SoLux - Local inventor puts real shine in bulbs

Spencerport inventor Kevin McGuire designed the SoLux Daylight Lamp that the Memorial Art Gallery is using to show off color in paintings. It's the first museum in the country to use the bulb.

By Stuart Low
Democrat and Chronicle

Ralph Lauren has seen the light.

So have Wegmans Food Markets, the Memorial Art Gallery and jewelers around the world.

They are all illuminating their displays with a light bulb developed by a 37-year-old Spencerport inventor, Kevin McGuire. The tiny device -- just 2 inches wide and six years in the making -- gives a richer sense of depth, detail and color in products and paintings, the bulb's users say.

Though it may spur competition from rival manufacturers, the SoLux bulb is fast winning converts with its even color spectrum. And it's raising scientific questions about why the human eye prefers certain types of light.

"All of this is new stuff, not in the books yet," says Steven Weintraub, owner of Art Preservation Services in New York City. "There may be an undiscovered phenomenon about how you see color, and Kevin's bulb gives you the means to explore that."

Weintraub has worked with the Memorial Art Gallery since 1994 to improve its lighting. He made groundbreaking discoveries in creating the best viewing conditions for museums.

McGuire developed a new version of the SoLux bulb,partly based on Weintraub's findings. The Memorial Art Gallery installed it in its Impressionist Gallery last week -- and curators there are startled by the new found clarity in their French masterpieces.

"You see all the colors that are there, and it enhances the sense of depth," says Candace Adelson, curator of European art. "Even the labels read better."

The SoLux bulbs cost from $6 to $8, plus the expense of changing existing lighting if low voltage fixtures don't exist. The Memorial Art Gallery is the first art museum to use SoLux in a public gallery.

Retailers -- a far broader potential market for the bulb -- are equally enthused.

"It gives us optimum viewing for color selection in our fabrics," says Keith Hoover, a spokesman for Ralph Lauren in New York City. "We're using it in our design studios, and are considering it for our stores."

Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale says the Pittsford Plaza and Perinton stores are illuminating their floral displays with SoLux, "because it produces a light close to sunlight."

William Scheer, owner of Scheer Jewelers at 2926 Monroe Ave., echoes that the bulb "is like daylight, showing off our gems without distortion."

For McGuire, the glimmer of commercial success is tempered by harsh memories of his long struggle to perfect and market the bulb.

"I've seen tough, lean times just getting someone to listen to me," he says.

Raised in Spencerport, he earned a degree in optical engineering from the University of Rochester and worked for seven years as an engineer at Eastman Kodak Co. In 1989, he pursued a master's program at the UR's William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.

For one course, he studied how to simulate "daylight" lighting in store interiors. That project inspired him to found his current firm, Tailored Lighting, 1350 Buffalo Road.

One of its specialties is "ColorView light boxes" for matching paint chips and other colored items at hardware stores. But SoLux -- now manufactured in Germany and Japan under an international patent -- could become its most important product.

The key to his invention, says McGuire, is matching the spectrum at the right color temperature.

Color temperature is expressed in degrees Kelvin. Reddish light has lower color temperatures, and as the temperatures rise the color moves toward yellow, white and then blue. The light from tungsten filament bulbs used in homes generally is about 2,700 degrees Kelvin. Weintraub's research suggests that the color temperature ideal for viewing art is about 3,500, the approximate temperature of bright daylight.

"In this range, the colors have rich values to them," he says. "Hundreds of museum professionals have found they prefer 3,500, and that's what we're using at the Memorial Art Gallery.

"I'm working with two experimental psychologists from Hunter College and Brooklyn College to test why we prefer certain color temperatures. It has to do with the way vision works, and that's exciting."

The SoLux lighting system that McGuire donated to the Memorial Art Gallery has a special technology. The bulbs release little ultraviolet radiation that could damage art, and last about 6,000 hours. Commercial incandescent bulbs typically last 700 to 1,000 hours.

Some other bulbs, including several fluorescent models, also claim to replicate daylight. What McGuire achieved, says Weintraub, are bulbs that maintain a "full spectrum curve," from warm red to cool blue, at any color temperature.

"The relative amounts of energy in the color band generated by SoLux are nearly identical to sunlight," says McGuire. "No one else can claim that."

SoLux is marketed worldwide but other inventors could challenge the bulb with new technologies of their own.

For now, McGuire is determined to plug his invention firmly into the marketplace before its commercial glow fades.

"I had a strong vision" he says. "This is an important event in my life, and I'm going to make the most of it."


SoLux Technical Specifications

What our customers are saying...

"The installation of Solux was the single major improvement to this museum last year "

Wallraf-Richartz Museum
Cologne, Germany