Different Types of String Lights - A Basic Breakdown (2023)

So, you want to put lights up in your room but are overwhelmed by the crazy number of options out there? Well, you’re in the right place (assuming you’ve already put your bets on string lights) because I’ve all that confusing information as simple as possible.

Instead of trying to group specific string lights into types, I’m just going to go through most of the different characteristics and let you put it all together. I’ll be going over bulb composition, power source, shape, and color, and then touch on some alternate lighting shenanigans.

You ready? Letsa go!

(Note: most of the articles I found online that talk about types of string lights seem to count lights with particular characteristics as unique and don’t really dig below the surface.

For example, according to these websites, three “types” of string lights could include solar-powered, colored, and lantern-shaped. Those aren’t really “types” because a single string of lights could be all of those at once. So, instead of doing that, I sorted out pretty much every possible characteristic of string lights and organized them into different groups. Or something like that, anyways.)

Bulb Composition

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I’m not going to spend much time here because I cover this in depth in this post, but it’s not super complicated. It is a very important decision though, so definitely don’t skip it.

Incandescent Bulbs

These bulbs are cheap, look more natural, and can be easily dimmed, but they don’t last as long and use a lot of electricity.

LED Bulbs

These bulbs are brighter, have more vibrant colors, last a long time, and use minimal energy, but they are more expensive and can be finicky with dimmers.

Power Sources

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Not all string lights have to be plugged into an outlet–some use batteries and some use the sun to charge batteries. Then you have lights that plug into your computer via USB.

Why you would want to get a non-outlet light string really depends, but each type has its reasons. Here are some pros and cons of each of the main types of power sources:


The main source of power for string lights. With outlets, you don’t have to worry about charging batteries and they can handle a lot of lights, but you’re limited to where outlets happen to be installed. They also don’t work if the power is out.

Pros: constant power, high capacity

Cons: limited to outlet location


This is the second most popular power source and it’s mostly used for small fairy lights. The great thing about these is that they can be put anywhere without having to find an outlet. No shelf is too high or corner too far for these lights to work. The biggest problems include having to replace the batteries occasionally and having to turn them on manually (sometimes they’ll have remotes, though).

Pros: can be put anywhere

Cons: require batteries, can be a hassle to turn off and on

The Sun

Solar-powered lights are like battery-powered lights and outlet lights mixed together. You have more freedom than the outlet lights, but you still have to find a sunny spot for the solar panel (probably in a window). The biggest plus for this one is the fact that it’s self-sufficient and can automatically turn on when the sun sets (which is good unless you want light during the day).

Pros: eco-friendly, automatic

Cons: require sunlight to function

A Computer

Some lights connect to a computer via a USB cable (usually strip lights), which is a great option if you’re lighting up the back of your monitor or want to put lights near your desktop. There aren’t too many scenarios where this option will shine, but definitely a viable option.

Pros: great for computer lighting

Cons: requires computer to be running

Different Styles/Shapes

If I were to list all the different possible string light styles and shapes, I would end up with a document as long as a pencil the size of a document that contained every type of string light style (that’s pretty long). There are some standard sizes of bulbs, but when it comes to novelty bulbs (like edison or lantern lights) then things get a little more complicated.

Different Types of String Lights - A Basic Breakdown (3)

The main types of Christmas light bulbs include 5mm, G12, M5, T5, and C6. You also have C7 and C9 bulbs, which are a lot bigger than the other types and go in bigger sockets. The small bulbs are usually wired so that if one bulb is removed, the whole string goes out. The bigger bulbs don’t have the problem, though.

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Your standard string lights (or, non-Christmas string lights) are usually either 5mm or fairy, but outdoor strings are usually edison bulbs. 5mm bulbs are usually plugged into an outlet and fairy bulbs are usually battery-powered.

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Then you have the infinite number of novelty lights out there, which can basically be anything. And I mean, ANYTHING. If you’ve ever wanted to light up your room with tiny glowing Yodas, we’ve got you covered. What’s that? You’d rather have a string of light-up chili peppers? Well it’s your lucky day, because if you order now, I’ll throw in a string of flamingos just for kicks. And if that’s not enough, then be sure to check our line of red plastic Solo cup string lights as well. They’d go amazing with your 10-pack Budweiser beer can bulbs!

Ok, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that one of the billion people on this planet decided to stick a rubber duck on a T5 light bulb and then proceeded to mass market it, but it’s just weird to me.

In summary, it really doesn’t matter what size and shape your string lights are as long as you can stand looking at them for prolonged periods of time. So don’t get too crazy!

Different Colors

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The color of a string light is probably the biggest game-changer. You can have the nicest looking bulb and highest quality string, but if it gives off an ominous red glow, your party’s going to flop.

Different colors give off different moods, so each one will serve a certain purpose better than another. Here are some feelings people associate with some of the main colors (according to verywellmind.com):

White: clean, cold, pure

Red: aggressive, powerful, passionate

Blue: productive, stable, sad

Yellow: bright, warm, attentive

Green: natural, calming, motivating

Orange: enthusiastic, energetic, happy

Clearly, every colors can have a very different effect on your brain, but it’s not like the list above is hard-and-fast science or anything. But they seem to be mostly accurate, at least from my own experience.

Also, most white lights aren’t straight-up white. They’re usually either warm or cool. Incandescent bulbs are almost always warm, but LED bulbs can be either. Warm white is better for a relaxing environment and cool white is better for a working environment.

Between incandescents and LEDs, LEDs have richer colors, but incandescents have a more natural quality. Also, colored incandescent bulbs are usually just painted and don’t actually produce the colors you see.

When It's Not String, It's Strip or Rope

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Besides lights in the strictly “string” sense, you have two other main types of lengthy light sources. We’re talking about strip and rope lights, which are probably strings in a technical sense, but they are different.

The main benefit of strip and rope lights is that they can be cut into custom lengths (this is because they’re made of magic) so you don’t need to worry about buying an exact length.

Well, that’s it. You should now have a better idea of what makes different strings of lights unique. Most of them are pretty similar and most of these points are pretty intuitive, but they probably worth going over anyways. Also, you may notice I didn’t include the length of a string–this is because it didn’t really seem to fit the theme of the article.

But if you want to learn about length and other important factors when you’ve decided to buy a string of lights, then be sure to check out the article below:

String Light Buying Guide!

Anyways, hopefully you found this article enlightening! And if you have any questions or concerns (or just want to type something), then be sure to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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