Learning how to diffuse LED light is an important skill to know when using LED lighting in the home or commercially. As manufacturers want to push out as much light as they can, some do not consider just how uncomfortable they are to live with. Our tips show you how to adapt your lighting to diffuse light from LED and achieve a more agreeable result.
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LED lights are a bright light source with a small form factor, which can result in sharp and intense glare. The intensity of the light is not just pure brightness, but also how many individual light points there are. In comparison to halogen or incandescent lighting, LED lights have a large number of small individual LED clusters. This means that every point where the light hits can be perceived as a separate source of light.
To diffuse light really means to spread and soften the light. With LED technology, this works by breaking up the regular pattern of sharp and intense illumination.
Diffusing light can be as simple as introducing a frosted lens into the system or using an optical diffuser such as in our line of aluminium channel systems with embedded LED lighting.
The human eye is extremely sensitive to light from any direction, even the fractional element of a single photon. This means that even if we cannot see the source of light, it can still create discomfort to the eyes when illuminated.
Different individuals will naturally have different sensitivities to this level of brightness, with some more prone to headaches and other discomforts.
When diffused through the right materials it can conceal the source but still allow the light out and spread more harmoniously.
This type of light will softens shadowing too and is a more comfortable task lighting.
Lighting is one of the most important design elements in any room. There are several ways how to soften LED lighting and these are just some of the most common. They will work with any type or style of lighting you have in your home, providing a more comfortable environment without losing any of the benefits from using LEDs.
Tips on how to use diffused lighting to prevent eye strain from LED lights are provided below:
The intensity of light can be reduced by choosing lower wattage bulbs and installing lenses or shades which diffuse the light. Frosted glass or plastics, such as perspex can soften light and reduce glare. Frosted road markers and car headlights are two examples of how diffuse lighting has been used to help drivers see better on the roads.
An aluminium extrusion is a simple, cheap means of adding an easier to gaze upon line or curve of light. The aluminium extrusion must be purchased with a frosted lens already in place to help diffuse the light.
Higher Kelvin rating of white will produce more blue wavelengths and look brighter than warmer colours. A good rule is that “cooler” whites such as 4000K may not be actually brighter but feel more intense and “warmer” whites such as 2700K are better used in lounges and areas to relax in and therefore feel less powerful.
If you have a recessed LED light with a clear glass lens, when off you can see one big one or a group of yellow dots inside, these are the LED light sources. When turned on there is nothing between you and those LEDs. Replacing the clear lens with a frosted lens will diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.
Similar to replacing clear glass lenses, when off the LED bulb is visible from the outside without any diffusion. Replacing these bulbs or tubes with frosted versions can reduce this sharpness of LED lighting by adding some diffusion to the light produced.
Use of a dimmer switch can also reduce emphasis on single points of light, which can help you enjoy your lighting more. It is the same as having high or low wattage bulbs in many ways and switches can be purchased online easily.
LED strip lights are different to the lighting above in that they do not have a glass or plastic bulb, but a flexible flat strip of LEDs. Fitting these is easy with silicone adhesive on backside and can be used across ceilings or walls as well as inside cabinets.
These LED strips are often quite bright, will contain lots of individual LED points, and are easy to install in places such as underneath a kitchen or bathroom cabinet.
This will make the light appear more uniform than individual bright LEDs, making it easier on the eyes. You still need to be careful if you have higher brightness LEDs, these should only be used behind frosted plastic or a diffusing lens to make the light appear more uniform and avoid bothering eyes.
This can help diffuse the brightness of the light further, by adding background color from outside sources. You can use natural sunlight this way without direct glare as long as a window or skylight is not directly in front of the light.
What does this mean? LED panels in grid ceilings on their own can seem too intense but if mainly used in the day then the overall design will integrate these bright sources into the daylight. This can enhance color and utilise all the benefits from LED technology, but with a more comfortable experience for the eyes.
An exposed LED lamp if fully on really needs to be diffused, here’s how:
Lamp shades provide pleasing illumination by hiding distracting bulb sources. They can be used with any type of lighting; globes, bulbs or LED to create a warm and inviting look in your home or office.
Not all lamp shades are made the same, some have glass or plastic inserts as part of their construction. If you look through an opening in a lamp shade with clear glass, you will see the light source behind it, this is distracting and can be a painful experience for your eyes.
Try placing the lamp behind furniture or a plant. You need something between the light source and your eyes to hide it. It will not change the appearance of the lighting but can make it more comfortable for you by reducing glare from a bright point in your vision.
A lamp is a light bulb, some are constructed from clear glass which will always create harsher light and harder shadowing. You can soften a light bulb by only using ones that are white glass finished or sometimes described as pearl.
As a general rule, the more diffuse the light is the better it will appear to your eyes. If you look at any well lit room, it’s always better when the light source is hidden with wide areas of light that is evenly dispersed.
One of the best ways to diffuse light is to reflect it off surfaces into more diffused ambient light. Use mirrors or white walls, ceilings and floors in your home.
Wider sources of light in lighter colours are better than say a small powerful spotlight, which may highlight details visible on the wall behind but will also be painful on the eyes.
For example, an over head lamp with a large bulb and no globe will be far more comfortable than a small spotlight (as above). Overhead lighting in a general room is always preferred to downlights for this reason.
If you can find a way to hide the light source it will also make the room more comfortable. For example, if you can manage to cover LED strip lights with frosted silicone and fix them into an aluminium frame, then they will be very helpful in hiding the light source and making a homogenous line of light more uniform.
This can be an extra pane of glass with frosted coating to create a more even spread of light from the fitting. Some wall lights may also have diffusers built in if you look at them from the rear.
A similar principle to those above, this can be an extra layer of frosted glass or plastic that is easy to clean (important when kids get involved).
Bedroom and living room lighting should be multifunctional and multi positioned, accentuating the area at night for reading from bed or watching television, but also giving a soft glow during the day when required.
If you have downlights in your home or office, try using an integrated LED version that embeds the LED within it. Opt for a professional quality that uses a spreader lens or frosted glass in front of the reflector. The glare will be diffused and more comfortable than if you use a globe or clear lens to light the area, which is best left for general lighting.
Use multiple point sources of light in your ceiling. Trimless LED strip lights are good for this purpose as they can be built into ceilings or walls. Use white light with a spreader lens to disperse the light over a wide area.
LED strip lighting is best used in specific areas, such as under kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and home bars. Depending on the strip width and colour range you can choose this if you want to give the room a sophisticated and stylish appearance.
Astigmatic LED lighting uses a cylindrical diffuser to spread light over a 180Â° angle with no shadowing. The light attenuation is better than that of conventional linear LED under the same illuminance, making it ideal for use in settings requiring soft ambient illumination. This type of lamp is particularly useful in open environments where both reading and general illumination are required such as doctors’ waiting rooms, restaurant or hotel receptions ie. well diffused light.
If you are interested in making your own custom lighting diffusers, you can use a few simple things to achieve the same thing.
You can make a frame of frosted plastic yourself with MDF or wood and then attach it to the ceiling with silicone adhesive or even just some sticky tape if you prefer. Try placing LED light strips or downlights through this.
You can place frosted glass on top of an existing ceiling light fitting, again using silicone adhesive to attach it, and then hide the lighting source behind it.
If you want a professional look or can’t find appropriate frosted plastic then you can make your own with wood and a few sheets of frosted plastic.
Diffusing the light from LED lights will produce a much more comfortable lighting effect. This is an easy to undertake task for people with basic DIY skills, but if you are unsure of how to do this we suggest seeking out professional assistance if you have any doubts or concerns about what needs to be done.
, the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.
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