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.

Save EU Stage Lighting

The following is quoted from the April 20, 2018 issue of ESTA Standards Watch.

There is a proposal to adopt an EU Energy Directorate Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019 that would effectively end stage lighting as we know it. Opposition to the plan has often been cast in the past as “Save Tungsten,” but the plan would effective eliminate almost all stage lighting technologies after 2020. Comments on the plan are due by May 7.


The plan imposes minimum efficacy requirements on sources and maximum stand-by power consumption limits in sources and luminaires. The minimum efficacy requirements certainly would have an impact on the use of incandescent lamps, which produce light with efficacies far below the proposed minimum; the plan would end their manufacturer or importation into the EU after 2020. However, additive color-mixing LED sources also cannot meet the proposed efficacy requirements. These sources produce light at the extreme red and blue ends of the spectrum, where, due to the relative insensitivity of the eyes to those colors, the lumens-per-watt produced is low. This low efficacy cannot be ameliorated by better light source technology; it is a function of the response of the human eye. Finally, the proposal mandates a maximum standby power consumption limit for sources and luminaires, and this is low enough that it cannot be met by virtually anything that has any electronic control circuitry or motors. If a product has a muffin fan and a DMX512 line terminating resistor, those two items alone will consume all the power that the proposal would allow.

There is an exemption in the plan for luminaires and sources that are used in image capture work (i.e., video), but none for live entertainment, although the same luminaires might be used in studios and on stage. One idea for fixing the plan and keeping theatres from starting to go dark after September 2020 would be to extend the exemption to those products and their light sources that are within the scope of EN IEC 60598-2-17, Luminaires. Particular requirements. Luminaires for stage lighting, television and film studios (outdoor and indoor). That would help keep people from attempting to skirt the energy-saving requirements by relabeling general-service lamps as “Professional Entertainment Lighting Equipment.”

Things you can do:

Sign and share the petition at https://www.change.org/p/the-eu-energy-directorate-keep-stage-lighting- exempt-from-proposed-legislation-changes? recruiter=860058798&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Fill out the EU public consultation form before end-of-day May 7 at https://ec.europa.eu/info/consultations/evaluation-and-review-ecodesign-and-energy-labelling-regulations- energy-labels_en

More information about the legislation can be found on the ALD’s website at https://www.ald.org.uk/resources/savestagelighting<

IES Disagrees With AMA on Night Time Outdoor Lighting

Last year the AMA issued Policy H-135.927 Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting, which recommended, among other things, that LED outdoor lighting should have a CCT of 3000 K or below.  The AMA made this recommendation thinking that lower correlated color temperatures contain less blue light, which can disrupt circadian rhythms.

Today the IES issued a Position Statement disputing that recommendation, noting that CCT

is inadequate for the purpose of evaluating possible health outcomes; and that the recommendations target only one component of light exposure (spectral composition) of what are well known and established multi-variable inputs to light dosing that affect sleep disruption, including the quantity of light at the retina of the eye and the duration of exposure to that light. A more widely accepted input to the circadian system associated with higher risk for sleep disruption and associated health concerns is increased melanopic content, which is significantly different than CCT. LED light sources can vary widely in their melanopic content for any given CCT; 3000 K LED light sources could have higher relative melanopic content than 2800 K incandescent lighting or 4000 K LED light sources, for example.

Follow the link to read the entire Position Statement.  Blue light hazard, light’s impact on circadian rhythms and overall health, and related topics are a hot area of research.  We’re learning more all the time, but we don’t yet know enough to apply circadian lighting to every situation.  Outdoor and street lighting are among the areas where research is not yet conclusive.

A New Report on LED Color Shift

Like other lighting technologies, the color or chromaticity of light emitted by an LED can shift over time.  To address the challenge of developing accurate lifetime claims, DOE, together with the Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance, formed an industry working group, the LED Systems Reliability Consortium (LSRC).  A new LSRC report, LED Luminaire Reliability: Impact of Color Shift, focuses on chromaticity. The purpose of the new report is not to define limits for specific applications, but rather to enable a better understanding of how and why color shifts, and how that impacts reliability.  Download it and take a look.

How Bright Are Colored LEDs?

Measuring and describing the brightness of colored LEDs is an increasingly important part of a lighting designer’s practice. They are used more often, and in more types of projects, than ever before. Yet, we don’t have an accurate method for understanding exactly how much light is being produced and how bright it will appear. It’s a problem that the lighting industry needs to solve, and soon.

The human eye does not respond to all wavelengths of light equally. We have the greatest response to the yellow-green light of 555 nm. Our response falls off considerably in both directions.  That is, wavelengths of light do not contribute equally to our perception of brightness. The sensitivity curve of the human eye is called V(λ) (pronounced vee lambda) and is shown below.

V-lambda

The definition of a lumen, the measurement of brightness of a light source, is weighted using V(λ) and essentially assumes that the light source emits light across the visible spectrum – in other words, it produces a version of white light.

Light meters are calibrated to measure white light using V(λ) so that their measurement of brightness corresponds with our perception. Individual colored LEDs emit only a fraction of the visible spectrum, as shown below in the graph of V(λ) and the SPD of a red LED, and that’s the problem.

V-lambda and a red LED

Light meters measure the light that the colored LEDs provide, of course, and this information is included on an LED fixture manufacturer’s cut sheets, but it often makes no sense. For example, an RGBW fixture I’ve arbitrarily selected reports the following output in lumens: Red 388, Green 1,039, Blue 85, White 1,498. Since brightness is additive, the output when all LEDs are at full should be 3,010 lumens. However the Full RGBW output is given as 2,805 lumens! That’s 7% lower than what we expect.

The essential problem is that the colored LEDs give the light meter only a fraction of the spectrum it’s designed to measure. The meter provides a result based on its programming and calibration, but the results are often nonsensical or at odds with our perception. This problem doesn’t affect only architectural lighting designers. Film and TV directors of photography and lighting directors also rely on a light meter’s accurate measurement of brightness in their work, and when using colored LED fixtures the light meter is likely to be wrong. In fact, even white light LEDs can be difficult to measure accurately because of the blue spike in their SPD.

For now, the only way to accurately assess the brightness of colored LEDs is to see them in use. Lighting professionals need to let manufacturers and others know that the current situation is not acceptable, and that an accurate method of measuring and reporting the brightness of colored LEDs is a high priority. Talk to fixture and lamp sales reps, fixture and lamp manufacturers, and decision makers at IES, CIE, NIST and other research and standards setting organizations. There’s a solution out there. We need to urge those with the skills and resources to find it to get going!