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The Complete Guide to Tunable Lighting
LED lighting technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. It has not only become more efficient but also more functional. One of these developments is called tunable lighting. Tunable lighting makes bulbs and fixtures much more versatile than standard ones. But there are many variations of it and each one has particular applications for lighting designs.
What is Tunable Lighting?
Tunable lighting technology can also be referred to as wattage adjustable, color selectable, custom temperature lighting, variable white, or hybrid white.
In general, tunable lighting allows you to adjust the wattage, the color, or both the wattage and color on a bulb or fixture. Here is a quick summary of what those are and how they relate to lighting:
Wattage refers to how much energy a light consumes. For conventional lights (such as fluorescent and HID), it can also be associated with the brightness of a light. Brighter lights tend to have higher wattages. But with LED lighting, which doesn’t consume as much energy as the others, the more accurate measure of brightness is lumens. However, there is still a difference in wattage between them.
Color temperature (CCT) is a range of the color of light from yellow/orange (warmer, lower CCT) to white/blue (cooler, higher CCT). The standard range is between 2700K (a yellowish light) and 5700K. (a bluish light). Lights with a higher CCT tend to be used in settings where tasks are performed (such as a factory or warehouse). Lights with a lower CCT tend to be used in settings where the ambiance is more of a factor (such as homes, restaurants, or lobbies).
How Does Tunable Lighting Work?
Most bulbs and fixtures that are tunable can be adjusted with a switch or a dial. They are usually located on the outside of the bulb, outside the fixture’s housing, or inside the fixture (or retrofit kit). Some of the more complex tunable lights (such as Full-Color-Tunable) utilize a user interface to make adjustments.
Categories of Tunable LED Products
For wattage adjustable lighting, only the brightness is toggled/adjusted. There is no option for color adjustment. There are typically two or three wattage options (low/medium/high). LED lights can also be lumen selectable.
Also known as Kelvin selectable. For these products, only the color temperature is toggled/adjusted. There are no options for specific colors or brightness adjustments. You can select from two different color temperatures or more.
Dim-to-Warm tunable LED lights are meant to imitate halogen or incandescent dimmable lights. At full output, their CCT is in the range of 2700K to 3000K. When dimmed, it can be decreased to as low as 1800K and becomes warmer (more yellow) in appearance.
This type of tunable light source is typically used in lobbies, ballrooms, restaurants, theaters, and residential spaces.
This type of tunable LED light source is also known as Kelvin Adjustable or color temperature adjustable lighting. It allows you to switch the CCT from cool to neutral to warm in appearance.
This color adjustable LED lighting requires independent power for the control signal and the LED driver. Because of this, it’s normal to have a dimmer for each control signal. One for color and another for power and intensity level.
Full color tunable LED light bulbs and fixtures possess three or more diverse LED primary chip sets that are individually varied in output. Each set is used to create a blend of light that is white, a tint of white, or a saturated hue. They can produce different color temperatures of white light and light that has a distinct color.
Also called color-changing or spectrally tunable lights, full color tunable LED lights are the most flexible solution. This is because you can instantly transform a room using a range of dim white to bright purple.
They require a user interface that is more complex than a standard slide dimmer.
Applications include theme parks, theaters, arcades, and restaurants.
Tunable lighting is quite versatile and can give users options that would otherwise force them to use additional bulbs or fixtures to change the brightness or color of a space. This benefits both manufacturers and consumers. Manufacturers don’t have to make as many types of the same products because they have been “combined” into one. Consumers benefit because they now have more flexibility with the same product.
The advantages of tunable lights include:
- Adaptability and flexibility – You can change the light settings to suit the different uses of the same space. This allows for more control of the lighting. It also allows for less risk with the lighting design.
- Color matching – Different manufacturers’ products can have slight variations in color. You can adjust for this with tunable lighting.
- Price – This used to be a drawback, but the price of tunable lights is now more competitive because of economies of scale for the manufacturer.
However, it’s important to note a few drawbacks of tunable lighting:
- Efficiency – In general, LEDs are highly efficient. Much more so than all other alternative light sources. However, wattage and color selectable fixtures require twice the number of LEDs to provide a wider range of options. Choosing a lower (warmer) color temperature will likely produce fewer lumens per watt. This means that the bulb or fixture will use additional wattage to produce a higher output.
- Complexity – More options typically create more complexity. Learning how to adjust and install the more complex tunable lights may take more time initially.
About the Author
Dwayne Kula is President of LED Lighting Supply. On any given day, Dwayne is writing content for the site and helps manage the marketing initiatives that are on-going. He has a Software Engineering degree and still dabbles in writing software for the company as needed. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, working out, playing the occasional game of golf and exploring New England.