Most of our Enlighted custom clothing is illuminated by light emitting diodes (LEDs), which appear as points of light or other shapes when diffused or otherwise manipulated with the fabric of the garment.
LEDs are a form of semiconductor that produces light when a low voltage is applied, and are a good choice for use in clothing because they are small, relatively durable, and can emit light efficiently, without generating heat, unlike old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. They also have a much longer operating life than traditional light bulbs (up to ~100K hours), far longer than the expected lifetime of a piece of clothing.
LEDs are available in many shapes, sizes, and colors, with a range of optical properties such as brightness and viewing angle. We use a variety of LED types, depending on the application and the lighting effect that is desired.
Standard LEDs with metal leads are most commonly available with diameters of 3mm and 5mm. We typically use this type of LED when we want to create a point of light on the outer surface of a garment. The metal leads are punched through the fabric and mechanically secured on the inner face. In some installations, this type of LED will be held by a grommet or other hardware mounted in the fabric. In other cases, the light will be partly disguised or diffused with fabrics, trims, or other materials.
On the inside face of the fabric, the LED is soldered to a network of thin flexible connecting wires that are concealed within the lining of the garment. The connecting wires will be joined to a battery pack and power switch. In some cases, the design will also include a small control board that has been programmed with an animated sequence, such as a chasing pattern or a random twinkling effect.
Single-color LEDs are available in red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple/pink, ultraviolet (UV), and two colors of white: cool white (with a slight blue tint), and warm white (with a slight yellow tint, similar to the color of candle light or incandescent bulbs). Multicolor LEDs contain multiple light emitting chips within the same package, such as red, green, and blue in the increasingly-popular RGB LED. Color changing effects can be achieved by lighting up a series of single-color LEDs in a pattern, or by controlling the light emitted from a single RGB LED.
Surface mounted LEDs (or SMT LEDs) are made with the same light-emitting chip from a standard LED, and can typically achieve the same brightness, but with a smaller lens and overall package size. They are well-suited for designs that require miniaturized electronics, closely-spaced lights, or a relatively flat, low profile design. However, they can also be more difficult to install, and typically need to be mounted on a small circuit board or other substrate prior to being attached to a garment.
In some designs, we use LEDs that are linked together in strings and strips that are electrically joined as a single channel. These materials can be convenient for creating stripes or outlines of closely-spaced LEDs, with a lower cost per light, but they can only be lit with a steady glowing effect, or with a pattern in which all of the lights in that channel are flashed or faded together. They cannot be lit up with the sequential patterns that are possible with individually mounted LEDs.s
LEDs are also available in high power formats (such as 1W and 3W) that produce intensely bright beams of light. You can select a low-profile package with a wide viewing angle, or a larger version with a lens (approx 1/2" thick) that focuses the light into a narrow beam. High power LEDs can be incorporated into a lighted clothing design, although they will require larger battery packs and/or shorter operating times, and some degree of thermal isolation from the body.
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