To shed some light (pun intended) on LEDs and their use in layouts: Incandescent VS LED


Fist, the visible light spectrum is from about 400 NM (neat ultraviolet) to about 700 NM (near infrared). Although part of the light spectrum, you cannot see true ultraviolet beam (< 300 MN).  You can see the beams reaction to that frequency in certain materials. You also cannot see an infrared beam (>800 NM). You can see that these are on sometimes due to the reaction of surrounding materials to this light. A WORD OF CAUTION TO THOSE IDIOTS TRYING OT LOOK INTO THESE BEAMS AS SOME CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR EYES!!

LED's can put out both visible and non-visible light, but not from the same LED. They can also be made into non-visible lasers. However, LEDs inherently have a very NARROW in it’s spectrum (allowing only few nanometers). A blue, has zero infrared, a red has zero ultraviolet. It CAN be designed to put out light in the NON-VISIBLE spectrum at both end, both ultraviolet and infrared. As for WHITE LED's they are a broader spectrum including much of the primary colors spectrum, not much outside of that.

On the other hand, incandescent bulbs put out an extremely BROAD spectrum, from damaging non-visible ultraviolet (<300 NM) to well beyond damaging high heat infrared! Even most colored or filtered bulbs have a high level of UV, and infrared. Some incandescent lights have more UV than other it all depends on the composition of the filament. For example, most halogens are twice as bad on UV emissions. Many Incandescent bulbs even have a higher rate of UV emissions than some florescent lights.  White LEDs, due to their lack of UV, do not attract bugs as do other lights.

Also, since LED are virtually UV free as well as virtually infinity adjustable color-wise, they are now being used more and more in national galleries and museums. The equivalent of hundreds of thousands of US dollars are being spent be such galleries as the National Gallery of the U.K. for changing from incandescent to LED.

As for their use in plastic models … ANY incandescent bulb, has as MUCH as 100 times more UV radiation in plastic buildings than white LEDs,  and 100 times the damages from infrared (heat),  attract all types damaging insect,  energy-wise it cost almost 100 times the amount of LEDs to run your layout,  has to be replaced as much as 10,000 time sooner, and condemned by scientist for use in art galleries!  

So it makes you wonder, why are so many people are gunge-hoe about incandescent lighting in layouts?

Steve Johnson
Owner/Moderator: Realistic Train Modeling on a Budget

A group for seniors, students and others on a fixed income. This is a brainstorming, think-tank sort of group for all scales to model REALISTICALLY on a budget, using ingenious, creative, Macgyver type tricks.


Dear Steve, In reading your

Dear Steve,

In reading your obviously well-researched post, I was struck by a question. Are you targetting:
- In-model LED installs (EG loco headlight)
- in model structure LED installs (EG walthers plastic structre kit with multiple LED lighting effects)
- or overall 12"/1` layout room lighting?

If the last of the 3, it can be easily determined why LED lighting options have not seen wider acceptance.
- Cost per "bulb"
- beam angle of typical "bulb" (IE a quick view of _readily_available_ "mains bulb replacement" LED options reveals a common 16-30 degree beam angle, far less than the typical incandecent or halogen, with resulting patchwork or "hotspot" visible effect on the scene)
- color rendering : I agree and have sought out sources for most equivalents of 3000, 5600, and 9000K "white" lighting sources. However, these _mission_specific_ forms of LED are simply not readily available to the general public. (If you want mass acceptance, get them into Home Depot, Bunnings, and Walmart at $2each ;-) )

I totally take your point that major art and history museums have taken to LED technology to avoid UV damage to the artifacts/displays, and present the works "in their best light". However again:
- we can't say "leds can only give off a very narrow frequency of visible color" (entirely true in the context of an individual LED element) and in the same breath then say "museums use leds for their breadth of color spectrum" with specifying the _difference_ in the LED devices being used/described. (At best it's slightly confusing, at worst appears completely contradictory).
-RE above comments, the custom color-mix Pro Lighting LED systems (both the luminaires and the control gear) used by museums, which I have been involved in system-design and deploying, far outperform (and out-cost) most any typically available domestic alternative.

Appreciate the info, but direct applicability "for the average modeller" is maybe not as cut-and-dried as appears...

Happy Modelling,
Aim to Improve,
Prof Klyzlr

jrbernier's picture

LED Lamps

  What you say is very true - However:

  • UV damage in a typical layout room has to be minimal - Not too many of us have the lights turned on 24X7.
  • I have been using fluorescent tubes for over 25 years to light the layout.  Even after new scenery work(10 years later), I really do not see much fading.
  • Lighting in models - LED's for headlights and structures are reasonably priced.  Just do not buy them from a 'model railroad' firm!
  • LED room lighting.  My entire home has had CFL's for many years.  I started investigating LED lamps and the low value of 'lumens' has been quite a shock.  A typical 60w incandescent lamp puts out around 400-450 lumens.  The similar 13w CFL puts out 500-550 lumens.  What they are selling as a replacement is a 1.5w LED lamp that only puts out 125-150 lumens(and for about $7-8 each).  I have looked at a number of 'big box' stores over the past week or so and what I find is the 1.5w example I mentioned.


Modeling BNSF in SW Wisconsin

On30guy's picture

I'd defiantly vote for the LEDs

I've replaced all my CFLs with LEDs about a year ago and I've never been happier.

Here's some comments I made on my progress back then:


I've recently been augmenting the LED strip lighting with some LED spots, not necessarily for more lumens but to give the layout some nice sun-shiny shadows. The LED strip lighting is very even, both a blessing and a curse.

Here's a link to what I've been doing with the spots:


Basically what I have learned about LED illumination is that you can either spend a fortune locally and maybe expect some support or you can spent 1/10th that money and buy stuff out of China and be on your own.

I went for the later and had to climb a bit of a learning curve, but it all worked out in the end.

Rick Reimer,

President, Ruphe and Tumbelle Railway Co.

UV damage to layouts

Dear Jim,

For those of us who rely on natural scenery materials, UV fading is a constant issue to be aware of... :-(

If one relies on WS materials, it's not-so-much an issue... :-)

Happy Modelling,
Aim to Improve,
Prof Klyzlr


Ironhand_13's picture

Extremely informative!

I like the 'nuts-and-bolts' and it wasn't all that hard to follow.  Thanks Steve!

Not too sure about fading...I have seen an old layout or two (40+ years) that just looked...well, TIRED.  Maybe fading?  They were very old-school and used incandescent lights.

Starting up my layout about 5 years ago and doing research I knew I wasn't going to go the incandescent route.  I have one bulb native to the room and it's super dim, thanks to it's cover (70's era, dark-ish colored to present some kind of warm lighting recessed into a drop ceiling with typical ceiling tile all over the whole basement). When I re-did that ceiling with drywall for sound-deadening, I tried the fixture without a cover and it just really wasn't up to the task...any task.  The ceiling is low enough that a bulb hanging down I would probably break (I'm 6' tall) and the shadows it would create would've been weird, so when I happened to go to Menards and buy a shop light for the garage I noticed it didn't hum...hmmm, I thought.  Short of going all-out and doing a serious home-wiring job with an electrician I now have 6 of these same shop lights for my layout.  With appropriate florescent tubes all is well, but I've considered placing 48" LED tapes inside the light shield angled towards the track.  Not sure I really need to do that as for now I'm happy with the way things are.  We'll see how I feel after I get the scenery/trees going.  I have a multi-colored LED tape/s running around the inside of my porch as we speak, for nice evenings while sipping a cocktail, and it allows me to change the color and brightness nicely (wife doesn't know it, but it's an on-going experiment to use the same system for evening/morning atmosphere if/when placed behind my layout bluffs and pointing towards my all-sky backdrop).

-Steve in Iowa City
Verne Niner's picture

Incandescent best for models

I am happy with my mix of incandescent and fluorescent lighting for my layout. If the opportunity came and the advantages outweighed the cost, I would consider switching to LED lighting.

When it comes to models, I can't think of one example where LED lighting gave a superior effect compared to a n incandescent bulb. We are modeling prototype headlights and structures that use incandescent light. It's easy to dim to dramatically extend lamp life, and can provide a wonderful atmosphere in a model scene. I like my bulbs!

See my website here: The Estrella & Sonora Grande Railroad


JeffShultz's picture

LED room lighting


I have (I think...) 100% LED overhead lighting in my railroad room (single car garage). I have installed seven or eight of the flat base fixtures that the wires attach to the sides of. Basically every time I stopped by Lowes I would pick up an LED bulb for about $19. Note: Costco has equivalent bulbs for a lot cheaper. My only regret is that I could only find the 800 lumen bulbs in 3000K "warm white" when I would have preferred the 5000K "cool white" color.





Jeff Shultz

MRH Technical Assistant


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