In our previous blog post, “Blacklight Basics For Themed Attractions (Part 1)“, I discussed common blacklight terminology for use in amusement attractions and themed events. In today’s post we will discuss common types of blacklights (lamps), and the best uses of each type within a blacklight themed attraction.
This blacklight looks like an old-school incandescent light bulb, but with a dark coating surrounding the bulb. This is the kind of blacklight bulb you might find in the Halloween section of a dollar store. It is the original blacklight bulb. Basically this bulb is a regular incandescent light bulb, with a UV filter coating. While this is one of the least expensive types of blacklight lamp available, it has some distinct disadvantages compared to other UV lamps. To start with, the coating on the bulb makes it terribly inefficient… The amount of actual useable blacklight that makes it through the coating is very minimal. In addition, the coating absorbs heat from the filament, making it become very hot. The heat of this bulb also shortens its lifespan.’
You can view the infamous incandescent blacklight HERE.
Recommendations: Do not use this type of lamp. This type of bulb is terrible at producing blacklight. It is also fragile, and dangerously hot.
Mercury Vapor Blacklight
This blacklight looks similar to an incandescent blacklight bulb (a bulb with a dark coating), but it is generally thinner and longer. These lamps use envelopes of filtered glass to block the output of visible light, and allow UV light to pass through. These lamps are far more efficient at producing UV light than their incandescent ancestors, and have been used in theatrical settings (stage plays, concerts, etc.). This light creates an excellent blacklight effect (also called “fluorescence”) when pointed at a blacklight reactive object. On the downside they do produce a lot of heat, and often have noisy fans built into their fixtures. Buying a theatrical mercury vapor blacklight can also be expensive.
Recommendations: These can be effective high-output sources of blacklight, but the heat, expense, and fragility of these lamps make them a less attractive option (for amusement venues) compared to some other lamps listed in this post.
You can view an example of a mercury vapor blacklight HERE.
Fluorescent Blacklight Tubes
Fluorescent blacklight tubes are long and thin, and look like purple/blue versions of the fluorescent lights found in the ceilings of many office buildings and businesses. These glass tubes contain a phosphor that actually emits UV light. Typical fluorescent blacklight tubes also have a dark blue filter on the glass to filter out most visible light. Fluorescent blacklight tubes create a good blacklight effect when shined on blacklight reactive objects. Fluorescent blacklight tubes are widely used in the blacklight amusement industry. Because they are available in sizes and wattages that can be used in typical overhead fluorescent lighting fixtures, you will often see these bulbs used in large venues such as indoor blacklight mini-golf courses. An owner can buy four foot long fluorescent blacklight tubes to replace the tubes in the pre-existing fluorescent lighting fixtures (that came built into the ceiling of the building), and not have to buy new fixtures for the whole venue. For this reason, you will also see this type of lamp used in blacklight haunted houses, roller skating centers, arcades, and during blacklight bowling (“glow bowl”) events. Shorter (length) versions of fluorescent blacklight tubes have been used since the 1970s to light blacklight reactive posters on the walls of teenagers (and adults) in their homes. Blacklight fluorescent tubes are also a popular choice of “home haunters” and Halloween enthusiasts; as they are widely available, relatively inexpensive, and do a good job of lighting blacklight reactive objects.
You can view an example of a fluorescent blacklight tube HERE.
Recommendations: Good for use in large amusement venues, especially when they can be used in pre-existing fluorescent lighting fixtures. Good for creating a total-room blacklight effect. These tubes are not very directional, meaning they are not good for shining on a specific blacklight reactive object, without effecting the rest of the room. These tubes are also somewhat hot and fragile, so they are recommended for use in ceiling fixtures where they will be out of reach of customers.
“LED” stands for light-emitting diodes. This is the newest type of technology available that can emit UV light (though not all LEDs are made for specifically for emitting UV light). An individual LED looks a very small epoxy dome/lens (like a small, translucent pencil eraser). LED lights are not very bright individually, so they are most often used in groups within a lighting fixture. Generally speaking, the more LEDs in a fixture, the brighter the light it will emit. LEDs have several advantages over more traditional light sources. LEDs have a smaller size, longer lifespan, cost less to use, produce less heat, and are more durable than their competitors.
When it comes to blacklight LEDs, things get a bit tricky. Typical LED blacklights do emit a fair amount of UV light, that can cause a good blacklight effect (fluorescence) when aimed at blacklight reactive objects, however LEDs also emit a certain amount of VISIBLE light (along with the UV light). This can be either good or bad, depending upon your application. If you have ever entered a venue with fluorescent blacklight lighting, you have seen a more pure blacklight effect. If you were wearing (most types of) white clothing, had white shoelaces, white teeth, and white lint on your clothes, they all “glowed” (fluoresced). Your dark pants, skin, and anything not blacklight reactive appeared black. LED blacklights make blacklight reactive objects fluoresce, but they also cast some light upon non-blacklight reactive objects. For instance, you might still be able to see your dark clothing, but they wouldn’t be fluorescing like your blacklight reactive clothing. Emitting more visible light than other types of blacklights can be useful, if for example you don’t want your customers to trip over dark objects in your venue (though I still recommend you put glow-in-the-dark or blacklight reactive tape around non-blacklight reactive objects on the floor of your blacklight venue).
The other tricky part of blacklight LEDs is that the LED industry has no standards when it comes to advertising. I have personally purchased LEDs advertised as blacklight (UV), that turned out to just be a purple or blue LED, that does not cause blacklight reactive objects to “glow” at all. Different UV LEDs have different wavelength peaks, which makes a large difference in the quality of UV effects you can achieve with them. Do not assume that a purple or blue LED is UV, unless it is specifically advertised as such. If you want pure blacklight with very little visible light, the ideal LED would have a wavelength of 365 nm. In reality, most commercial LED blacklights have a wavelength in the low 400s.
Blacklight LEDs come in a variety of fixture configurations. These are basically just different ways of grouping the LEDs within the fixture. Here are some examples:
Panel – LED Shadow by Chauvet
Par – UV 72IP by American DJ
Tube (fluorescent tube replacement) – SableLED Lamps by Wildfire Lighting
Bulb (incandescent replacement) – LED A Blacklight 2W Light Bulb by Sunlite
Flashlight – UV Flashlight Black Light, 51 LED 395 nm by Escolite
Recommendations: Good for use in blacklight themed amusement venues. Long life, low heat, and good durability make UV LEDs one of the best choices for most amusement venue applications.
Blog post author: T.M. Kinsley