The prefabricated panel approach to fibre optic star ceilings
There are occasions when for one reason or another it's not possible to put your fibre optic stars directly into the ceiling. It may be because the room is downstairs or in a basement, in a block of flats or simply because the loft has been boarded out.
Don't despair - there are many ways around this, and in some respects it can actually make the job easier. After all, who really enjoys working in a dusty attic which is going to be freezing in the winter and too hot in the summer?
In some instances, customers opt to simply add a new layer of plasterboard to cover the whole of the existing ceiling. Or, perhaps they'll leave a gap at the edge and add some LED perimeter lighting. See here.
If you are using this approach then we'll generally supply the optical fibres not as a complete harness but as a set of fibre bundles - one for each of the plasterboard panels which you plan to use. Once the panels are in place the various bundles of fibres are gathered together and the harness is terminated. We can also supply ready-made plasterboard panels for you to fit, or even offer an installation service. When using plasterboard it's best to use the dry-lined method, rather than try to attempt a plaster skim over projecting fibres.
However, where a customer is not planning to have stars across the entire ceiling they tend to opt for another material. Sometimes they'll use mdf (see here also), sometimes plywood. There are also materials like Dibond - a pre-painted aluminium composite - or Foamalux, which is a foamed pvc material. See the photo below and here. We like Foamalux and use it in our SkyView panels, and we've also supplied pre-fibred foamalux panels to customers. See here and here. The photo in this latter link is of a pair of black Foamalux panels which we supplied to a customer, ready for him to fit in a room which was being converted into a home cinema. These Foamalux photos all show a gloss black finish, but it's available in a range of colours and in a satin finish.
|The fibre optic stars in this bathroom have been fitted to a panel of Foamalux, rather than directly into the plasterboard of the ceiling.|
Where the fibres are going directly into the ceiling, fitted from the attic above, the light source generally sits up in the attic more or less above the centre of the starfield. In a prefabricated panel project there may be reasons why this isn't possible, and it may be necessary to have a longer "tail" of optical fibres leading off to the most convenient light source location. Long tails do push the price up, but are not usually a problem from a technical perspective.
|In this installation by JES Electrical of Boston, Lincs, the fibre optics were first fitted to mdf panels which were then fixed to the ceiling. The panels used a shared halogen light source.|
It's best, where possible, to put the light source as close to the display as you can, and where you're using the panel approach there are a few options in this respect. We've had a customer who mounted his mdf panel on a wooden framework which created sufficient depth - about 13 cm - to accommodate a halogen light source between the panel and the ceiling, and another who made his mdf panel in the shape of a disk and suspended this some distance below the high ceiling in his living room. The light source simply sat on top of the disk.
These days we're using more compact light sources, using LED technology, which mean that the space needed for the light source may be as little as 5 or 6 cm.
|In this project an aluminium composite panel - Dibond - has been used. It can be cut with a jigsaw and is relatively light in weight. It comes ready-painted in a range of colours. In this photo the optical fibres have yet to be trimmed back to the panel. The panel was set a few centimetres below the ceiling by the simple expedient of using some rubber door stops as spacers.|
Unless your ceiling is made from concrete, you'll probably have a void of some sort between it and the floor above, so the light source can often go here, with a little access panel created to allow for maintenance. In such cases most people will pay a little extra for a longer fibre tail to take the light source off to the edge of the room, where the access hatch will be less visually obtrusive.
A single panel of mdf was used in this home cinema project, although clever use of routed grooves and the two-tone paint scheme makes it look more interesting. The mdf panel is fixed to a timber frame which produces enough space between ceiling and panel to accommodate the light source.
However, we also have had customers who were prepared to actually seal a light source permanently in place within the ceiling void next to or above their panel, even knowing that at some future date they'd need to make a small opening in the plasterboard to get at it for maintenance. In fact, with the recent advent of long-lived LED light sources this may no longer be quite as radical an option as it first sounds. If the LED light source has a service life of 40,000 hours you'll probably have moved house a couple of times by the time it fails, and it will be a future owner left to scratch his/her head as to how to make the stars shine again!
|In this project our customer lived in a flat with no access from above. However, the upside was that the ceilings were very high, so he made his star ceiling in the form an mdf disk which was then suspended on chains, with the light source sitting on top. The photo shows the fibres being inserted in the disk which was made from two pieces of mdf with a wooden stiffening frame.|
The finish of the panel can be as ornate or as plain as you like. Contrary to what many believe, you don't need a dark background to display fibre optics to good effect, so a white ceiling is fine if that's your preference. On the other hand, the fibres will certainly stand out even better against a dark background, so if your décor scheme does include dark colours that's a bonus.
|Several mdf panels were used in this project. The panels were painted by an artist before being sent to us here at Starscape, where we added the optical fibre stars to a pattern specified by the artist. The fibre optic "tails" ran between the panels and the ceiling and then to a cupboard where the light source was located.
|Another artistic project, in which the stars are placed in the context of the swirling gases of a nebula. The materials used to make this panel were glass and aluminium, but the fundamental approach is similar to that in all the other projects on this page.|
|In this loft conversion the fibres were fitted to each of the plasterboard panels before the panels were offered up to the sloping side of the roof. In the centre of the photo you can see the fibre optic tail which runs back to the light source. A second tail, belonging to another panel, can be seen at the left of the photo. It all looks a bit messy here, but the finished result is very attractive.|
Most of the projects illustrated here were done by customers working with fibre optics for the first time, underlining the fact that enhancing a home (or restaurant/shop) with fibre optic lighting is well within the capabilities of most people. Tell us what you have in mind and we can quickly come up with a technical solution to produce the most attractive and cost-effective installation.
|Here's a prefabricated panel system on steroids! Our customers Donald and Valerie made the star ceiling as a single large panel, using four sheets of Foamalux, and lifted it up to the ceiling when complete.|
Do remember that when we make up custom kits for these projects you'll simply be charged pro rata for the amount of fibre required - there's no premium charged for the custom service.
One option which has become available to DIY panel builders since the summer of 2015 is to use our "Infinity mix" fibre. Normally our DIY kits use a mixture of 0.75mm and 1mm fibres in a 3:1 ratio, but our Infinity home cinema panels use four different fibre sizes - 0.5mm, 0.75mm, 1mm and 1.5mm - to create a more enhanced sense of depth in the star field. Infinity is configured in sheathed bundles - or "tails" - of 100 fibres. It costs roughly the same - per star - as the 3:1 mixture and because it has a lot of small diameter fibres you can fit more fibres per light source. The chief downside to using Infinity mix is that you have to work in multiples of 100 fibres, and this can reduce the flexibility of your panel project.
For instance, if you plan to have 3 panels you might have 1 tail per panel - for a total of 300 stars - or two, or even three. But this means the next step up from 300 stars is 600 stars - you can't have 400 or 500. Or, more precisely, you might choose to fit 400 or 500 fibres, but you'd still have to pay for 600. By contrast, if you're using the 3:1 mixture of fibres you can have as many or as few as you want, since the harnesses or bundles of fibre are made up from scratch in our workshop, rather than being configured in the factory.
|MDF panel using Infinity mix fibres. You can see here that there are three Infinity tails in this high density layout. The black sheathing is removed to allow individual fibres to be spread across the back of the panel. Cable clips, duct tape and dabs of silicone are used to organise and secure the fibres and tails. In this case our customer used four such panels illuminated by a single MaxiLEDRGBW light source which has enough capacity to accommodate 12 Infinity tails (1200 stars).|