Since its beginning, Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology has been hailed as the next step in lighting, the evolution to something better on every aspect. Predictions that OLED will eventually surpass Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology in adoption and popularity have recently gained enough traction as to create “battle lines” between the supporters of the two seemingly competing lightning technologies.
In reality LED and OLED are not enemies but partners that will positively change lighting, display technology and even our lives in way we are barley beginning to phantom.
This synergy arises from the fundamental different way light is generated. LEDs are“dots” that can emit a high amount of light. Placed into arrays or multi-chip configurations they can turn the night into day or dazzle one that looks at them. OLEDs are “plains” of smooth, uniform light with little or no glare and with a variety of shapes, with many centimeters in diameter.
Lighting with LEDs is so different from OLED as daylight in day with clear sky is from one covered with white, puffy, clouds.
Designers of lighting or interiors, architects can best understand why the two lighting technologies in general do not overlap in function.
Lighting with LEDs can be indirect, out of the way or minimalist, with precise control of where the light goes. It can also achieve intensive lighting delivered from a fixture of relative small dimensions, placed at various distances, from a few meters to hundreds.
Once they are mainstream, OLEDs will form the building blocks of the chandeliers, “Tiffany lamps” or functional works of art of the future. OLED luminaries with their vast plains of light can be center piece of space that cannot be ignored.
Lets look briefly at the basic types and applications of light to understand how OLEDs and LEDs can or will be used.
Lines of light
Lines of light are extremely popular today, with designers and the public as well, especially from indirect light sources, hidden in cove lights. LEDs placed on linear modules are and will remain the way to achieve this lighting effect. Light “dots” with overlapping illumination will create a continuous line that will always cost less, be more energy efficient and have higher flux.
Linear, minimalist, pendants or recessed fixtures that create long and narrow lines will also use LED modules placed behind a mat cover that diffuses light.
Islands of light
Islands of light are better known as spot lighting or task lighting. Illuminating an area, furniture, object or path in a more intense way to draw attention to it will always be the realm of LEDs combined with lens or reflectors, installed in fixtures that will keep a low profile.
OLED lamps with their large dimensions and ultra-wide illumination can, in theory, deliver spot lighting by hanging the luminaire at low height over the desired area but that can be counter productive to the purpose of highlighting the area with projected light, as the OLED fixture itself will attract a lot of attention.
When the island of light is limited to a small area, such as a shelf OLED with their slim profile will do a better job, especially for designer furniture elements. Furniture will be indeed use more integrated light sources, especially OLED because of their paper like appearance.
Light as a centerpiece
Light sources can be minimalist, hidden away in ceilings or cove lights or be a central piece in the interior design of a space. OLED lighting fixtures are perfect for the centerpiece role, will be the chandeliers of the future. By combining multiple square, rectangular, round or even flexible OLED panels into a luminaire, designers will create exquisite pieces that transcend the functional purpose into the realm of art and symbols of status.
Desk lamps, table lamps or even floor lamps can have a similar purpose, empowered by OLEDs.
With the coming of age of 3D printing OLED based lighting objects that draw attention will flourish even more. They will show creativity and independence.
LED can also bring function to works of art but in a different way, with LED modules that create lines of light or spot lighting.
Rays of light
Rays of lights that serve purposes such as architectural purposes (wall washing) or functional (headlights, flash lights) will always require a lighting source with lens or reflectors. LEDs serve this purpose best and will continue to do so.
Plains of light
Plains of light are better known as uniform lighting of a space. Residential spaces, offices or rooms with low to medium height will benefit from the OLED smooth, glare free, high quality light under the condition that large, center piece lighting fixtures are a design requirement.
Cove lighting or long lines of light with LED are and will be the choice when minimalist, low profile lighting fixtures are preferred.
Stretched luminous ceilings are also best illuminated with LED back-light modules due to the requirement of spread, continuous surfaces and easy installation and transportation of used materials.
When the distance between the light source and the floor is high, light sources must use a reflector or lens. There are cases when the illumination is required to have a certain distribution, for example for street or parking lot lighting. As with spot lighting, LED modules with lens do this job well.
Light to be seen
Displays, signs, require light to be seen and are usually back lit. There will be a coexistence of both lighting technologies.
Very large, outdoor displays use LEDs and will do so in the future, because each pixel must be its own light source, visible under direct sunlight. Illuminated signs are a similar matter.
Televisions, monitors or smaller displays will witness a growing increase in OLED use, as the cost decreases. OLED displays already have a significantly better image quality but the widespread adoption is hindered by short term issues that arise from a technology still in its infancy. Flexible, foldable or paper thin OLED displays will add even more to a future OLED supremacy for this application.
By looking at each of the principal applications of light it becomes clear that the future belongs to LED and OLED, together. The two technologies complete each other such as the sun and our planet atmosphere bring us the daylight experience we all love and cherish.