Stretch ceilings are the ONLY known building materials, which can be backlit seamlessly over large areas.
There are many materials, which can give you a nice, pretty surface. All of those materials require framing and support. Drywall needs to be screwed in every 6-12”, suspended ceiling requires a grid every 3-4 feet, and any panelized ceiling system will require framing for its support throughout the area of installation.
Even if you find a nice translucent material which can be backlit, you still need to build a system of support for that material so the backlit portion will be limited to the maximum size of the frame you can build.
Stretch ceilings are unique and efficient because they can cover large areas and stay taught by being attached to the perimeter track. The stretch ceiling track, a thin profile made of aluminum or plastic, is mounted to a wall or a ceiling.
Once the stretch ceiling is installed, the area behind the stretch ceiling fabric or membrane is not easily accessible. So how do you put the lights somewhere where you can’t reach? Isn’t it risky? Great questions! LED technology makes it possible! LEDs are powerful, energy efficient, they don’t get too hot, they can be waterproof, and most importantly: LEDs last so long that you never have to worry about changing a light bulb.
What may require service and occasional access are the power supply and the controller. This is the reason why we never install those items behind the fabric with the LEDs themselves. When we design backlit projects we always make sure that the controller and the power block are always easily accessible in a closet or a cabinet.
If the backlit ceiling is large and requires a lot of light, multi-color (RGB), programmable control, etc., then the closet or the cabinet for the controller, computer, and power supply must be ventilated to avoid overheating. Overheating is the single largest factor in shortening the life of all electronics
Imagine the transformation when you turn a 30 year old popcorn ceiling into a futuristic luminescent surface, that can be controlled from your phone or a remote control and produce any color in any intensity or play entire light shows for your viewing pleasure.
Moreover, if you combine high-resolution graphics for that ceiling, you will likely create a work of art not seen or even imagined by anyone. That is true customization. In reality, all that happens is that you cover your popcorn ceiling using translucent fabric (printed or not) in combination with widely available and increasingly inexpensive LED lights in a very specific way.
I remember when the LED package cost was the most significant part of the budget. Today, it is ¼ of what it cost 5 years ago.
One of the best kept secrets to the most evenly illuminated backlit ceiling is the reflective surface, which has to be applied throughout the area. Two of the best materials to maximize the reflection and light distribution are: high gloss paint and reflective aluminum foil or maylar. I prefer the maylar as it reflects almost 100% of the light, comes in 4ft wide rolls and is rather inexpensive. It can be stapled or glued to the ceiling substrate.
Backlit ceilings can be lit with the perimeter LED strip lighting, or the LEDs can completely cover the ceiling surface. Perimeter LED strip lighting is the more economical option, as opposed to complete coverage, because it requires a lot less LED strips, power supply and labor.
We are able to achieve even distribution of light on backlit stretch fabric ceilings (and walls) under 8ft width, with the niche size of 6”. Of course such installations require 2 rows of high intensity LED strips. We can also achieve pretty even distribution of light on stretch ceilings and walls under 10ft width with the niche size of 12”. These installations require 3 rows of high intensity LEDs.
Stretch ceilings over 10ft wide should be backlit with LEDs evenly spread over the entire area of the ceiling. This could be done in two ways: LED strips and LED nodes. At this time, LED strips are most economical, but you have to be very careful to make sure the strips are not creating hot spots. To avoid hot spots, we always make sure to leave at least 10” between LED tape and the translucent material. If the translucent material is too close to the lights, the LEDs will create bright strips of light behind the fabric, these are called hotspots. Backlit ceilings require careful calculations and selection of proper materials to achieve an even light distribution.
Ceilings backlit with LED nodes can give you the most amazing effects, as each of the nodes can be potentially controlled individually by a piece of software. These backlit systems are truly works of LED art and require a professional lighting designer, experienced with this type of work.
Backlit track and fabric system has proven itself as an amazing design solution far beyond the ceiling application. I’ve had the privilege of working on some of the most amazing LED art projects which required a high degree of creativity and know-how from multiple players.
A lot of credit should be given to the true artist and visionary of the photokinetic art: Arjuna Noor of Moodspace. Arjuna Noor created masterpieces which were installed by our team and myself across North America. I’m proud to say we’ve done a lot of pioneering work together. So, if you’re working on a high-end project that requires special attention, or if you’re a homeowner who appreciates fine art with the touch of modern technology, I highly recommend reaching out to Moodspace or getting in touch with us about your project.
Are you considering a piece of LED art for your ceiling space? Give us a call and we can help you make this dream become a reality.