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Full Spectrum Lighting

By Sue Nesmith & Karen Maslowski 

The following article was first published by Sewstorm Publishing and is reprinted here with their consent.

Next to your sewing tools, lighting is probably the single most important factor in your workroom. If a day of sewing tires you out, check your lighting — poor lighting conditions could very well be the cause of your fatigue.

One of the best ideas in lighting to come along in the last decade or so is full spectrum lighting. For sewing professionals, who may sew for six or more hours a day and who need to match colors well, full spectrum bulbs are a boon. They mimic true daylight, and cast a true, clear light that soothes tired eyes.

Elements of full spectrum lighting

Your probably learned in school that sunlight is composed of many wavelengths of light that give various colors of the spectrum — some wavelengths we see, some we can’t. We can see the colors of the rainbow, but we generally can’t see ultraviolet or infrared wavelengths. Most regular incandescent bulbs don’t contain all the wavelengths in the visible range. They produce light in only a limited part of the visible spectrum, and in the infrared range which produce heat. That is why incandescent bulbs burn so hot. Without producing light in the blue/violet end of the spectrum, the color rendering is compromised.

Regular fluorescent bulbs produce light in shorter wavelengths, usually in the orange/yellow portion of the spectrum, leaving out the red/blue/violet and U.V. ends, which allows them to burn cooler. However, they still do not produce full spectrum light. Some bulbs do add a blue tint, which gives a much truer color rendering, but they still leave out the non-visible but beneficial small amounts of U.V. wavelengths. A true full spectrum bulb includes these.

It is the small amount of beneficial U.V. light that gives full spectrum bulbs not only excellent color rendering, but the benefits Vitamin D absorption, which is most effectively absorbed through the skin. (Vitamin D is essential for the body to absorb calcium, which is why they began years ago to add Vitamin D supplements to store-bought milk.) These bulbs, like fluorescents, do burn cooler, and are more energy-efficient than any incandescent bulb. Full spectrum fluorescents are the same as those used in light therapy boxes.

Color Rendering Index

The Color Rendering Index (CRI) of fluorescent bulbs rates the ability of a lamp to render the color appearance of objects — and people — the same as does natural outdoor daylight. Natural daylight has been assigned a CRI of 100. This rating method is recognized by the Illuminating Engineering Society.

The CRI info above is from a company that manufactures light bulbs, mostly for institutions. Their regular cool white fluorescent bulb has a CRI of 62, there are at least 10 other bulbs they manufacture with CRI values from 91 to 96. In addition, they make compact fluorescent bulbs, which have an adapter to screw into a conventional incandescent socket. The full spectrum bulb used in this manner has a CRI of 91.

For more information on where to find these bulbs, contact Rick Nesmith at mesmith@talleytech.com

Sue Nesmith is a homesewer who uses full spectrum bulbs in both her sewing workroom and her kitchen. Sue says she has also used the blue-tinted bulbs, and likes the full spectrum best for close work.

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