RSS Hands on with the MakersLED DIY heatsink & fixture

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  1. MASA Admin

    MASA Admin Moderator

    8 May 2007
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    The MakersLED DIY heatsink kits have been out on the market now for a few months, and are getting very well received by the public so far. With a very reasonable price, multiple length options, and a ton of well thought out features, what’s not to like? We decided to take a closer look at the DIY LED platform ourselves, so with the help of MakersLED and, we found ourselves with a 6″ heatsink kit, and an LED setup appropriate for nano tanks. Continue reading to see how you can make an LED fixture exactly how you want using the MakersLED heatsink & fixture.*

    What’s in the Box?

    Full-Kit-300x199.jpg * MakersLED-Parts-199x300.jpg * LEDGroupBuy-Parts-300x199.jpg

    The kit from MakersLED is very complete. Beyond the heatsink itself, you get a whole host or trim parts and screw hardware. The two end caps, and the fan shroud are make from a rigid ABS plastic with a good smooth finish. There are four soft rubber end caps for the fixture mounting rail to finish off the exterior trim. An acrylic splash guard finished off the bottom. For the screw hardware, you get a large number of 4-40 screws, nuts, and nylon washers for LED mounting (good for about 14 LEDs), 8 thread forming screws for the end caps, and pair of screws and square nuts for the fan mount. To top it all of, an 80mm 12v DC fan is included to bolster the cooling efficiency.

    From, we got six triple stars with one neutral white XP-G and two royal blue XT-Es, six of their violet LEDs with 60 degree lenses, one Ocean Coral White star (a slightly altered RGB setup using 470nm blue, 490nm cyan, and 660nm deep red) with 60 degree lenses, and six 45 degree Ledil lenses for the XP-G/XT-E triple stars. To power the whole setup, three 40W 700mA Inventronics dimmable drivers were provided, as well as a 12v DC wall plug to power the fan. Two of their dual channel dimming kits were included also.

    Lets Get Started

    Heatsink-End-300x199.jpg * Bare-Heatsink-300x199.jpg

    MakersLED is the brainchild of Andy and Mark McClure. They were involved in the early development of the AquaIllumination fixtures with Chris Clough, so they are no strangers to LED reef lighting. The heatsinks were designed to be very flexible, easy to use, and inexpensive. Making the whole setup finished and polished was also a priority. To do this, an extrusion was used over CNC machining to keep individual part costs down. The extrusion tooling is expensive up front, but can be quickly recouped by adding a minuscule markup to the heatsink kits. This does mean that they are only available in one width, but it is wide enough to be pretty flexible in its application.

    Starting from the bottom up, you will notice a number of slots in the side that allow the splash guard to be mounted in multiple positions based on lens height and personal preference. Above that is a pair of 1/4″ holes that allow for users to fabricate tank mounts using 1/4″ metal rod. Next up is the t-slots for LED mounting, with the heatsink fins above them. Either side of the fins are guides for what could be a pcb, which leaves many questions about what’s planned next for MakersLED (drivers? controller?).

    Above that is the rails for the fan mounting hardware, as well as the hanging hardware. There is also a slot inside of the mounting rail, as well as two on the sides of the heatsink that allow for trim panels to be slid into to dress up the fixture a bit. These could be acrylic, metal, carbon fiber, etc… Also, in various spots on the fixture, there are v-grooves that are used as a drill guide for mounting external hardware (like mounting Meanwell drivers on the outer surface) and for wire passthrough holes.

    OCW-Mount1-300x199.jpg Inline-Mount-300x199.jpg Parallel-Mount-300x199.jpg

    The t-slots are probably the most prominent feature on this heatsink. The spacing allows for most standard 20mm stars to be used between the rails, but the only limit to what can be mounted on the heatsink is your imagination. The base of the heatsink is fairly thick, and allows for good heat transfer. The included nylon washers made it very easy to mount the LEDs without risk of shorting the screws to the LED.

    LED-Arrangement-300x199.jpg * Notched-OCW-300x199.jpg * Thermal-Paste-300x199.jpg

    A circular pattern was decided upon, with the OCW star in the middle, and the triples and violets alternating around it. The OCW mounting holes needed to be opened up a little to have the 4-40 screws fit a little better. It’s quickly taken care of with a hand file. Of course, a thin coat of silver based thermal compound was used on all LEDs.


    Here you can see how the screw and nut fit nicely in the heatsink t-slot. One thing to keep in mind when mounting an LED using two rails, like the image above, is that you have to be careful when tightening down the screws. Over tightening them can deform the MCPCB causing poor thermal transfer. Tightening them evenly from side to side will*help minimize deformation.

    LEDs-Soldered-300x199.jpg * End-Plate-Detail-300x199.jpg End-Plate-Connector-300x199.jpg

    After soldering everything up as neat as possible, it was time to move onto how to connect the fixture to the drivers. A standard DB-9 connector, like you would find on a computer was used to connect the LEDs to the outside world, as well as the fan. One nice detail on the end plates are the dimples that have been molded in as drill guides for various things, including the holes if using the 1/4″ wire mount option to mount the fixture.

    Complete-Interior-300x199.jpg * Complete-bottom-300x199.jpg

    A hole was drilled*into the heatsink base close to the connector to allow the wires through for the fan. This is one instance where the v-groove*comes in handy as a drill guide. It looks quite tidy with the end caps on and the splash guard in place.

    Bumper-Issue-300x199.jpg * Complete-Top-300x199.jpg Dimmer-300x199.jpg

    One minor issue*that was*come across was with the rubber caps that get inserted into the upper mounting rails. The fit was a little too tight, and as a result, wouldn’t press in completely. A slight trim with a good sharp knife took care of it, and they sit nice and flush now. With the fan mounted, and all the trim on, the fixture is basically complete. In the last picture above, you can see the two channel dimmer kit. Because of the small size of this heatsink, it really didn’t fit well, so it was left off. The potentiometers were reused on the driver box.

    Complete-Off-300x199.jpg * Complete-On-300x199.jpg LEDs-On-300x199.jpg

    A simple ABS project box houses the three Inventronic drivers. A matching DB-9 connector to the one on the fixture is used on the driver box along with a matching cable. This handles all the LEDs and fan power. A standard IEC 3-prong socket brings AC power to the drivers, and a 4-pin Molex takes care of getting the fan powered. The three dimmer controls reside on the top.


    The MakersLED DIY heatsink kit is about as good as it gets for building your*own LED fixture. The extrusion was really well thought out with design features that make it really easy to get an LED rig built quickly, and effectively. Nothing that went into the ease of use really affected how effective the heatsink really is. There are also hints to the future of the product with certain features that have been put into the extrusion. With all the addition trim parts, the finished product looks fantastic, and is certainly better than the typical slab of heatsink with wires and cables running everywhere. With a little thought in your design, there is nothing stopping you from creating a product that could easily pass for a commercial product.

    These heatsinks, coupled with the included fan (or fans, depending on the heatsink size) can handle a ton of thermal load. Some caution should be taken with extreme setups, and the end user should take precautions to make sure that the LEDs don’t get too hot, but high thermal loads should be able to be dealt with easily with enough airflow. The only complaint would be about the fan though. It appears to be a high quality unit, and moves a lot of air, but as a result, it does tend to be a little louder than expected. While not obnoxious, it is audible in a room with typical aquarium equipment. Fortunately, because the fans are of standard size (80mmx25mm), the end user can swap it out for a quieter unit, at the sacrifice of extra airflow.

    Overall, while it may be a little more expensive than a generic heatsink and some of the trimmings associated with it, the extra ease of use and the completeness of the whole kit makes going this way completely worth the extra cost. With the large selection of lengths available, there’s a MakersLED setup for any tank. It provides a great base platform for any budding DIY LED builder to make a great fixture with good looks.
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