There has been plenty of research on LED lights and ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and the bottom line is that LED lights do not produce enough UV radiation to cause health issues or damage colors in objects like paintings and furniture. That has some major implications for venues like museums and art galleries, which place a lot of importance on how safe the fixture is with their paintings. The research for LED technology is extremely promising in this regard.
UV radiation is undesirable in just about every lighting application, but most lighting technologies do output at least some UV rays. Some of those lighting options output enough UV radiation to damage surfaces, especially those that are already sensitive to light damage, like paintings. LED lights are sought after for the low amount of UV radiation they generate.
To understand how LEDs generate so little UV radiation, you have to know some of the LED engineering basics. LED lights operate using a semiconductor die, which generates light by exciting electrons with power. The electrons slot into “holes” that are built into the die, and the result is released energy, in the form of photons. This is an extremely precise method of producing light, and a far cry from metal filaments and gas discharge lamps. Because they are so efficient, LED lights produce little waste energy in the form of UV radiation.
LED lamps are also shielded with a layer of glass that filters some of the UV radiation out, but what really does much of the filtering is the LED itself and the phosphor coating. The phosphor inside the fixture reacts with the light produced by the LED, converting it into white light from other colors. This phosphor filters out much of the UV rays, which means the small amount of UV radiation produced by an LED is reduced to a negligible amount by the phosphor. Put it all together and you have a fixture that is perfectly safe to use with anything, including artwork that is centuries old. The only concern is that if the phosphor coating cracks or wears away, some UV radiation may escape, but this is easily prevented with basic fixture maintenance.
What else does LED technology offer art museums and galleries?
The safety advantage is a decisive one for LED lights, and that alone is driving museums into adopting the technology for their displays. What else can LEDs do for these venues?
1. Generates little heat – LED lighting keeps UV radiation to a minimum, as well as heat. LED’s ability to stifle heat is related to its unmatched efficiency. With almost all of the energy expended as light, there is little left over for any thermal output. Heat may not be a major safety concern for museums and art galleries, as they usually place lighting far enough away from the paintings. However, a light that emits too much heat can alter the temperature in the building and make things uncomfortable for patrons. More heat means a greater load on the building’s HVAC system, and that drives up energy costs. Efficient lighting is a way to cut costs and preserve precious artwork and artifacts.
2. Easy to control – LED technology is the most modern lighting option we have, and it is compatible with most attempts to control it. This includes control mechanisms like dimmers and occupancy sensors. Dimmers can be programmed to alter lighting intensity throughout the day, ensuring the optimal amount of energy is expended on lighting at all times. Dimmers can also be programmed to account for ambient illumination in the space.
Occupancy controls also make sense for museums and galleries, as they can be programmed to trigger when people enter an exhibition space. Of course, there shouldn’t be any major swings in lighting intensity, as this can startle people or take them out of the experience. A subtle uptick in lighting intensity can make all the difference in how a painting is viewed and can be done without bothering patrons.
3. Easier to maintain – Museums and galleries often look to keep their operating costs as low as possible. LED lighting makes cost reduction possible in several ways, including keeping maintenance to a minimum. In addition to their safety and efficiency, LED fixtures are some of the most durable lighting options on the market. LEDs are extremely long lived and retain their color for longer than other lighting technologies. It is common for a set of LED lights to offer several years of performance without requiring any maintenance at all. In this way, LED lighting is an install it and forget it kind of technology. With fewer maintenance requirements, LED fixtures don’t have to be replaced as often. Not only does that pose a cost advantage, it also keeps maintenance crews out of the building and away from the exhibitions.
4. Compact design – Display lighting works best when it is as unobtrusive as possible. LED fixtures are ideal for this approach, as they can be scaled down to a size that most would find imperceptible. LED lighting strips, for example, can be tucked away in coves or routed around architectural features. This design approach is not desired in every instance, and only complements the more direct lights relied on for display purposes. However, LED lights placed in this fashion can create an impressive amount of indirect light and beautify a space with a touch of color or warmth.
LED lighting technology is the most promising advancement for the industry in decades. It has demonstrated its worth in many applications, and its use in museums and galleries is a natural next step, given its excellent safety and efficiency.