LEDs: A need for illumination standards

Lighting and materials

In the exhibition industry, customized modular systems integrate illumination and digitally printed graphics.

In the exhibition industry, customized modular systems integrate illumination and digitally printed graphics.

Another big change in terms of lighting innovations has been the advent of true colour specificity.

Until recently, matching colours in sign illumination was very difficult. Neon was available in a specific and well-understood range of hues. And when LEDs came along, they were available only in a very narrow colour band.

That remained the case for years, but has recently changed dramatically with the development of programmable LEDs, different ranges of warm and cool light and colour-screened LEDs. There has also been a major expansion in the range of colour films and acrylics.

Yet, this availability of complementary materials has posed its own problems, even while providing extensive opportunities.

“Many sign fabricators like to keep their shops efficient by sourcing and storing only a narrow range of LED products, with similar colour temperatures,” explains Kevin Rourke, specification sales representative for Davis Marketing Associates (DMA), which consults on sign projects, and a member of the Sign Research Foundation’s (SRF’s) program committee, which recommends directions
for educational opportunities, conferences and events. “These products do not always produce the correct colour match for a given project, however, even with a matching film or digitally printed acrylic sheet.”

Rourke sees a need for greater education from major manufacturers about how lighting and materials work together, particularly
as many large-format print service providers (PSPs) are now producing graphics for illuminated signs.

“Illuminated full-colour graphics are everywhere, from automated teller machines (ATMs) to retail store walls,” he says, “but at the same time, it has become much more difficult to understand how illuminated colour works, because the number of applications has grown. The best thing a sign shop can do is implement procedures for rapid testing of different lighting systems and materials, which can be continuously updated with guidance from manufacturers.”

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Reason for optimism
Some of these experts’ views may sound pessimistic, but there is also a silver lining, since the merging of technologies is changing the nature of how sign companies develop expertise.

To make their products more immediately practical to these companies, LED manufacturers have gotten into several ‘side businesses,’ such as creating custom fixtures and providing consulting services. At the same time, some shops have benefited from established standards by specializing in both architectural and
sign illumination.

These trends may result in a ‘break’ from the traditional sign industry as people know it. Through the integration of architecture, digital printing, exhibitry and signmaking, industry standards and best practices are more likely to be shared across these fields, which will certainly bring significant progress.

Craig M. Berger is chair of the visual presentation and exhibition design department of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT’s) School of Art and Design and runs his own firm, Craig Berger Management Consulting, which assists fabricators, manufacturers and institutions with design-based marketing and education strategies. For information, contact him via e-mail at craig_berger@fitnyc.edu.

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