This is the second post in our series on choosing the right color characteristics for your lighting project. Last time we addressed color temperature, but maybe the most critical issue — which has surfaced with the popularity of LED lighting — is color consistency. How do you know that the color of your lighting will be consistent from one product to another? Let’s dive in.
LED color consistency problems
In the past, we felt pretty confident if we used, say, a Sylvania 800 series T8 lamp with 3500K, it would look consistent from lamp to lamp and store to store. Now with all the "ingredients" that make up the final luminaire or LED lamp, we are basically relegated to praying that the difference in color between one track head and the next will not be noticeable. Check out this example that I recently stumbled across... And yes, the original intent was to have them all match:
So what’s the big deal with color consistency? This problem can surface immediately or over time as you replace products. If the manufacturer you’re working with doesn’t have tight tolerance on color consistency with the chips they purchase ("binning" in lighting jargon), you could end up in a situation where there’s a noticeable difference in the visible color from one fixture to another. Additionally, over time, the hue of the light can shift from blue or green or pink with differences in the actual LED chips. If you’re a retailer, you want your customers to notice your product, not the different colors in your ceiling. If you’re an office building, you don’t want your property to look like it’s not maintained well because the lighting is inconsistent. You get the idea.
Technological solutions for fixing LED color consistency
As technology has gotten better, there are ways we can help mitigate the risk of inconsistent lighting. Xicato is one manufacturer that has created some great high-quality modules that use an algorithm in producing its remote phosphors to help accommodate for the various chips and bins it uses. Translation: the manufacturer has an innovative process to improve consistency from product to product by accepting the inherent differences in the chip and letting the phosphors do the work.
Another technology advancement that’s a potential game-changer is color tuning. I personally would love to specify tunable white fixtures on every project.
Color tuning is typically done by separately dimming arrays of warm and cool LEDs giving the user the opportunity to "tune" the color to whatever they want within a specified range from warm to cool. This is helpful in both color consistency and creating different moods and even helping biological factors.
Being able to dial-in each fixture to the right color after being installed and being able to have some control over matching the colors –– or at least providing the appropriate color for the task –– would help me to sleep better at night. Tunable fixtures would also cut down on the mock-ups, testing, and color matching that often go into each project.
The practical way to solve the LED color consistency problem
Some of these technology advancements come at a premium today and are best-suited for museums, galleries, or high-end retail where color consistency is tantamount. As a long-term solution, I believe tunable white could become the standard when price points come down and the controls are figured out. This will allow for color consistency not only between
Spending more on your lighting doesn’t have to be the only solution while we wait for some of these advancements to become more mainstream. You can ward off much of the color consistency problem by working with reputable manufacturers or consulting with lighting experts that can steer you to the best solution for your application.
There’s truly no substitute for finding the right lighting partners and testing the products you’re considering before you commit to a full roll-out.
If you’d like more on how to choose a lighting manufacturer, you may find this resource helpful: 9 questions to help choose the best lighting manufacturer.