October 18, 2009

Advantages of Neon and Cold Cathode Lighting As A Light Source

Over the last decade lighting has become a prominent element in architecture, particularly outline lighting and indirect cove lighting.

These lighting types have been used for decades to express and provide color, visual interest and a viable use of soft task and ambient indoor lighting.

Outline lighting which is typically accomplished through the use of neon tubing, can be seen ranging from small convenience store window decoration to architectural building outline lighting 30 stories above ground.  Outline lighting is used to accent the architectural lines of the structure it is applied to.  This type of lighting can produce a striking nighttime image of the building, bridge or structures form; which may otherwise be lost in the night sky.

Indirect or cove lighting can also be used to accent an architectural detail, an example of this would be halo or back lighting of an architectural shape suspended from a ceiling interior.

Other uses of indirect lighting would be to provide ambient and task light without the use of spot lighting which can at times provide harsh shadows.  Indirect lighting is usually accomplished by reflecting light off adjacent surfaces with a light source not directly visible — such as placing the light source in an overhead cove and reflecting the light off of the walls or ceiling.  Indirect lighting sources can range from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent lamps, LEDs and neon and cold cathode lighting.

Fluorescent, incandescent and LED lighting are typically available in pre-determined sizes, lengths and colors.  Fluorescent lighting although bright is provided in certain standard sizes and colors which may not lend itself to the size or shape of the cove or the specific color requirements of the architect or lighting designer.  Even as advances are made in its’ technology the lamps require regular replacement which may not be practical in difficult access areas. Incandescent lighting although warm in color is limited in it’s color palette and requires regular bulb changes along with higher energy consumption.  LEDs which are relatively new have limited light output with limited color palette and can become quite expensive for this application.
Two lighting sources that are becoming increasingly popular are Neon and Cold Cathode lighting. The innate advantages to this tubular light source lend itself very well to this application.  Because neon and cold cathode lighting are custom bent “light tubes” they can be crafted to conform to any shape or size, straight or curved.  This type of lighting has been in existence for decades and can be manufactured in a multitude of colors, sizes and shapes to accommodate any design.

Because neon and cold cathode lighting are tubular in cross section, light emanates in all directions along the length of the tube, avoiding hot spots.  Many options are available for light output or intensity ranging from 30 milliamp power supplies for accent lighting to 200 milliamp power supplies for larger diameter cold cathode lighting used for room lighting.

The operating principal for this lighting relies on cold ignition which creates an extremely long life span.  Some lamps we have removed from cathedrals for re-working were still operative after 30 years.  This lifespan becomes very favorable when lighting has to be installed in areas which have difficult access after initial installation.

Newer advanced solid state power supplies have also made neon and cold cathode lighting very efficient.  It is important to note, light should be measured in lumens (a measure of light intensity) per watt of power consumed.  When a light source is said to require low wattage, care must be taken to evaluate how much light is being generated “per watt”.  For instance, a light on a child’s toy may consume very little energy but its also not producing much light.

Along with an expanded color palette and shape versatility, this light source has a favorable high lumen per watt ratio which makes it very efficient.  When designing your next lighting project, consider the benefits of neon and cold cathode lighting as a versatile energy efficient lighting source for many architectural lighting needs.