Lighting a Fine Craft Trade Show Booth – Options for the Budget-Conscious Artist

Good lighting is a main ingredient of a successful trade-show booth. Just the right lighting system can help an artist create the atmosphere of a fine-craft gallery. This will lure gallery owners off the isles and into your booth – the first step toward making a sale.

Lighting is a relatively expensive investment. So how does the budget-conscious artist find the right solution?

When it comes to choosing a lighting system, artists new to the trade show circuit often become overwhelmed. Prices vary wildly, and each convention center may have its own lighting rules. Lighting technology is changing rapidly, making the choices harder still.

This article details what I learned while tackling the challenge of lighting my 10’X10’ booth at the American Craft Retailers Expo (ACRE), a large wholesale show for American and Canadian craft artists. As I am new to trade shows, this information is meant only as a pointer for artists in the process of choosing lighting, and perhaps also for more seasoned artists looking to update their systems.

In examining many different lighting options, my objective was to illuminate my glass jewelry beautifully but inexpensively. I wanted the lights to be lightweight and modular, to fit in boxes for shipping to the show. I was looking for contemporary styling, in silver or black. And I wanted to have at least one special lighting effect – not too flashy – to give my booth a unique element.

In his CD on booth design, art business consultant Bruce Baker suggests 1, 000 watts will light up a 10’X10’ booth very effectively. I decided to stay at or under 500 watts, however, because the ACRE show includes 500 watts with the booth price, and the halogen lighting I ultimately decided upon illuminates my displays very well. Since I bought the lights at a “big-box” store with sites in virtually every city in the U. S., I can add more lights once I’m at the trade show if necessary.

The Battle of the Bulb

Contractors Choice Lighting (www.ccl-light.com) says a light fixture is simply a “bulb holder.” The bulb, therefore, should drive one’s choice of a fixture. This is somewhat true for trade-show lighting, although the fixtures may dictate the types of bulbs, depending on the choices available at the store where one shops for the lights.

The CCL website offers a “Bulb Photometrics” page ([http://ccl-light.com/photometrics.html]), whose graphical representation is a refreshing departure from the complex descriptions of lighting options that have proliferated on the web.

Halogen is the bulb of choice for many trade show exhibitors. It offers a crisp, white light. Although people commonly refer to halogen as non-incandescent, it is in fact a kind of incandescent lamp.

It generates light by using a thin filament wire made of tungsten, heated to white by passing an electric current through it. According to General Electric, the first halogen lamp was developed in 1959 – not too long ago for many of us!

Halogen bulbs differ significantly from the traditional type of incandescents we grew up with. The halogen bulb’s filament is surrounded by halogen gases (iodine or bromine, specifically). These gases let the filaments operate at higher temperatures. The end result is a higher light output per watt.

The gases also do something rather miraculous: Tungsten tends to evaporate off the filament over time, and the gases actually help re-deposit the tungsten onto the filament. This extends the bulb’s life way beyond that of the traditional incandescent bulb, whose evaporated tungsten clings to the walls of the bulb like a smoky apparition and eventually the uncoated filament snaps. Who hasn’t rattled a burnt-out light bulb and enjoyed the jazzy cymbal sound of the broken filament inside?

In addition to giving off more light than traditional incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs emit a whiter light that provides better color rendition. “For highlighting and bringing out true colors, use halogen lamps, ” suggests USA Light and Electric’s website (www.usalight.com). “Nothing looks better than the drama brought in with halogen lamps.”

Baker also suggests halogen lights – floodlights in particular – for a contemporary look, especially for jewelry and glass. It’s important to consider that other fine craft materials such as ceramics and wood might be better enhanced with halogen spotlights, or even with some of the more traditional incandescent lights that emit a warmer color.

Having decided upon halogen lighting, my next task would be to choose bulbs. The ACRE show takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which has instituted a strict halogen lighting policy. Each light cannot exceed 75 watts, and all halogen bulbs must be factory sealed in glass (not in a removable lens or linear shape).

Thankfully, there is plenty of factory-sealed halogen lighting, in the form of PAR halogen bulbs. PAR is an acronym for “parabolic aluminized reflector. ” PAR bulbs have a built-in reflecting surface made of pressed glass. The glass provides both an internal reflector and prisms in the lens for control of the light beam.

PAR bulbs are numbered, as in PAR 16, PAR 20, PAR 56. The PAR number refers to the bulb shape. Bulbs.com has a halogen section of the site where you can quickly compare the various PAR bulbs visually. Within a given category of PAR bulbs there are various wattages, wide and narrow spotlights and floodlights, different base sizes, and even different colors.

Fortunately I was able to skip the process of deciding on a PAR bulb by deciding first where to shop for my lights (more on that below).

Power Issues

When you go to shop for track lights, you’ll notice there’s a choice between 12-volt and 120-volt fixtures. 120 is the standard voltage that comes directly into most homes and offices – and convention centers.

For a lamp using 120 volts, no additional parts are necessary beyond a regular socket. 120-volt fixtures generally are lighter than 12-volt fixtures because they don’t need a transformer. They also cost less and can use halogen or regular incandescent bulbs.

I stopped short of investigating 12-volt fixtures, except to find out that they step down the amount of energy being used to a lower voltage, and thus are more energy efficient. They require a transformer to convert the 120-volt household current to 12 volts, and they may require hardwiring (although one artist I know found a 12-volt fixture with a built-in transformer which she was able to plug into a 120-volt outlet.

A 12-volt fixture accommodates very efficient bulbs that offer a variety of wattages and beam spreads, including the 50-watt MR-16, which is popular in galleries.

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