Do you enjoy building scale model trains, boats, automobiles, or dioramas with scratch built elements? Take it from my aging eyes, you need good light. Not only should you look for bright illumination, but a diffuse soft glow that will enhance surface and detail contrast.
In this article, I quickly highlight professional model building tips for choosing the right lighting setup for your hobby or office desk space (wherever you choose to work).
- Natural sunlight is the best kind of light, but when you’re working indoors or in the evening, this might be hard to come by
- The best lights for model building or assembly are bright, diffuse, and carry a neutral color-temperature (e.g., daylight lamps)
- Consider ergonomics, durability, and other features, like touch control dimmers
At the end of the day, it’s merely a hobby and you should get what works with your budget, space, and impulse.
Continue reading for quick tips when choosing the best lamps for modeling and kit assembly!
Here are 8 tips for choosing the best light for model builders and other miniature hobbies:
#1) Choose a lamp with good ergonomics
The most important tip for choosing a light for model building is to get a lamp that you can move easily and that will stay in place.
Really, that’s it. Buy a lamp that does these two things well:
- Moves into place, easily
- Stays put
Whether it is a daylight modeling lamp for hobby work, or simply for office tasks, you want your light to go where you need it.
#2) Try before you buy
In this digital age, most of what we purchase is from online stores. But, when it comes to something you’ll use often, like a lamp, trying out the system before you invest is a good idea.
Of course, this means going into your local Office Depot, hardware store, or even the fancier art stores, to try out their lighting wares.
If you’re adamant on purchasing online, then make sure you’ve got the option to return your lamp should it not fit your need.
#3) Consider magnifier lamps for detailed hobby work
If you’re modeling scale trains, for example, you’ll have a lot of small parts to keep track of. As you age, your ability to discern fine detail will deteriorate (though you’ll gain wisdom and hopefully more free time!).
As any wise hobbyist will know, the best tools are those that serve a solid purpose.
At one point in my early hobby “career”, I shunned the hobby magnifier lamps. Whether it was pride or simple stubbornness, I was a fickle spender and wanted to spend my budget on “useful things”.
But, I learned the hard way that sometimes, you simply need help.
A magnifier lamp may not always be necessary, but the obvious benefit of these kinds of lights is that they provide illumination AND magnifying power.
RELATED: BEST MAGNIFYING LAMPS FOR HOBBYISTS
The cool thing about modern lamps is the use of LED bulbs, which are very energy-efficient, don’t produce much heat, and provide a relatively soft illumination.
For more about magnifying lamps you may find useful for assembling models or diorama work, check out this magnifying lamp guide.
#4) Be aware of light flicker
Some lamps flicker.
That is, the light actually winks. The light will switch between very bright and dark quickly; perhaps so fast you barely register it.
But, your eyeballs will slowly fatigue trying to adjust to the changing illumination.
The muscles that control how wide your iris’ are (e.g., how large that circular opening in your eye is) can tire out, because they are constantly adjusting to the changing flicker of light.
Most old style lamps that use fluorescent bulbs flicker at some frequency. This is due to how electricity is used to control the brightness of the bulb.
Without getting into the physics of this phenomenon, realize that brightness dimming control isn’t simply about lowering the amount of electricity in the bulb.
Electricity can be pulsed.
You either send lots of electricity into a bulb to make it bright, or you pulse the electricity (this is my term) to control how bright a bulb shines.
For the most part, you can avoid light flicker by purchasing a high-quality lighting system, or avoiding older technologies like fluorescent bulbs (which use electrical pulsing for dimming).
Note: It is possible to evoke epileptic seizures in some people who are sensitive to light flicker (source). So, there is a safety reason for choosing good light.
#5) Color temperature is important for hobby work
If you’re assembling small parts, then using a lamp that reproduces accurate color and contrast on your working surface will help.
There are two ways to ensure good color temperature on your hobby working surfaces, e.g., your models, parts, or tools:
- Choose a daylight lamp (or also known as a full spectrum light)
- If you plan to use multiple lamps, then try and use the same kind of lamps for all of them
A lot of hobbyists already know that a daylight full spectrum lamp is the best for accurate color representation on the workspace.
For example, here’s an affordable daylight lamp.
On the other hand, few people realize that having multiple lights shining on the same area, but of different types of light (and thus, color temperature) creates a fairly muddy picture of your space.
The different color temperature light from multiple light sources can distort how parts looks and change how micro-shadows are cast against other objects.
Ask a really good professional wedding photography how difficult it is to shoot proper images in an indoor environment with lit candles, over-head fluorescent lights, and large windows to a bright afternoon sun.
Sure, you may not need this level of accuracy, but it all counts.
#6) Avoid incandescent bulbs
For the most part, this tip is related to choosing lamps with good color temperature (e.g., full spectrum lights).
Incandescent bulbs are great for reading, bad for hobby work. They cast a very yellow, warm kind of light that tends to reduce contrast. Reduced contrast makes details harder to see.
#7) Contrast is more important than color
Alright, this kind of goes against what I said choosing lamps with good color temperature. But, if you think about it….
Here’s how a lamp provides good contrast:
- Bright light AND soft, diffuse illumination
You need both bright and diffuse light. Harsh illumination that produces hard reflections, e.g., spots that are super bright, is just as bad as lighting that is too dark.
Contrast is most useful for model building because it helps maintain your ability visually resolve detail.
Sure, color matters, because it helps your eyes accurately discern different small elements you’re working on (e.g., that green plastic is different than that brown colored putty).
Contrast is what makes it possible to see depth, or the ability to resolve a fine detail element.
A surface farther away must feel like it is some distance away from you.
Bright surfaces must look different than shadows or dark surfaces.
Contrast provides you with additional cues to help you with depth-perception.
Along with stereoscopic principles associated with having two eyes, offset by some distance across your face, contrast is vital.
So, in choosing the best lamp for assembling models, aim for lamp that provides excellent contrast.
#8) Bad lighting can damage your eyes
It might be a myth that sitting too close to the television can ruin your vision, but it’s not far-fetched that using bad lighting can be harmful.
Choose a lamp that won’t strain your eyes.
Here are some symptoms of using bad light for hobby work:
- Seeing spots
Taking together, you can avoid these symptoms of bad lighting by reducing the presence of light flicker and lights that are too bright in one spot.
Two recommended lamps for model builders and other miniature hobbies
In a nutshell, here are summed up pro tips for choosing a lamp for modeling work.
- Choose a lamp with good ergonomics
- Try before you buy
- Consider magnifier lamps for detailed hobby work
- Be aware of light flicker
- Color temperature is important for hobby work
- Avoid incandescent bulbs
- Contrast is more important than color
- Bad lighting can damage your eyes
The neat part about whatever you choose is that a lamp that is good for building models also serves well for arts & crafts, do-it-yourself (DIY) maker spaces, and “real work” you do in the comfort of your home.
I hope you found this brief guide helpful! Thanks for reading!