So you’re trying to decide what track to purchase for your art gallery or museum?
A few architectural questions arise immediately, when considering a track layout. First and foremost is the location of track to maximize flexibility – how much track to install, and track spacing to provide an adequate range of aiming angles, given the height and proportions of a specific gallery. Step one is always to arrange the primary track at the correct distance off each wall such that the lights may properly illuminate art on the walls. To do this we refer to the track aiming diagram at left. Locate the track where a 30-35deg line intersects the ceiling (or suspension height).
Beyond placement, many other questions may arise, such as, should we recess or surface mount the track? One circuit or two? Should the recessed track be flanged or flangeless? Is end feed ok or do we require top-feed? Or include corners and Ts, or keep them spaced apart? While all important decisions, none of these variables effect the operation of the system (aside from the circuiting).
However, for discerning museum staff, the choice of track heads will have great impact the day-to-day operations of the facility, and the quality of lighting. Now that LED technology is on par with their halogen predecessors, the biggest decision to be made is whether to purchase fixtures that contain integral LEDs with changeable optics, or purchase screw-based fixtures and load them with PAR or MR LED lamps? Both have pros and cons. Let’s unpack each:
Integral LED light source with changeable optics
Track fixtures with integral LEDs are now reaching maturity, and suitable for galleries and museums; high quality options are made by a handful of manufacturers.
- Fixture designed for, and optimized for the light engine inside. Fixture life maximized.
- Facilities only need to stock various optics: snap-on plastic rings, micro optic lenses, etc
- Limited flexibility – fixture can only put out the color temperature and output designed into the fixture.
- More expensive upfront cost
- Typically heavier
- Typically, the proprietary light module must be replaced by the company who made the fixture
Instead of stocking extra lamps, facilities must instead stock a range of accessories that can change beam spreads, adjust color temperatures or colors, or control glare. (Accessories by LSI in this image)
Medium base socket with LED PAR38 lamps
The PAR 38 screw-based track fixture is a standard element in art galleries and museums across the world, followed up by the MR-16 lamp. LED retrofit lamps are now up to the task of lighting art, providing an alternative to electricity-sucking halogen lamps, formerly considered the primo in art lighting technology.
- Full flexibility. Options for lamps only limited by heat and wattage limits – (See Soraa and Ketra lamp options in the images below)
- Cheaper upfront cost than integral LED
- Lamps take up more storage space
- Greater possibility for error
- More difficult to create consistency . Stating the obvious: different lamps operate on differently.
- Limited outputs – maximum outputs for PAR38s are equivalent to 100w halogens, MR-16s top out at equivalent to 20-35w halogen (Note that the technology is always improving and future LED retrofit lamps will have increased output compared to today’s lamps).
Ketra’s S38 lamps can be mesh-networked together, controlled via a computer or iphone dashboard, and change color temperature or color for maximum flexibility.
Ultimately, the decision does not have to be black or white. Typical museums have hundreds, if not thousands of track heads, so mixing would provide the greatest flexibility.
While some museum staff just want to work with one piece of technology, others may be comfortable working with multiple options, integrating some of each of the tech discussed in this article. Integral LED fixtures may be used for permanent exhibitions, while interchangeable bulb fixtures used for the rotating galleries. Maybe one area requires wallwashing while another could take advantage of the flexibility of Ketra lamps.
It’s a new world with infinite possibility; play around, try things out and work with what works.