YouTuber BigCliveDotCom calls it a low-power floodlight using “undesirable LEDs”.
Whether you’re on TikTok or even on Instagram, chances are you’ve stumbled across these ‘sunset’ LED lamps. They’ve pretty much shot to popularity over the last month or two, known for creating a perfect circular projection of ambient light, looking like a sunrise, sunset, or even a circular radial gradient of the rainbow spectrum. Influencers are sharing pictures about it, VICE even wrote an entire article on it, and it’s been plagiarized so many times over, I honestly don’t know who the original creator of this lamp is. What I DO know, however, is that it isn’t worth what it costs.
The sunset lamp can be basically broken down into three components – the LED, the lens, and a dichroic film that helps get that unique color-gradient. Both the lens and film are made of plastic, and the LED is a basic off-the-shelf component that barely costs a couple of cents when purchased in bulk. To be brutally honest, perhaps the most expensive part of the Sunset Lamp is its shipping fees… but enough product-bashing. Let’s just look at how the lamps work, and how you could potentially build your own for under 5 bucks.
The way the lamp works is similar to a floodlight, or a car’s headlamp – an LED emits light, which is focused using a lens. Similarly, the sunset lamp uses a small 3W LED along with a dome lens, that refracts the light beams in the shape of a perfect circle. Given that car headlights need to be bright, they even use reflector panels to ‘multiply’ the light, but that isn’t really the case with a sunset lamp that’s more focused on creating an ambient ring of soft light. The Sunset Lamp does, however, come with a special dichroic film that’s glued to the back of the lens (you can see it in the teardown image below) that creates that unique gradient. Different lamps use different films, creating everything from an orange halo to a light yellow one, to even those psychedelic rainbow gradients. The dichroic film changes color depending on the angle at which a beam of light hits it – causing that halo effect with colors changing from the center towards the edge.
What you’ve got at the end of the day is quite a masterclass in branding too. Calling it a low-intensity floodlight wouldn’t move as many pieces as calling it a ‘sunset lamp’ does. It’s easier to grasp, sounds more poetic, and resonates well with its audience – the same way a ‘Retina Display’ sounds much better than a ‘display with high pixel density’. Couple that with the fact that the lamp absolutely took off on TikTok and it really helps explain the product’s sheer success.
If you still find the idea of a Sunset Lamp rather intriguing but you don’t want to spend an average of $25 to buy your own, you could easily build one using parts available online. Just look for a good ‘condenser lens’ on the web (they come for a bunch of cents on AliExpress) and pick up a cheap nightlight from your nearby hardware shop and you can practically put together your own sunset lamp for a couple of bucks. You can get your hands on dichroic film from a gift shop too (just test out those metallic gift-wrapping papers) or better still, just take a marker to the back of your dome lens and color it in.
Or if you’re just plain lazy, go ahead and buy one off Amazon.