Whether you’re a lighting designer highlighting a commercial display or a homeowner hoping to add a bit of flair to your living room, a color-tunable LED fixture is a must-have. While there are other technological options for colored lighting, when it comes to applications which require custom color combination, dimmer functions, and precise controls, LED fixtures lead the field.
Dimmable LEDs can cover the full range of outputs from 0% – 100% brightness without noticeable ‘stair stepping’. Since LED lamps can contain a number of LEDs of various colors, each channel’s output can be raised or lowered separately. The different colors (usually red, green, and blue) blend and mingle, providing an almost unlimited palate.
In 2008 the British band Radiohead launched a world tour with an all-LED lighting rig, forever dispelling any doubt that this technology could deliver sensational, show-stopping results without being supplemented by more conventional lights. And while they’ve caught on with the theater and arena crowd, LEDs are also gaining traction with open-air venues.
In strong sunlight, LEDs are more visible than traditional lighting, making them an increasingly common choice for outdoor music festivals and other performance pieces. By using color-adjustable LED fixtures, lighting designers can give an outdoor audience almost the same spectacle that an indoor viewer would experience.
Commercial facilities can take a page from this practice by using color-changing LEDs to draw consumers’ attention in an environment that seems ever-more filled with advertising noise.
If you have an item or person that needs to be lit in an unusual way, then LEDs can often get the job done where other technologies might falter. LEDs have been encased in ice sculptures and embedded in water features, providing a cascading color effect from with the artwork itself. LEDs can be embedded in clothing, from complex “Tron”-like body suits to the mass-market rollout of kids’ sneakers with blinking LEDs. And in what is certainly the most extreme example of non-conventional lighting on record, some artists and bio-hackers have embedded LEDs under their skin, using them as magnetically-activated tattoo backlights.
Ease of Customization
LEDs were mainstays of hobbyists and electronics projects decades before the introduction of white LEDs opened up the market for LEDs in homes and commercial facilities. This popularity was driven by the ease which LEDs can be integrated into circuits, an advantage they still hold today. LED color arrays can be set to pre-programmed patterns, or adjusted on the fly for live performances and fine tweaking.
Most professional-level LED designs use a DMX or DALI controller to break the display into zones. Each zone’s balance can then be tied to adjust at specific cues. These cues may be tied to a specific time setting (allowing for cooler light during the day and warmer light at night, for example) or may be triggered only when needed. This ‘on-demand’ configurability allows for a change in color or brightness when a new product is being highlighted, such as a produce department that uses one color setting to highlight the yellow of bananas, and another to make red apples even more appealing.
Tunable White Light
When most people think of adjusting a light’s color, they think of dramatic displays of vibrant color. But there’s another type of adjustable color: tuning white light to get the desired warmth in its tinting. This kind of color temperature is not related to the physical temperature of the lamp, but refers to the way that the light is perceived by an outside observer.
By augmenting white light output with amber, blue, or other accent colors, adjustable color LEDs can be used to replicate the feeling of incandescent lights, or to change the perceived “feel” of a room’s lighting. This perceived warmth of light is measured in Kelvin (K), and white light ranges from below 3,000K (warm white that drifts to red) to around 4,000K (cool light with hints of blue and green). Note that the ratings are counter-intuitive, in that the higher the Kelvin rating, the cooler the color temperature of the light.
The ability to easily automate LED adjustments allows for the programming of interior fixtures to compensate for changes in exterior daylight. With LED lamps that adjust along with the rise and wane of sunlight, lighting systems now have the capability to create a seamless transition between natural environmental light and interior lamplight.
In addition, tunable white light allows for better application of lighting that seeks to address conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and the disruptive nature of blue-shifted light on the body’s production of melatonin. [Possible link to Blue-Enchanced LED article here] Organizations such as the HumanCentric Lighting Society are dedicated to the proliferation and adaptation of tunable lights in both commercial and residential environments.
It’s this kind of pervasive use that’s the real future of color-adjustable lights. As they become more commonplace, and their controls become more intuitive and hands-free, their use will spread far beyond flashy stage-show lighting. In the near future, tunable lighting is likely to become the de facto default for lighting installations all over the world.
With over a decade of construction experience, Dan Stout writes articles that help demystify the industry for both contractors and customers. Visit him at www.DanStout.com.
Image Credit: George Dvorsky, contributor for Gizmodo