Ultraluminous LED Light and Art Projects

Brian Neltner & Janet Fox

Updated July 23, 2010 with the new Light Brick System!

Table of Contents:

  1. Updates
  2. Purpose
  3. Background
  4. Theory
  5. Work to Date
  6. Media!
  7. Applications and Installations
  8. Light Brick (NEW!)
  9. Ultraluminous Illuminator UV+LED Light Fixture
  10. Design Details and Schematic Downloads
  11. Inquiries, Collaborations, and Contact
  12. About the Artists

Ultraluminous Illuminator

In order to do this project, I had to design a new class of LED Light Fixture. All currently commercially available LED light fixtures are not nearly good enough for doing high-quality art, and they are still far outside my budget range (for example, a similar module on ebay, including the power supply, is nearly $1500!). The primary problem with the currently available fixtures, even beyond the cost, is that they are designed for producing an apparent color, not emitting a real frequency. Thus, they generally only include red, green, and blue LEDs as with these three you can make light that gets close to simulating most colors. However, for the sort of work that I want to do, with a large number of independently selectable reflective colors, real frequencies need to be emitted, and the artwork really has to be made with full awareness of the restrictions imposed by using LED light.

To address these failings of the current market, I developed the Ultraluminous Illuminator. The light fixture is designed with two Nichia UV LEDs as well as red, green, cyan, and royal blue LEDs (the best colors for our artwork thus far). This light fixture is substantially better than any commercially available fixture due to it's inclusion of nearly 600mW of UV light output, as well as around three times the output (around 2500 lumens adding up the LED datasheet specs, and multiplying by 0.4 to try to account for inefficiencies, and not including the UV) in the other colors as compared to commercially available modules. In version 9, I dropped the number of LEDs from 7 to 4 per color, and dropped the current from 700mA to 350mA, which should make it roughly the same as commercially available modules in brightness per color. However, the incorporation of orange, amber, cyan, royal blye, and UV LEDs means that I can address pigments with far greater versatility than anything I could find on the market. I could also always bring the current back up to 700mA and have a fixture some amount brighter than the market.

It is true that the needed brightness is subjective -- one could get by with a commercially available fixture. However, the brighter your LED source, the more ambient light you can deal with in your gallery. In my case, with these lights, I can have the rest of the lights in the room on and still see a quite strong effect. With the background lights in the room off, the effect is stunning. If you're doing this at night, and only want to use red and blue paints, you could get away with a ColorBlast 12 or similar system; however, that simply wasn't bright enough or colorful enough for what I want in my artwork (certainly not enough to justify spending $1500 on the module, power supply, and controller).

I used a nice gooseneck fixture for the light so that it can be easily mounted above a piece of artwork with the light adjustable to point wherever needed, and the light fixture itself is in an aluminum case 12"x1.5"x1.5", with a holographic diffusing film to make the light smooth and uniform even at a close range.

Overall, the system ends up being rather expensive for me to build -- the UV LEDs cost $90 a piece, plus the cost of boards, machining, the power module, and assembly. The total cost of components ends up being around $450 per fixture to build (in small quantities, at least), and doesn't include the cost of machining, board assembly, etc.

I have incorporated wireless communications with a computer to allow a user to change an arbitrary number of fixtures permanently installed in a room in realtime without the need for manual reprogramming.

Dedicated to the Loving Memory of Kevin "FrostByte" McCormick
LED artist, brother from another mother, and inspiration to us all.
Funded (in part) by a Director's Grant from the Council for the Arts at MIT.
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