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Brilliant Frame
Try a backlit picture frame and watch people light up.

By Arthur H. Bleich

I have a short, dark, hallway with no overhead lighting nor any room for a table with a lamp on it. It‚s been bugging me for years, especially since there‚s some wall space at the end of it that would be a perfect place to hang a photo.

It does have an electrical outlet and I had thought about using a picture frame light but they extend way out and cast reflections on the glass. Then I thought about rigging some kind of shadow or light box but it would be too bulky. If only, I kept thinking, someone would make a picture frame that had lighting integrated into it.

Well, someone has. While working on developing medical lasers, Dr. Ed Sinofsky, an optical physicist, found a way to uniformly spread light over a flat surface of any size and realized it would be perfect for displaying pictures. He started PhotoGlow a year-and-a-half ago and, as he puns, they‚ve been glowing great ever since.

Each frame is less than an inch thick, and uses a fiber-optic-like technology that „spreadsš the light from the edges of the frame across the entire surface resulting in an even, brilliant light source that produces an output three to four times brighter than your computer monitor while emitting very little heat. With 20,000 hours of bulb life, you could run it continuously for over two years before needing a replacement lighting element. I figured if I kept it on about eight hours a day, I‚d get at least seven years before a new element was needed and that‚s good enough for me.

I ordered an 11x14-inch black wall-hung frame (from over a dozen models) and it arrived very well-packed and in good shape. Actually the frame size was 14x18-inches which, when fitted with a matte, ends up with an opening of 10x13-inches for your image. Frames come in silver, gold, and black; matte choices are white, antique white, black, gray, and blue. I think dark mattes work better with backlit pictures, but you may have other ideas. You can always get one cut at a local picture frame store if none of the standard offerings appeals to you or is not the right size for your picture.

Instructions are not included; they must be downloaded from PhotoGlow‚s site and include lots of how-to photos so that nothing is left to chance. There are also detailed printer settings to help you get the best results. One of my initial concerns was that I would have to use special backlit film (and buy more of it than I would ever use) but you can order as little as ten sheets of paper from PhotoGlow or print on various papers you already have. Since the image is backlighted, the „grainš of the paper will show through, especially with matte media. This will add a painterly feeling to some pictures but it may not be appropriate for others.

Inner glow
I ended up outputting my images on Red River Ultra Pro Gloss using an Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer. After incrementally darkening down a few initial test prints using the Variations menu of Photoshop, I realized that more color saturation would be needed to offset the brilliant backlight which tends to wash out color. PhotoGlow suggests printing at 1440dpi, high speed, with a gamma setting of 2.2. To get the required color saturation, they advise setting the Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow ink sliders to +15. This isn‚t rocket science so you can start with their settings and then make further adjustments, if necessary, in the printer driver or your imaging program. To check your results, just hold the prints up against the lighted frame to see which look best.

In a well-lit room, most mages look fine without the backlighting, just as if normally displayed under glass. But when the picture is illuminated they, well, glow ų that‚s the most accurate description. As for fading, due to exposure to bright light close-up and for hours on end, PhotoGlow says it‚s negligible, especially if pigment inks are used. But more than light can make prints fade: heat, humidity, and ozone to name the main culprits. So I made a couple of extra replacement prints and stored them in my „vaultšŲ a dark drawer in an air-conditioned room.

Included with the PhotoGlow frame is a 120vACŲ12vDC power supply that plugs into a wall outlet. Extending from the back of the picture frame is about six feet of very thin wire with a cylindrical female connector on the end. You turn the light on by plugging in a male connector which is attached to wiring that runs to the power transformer. If that sounds a bit primitive, you can leave it plugged in and install a line switch at any convenient point in the wiring. I hate dangling wires, so I‚m going to drill a small hole in the wall behind the picture and another just above the baseboard and drop the wire through the wall for a neater installation.

PhotoGlow also makes a variety of Desktop Darlings, their lighted, standing table frames that hold picture sizes up to 8x10 inches. And they‚ve just begun to offer wood frames and made-to-order frame sizes. If you want them to print your favorite photo, they‚ll do that too. Their products are fully warranted for a year and start at just $79; their best seller (the one I ordered) costs only $119.

Displaying pictures in a PhotoGlow frame gives them brilliance that‚s impossible to achieve with reflected light. And I found it easy to change images for variety. The lighted picture also makes a great nightlight for houseguests and, at about 15 watts, it won‚t even make a blip on my electric bill. But best of all, I no longer dread traversing that dark, dingy hallway now that everything‚s glowing my way.

ŲArthur H. Bleich



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