It’s Time for a Unified Chromaticity Diagram

The pandemic has certainly distracted me from regular posting here.  I’m probably not back to posting weekly, or even monthly, but I do have a new topic and a few things to say about it.  The topic is color science as it applies to lighting.

No doubt you’ve seen something like Figure 1 before.  It’s the CIE 1931 (x, y) chromaticity diagram and is the most common graphic for showing the range of tunable white luminaires and LED colors and their color mixing possibilities.  

CIE 1931 (x, y) chromaticity diagram
Figure 1 CIE 1931 (x, y) Chromaticity Diagram

The thing is, we keep using this diagram even though it has problems and has been replaced twice.  The problem is that it isn’t perceptually uniform, which means that the distance between any two color points doesn’t correspond to the perceptual difference between those two colors.  This was famously demonstrated in 1942 by David MacAdam as shown in Figure 2. Using 25 chromaticities he had a trained observer, using a device that allowed for the color adjustment of light, attempt to create a side-by side match from different starting points – for example match a yellow sample starting from green, then match it again starting from red, etc.  When he plotted the results in CIE 1931 (x, y) the area where color differences could not be detected formed an ellipse as shown in Figure 3.  This demonstrated that the color space was not perceptually uniform.  If it was the ellipses would have been circles.

CIE 1931 (x, y) chromaticity diagram  with MacAdam ellipses
Figure 2 CIE 1931 (x, y) Chromaticity Diagram with MacAdam Ellipses at 10x Size 

These “MacAdam ellipses” have become the default way manufacturers talk about color consistency of their products.  You’ll often see statements on cut sheets saying that the LEDs for a particular product line all fall within an X-step MacAdam ellipse (2-step, 3-step, etc.).  Want to hear something crazy?  In 2014, the International Commission on Illumination (CIE), which sets the standards for most things related to color and light, recommended ending the use of MacAdam ellipses.  Why?  Look at Figure 2 again.  The size of MacAdam ellipses changes as we move around the chromaticity diagram. So does anything related to them, such as Standard Deviation Color Matching (SDCM) another, although less common, measure.

The first attempt to address the uniformity problem resulted in the CIE 1960 (u, v) uniform chromaticity scale (USC) diagram (Figure 3).  Correlated color temperature was originally calculated in the CIE 1960 (u, v) UCS.

CIE 1960 (u, v) UCS
Figure 3 CIE 1960 (u, v) UCS

It was later discovered that the CIE 1960 (u, v) USC diagram also was not uniform.  To improve uniformity the v-axis was scaled by 1.5, resulting in the CIE 1976 (u’, v’) UCS diagram shown in Figure 4.  As the most uniform UCS diagram, CIE 1976 (u’, v’) is the one recommended for use when calculating or evaluating color differences, not CIE 1931 (x, y).  

CIE 1976 (u’, v’) UCS
Figure 4 CIE 1976 (u’, v’) UCS 

The definition of correlated color temperature originally used CIE 1960 (u, v).  However, since that diagram is no longer recommended for any purpose by the CIE, we use CIE 1976 (u’, v’) but scale it back to CIE 1960 (u, v).  This is described as CIE 1976 (u’, 2/3 v’).

The CIE’s 2014 recommendation mentioned earlier replaced MacAdam ellipses with a circle in the CIE 1976 (u’, v’) UCS.  A rough rule of thumb is that one MacAdam ellipse corresponds to a circle with a radius of 0.0011. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that any manufacturers have made this transition.

So, our industry is in a situation where we commonly use a 90 year old first generation diagram that was replaced 61 years ago.  We calculate CCT in a third generation chromaticity diagram that is 45 years old but tweek the math to refer back to a second generation 61 year old diagram.  It’s crazy!  No other industry uses a system this convoluted.

Why am I mentioning this?  I was recently reminded of a paper that was presented at last August’s IES Annual Conference.  Presented by Michael Royer of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, it proposed using the latest color science to make a fresh start with a single new chromaticity diagram that is very similar to CIE 1976 (u’, v’) where we would calculate CCT, the color temperature bins for LEDs, color differences and the rest.  IES members can access the archived presentation after logging in to the IES website.

Full disclosure, I’m on the IES Task Group that developed this new system.  The Task Group is made up of people in academia, design, manufacturing and research from three countries.  We’ve refined our work since August and expect to publish these refinements soon.  I encourage all of you to look for and learn about this proposal, to attend seminars when available, and to weigh in on this topic.  Would our industry benefit from moving to a unified chromaticity system?  Is this the right one?  How do we educate specifiers and manufacturers?  How do we phase in a new system?  We can all have a voice in bringing the science we rely on into the 21st Century.

References

CIE. (2014). TN 001:2014 Chromaticity Difference Specification for Light Sources. Vienna: International Commission on Illumination.

CIE. (2018). CIE 015:2018 Colorimetry, 4th Edition. Vienna: International Commission on Illumination.

MacAdam, D. (1942). Visual Sensitivities to Color Differences in Daylight. Journal of the Optical Society of America, 32(5), 247-274.

Royer, M. et. al. (2020).  Improved System for Evaluating and Specifying the Chromaticity of Light Sources. In: Illuminating Engineering Society Annual Conference 2020.

LEDucation Postponed

Due to growing concerns of COVID-19 in the lighting industry and the New York community, the Designers Lighting Forum of New York is postponing the LEDucation 2020 Trade Show and Conference that had been scheduled for March 17 – 18.

LEDucation is being rescheduled to August 18 – 19, 2020.  I expect that our TM-30 Annex E seminar and demonstration room will be part of the rescheduled event.

LEDucation Update

LEDucation this year is on March 17 and 18 at the New York Hilton Midtown where our Jason Livingston be part of two presentations.  The first, at 9 am on Tuesday morning with Wendy Luedtke of ETC, is a seminar called Specifying Color Rendering with TM-30’s New Annex E.  The session presents the new ANSI/IES TM-30 Annexes E and F, which apply recent research to identify three color rendering design intents (Fidelity, Preference, and Vividness) and provides specifiers with TM-30 values to achieve them alone or in combination. Our goal is to increase awareness of Annexes E and F and to help attendees better understand their contents and use. The seminar is most appropriate for people with some prior knowledge of TM-30, although there will be a brief TM-30 overview for those who are new to the topic.

Then, on Wednesday, we’ll be joined by Jess Baker of Schuler Shook for a daylong demonstration of Annex E.  In the TM-30 Demo Room visitors will experience an immersive mockup illuminated with a variety of light sources illustrating the Annex E design intents. The lighting demonstrations will be paired with TM-30 values to show how TM-30 can be used to select light sources for each intent. Visitors will experience sources that meet different levels of the IES TM-30 specification guidelines outlined in IES TM-30-18 Annex E.  We’ll be presenting the demonstration on the hour and half hour from 9 am to 2 pm.

You can register to attend LEDucation here.

Using TM-30 to Improve Your Lighting Designs

Recently, ANSI/IES TM-30 was improved with the addition of Annexes E and F.  Annex F reviews and summarized five studies that explored using TM-30 metrics to predict subjective visual outcomes.  Annex E uses that research to establish recommended specification criteria when the designer’s color rendering goals are Preference, Vividness and/or Fidelity.  

The IES Forum for Illumination Research, Engineering, and Science (FIRES) has an article I wrote with Michael Royer and Tony Esposito explaining the Annexes and how to use the information in Annex E.  Here’s the link: Using TM-30 to Improve Your Lighting Design – Illuminating Engineering Society

I’ve been using Annex E on projects and have spoken to other designers who have begun to use it.  It provides useful, accurate information that allows me to evaluate the color rendering results of light sources in a way that hasn’t been possible until now.  It lets me make informed decisions about my projects, and explain those decisions to colleagues and stakeholders in (relatively) easy to understand terms.  

TM-30 and the TM-30 calculators continue to be a free download from the IES here.  Annexes E and F are also free on the Errata and Addenda page here and here.

Do LEDs Make You Look Orange?

Last Thursday Donald Trump spoke to a group of Republicans in Baltimore.  One of the things he said caught my attention: “The lightbulb. People said what’s with the lightbulb? I said, here’s the story.  And I looked at it, the bulb that we’re being forced to use, No. 1, to me, most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange. And so do you. The light is the worst.”

Now, I’m not aware of being made to look orange under LEDs, nor have I ever noticed LEDs making my friends, colleagues, or students appear orange.  You can’t imagine how embarrassed I’d be if it turned out that a real estate developer and entertainer had more astute color perception than me, a lighting designer and Co-Chair of the IES Color Committee.  If our only means of evaluating the color rendering of a light source, and evaluating the orange content specifically, was CRI we would have no objective way of testing his statement.   CRI, technically Ra, is a single value that gives us an average of the match between the light source in question and its reference source (either a blackbody radiator or a CIE definition of daylight, depending on CCT) using only the eight color samples shown below.

8 colors used to calculate CRI

Since Ra is an average value there’s no way to understand the rendering of any particular hue. I’ve talked about this here. However, one of the wonderful things about ANSI/IES TM-30 IES Method for Evaluating Light Source Color Rendition is that we can use it to test that claim.  TM-30 uses 99 color samples that are distributed across the color space and the visible spectrum, as shown below. 

99 colors used to calculate TM-30 metrics.
TM-30 color sample spectral reflectance functions

It also breaks the color space up onto 16 Hue Bins, each one covering a specific range of the color space, again as shown below.  In the case of orange, we want to look at Hue Bin 3.  Specially, we want to look at Rcs,h3 (the subscript CS stands for Chroma Shift) which quantifies the increase or decrease in the saturation or vividness of orange compared to the reference light source.

TM-30 background graphic
example of chrome shift bar graph

So, let’s put the science of TM-30 to work and see if we really do know that LEDs make us look orange!

The TM-30 calculator contains a library of 300 SPDs (spectral power distributions), of which 137 are commercially available white LEDs.  The CCTs range from 2776 K to 6123 K.  If white light LEDs really did make us look orange we’d expect to see a large majority of them have a positive Rcs,h3, probably with an average chroma shift in excess of 10%.  In fact, the 137 SPDs have Rcs,h3 that range from -8% to 1% with an average of -3.6%, a decrease (not an increase) in the saturation of orange.  It’s not me, it’s him.  TM-30, which uses the most modern models of human vision and a set of colors that cover the color space and visible light spectrum, proves it.  What a relief!  

Don’t believe me?  Download TM-30 and the calculator for free from the IES web site and see for yourself.

Of course, I’m not saying LEDs are perfect light sources. Like any other product there are good ones and bad ones. However, TM-30’s measurements of fidelity and gamut (as averages) and measurements of fidelity, chroma shift, and hue shift (by hue bin) permit us to make a thorough evaluation of a light source to understand its color rendering characteristics. Using this knowledge, we can determine if a particular light source distorts colors and is appropriate for a project, or not.

I should take a moment to note another error he made when he said, “And very importantly—I don’t know if you know this—they have warnings. If it breaks, it’s considered a hazardous waste site. It’s gases inside.”   Perhaps you’ve heard the acronym SSL or the phrase solid state lighting.  LEDs are a version of SSL, which means that they are…well, solid. Unlike previous light producing technologies LEDs are a solid combination of materials.  As such, if one were to physically break (which is unlikely since LEDs are small, are mounted to a heat sink and often covered with a lens, so you’d have to break a lot of materials simultaneously) no gas, hazardous or benign, is emitted.  He’s thinking of fluorescent lamps and the small amount of mercury they contain.  Even then, a broken fluorescent lamp doesn’t turn the area into a” hazardous waste site.” Here are the EPA’s instructions for cleaning up a broken fluorescent lamp.