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How does Lighting Design visualization software work?

How does Lighting Design visualization software work?

A Lighting Designer (LD) uses light to create a desired atmosphere. The light can be artificial or real, practical or purely aesthetic, subtle or intense. The light can evoke an emotion or set a mood. All together, a LD can control 4 properties of light: intensity (brightness of the light), color (temperature of the light), distribution (beam and direction), and movement (change of lighting properties over time).

You can say that LDs are light artistes! But short of tearing down your current lighting installation and erecting their own, how can LD’s communicate their lighting vision to you, the customer, before you commit to build it?

The answer lies in technology. Specifically, computer processing and visualization software.

At one time or another, many of us have seen a computer generated image (CGI) rendering of a lighting project. What most do not realize is the amount of technical data that goes into producing these renderings.


Figure 1: CGI from agi32 lighting design software. Source:

Below is a basic overview of how lighting visualization software works:

Step 1: The structural design of the area is imported into the visualization software, typically as CAD files. Ideally, the design includes 3D data to give the rendering more depth and a truer representation.

Step 2: The lighting objects, such as down lights, spot lights, panels and tubes are added to the design. This process isn’t as simple as it seems, as the LD must take into account angles and surfaces within the models. Some surfaces reflect more light than others and can produce undesirable effects, such as glare. Some surfaces will absorb light more and require more light than expected either in output or beam spread.

Step 3: The lighting objects are linked to their respective IES files to provide photometry (the way it distributes its light into space). For an example IES file, see our own Leapfrog Lighting ENERGY STAR PAR30 IES file (IES software is required for viewing). This enables the LD to calculate both the luminance and illuminance produced by each lighting object and output as either a technical photometric chart/color diagram or as a 3D photometric rendering where higher level design and graphical output is preferred.

Because lighting design software is so flexible, LDs can define many different types of parameters based on the 4 properties of light available to control and take multiple renderings with varying looks.

While lighting visualization software is certainly a huge assistance in reducing the amount of manual calculations required to ascertain the photometry as well as providing (multiple) graphical representations for the end user, LDs must understand the calculated results. Without a firm understanding, modifications and fine tunings often necessary to provide optimal results cannot be achieved. Furthermore, the software should serve as an aid or guideline only, as often the LDs project will encounter unexpected issues producing undesirable results. Lighting Designers must be more than the software they are using so they can adjust accordingly.


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