LiteFX: Lighting 101

Interior or exterior lighting…there is so much to know in the world of lighting that even the smallest project will benefit from working with someone who can quickly help guide you to the proper solution. There are many ways to illuminate a space or site properly, (and unfortunately even more ways to improperly light it). Only an experienced lighting designer with a wealth of lighting knowledge and a background in design can effectively provide creative and cost effective solutions along side the client, architect, designer, builder and/or electrician.

There are three important elements to lighting design: lamps, packaging and control:
    1. The most important element to lighting design are “lamps” or “light bulbs”, and a good lighting designer will
        bring the knowledge of every type of lamp available to each project to help determine the solution for every need.    
    2. Number two is having a wealth of knowledge on the "packaging" or "fixture" that is available for each type of lamp,
        as well as having the experience of knowing which products are going to withstand the test of time and handling.
    3. Lastly, the “control” of the lighting can be just as important as choosing the right fixture. There are so many types
        of new controls out there today to choose from. Having the knowledge and experience of knowing what type of control,
        (or combination), makes sense for each project, is what a lighting designer should bring to you.

Lamps are broken down into many different categories by their “type” of light. There is not one that is necessarily “better” than all others…they all have their purpose in the appropriate application. In fact, it is very common and desirable to “mix” the sources of light to give depth, dimension and composition to a space. Here are some of the most common sources:

Incandescent: One of the oldest, most common light bulbs; one that provides a warm, yellow light by nature. One of the most common is the A-lamp, which is the bulb that we screw into most all of our table lamps. The shape of the bulb generally allows for light in ALL directions, but has many applications for recessed downlighting, architectural accent lighting and decorative fixtures. There are other shapes as well, such as R-lamps, which provide a slightly more focused beam of light in the downward direction. For many people, incandescent is one of the most comfortable ‘over-all’ sources of light, and one that is also easily dimmable.
The downfalls of this source can be its relatively short lamp life and heat generation.

Halogen: Provides a crisp whiter, brighter source of light than incandescent. The bulb comes in many shapes and forms and because of that can provide a widespread overall general illumination, or the beam of light can be very tightly focused, (or almost anything in between). It is therefore ideal for high task areas as well as being great for art and accent lighting, as it also brings out the truer colors of art pieces, paint, finish colors and furnishings. Halogen bulbs have a longer life and can provide much more illumination than incandescent in a very small/compact size and are also easily dimmable.
The two most commonly seen halogen bulbs are the standard screw-in base PAR-lamp and the 12 volt MR16 lamp. These bulbs provide a more “focused” or “directed” light than other sources; meaning the majority of the illumination aims in the direction the bulb is pointing.

Fluorescent: Although an everyday illumination source in most offices, retail and commercial facilities, fluorescent has gotten a bad reputation for most every other application over the years due to the terrible ‘color’ they used to provide. The old “warm white” and “cool white” was either too pink, and made everyone look like they had a fever, or too blue and made everyone look sickly, respectively. Most people do not realize that nowadays fluorescent can provide some of the best “color renditioning”, (the ability of a light source to show true colors), amongst its many attributes. The ‘color’ of fluorescent can now be as warm as incandescent or provide the full spectrum of the sun, and everything in between. It’s just knowing which color to use for which application.
Fluorescent lamps are also very long life, can provide a lot of light with little wattage and operate at a much lower temperature than many other sources.
The downfalls of this source can be its size and shapes, (not always pleasing to look at), expensive to dim, and has traces of mercury which in California for example, make it a hazardous waste to dispose of.

LED: The latest lighting technology and many say the future of lighting. LED can provide high levels of light output with very low energy input, (up to 75% less energy than standard bulbs), along with amazingly long life. From traffic lights to automotive lights to high impact feature lighting, (for one example see our Canal Restaurant model runway), cabinet and niche lighting and now everyday light bulbs, LED is everywhere. LED is often dimmable, but sometimes with limitations.
In many applications though, the best products are also the most expensive. So up-front costs can make the use of this source prohibitive unless it can be looked at from a long term payback solution due to its savings in energy and replacement maintenance. The “color” of the LED source is another issue that, although it continues to improve, must be considered and reviewed in each application and product selection as it is often too blue or ‘cool’ in comparison with other lighting that may be in the area.

Other Products: There are also other exciting light emitting products that are like paper thin sheets of illuminating material that can be used like wallpaper on any flat OR curved surface for architectural accent or designed into a piece of furniture, or used for commercial or street signage…almost anything you can think of .
There are also obviously many other types of lighting sources also that aren’t even touched on here that are the perfect solution for certain applications: High and Low Pressure Sodium, Metal Halide, Neon, Cold Cathode and Mercury Lamps.