LED light technology first came to the public in the mid-1990s, and has undergone some major evolutions in the time since that have allowed it to be one of the most popular among various industries that require light. One of these major evolutions is that of upgraded lenses for LED lights, which have allowed for more powerful and focused emissions of these lights for various needs.
At LED Equipped, we’re happy to discuss lens and other technical options for any of our quality emergency LED light bars, beacon lights, mini lights and numerous other options. Let’s look at the three major lens upgrades that have come to this industry over the years, plus look at one particular material (polycarbonate) that has revolutionized this area in recent years.
TIR Light Lens
When LEDs were first hitting the market in the mid-90s and rising in popularity, it quickly became obvious that they were superior to older light formats in terms of overall light power. However, there was a key issue at play: The light being emitted from these early LEDs was fuzzy and uncontrolled, spreading at up to 120 degrees (far too wide for most applications) while not projecting especially far.
It was obvious that a focused lens was needed for LEDs, and this is where the first breakthrough came in: The ‘Total Internal Reflection’ (TIR) lens. This option allowed light to be focused at a much more narrow angle while still projecting it further than before. It soon became the standard lens type found in LED lights until better options eventually emerged.
Typically, the TIR lens would focus LED light into a 40-degree spread, allowing for a few benefits:
- Higher levels of light contact: Where previous incandescent lights used reflectors that caused much of the light to miss the actual target area, LEDs with a TIR lens made sure that light was hitting the intended area.
- Greater visibility: LED lights with a TIR lens could be seen from much further distances than before, increasing safety and security for any such application.
- No fuzzy edges: The TIR lens eliminated the fuzzy edges that had been a problem with early LEDs, allowing for a much cleaner look overall.
- Minimizing glare and background light: The TIR lens also worked well at preventing glare and background light (which was frequently a problem with earlier LED lights).
However, TIR lenses were not perfect. They had a few issues that needed to be corrected:
- Reduced side visibility: Especially in areas like city intersections, where lateral or side visibility was needed, the TIR lens fell short. Oncoming vehicles could easily see them, but because the horizontal spread was limited, the light would not be visible to vehicles on the side.
- Reduced brightness: Even though the TIR lens focused LED lights in a more efficient way, it still resulted in lower overall brightness levels than what was eventually possible with newer lenses.
- Not wide enough for city driving: While the TIR lens was sufficient for many applications, it lacked the width of emissions needed to make LED lights visible from all angles in city driving scenarios.
This is where the next major LED light lens upgrade came into play.
Linear Optic Lens
With the realization that the TIR lens was mostly effective but lacked the spread and certain areas of visibility to be truly useful, the linear optic lens arrived on the scene.
The linear optic lens was a major step forward. It allowed for more light to spread, with a 60-degree overall spread from the center of the light. This made it ideal for many applications, as it provided the necessary spread needed to make LED lights visible from all angles in city driving scenarios and other such needs.
The linear optic lens also provided better visibility and brightness levels than before. It was especially great at scattering light evenly across the entire field of vision, allowing for maximum visibility with no hot spots or dark areas.
One of the key features of linear lenses is their production of “off-axis” brightness. This means they spray high-intensity light at a wide angle, ideal for grill or dash lights where it is necessary to see from far away and from the sides.
Overall, linear lenses marked a major step forward in LED light lens technology and are still standard today for many types of applications. They offer more power and visibility than before while being able to spread out the light emission over a wider area, making them suitable for most needs. However, they still are not the most recent upgrade.
As available technology has improved here, so have the lenses that we’re able to produce for LED lights. In the year 2013, the industry saw a massive jump with the advent of the reflex lens – one that tripled prior spread and had a full 180-degree horizontal spread. This type of lens is in many ways the best available as it offers far more power, visibility and brightness than ever before.
The key feature of reflex lenses is that they project light back towards its source for maximum efficiency. This allows them to be much brighter than even linear lenses, while still having a full 180-degree spread.
Reflex lenses are especially useful in applications where it’s necessary to have a wide angle of light and maximum brightness, such as on streets or highways. They provide clear visibility from far distances, while also having the ability to create a low background light that is less disruptive than other LEDs.
Overall, reflex lenses are the modern standard for LED light lenses. They provide the most power, visibility and brightness of all available lens types, making them ideal for a variety of applications across many industries.
The Role of Polycarbonate
In recent years, one substance has made a massive impact on the entire realm of LED light lenses and related components: Polycarbonate, which is a unique plastic material that is extremely durable, flexible and lightweight. Polycarbonate is made using extremely transparent resins, allowing it to be molded into diffusion lenses that have fantastic clarity – and it can be used in any of the light options we went over above (TIR, linear or reflex).
In TIR lights, polycarbonate shines either with a direct beam or with light-diffusing additives. This allows for maximum clarity and longer life than other lens materials. In linear lenses, polycarbonate is great for refracting light without giving off any sign of the light source – this is hugely valuable in applications like automotive dashlights and sidelights. Lastly, in reflex lenses, polycarbonate is great for removing what are known as “hot spots,” which are areas where the light is too concentrated.
Some of the other general benefits of polycarbonate as the primary lens material include:
- Light uniformity: Polycarbonate helps to distribute light evenly, which is essential for many applications. For instance, when used in street lamps, polycarbonate helps to prevent areas of over-illumination or dark patches.
- Durability: Polycarbonate is lightweight and durable, making it much less likely to crack or break than other materials such as glass. This helps to ensure a long life for any LED lights that use polycarbonate lenses.
- Light “shaping:” Because of the plasticity of the material, polycarbonate is able to be molded into different shapes and sizes that are ideal for various applications This allows it to be used in a variety of settings.
- Shatter-proof qualities: Polycarbonate is a shatter-proof material, making it ideal for safety applications such as in cars or ships.
- Equal to glass in transparency: Despite being plastic, polycarbonate is just as transparent and clear as glass, making it a great option for lenses.
The combination of the advances in LED lens technology, combined with the use of polycarbonate, has allowed for many industries to make huge advancements in their light capabilities. From automotive lighting to street lamps, these new developments have allowed for far brighter, more powerful and more efficient lights that are sure to revolutionize the way we see things in the dark.
And for all your emergency LED light needs, our team at LED Equipped is here to help. We carry a wide range of LED lights, lenses, and accessories that are sure to meet any need – so don’t hesitate to reach out today!