The Buccaneer's Dread - Lightaling Custom LEGO Light-Kits Review

Pirates and Piracy
Last September I was offered a heap of custom Lightaling lighting accessories for what was to be my largest LEGO project yet - one year, two conventions, 5,000 miles, and a whole lot of experiences later, I invite you to read on about my thought-process, adventures, and conclusions on the subject of custom LEGO lighting.
I'll give you fair warning though - once you start down that path, there ain't no turning back!

Okay, so, to start off with, here's the list of lighting parts and components that I asked for (well, what I received - they were kind enough to send a few extras along too!) Almost everything, by the by (except for special effect boards and suchlike) comes in packs of three -

90 (30 3 packs) 30 cm warm white dot lights
15 30 cm yellow dot lights
6 Ice blue light strips
9 12-port expansion boards
15 15 cm connection cables
30 30 cm connection cables
3 30 cm USB power cables
3 multiple function boards
2 remote control units
6 wireless power connectors
2 AAA battery packs
6 8 port expansion boards
18 6 port expansion boards
15 warm white strip lights
and later on,
1 Sound Function Remote Control

You can find all of those, except for the wireless power connectors (which are designed to be able to remove modular stories - or in my case, decks - without having to unplug and replug wires every time) on the DIY custom accessories section of the Lightaling website. The wireless connectors are currently only available in Lightaling’s light kits for LEGO sets. The generous guys over at Lightaling made up some custom ones for me though to make my life a bit easier!

Piratical size comparison of Lightaling's lighting components - aye matey, those are pretty small!

As you can see, the parts (compared to our pirate minifigure) are quite small! This has its upsides and downsides. To start with the downsides, the con is that those little tiny plugs on the end are somewhat hard to plug in with tweezers when you need to plug or unplug them in tight spaces. The plugs only go in one way, so not only do you have to get it in the right place, you have to make sure it’s rotated the right way too.

No editing here! The wires from those lights are easy to hide behind the pillars, and then run down to the closest expansion port under the tiles

With a bit of good planning you can certainly manage to avoid having to plug or unplug the lights in complex places though (and a bit of planning is highly recommended!). The only time this really became an issue was when I had to unplug and then plug in twelve cannons from under the forecastle to fix a circuit problem (I'll discuss that later on) - that was tough!

Having to unplug a bunch of cannon lights from behind the bed on the far side here (with the top deck on) was not easy to do!

But overall, having such thin wires and small pieces is definitely worth it. The most obvious pro is that they are far easier to incorporate and hide in your builds than larger or thicker wires and lights, and even when they are exposed, they're hard to spot in any good sized build - but my favorite detail is that they can fit comfortably between the grooves of tiles! I love that - you've no idea how handy that is!

Check that out! Where do those wires go?

You can see how nicely they fit through here - there's literally no lifting or bumps in the tiles at all. You can even pull the wire safely back and forth here without worrying about damaging the lighting, as there's even a fraction of a millimeter of extra space created by the tile grooves.

And it’s not quite as elegant, but given the small size, you can even get away with just running under tiles like this.

In this case there will be a slight bit of rocking though as the tile doesn't quite sit flat. It's very close though! Whenever possible I zig-zagged so that they only ran along the grooves on the sides or ends of the tiles to eliminate the ‘illegal’ fit and that worked quite well.

Overall I think I'd give Lightaling's kits a 8/10 for ease of use: as long as you plan well and install the lights as you go you shouldn’t have any issues at all! And if you’re adding lights to an existing build the worst case scenario is having to take it apart a little more than you were planning to be able to plug the lights in properly and it’s LEGO, so you can do that, haha! Those other two points, however, are definitely made up for in the next category, which is

Incorporation into Mocs

So, at the point that I got the offer to review these lights, the first two decks of the ship were nearly completed - you can see my preliminary review after rigging the lights in those here - the upper deck and aftcastle were still not even started though, so I got to experience both adding them to an existing MOC and building/lighting at the same time in the same build! And since I already had the size and design predetermined coming into it, the first thing that my mate over at Lightaling asked me was if I had some sort of diagram or file for the ship to plot out what to incorporate and where.
The answer was no.
But! I did have two decks built, so it was relatively easy to take pictures of each of those and turn them into a sort of rough and ready graphic of the lighting components.
It’s not very pretty, but it does the trick.

Lower deck

These did involve a lot of measuring though, a lot of decision making (about where I’d hide the expansion ports and how I’d need to do the wiring), and of course was essential to decide what kind of lights and expansion ports and all I would need to use. I also marked the different circuits I was planning on running them on with different letters, since I didn’t want the lanterns to be flashing the same way the cannons did!

Second deck

The multiple function boards are my favorite parts of all that I received: they control the flashing, fading, or strobing of the lights. Very easy to use, these have two output lines which flash or fade in and out oppositely. I ended up using three of these: one to have the lower and second decks fade in and out alternately (which looks amazing!), one for the lights to move around in the Captain’s cabin (you can see them through the stern windows), and one to control all the cannons on board. Here too the second gundeck is connected to the other output wire so that they fire back and forth with the lower deck. I think it adds a beautiful extra layer of intricacy to the whole build and would definitely add one to your list of things to get if you’re going to invest in some lights from Lightaling. Plus, they’re just so fun to play around with!
But to return to the diagrams: in the end I did deviate slightly from the plans on the graphic when it came to actually installing the lights (mostly adding another light here or taking one off there were needed), but having the plan in the first place was incredibly helpful!

Amazingly though, no rebuilding of the first two decks was necessary at all in order to incorporate all the lights! I did pull up some tiles, change the planned location of an expansion board or two, and hollow out one of the staircases to hide some wires inside (each of those is a very convenient place to hide an expansion port or two!), but overall I was very impressed that no significant rebuilding was necessary anywhere!
For the top decks, the building hadn’t happened yet! As it turned out, I would say that is the way to go though I made a few diagrams to help with measuring out the cable lengths I’d need, but it was very nice to be able to adapt the building and lighting to each other and I’d say it was even easier than the lower decks!

The main deck

Vertical look at it: those masts get really tall!

I did have a plan to build an ornate interior to the Captain’s cabin, but in the end I decided to sacrifice that for structural integrity as I knew I’d have to be transporting the ship a lot! Since I’d already got lights for it I went ahead and put them in anyways though, and the view through the rear stern windows is definitely worth it!

A look through the stern windows with those lights fading in and out: it’s perfectly mesmerizing!

You can see from this picture just how bright the lights actually are. The windows are all trans-clear, but they look very orange and yellow with the lights shining on them!
This is a good place to mention I opted for all warm white and orange (Lightaling calls them yellow, but they are actually the exact same color as LEGO’s ‘trans-orange’) in this build since it was meant to be a historically accurate ship (the blue was to experiment with for water - you can see how well that worked here!): the white lights I strung through trans-yellow round bricks and then out of the sides of the lanterns and those are the ones that look quite yellow, the orange (“yellow”) lights were all wound around flame pieces for candles and cannon lighters and other open flames.

You can see what the un-covered white lights look like when the cannons are flashing like here. They do look more white however from a straight-on angle.

As I said, putting the build together and running the lights at the same time gave me a good deal more flexibility in deciding how and where I wanted to rig my lights for example, these two lanterns over the cabin doorway were an addition I only decided on when I got there.

All of the wiring ended up coming together at the forecastle (the raised section of the deck at the front of the ship), where I ran up the wiring from the lower two decks, hooked up all the cannons, and also hid the somewhat larger board that connects to the remote control.

Now the cannons and both lower decks can be controlled from anywhere in the room! In fact, the remote control even works around corners as long as you’re not more than about ten meters away! Firing at unsuspecting visitors at the conventions was one of my favorite things to do (especially when we added in the sound effects later on!).
As you will notice, on the upper decks I did manage to easily conceal all the wires running over the decks by using the groove techniques I mentioned earlier, and using expansion ports where needed under the gratings that let light into the lower decks: the masts however were a different issue!

Who would have guessed that there are all sorts of wires and expansion ports lying just below this pirate's boots here?

The mast designs obviously do not have room for wires or expansion ports to fit inside of them, so they had to necessarily be run up along the outside. To my mind though they manage to blend in quite nicely with the rigging and sails and do not detract from the build in the slightest degree. Having lights spread all over the ship by having them up in the masts is seriously worth a few exposed wires!

Probably the most complicated part was wiring all forty cannons in this ship (the rear guns included, though not the ones on the upper deck) since the wires only come in two lengths (15 and 30cm) there was often a long amount of wire left over after plugging the cannons in to the nearest expansion port (see the diagram of the lower decks above) which I didn’t want just lying around I solved this issue by winding them around the wheels at the front or the back of the cannon carriage which concealed them quite nicely and still allowed the cannons to attach perfectly.
All in all, I’d give the Lightaling custom lights a 10/10 for compatibility with MOCs.
And now we come to a point that is very important to many MOCers, especially those who, like me, usually tear apart their builds soon after finishing them and that is

Durability and Reusability
Are Lightaling’s lights reusable on future MOCs? How well do they last or take severe treatment?
The answer is a decided yes to the first question, and a “very well” to the second. I have plugged and unplugged a huge quantity of lights since starting this project, reused several on different MOCs, and changed and taken things apart constantly over the space of almost a year with very minor casualties. About five lights (out of nearly 120) and a few wires have broken, usually because of incautious jerking when unplugging or accidentally dropping something heavy (like a battery pack, :P) that they were attached to which pulled them out violently. In all but one case (where the wire actually broke in the middle) the only thing which happened to all of those lights was the little white plug at the end came off. These can be slid back on and will work, but then of course you will have to be even more careful not to pull the wires incorrectly. I have been meaning to add a drop of glue to those and expect they will be as good as new but I haven’t done so yet!
Additionally, you have to take in account that all the other lights also survived an airplane flight, 9+ hours of car travel, and two whole conventions. The masts have come down each time transportation occurred (and all the corresponding unplugging/repluggings that were necessary), but the flight was by far the most damaging to the ship itself - the three decks were entirely crushed together and I lost a large quantity of brown pieces including almost a dozen of the pillars that were supposed to keep the decks up. Amazingly, not a single light was damaged in the process! That was a wonderful surprise once I got to testing them after spending a little over a week putting the rest of the model back together!

This is a good place to mention the one detail that is my only gripe with the product, however. As I mentioned in the previous review, whenever a light wire plug is broken (i.e., pulled out of the wire) or a wire actually gets split, it will suddenly pop the whole circuit. Interestingly however, this does not occur if a connection cable has an issue - only the lights connected through it stop working because, of course, the electricity is no longer running to them. If the circuit pops while plugging in the light of course it is easy to solve by fixing the problem or replacing the light, but if something gets messed up while building or transporting it can be a bit more complex.

That is because if you've got a lot of lights on the same circuit it can be extremely hard to tell where the problem is when the whole line suddenly shuts off! My advice is to invest in a remote control circuit board and to keep one or two separate circuits in your creation if you've got a lot of lights. The first time I had this issue I had just started working on the lower deck’s lights and had to just unplug about ten lights or so to find the right one, but the second time it was the whole second gundeck’s line of cannons that randomly stopped working and as the next deck was already on, it was extremely difficult to find the correct cable and rectify the issue! In the end I did manage it without ripping the whole upper deck off, but it involved the most complicated angles and difficult plugging/unplugging that I had to go through in the whole process.

Once again, though, this is an issue that has only come up two times for me in over a year, and dealing with an MOC with an incredible number of lights and numerous circuits running simultaneously and that also has been moved about extensively. In general I am highly satisfied with the product and would give Lightaling’s custom pieces a 9.5/10 for reusability and durability.

While we are here, though, I would like to note that at the lighting scale that this ship comes out to I would highly recommend using a portable battery pack like this one to power your lights instead of various AA battery packs like the ones that Lightaling provides. For all my small builds those have worked fine, but once you get close to a hundred lights they simply do not have the power required. I could probably have rigged up two or three of those throughout the ship and have got it to work, but at that point a separate rechargeable battery pack is just way more efficient.

Overall effect
So, I’ve given Lightaling a
8/10 for ease of use
10/10 for compatibility with MOCs
9.5/10 for reusability and durability

But so far we’ve just addressed the details and the process of incorporating the lights into LEGO builds - what I think we all care about most is the final effect. And that, honestly, is just stunning.

Lights can take a LEGO build from being something cool to being amazing, a scene from a nice picture into a totally unedited masterpiece, and from a hobby to an art. Personally, I expect that for most builders, once they have tasted the world of lights that can be added to their creations, they won’t be able to stop. If you needed just a bit of encouragement, this is my official advice to anchor up and do it!

But before we end this review, I did want to add a note about Lightaling’s sound effect board and remote control . This was an awesome surprise that I got offered when I was about to take the ship to its second convention, and my was it popular!
The sound board has eight different tracks which it can play that are included in the device, but it also comes with a USB cord that allows you to add your own custom sounds (like cannons, haha!). In a house or a quiet area, the tiny speaker it comes with makes plenty of noise although in a crowded and very noisy convention hall most likely only those actually around your creation will be able to hear it (you can also control the volume using the remote it comes with). If you want something additional to have fun with, it certainly is a blast!
You can hear the cannon sound effects I added to it in the video of my ship here.

And that wraps up our review of Lightaling’s custom lighting kits and accessories! I hope you all enjoyed it and found it useful on the subject of LEGO lights, and do be sure to check out their website and the large array of different lighting colors and components they offer!

May the winds be ever in your sails!