REVIEWED LED ceiling panels

If your workspace is still lit using 4 x 18W T8 fluorescent or 3 x 16W T5 fluorescent units, you should change them NOW.

There’s a huge range of more efficient LED ceiling panels available. We have looked at panels from the budget end of the market through to quality engineered units with sophisticated optics.

Most of the panels are edge-lit (the LEDs are located around the sides) types. These are also known as side-lit panels. There are other deeper, troffer type panels known as back-lit. Top-of-the-range panels often have the LEDs mounted centrally.

Edge-lit panels can be very slim and are often used as retrofit lighting for lay-in tile ceilings. They also tend to be cheaper than troffer types. Side-lit panels have separate, remote drivers whereas with back-lit and central panels the drivers are built in.

The main advantage of back-lit panels is that they deliver more light output per watt than edge-lit. For the same illumination level in your workspace, the back-lit panel might consume 25 per cent less electricity than its equivalent side-lit version. Even from the same manufacturer, there can be a 15 to 20 per cent difference.

Of course, back-lit panels are much deeper than side-lit. Typically, they might be 75 to 100mm (3 to 4 inches) high compared with 12.5 mm (1/2 inch), or less, for side-lit.

Some manufacturers offer both back-lit and side-lit. They might also offer several versions of edge-lit which differ in quality and price.

With either type, the appearance of the diffuser will be a lot more uniform than it was with fluorescent lamps.

But how much do they cost? Unless you have a specific project with a specific quantity, it’s difficult to get a firm price, especially bearing in mind that some fixtures can be ordered direct from the supplier whereas others are sold via various distribution channels such as wholesalers.

We have categorised the panels by what you might pay for 50 units. However, you can pay less than £20 (€23) for just one panel (including the delivery charge and sales tax!). You can also pay more than five times that amount. Our price ranges are <£35 (€40), £35 (€40) to £90 (€102), >£90(€102). These are shown as £, ££ and £££ respectively. The star ratings are approximate because of the difference in price, build quality, energy and optical performance. They are rated more on value for money than absolute build quality and performance.

When you consider the appearance of the space, remember that a flush, recessed luminaire cannot emit any light on to the ceiling; the ceiling simply won’t receive any direct light. Unless the floor and desks are quite pale in colour, the room may look gloomy and you may not even meet the minimum requirements of workspace regulations such as EN 12464-1. Many lighting designers and consultants dislike panels for this reason.

Related to this is the glare from the panels seen against a dark ceiling. Some LED panels emit 50 per cent more light than the fluorescent units they are replacing. This makes them more glaring. More light output doesn’t necessarily mean better lighting. You could dim the LEDs but a better solution is to use a lower wattage panel but with similar light output to the fluorescent one.
An alternative is to increase the light on the ceiling by using additional uplights.

We often assume that the workspace will have positive polarity computer screens. E.g. black lettering is seen on a white background; examples are text documents or spreadsheets. In this case, the maximum panel luminance limit (in EN 12464-1)  is 3,000 cd/m2.

However, a lot of CAD and drawing software displays lines and text against a black screen and the maximum recommended panel luminance for these fixtures is 1,500 cd/m2. 
To reduce the risk of glare, look in the data sheet for the maximum luminance (cd/m2 or Nits) of the panel and also the intensity at different viewing angles.

The solution is to calculate the illumination and uniformity values across the whole space using proprietary software. You can also check the glare rating with the software to check it conforms to local standards.

Finally, it is common practice to install panels in place of one or more ceiling tiles. I.e. they are spaced apart in multiples of 600 mm (2ft) centres. But how do you know that the new panel you choose won’t produce uneven lighting across the workspace? Often, this data isn’t provided in the data sheets, especially on budget range fixtures.

The solution is to calculate the illumination and uniformity values across the whole space using proprietary software. You can also check the glare rating with the software to check it conforms to local standards.

There are lots of reasons for spending more than the minimum for a panel. Maybe the most important reason is how long to you want the panel to last.

The UK’s Lighting Industry Association laboratory tells us that a common feature of low-cost panels is that the light output drops rapidly over a period of time. Some can lose 30 per cent of their output within 1,000 hours – that’s about four months use in an office. You may not notice the reduction visually but remember: a) you are not getting what you paid for and b) the illumination level may fall below national standards much sooner than you planned.

Another common failing with budget panels is that the edges of the diffuser go yellow after a short space of time.

Many established companies have been manufacturing LED panels for over 10 years. They know how to make them last.

Another reason to pay more is a lower running cost. Efficiency is a word which is often misused but efficient drivers, optics and LEDs can sometimes reduce running costs by 25 per cent compared with ‘cheaper’ panels.

Providing reliable data costs money and time. Independent testing has to be paid for. If you don’t trust the luminaire data sheet, don’t buy the product.

Quality manufacturers have a reputation to maintain. Unreliable equipment is the quickest way to lose that reputation. Be careful of companies that quote the rated life of the fixture longer than they, themselves, have been in business.

Finally, there is the reassurance, backup and service you receive from the established companies. This cannot be costed but can be worth far more than the cost of the equipment.

So, to summarise, choose the panel that meets your lighting needs and those of your staff, and then look at the price. Always check the rated life and the guarantee.

Don’t be tempted to use a panel with high lumen output even if it is efficient. Loss of productivity due to glare will cost a lot more than any energy saving.

 

 

 

Budget wholesaler brand

This budget-range panel came packed in a solid box, with carrying handle, and the printing on the outside is good quality, easily readable and gives you most of the information you might need. Mind you, it did take a couple of phone calls to find the rated colour rendering index (CRI). A bit more research showed that the brand name was that of a major UK wholesaler. 

The panel itself is 10mm thick and has an aluminium frame with a steel back and an opal PMMA diffuser. The appearance is uniform, not glaring and the body fairly well constructed. It performs just as you would expect.

  • Lux rating: Nicely packaged

  • Price: £ Good for the money


 

CREE LR22 LED troffer

We obtained our sample through LTSS in the UK. The last time we reviewed ceiling panels, we gave the Cree CR22 four stars. This LR22 is slightly different in appearance and construction but still great quality. It is a shallow troffer in shape with the central luminous panel being 400mm square. Of course, CREE use its own LEDs (CRI >90) and driver, so there is no question about the high efficacy, quality or longevity.

The company’s TrueWhite technology ensures colour consistency of the LEDs through life. Unlike many of the other panels tested, this one comes with a full technical specification in the box, everything is properly labelled and it has easy-to-understand installation instructions.

  • Lux rating: Quality performance

  • Price: ££

 

Eaton Modulay LG

This is described by Eaton as being a hybrid panel. It looks like a side-lit panel and is only 10
mm thick. However, it is in fact backlit which makes it far slimmer than any other of this

type. Being backlit enables the light from the panel to be more tightly controlled and thus, low glare. The diffuser is prismatic polystyrene and has a slightly textured appearance when switched on. The cost exactly falls across two price brackets.

  • Lux rating: Well made and super slim
  •  
  • Price £-££

 

 

Enlite EN- FP6060C/40

Enlite is a brand within Aurora Lighting. The FP6060 is an entry-level panel that is well within our budget price bracket. It is fairly rigid for a panel that is only 10mm thick. A neat feature is that the corners of the frame don’t have a visible 45 degree bevel. I don’t know how they achieve this but it certainly improves the appearance. The diffuser is textured and visually uniform from all directions.

  • Lux rating: A good panel for the price

  • Price: £

 

 

 

Fern Howard Cutlass

This is a new edge-lit panel, recently launched at the LuxLive exhibition in London. Although it’s a budget range panel, it performs better than many of its competitors. It also has an opal polycarbonate diffuser which is a more fire resistant material than the commonly used acrylic or PMMA.

Although it’s only 11 mm thick, the light guide ensures even brightness (luminance) from all viewing angles.

  • Lux rating: A solid panel with the advantage of polycarbonate

  • Price: £

 

 

Glamox C95

This is a solidly constructed panel with excellent performance. You don’t get this build quality with a budget panel. The lens is micro-prismatic acrylic and one of the most uniform we have seen no matter what the viewing angle.

It is also the most efficient edge-lit panel we have reviewed and beats many back-lit products. The construction means it would be hard to beat for durability.

  • Lux rating: Quality performance

  • Price: ££

 

 

iGuzzini Wide P297

The Wide range is unusual in that the body and reflector are made of a single piece of injection moulded, white, thermo-plastic material. Two rows of LEDs are hidden centrally behind opal plastic diffusers.  The driver is fixed on the upper surface of the moulding. One immediately noticeable aspect of the luminaire is that it only weighs 2.6kg. It’s designed to be installed in a modular 600 x 600mm false ceiling or plasterboard using a mounting frame.

It’s more efficient than most side-lit panels but its shallow gull-wing shape means it’s just 80mm high (3.15 inches), similar to many back-lit ones. If you want a retrofit panel that looks different from the rest, this should be your choice.

  • Lux rating: Good looking

  • Price: £££

 

 

Integral LED Backlit

This backlit panel delivers 152 lumens/watt, the highest we’ve seen. Integral has used this efficiency to drive down the energy consumption and, hence, running costs. It delivers 3,500 lumens for just 23W. That’s a quarter of the consumption of a 4 x 18W fluorescent with similar light output. The driver is mounted externally on the side and the whole unit is constructed as one piece. Unusually for panels, it has a polycarbonate diffuser and this is much more fire resistant than acrylic or other commonly-used plastics.  The opal finish gives it a totally uniform appearance.

There are no fancy features but if you want a really low energy panel with good light output, this should be at the top of your list.

  • Lux rating: Low cost and super-efficient

  • Price: ££

 

 

Kosnic KPLED23PNL

Kosnic offered me two panels, both of which are within the lowest price bracket. I was tempted to review a 30W panel but for just a little extra cost, there is a highly efficient 23W panel. It has a CRI >80 and is 4000K (cool white), so you can use in most indoor applications. 

It’s surprisingly rigid for a panel which is only 8.5mm (0.33 inch) thick.  It’s supplied with a remote driver.

  • Lux rating: Pay slightly more for the efficient panel

  • Price: £

 

 

Thorn IQ Wave

This is a perfect example of what you get when you pay more for your panel. It’s packaged properly; it’s solidly made of steel and aluminium; it’s easy to install and connect the mains cable; the white paint in the optical system is 90 per cent reflective; you can’t see the LED source; the polycarbonate, prismatic diffuser is fire resistant; the installation instructions are clear.

You even get a pair of gloves so the optical system remains clean during installation. It also gives an excellent quality of light with good vertical illumination (useful for video conferencing), low glare and good modelling on people. The diffuser always has a soft, mellow appearance no matter what angle you view it.

  • Lux rating: Just that bit better than the rest

  • Price: £££

 

 

Trilux Valineo

Hot off the production line, this is a brand new panel that easily fits into the mid-range price bracket. It has a micro-prismatic PMMA diffuser with a luminance limit of <3,000 cd/m2 above 65 degrees so you can use it in almost all office locations. This efficiency also falls midway between the highest and lowest of the other panels reviewed. However, there is an invisible benefit and that is that it’s made by Trilux.

This German company has been making lighting components and luminaires for over 100 years. Companies can only last that long by making consistently good and reliable products.

  • Lux rating:  A welcome entry to a crowded market

  • Price: ££