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Light Boxes for Retail Display - Saving Dollars with New Technology

Are all retail light boxes created equal? New developments in retail light box technology and demands for more sophisticated and energy efficient merchandising and display products may be signaling the demise of standard light box technology.

By Jeff Parry

Are all retail light boxes created equal? New developments in retail light box technology and demands for more sophisticated and energy efficient merchandising and display products may be signaling the demise of standard light box technology.

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  • So, what does this new technology bring to the table?

    • Dramatic reductions in energy consumption that translate in dramatic dollar savings
    • Significant reductions in the hidden and ongoing costs of maintenance and upkeep
    • Thinner light boxes that save space and enhance consumer experience
    • Improvements in the effect of advertising through brighter and more even illumination
    • Meeting consumer and regulatory demands for environmentally friendly retailing

    Who's being left behind?
    Traditional retail or shop light boxes have been effective for decades. They are simple constructions that really are no more complicated than the name suggests: a box, illuminated from with in. Typically they are 200mm (8 inches) in thickness and fabricated in aluminum. Inside a number of fluorescent tubes are mounted to the fabrication and illuminate a graphic applied to an acrylic face on one or both sides of the light box. These traditional-type light boxes are still commonly used today and are as effective as they have ever been. The problem is that the world and consumer expectations has moved on, leaving this old technology falling short in a number of areas.

    First, these traditional store light boxes really chewed through the power. A large light box of 6m x 3m (approx 20 x 10 foot) requires 45 x 58 watt fluorescent tubes to effectively illuminate. Such a light box, running for just 12 hours a day, uses around 12,000 kW of power per annum and that equates to an electricity bill of well in excess of US$1000 for just one light box!

    Maintenance is also an issue that seems to be problematic for business owners using these traditional style light boxes. Just one faulty tube in your light box can make it look… well… average at best. And clearly the likelihood of a fault at any given time, when you have 45 fluorescent tubes or more illuminating a single light box, is rather high. Flickering or broken tubes quickly become a considerable ongoing cost and as a result it is common to see this type of light box with dull patches or shadows across the surface. This flawed presentation has a negative impact on consumer perception of your brand, not to mention a significant decrease in the impact of your signage or advertising - it's not professional and it's not bright.

    New technology! But, buyer beware
    The new player in the light box display market is edge-lit or slimline technology. These terms refer to light boxes which operate by means of a light source applied directly to the edge of an internal acrylic panel, the front surface of which illuminates due to a matrix pattern printed on that surface.

    These matrix patterns are the crucial element in the effectiveness of slimline light boxes. The light that is introduced into to acrylic panel is reflected by the pattern and exits the panel via the front face, thus illuminating any poster or graphics placed on that face. Effective light patterns operate using algorithms that have been calculated to distribute the light evenly across the panel. In essence these patterns reflect less light near the edge of the acrylic panel, where the light source is applied and light levels are at their highest, and more light at the centre of the panel where levels are at their lowest. Without an effective diffusion pattern the perimeters of the acrylic panel would be brightest, whilst the centre would be dim.

    And let me take this chance to warn you: there are plenty of cheap slimline light boxes on the market using sub-standard light patterns which produce exactly this result. Be sure that your supplier understands the workings of matrix patterns in slimline light boxes and can assure you that the product you are purchasing uses a legitimate pattern.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    Saving money and keeping up appearances
    After all, the uniform diffusion of the light source across the face of the light box is one of the major triumphs of slimline light box technology, as it eliminates the hot spots or cold spots that are visible in varying degrees in all older forms of light box signage. These terms refer to a visible variation in light intensity causing some areas of the illuminated face to be clearly brighter or duller than other areas. By contrast, slimline light boxes produce a smooth and even illumination across the face of the panel. But there are also a number of other benefits which have dramatically increased demand for this relatively new technology.

    As mentioned above, electricity consumption and maintenance are significant operational costs associated with traditional back-lit light boxes. These costs are in fact two sides of the same coin, in that they are a direct result of the number of fluorescent tubes required to effectively illuminate any given light box. A high tube count clearly equates to higher power usage, but this number also dictates the regularity of maintenance procedures by multiplying the probability of faults. Slimline light boxes reduce the tube count by 50 - 70% thus reducing maintenance cost by a comparable percentage. The exact figure varies dependent upon the size and proportions of the light box in question, but if we take the example given above of the 6m x 3m light box using 45 fluorescent tubes, a slimline light box of the same dimensions would achieve equal illuminance using only 12 tubes - a reduction in tube count of over 70%.

    The term slimline is also an indicator of another major advantage offered by this type of illuminated signage. Slimline light boxes can be as little as 20mm (13/16") thick - just one-tenth that of a traditional light box. Creating a brightly illuminated panel just 20mm thick is a significant technical achievement, but don't expect too many shoppers to comment on your fantastic technically advanced light boxes. It's the refinement these slimline panels lend to a retail environment that makes the difference. They help to create a modern aesthetic that surely does impact on the consumers' overall perception of the environment and of your products and brand - that's why slimline light boxes are now favored by most architects and interior designers.

    The future is clear
    So it's clear, not all light boxes are created equal, and the major benefits of slimline light boxes are undisputed. As for all those smaller advantages, it all comes down to detail, but it's often said, "retail is detail" and light box advertising is one detail on which you can't afford to fall behind.

    Jeff Parry works with light boxes and retail displays for Slimline Warehouse Australia.

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