What is a Fiber-Optic Illuminator?

Maggie J. Hall
Maggie J. Hall
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The basic purpose of a fiber-optic illuminator is to provide the light source for fiber-optic cables. Light from inside the illuminator travels down each optic fiber, which may be configured to produce any number of desired effects. Types of fiber-optic illuminators differ in the amount of light produced, whether or not the unit can be used indoors and outdoors or in wet and dry settings. Combined with glow cable and linking the systems together, there are many applications for fiber-optic illuminators. A system may be small enough to light a small area or large enough to define architectural features on a building.

The metal, boxlike housing of a fiber-optic illuminator usually contains the lamp connectors, which are attached to a cord that uses household current, the lamp, and a cooling fan. Illuminators might also contain interchangeable color wheels and the color wheel motor. One end of the illuminator housing usually contains the fiber port, and using a fiber-optic illuminator entails connecting the optic fibers to the fiber head. The fibers on one end of a cable must be exposed and inserted into the device. Depending on the number of fibers used, reducers might be employed to ensure a snug fit, along with tightening the adjustable fiber head.

The lamp or light bulb in a fiber-optic illuminator usually contains a reflector, so all emitted light shines toward the cable. The lamps are either quartz halogen or metal halide, with metal halide providing the brightest display. Brightness is also determined by the wattage of the lamp, and bulbs generally range from 50 to 250 watts. Units might be used with many types of color wheels that reflect white light or up to eight different colors. The wheel can also act as a filter, producing a dimming or shimmering effect.

Illuminators generally have manual on/off switches, but some operate using a remote control. Business proprietors frequently combine fiber-optic illuminators with digital multiplexing, or DMX, systems which turn lights on and off, regulate color and lighting effects, or synchronize lighting to music. Fiber-optic lighting systems may be as simple or complex as the user desires.

Flexible goose neck type fiber-optic cables attached to small illuminators are often used in laboratory settings or to provide light while operating a particular piece of machinery. Showcases or unique exhibits may use fiber-optics for illumination, and individuals often use fiber-optic illuminators and cables to provide indoor ambient lighting. Besides providing dramatic lighting for architecture, these systems might also produce dramatic effects in ponds, swimming pools or water fountains.

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