the cathode (k).

Unlike normal incandescent lamps and bulbs which generate large amounts of heat when illuminated, the light emitting diode produces a “cold” generation of light which leads to high efficiencies than the normal “light bulb” because most of the generated energy radiates away within the visible spectrum. Because LEDs are solid-state devices, they can be extremely small and durable and provide much longer lamp life than normal light sources.

Light Emitting Diode Colours

So how does a light emitting diode get its colour. Unlike normal signal diodes which are made for detection or power rectification, and which are made from either Germanium or Silicon semiconductor materials, Light Emitting Diodes are made from exotic semiconductor compounds such as Gallium Arsenide (GaAs), Gallium Phosphide (GaP), Gallium Arsenide Phosphide (GaAsP), Silicon Carbide (SiC) or Gallium Indium Nitride (GaInN) all mixed together at different ratios to produce a distinct wavelength of colour.

Different LED compounds emit light in specific regions of the visible light spectrum and therefore produce different intensity levels. The exact choice of the semiconductor material used will determine the overall wavelength of the photon light emissions and therefore the resulting colour of the light emitted.

Types of Light Emitting Diode

  • • Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) - infra-red
  • • Gallium Arsenide Phosphide (GaAsP) - red to infra-red, orange
  • • Aluminium Gallium Arsenide Phosphide (AlGaAsP) - high-brightness red, orange-red, orange, and yellow
  • • Gallium Phosphide (GaP) - red, yellow and green
  • • Aluminium Gallium Phosphide (AlGaP) - green
  • • Gallium Nitride (GaN) - green, emerald green
  • • Gallium Indium Nitride (GaInN) - near ultraviolet, bluish-green and blue
  • • Silicon Carbide (SiC) - blue as a substrate
  • • Zinc Selenide (ZnSe) - blue
  • • Aluminium Gallium Nitride (AlGaN) - ultraviolet

IC Driver Circuit

led driver circuit


If more than one LED requires driving at the same time, such as in large LED arrays, or the load current is to high for the integrated circuit or we may just want to use discrete components instead of ICs, then an alternative way of driving the LEDs using either bipolar NPN or PNP transistors as switches is given below. Again as before, a series resistor, RS is required to limit the LED current.

Transistor Driver Circuit

led transistor driver


The brightness of a light emitting diode cannot be controlled by simply varying the current flowing through it. Allowing more current to flow through the LED will make it glow brighter but will also cause it to dissipate more heat. LEDs are designed to produce a set amount of light operating at a specific forward current ranging from about 10 to 20mA.

In situations where power savings are important, less current may be possible. However, reducing the current to below say 5mA may dim its light output too much or even turn the LED “OFF” completely. A much better way to control the brightness of LEDs is to use a control process known as “Pulse Width Modulation” or PWM, in which the LED is repeatedly turned “ON” and “OFF” at varying frequencies depending upon the required light intensity of the LED.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


I am zeropond I am a new member of this forums site. The Ligth Emittint Diode is generally used in the form of semiconductor diode in the Electrical Cricuits. The Light Emitting Diode is generally simlar to the PN junction. The LED generally pass the current to the forward direction and block of the current in reverse direection.

Thank you


ARM and VORAGO Technologies

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now