Friday, 7 December 2018

Miniature Painting Lighting Review : Light Polymers Crystallin Task and Study Lights

As miniature painters, we rely heavily on our eyesight... it is, after all, a visual medium. Because of this, lighting is of paramount importance to painting.  Poor quality light can affect your perception of colour temperature, tone, and contrast.  If overly harsh and direct, it will also cast odd shadows and reflective glare.  It can also lead to eye strain and fatigue, and even (literal) headaches.  Bad quality lights can flicker, hum, and create considerable amounts of heat (just the thing you want to avoid when it's so close to your head and your palette). In addition, unreliable lighting can lead to painting downtime from burnt out bulbs, tubes, ballasts, and broken hardware.

Conversely, good quality lighting makes it easier to discern fine detail, gives good, true colour representation, is energy efficient and quiet, and casts an even tone of light that is pleasing and easy on the eyes... all of which will improve the quality of your painting, and make it enjoyable to sit and paint for longer periods of time.

Now I've had quite a bit of experience with different lights over the three decades that I've been painting.  A lot has changed, and much has improved.  Nowadays, painters are spoiled for choice, and it can get really difficult and confusing to decide on what will work best for them.  Some time ago I posted an article on the various lights I've tried, and at the moment, it's the most viewed article on the blog... not too surprising considering how often the topic of lighting comes up on the various miniature painting Facebook groups that I frequent.

I was recently asked to review some new offerings on the market, the Crystallin Task Light and Crystallin Study Light from Light Polymers (out of San Francisco, California).  Now, I thought I knew a bit about lights (well, having majored in English Lit, I probably know about as much or little as any other non-science geek), but after reading through the literature on their website, I realized this might be something entirely different from what I was used to.

Now, I'm going to admit that much of the science on the websites is beyond me.  I can't confirm or dispute their claims that certain blue lights are harmful to your vision, if the construction of these lights is somehow less harmful to the environment, or if certain wavelengths of light are better for focus and alertness.  All I can do is take these lamps out of their respective boxes, give them a try for myself, and report on my experiences and observations.

Speaking of boxes, let's tear into them, and see what comes out, shall we?

The Crystallin Study / Task lights both came in handsome, rugged boxes, with a carrying string handle built into them.

There was some good info presented on the sides of the boxes... the listed features making it quite clear which light was intended for which use, and why.

Tearing into the box, and pulling the guts out, we can see that the lights were well protected against shipping damage.  So much so, that I'm considering keeping the boxes and packaging in case I would like to travel with these lights when attending painting classes or conventions.

There was also a little tag attached to the lamp, with some light spectrum info, and one of those "scan QR" pics so that you can use your smartphone to link to more information.

Also included was a warranty card, indicating that the lamp is covered by a two year warranty.  Always a good sign.

There's also a fairly basic "manual" included.  Not much here to note, but worth the 1-2 minutes to read and review.

Setting up a lamp took less than a minute.  There's no "bulb" to screw in.. just unfold the lamp, set it down where you want it, then plug in the included power cord.

The whole unit is very lightweight... there's some heft in the base, but that's fine, as it will keep the whole thing from tipping over if you accidentally bump it.  In fact, the balance is much nicer than many of the traditional desk lamps I've used in the past... with almost all the weight in the base and so little up top, it's pretty damn stable for such a skinny lamp.

Can contort almost as well as a Cirque du Soleil acrobat

Not that size matters... right?

Both the Crystallin Task Light and Study Lamp have several points of articulation, which makes positioning and pointing the light fairly easy.  And once positioned, nothing seems to loosen over time (which some of my more top-heavy lamps have done in the past).

Simply touch to activate, no pressure needed

I also noticed that it has a few tricks that your old-school lamp does not.  First of all, there is a smooth touch power switch on the base, and controls for selecting varying degrees of light output (a very nice feature).  They respond well, do not protrude from or recess into the base, and should be easy to clean if things get messy.  I'll have to try wearing some nitrile gloves and see if the buttons still work with gloves on though... that would be a consideration for any painter who wears them while airbrushing.

Another really nice value-added feature is the USB charging port in the back.  This is fantastic for anyone who needs to charge their phone or tablet while painting, or if they want to run a USB powered fan or other accessory.  I often play videos or music on my phone while painting, and this will allow me to do so without taking up a valuable outlet on my power bar.

The length of the "bulb" is very nice... like the old long florescent tubes that were used in classrooms, workshops, and business spaces, this lamp throws out light in a large, evenly dispersed area.  This is unlike most traditionally shaped screw-in bulbs or spotlights, which usually have a projected hot spot in the middle, and the light drops off in a radius around it.

Incredibly even light all the way throughout its length

Also, unlike some LED lamps, it doesn't seem like it's made up of a long string of tiny little bulbs.  Those types of LEDs work fairly well at dispersing the light a bit more evenly than a single massive bulb, but not quite as well as an continuous even light unit.  The long single "bulb" of the Crystallin Task Light seems to fill the work area quite well, given the relatively compact size of the lamp.

In addition, the light is very steady, with no noticeable flicker.  I haven't experienced any eyestrain since using the light, and it's very comfortable on the eyes.  There's no harshness, and I'm easily able to discern fine detail on my miniatures while working.

There is also no noise that I can detect either, although I don't usually expect to hear any hum or buzz unless I'm using a florescent lamp or old incandescent.

Speaking of florescents and incandescents, those lights were notorious for putting out a fair bit of heat as a byproduct.  While that's fine in your old "Easy Bake" oven for making little cupcakes, it's not very desirable when perched near your head, or over your painting palette.  The Crystallin light does not seem to put out any heat at all, which also makes it comfortable for use in extended painting situations.

However, I will say two things about this lamp that detract from my otherwise positive impressions.  The first thing is that it's still a fairly compact lamp... this is great for painters who need to move their light around a fair bit (say, if you do not have a permanent setup in the house and have to set up and tear down your painting station all the time, or if you want to bring a lamp while travelling to a convention or to a friend's house).  For those of us who have a dedicated painting space at home or at your studio, you might wish for a slightly larger unit, or run two lamps at the same time.

I guess it depends on what you are used to... I normally use two full-sized desk lamps, each with an 800 lumen LED daylight bulb.  If I was to replace those with a single Crystallin Task light, I would want one that was just a few inches longer so that I would have a comparable sized lighted area.  As it is, I could see myself using two of these lamps to replace the two desk lamps I currently use.  While they put out less lumens than my LED bulbs...about 300 lumens less (lumens are a measure of light... a typical flashlight usually only produces about 80-300 lumens, whereas a standard lightbulb does 600-800 lumens), the fact that they spread that light more evenly over a wider area more than makes up for the lack of raw horsepower.  Because of this efficient design, I find I don't miss the extra lumens whatsoever.

The other thing is that while the website gives the specs for the task light at a colour temperature of 5000k, the box specs are actually 4000k.  My sample unit was definitely 4000k, not 5000k, as there was a tiny bit of a yellowish tinge to the light.  It wasn't overly warm in tone, but I prefer my painting lights to be in the 5000k range, which I feel is closer to white light.

Using one Crystallin Task Light at 500 lumens and 4000k colour temperature

Using a 800 lumen 5000k standard LED bulb from overhead

As I explained in my previous article about painting lights, the closer you can get to white in terms of lighting, the truer the colour reflected back to your eyes, and the more the colours pop.  A yellowish light (typical and traditional incandescent lights were around 2700k) will warm the colours, but rob them of some intensity... and white paint comes across as yellowy, and colder colours (blues, greens, etc) will lose vibrancy.  On the other hand, a bluish light (anything beyond 6500k) will cool all your colours down, and will also throw off your colour perception.

What does this mean?  Basically, if your light is yellowy-orange, or bluish, then you aren't seeing the colours on your model or palette as they really are in real life.  It would be like looking at your painting with yellow or blue tinted sunglasses on.

That being said, 4000k is not bad.  I know the official literature for the Crystallin light says that this light is meant to give true colour representation, but my eyes couldn't help but perceive it to be a touch yellow... sort of "off-white", but certainly not "orangy" like a traditional light bulb.  Maybe it's because it's what I'm used to, but I still would have preferred 5000k though.

Speaking of orange lights, let's have a quick look at the Crystallin Study Light.

The design and dimensions are identical to the Crystallin Task Light, but the unit is white in colour, not black.

One little difference is the fact that the power "button" is backlit, which is great for finding it in the dark.  I could see this really coming in handy if I was to use this lamp on my nightstand when I want to read in bed, or need to quickly turn on the light if I hear something go bump in the night (which is usually one of my cats knocking something over as they cough up a hairball).

But the key difference between the two lamps is the light itself.  The Study Light is very orange on the colour spectrum.

My understanding is that this apparently taxes your eyes less, by removing certain blue and UV spectrum in the light.  Again, I can't speak to the veracity of their claims, but I have been using this lamp for extended periods of time while reading, and noticed no discomfort or eye fatigue.  In fact, after you get over the initial shock of seeing everything illuminated in bright orange-yellow light, your eyes and brain quickly adjust to it, and I found it quite pleasant to read with.

That being said, I can see why this lamp is marketed as a "study lamp", and not as a task light.  The colour shift is too pronounced for painting, or anything else that requires accurate colour representation.  It's an excellent desk lamp for a student desk, when you are cramming for a test the next morning, or for reading and writing under.  And as I said before, I think this is a great reading light for the nightstand next to your bed.

So what is my takeaway from all this?

The design and quality of these lamps are fantastic, nearly faultless.  The "bulb" is much nicer than any incandescent, florescent, and most LED lights I've ever used.  It creates no discernible heat or buzz or flicker, and isn't sparkly like those chains of LED lights that many strip lights use.  I also really appreciate the "value-added" features such as the easy to clean touch switches, the built in USB power outlet, and the backlit on/off switch of the Study Light.

The hardware itself is solid, and rock steady.  The hinges work much better than the ones on the traditional articulated arm desk lamp that I use, and need no re-tightening after repositioning.  And they still offer plenty of adjustments.

The compact size and light weight really make this great for transport, storage, and easy setup and takedown.  Couple this with the fact that all the weight it DOES have is in the base, and I think this will be coming with me to any painting session away from home, and I can also recommend this light to anyone who has to paint at their dining table or other common area of the house.

My only gripe is the colour temperature on the task lamp is not in the 5000k colour range.  4000k is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I still prefer to not perceive any yellow in my light when painting.  I can appreciate that perhaps they may have had to compromise a bit in order to reduce eyestrain, but colour representation of my paints is imperative, and I'd be willing to take a short bathroom or coffee break once in awhile to rest my eyes just so that I could have as clean a light as I could.

The funny thing is, looking over my photographs, it DOES seem that the colour representation does look better under the 4000k Crystallin Task Light than it does under my regular 5000k LED light bulbs.  The 5000k LED lights seem to wash out the detail a bit, and the camera picks up a touch of blue.  But that's just not how my eyes and brain perceive it... when seen in person, 5000k seems "whiter" than 4000k.

In the end, would I recommend the Light Polymers Crystallin Task and Study Lights?

Yes.  While the Gold97 True-Color LED Task Light is not in my personal preference / sweet spot of the colour spectrum, it's still in the range where you could work with paints and not be thrown off or misled by your light.  On the other hand, I would never recommend the Orange Study Light for painters, but it's definitely been great for reading.

Overall, the impressive build quality, thoughtful design, and value-added features makes it a good lamp.  And the price point seems to be attractive as well... this isn't a budget setup by any means, but it's also not in the boutique price range of many lights that some people try to pass off as a minimum standard for a "serious" painter.

If your current setup is not working for you, and are looking for something different, check out these lights.  I've added links to the Amazon pages below to check out:

Gold97 True-Color LED Task Light:

Orange Study Light:

Well, that's it for the Crystallin Lights.  If you would like to see more reviews, please comment below.  What kind of products were you interested in or curious about?  What products have you yourself used, and what did you like or dislike about them?  And if you have a product that you would like reviewed, please let me know.  As an artist and hobbyist, not only do I love trying stuff out, but I also love writing and talking about my experiences at the same time.


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

IPMS Vancouver 2017 Fall Show : A Model Show With Something for Everyone

It's been a little while since I last covered an IPMS Vancouver Fall Show, so I thought I'd post some pics I took late last year.  As you may know, IPMS stands for "International Plastic Modeller's Society", which is an international organization of scale modellers, and it's been around for quite some time.  There are local chapters all around the world, so I highly recommend you do some research to see if there is one near you.

(Note: despite the name, they're open to models made from all sorts of materials... not just plastic).

Our local chapter holds monthly meetings for their members, but once a year they hold their big annual event, the Fall Show, which is open to everyone (members and non-members).  In addition to the vendor's area and various presentations, there's a big competition with tons of categories, and they fill a gymnasium with tables of wonderful entries.  It's definitely something to behold.

For more information, I covered the 2013 event in a previous blog post:

This year, my 9 year old son decided he wanted to enter, and so we got to work on our entries.   

I pulled out a box of Reaper Bones miniatures, and Tristan picked out this really nice dragon.  Despite the soft rubbery plastic, it had a good amount of detail which took to washes and drybrushing wonderfully (both good techniques for a beginning painter to learn).  It was also light to handle (which makes it easier for a kid than painting a large multi-part metal miniature). I also taught him the basics of airbrushing, and he was able to start the model off with some decent zenithal highlights, and then went to town with some detail work.

Whenever he wasn't working on his entry, I was working on mine.

The year before, I had won this great bust that I was really looking forward to painting.  It was produced by "La Centuria", a modelling club over in Italy (, and the likeness was based on a prominent member who had passed away.  Because it was so significant, I really wanted to put my best efforts into it in order to do it justice.

I started it off with a quick zenithal priming job.  This was done with a basecoat of black primer, and then with two quick and light passes with a can of white spray primer, angled from the top right to simulate the direction of a light source.  I then started to build up the paints from there.

I tried to keep the right side warmer in tone, and cool down the shaded left side by working in some blues and purples into the shades.  I may have gone a bit too subtle, and in hindsight (and with more practice), I'd wish I had been more bold and make the effect much more pronounced.

In any case, I had run out of time, and it was as ready as it could be for the show.

Tristan had two entries.  He had mounted the dragon to a black jar lid, which worked quite well as inexpensive but effective plinth.  The other entry was another Reaper Bones mini, a big werewolf, which was a great exercise in drybrushing (and served as good practice before tackling the dragon).

I also brought a small diorama of a Warhammer 40K ork and Imperial Guardsman (sorry... "Adeptus Militarium").  I hadn't done a diorama in a very long time, so this little one was a fun step back into the genre... not too ambitious or time consuming, and light hearted.  The original concept had started off much bigger and epic, but it wasn't turning out as good as I had hoped, so I decided to scale it back and bring it down to a much more focused level.

I also had a small unit of Nurgle Chaos Warriors, which I had painted some time before as an exercise in weathering on a small scale.

I had also recently finished a unit of 40K Grey Knight Space Marine Terminators for a friend, which went into the same category as the Nurgle Chaos Warriors above.  IPMS doesn't really distinguish between sci-fi and fantasy... if it's non-historical, then it's usually grouped by scale.

And of course my "Erny" bust.  With the nice north-facing windows bringing in a nice neutral light, the effects of the shading were a tiny bit more pronounced.

But enough of our entries.  What did the other entries look like?  I wasn't able to take pics of every entry there, but I believe I got a few good ones. Please click on the pics for closeups... the thumbnail pics certainly do NOT do these projects justice.

The local Gundam club came out in force once again:

The above pic was taken just at opening, when the entries just first started trickling in.  By the end of the day, they had stuffed two tables full of models... to the point where they were practically standing shoulder to shoulder.

I love how Gundam is slowly trending towards more realistic weathering, aircraft-style panel line washes, etc.  In the past, they have favoured replicating the look of '80s TV cartoons, but I guess as computer animation is allowing studios to create more realistic / stylized effects, the model scene is evolving to match.  I'm guessing they are going to start looking more like Star Wars and Pacific Rim models pretty soon, which I am all in favour of.

Below are some entries in the scale model car categories.  I am becoming more and more appreciative of the work that goes into these, as I'm becoming more of a car enthusiast as I approach my mid-life crisis.

I have to say something about the one below.  While it may look like a 2 dimensional painting, it's not... quite.  It's what they call a "flat".  Believe it or not, it is a raised sculpture, but with all the depth of the side of a typical coin.  With such shallow depth of detail, it's up to the painter to add enough highlights and shading to make this truly look 3D.  This entry came all the way from Italy, brought over by the fine gentleman Sergio Palumbo... the same representative of Model Club "La Centuria" that awarded me the Erny bust last year (in fact, a number of the finest entries on display were done up by members of that same club).

I was confused by the above camel as well... until a friend of mine pointed out that it was a "Sopwith Camel".  Since I didn't see Snoopy flying it, I didn't quite get the joke until later.

Found that case off to the side, and took a picture for future reference.  Sometimes you just have an awkward space somewhere that an IKEA case won't fit in...

It's a "Fall Show", so I guess you could say that "Winter is Coming"...

The below "sculpt" of a T-1000 Terminator earned a few chuckles.  Sometimes it's not about trying to win in a category, but just to show off something you worked on and thought others might find interesting.

Ever since Bandai started releasing Star Wars kits, I think I've seen a decided uptick in the number of really well done Star Wars entries, which I love.  I'm really tempted to try one out for myself one day.

The dragon diorama below was my son's favourite entry of the show.  Combined with Flames of War WWII tanks, it really captures the imagination.

The vendor's area was its own separate room again this year, and it was packed as usual.  Great deals to be had here.  Some were run by various shops, and others were by hobbyists looking to downsize their collections.

The table run by High-Calibre Miniatures ( is always my favourite.  They sell a ton of military, historical, fantasy, and sci-fi figures online, but it's always great to see them in person.  James Gates is also a big supporter of local events, and it's always great to support the people that support the hobby.

A tip for all parents and parents-to-be: When attending crowded events, get your kid the brightest clothing possible... preferably a hat, as it's the tallest and most noticeable part of their body.  That way you can more easily spot them when they get distracted by something and run off into the crowd (I got distracted plenty of times too though).  Nothing ruins your day, or possibly your life, than losing track of your kid.

These two Iron Man models were well painted, subtly weathered, and had working LED lights in them.  They were big hits with the attendees.

The following two statues were simply huge.  Take a look at how tiny the busts look by comparison.

I really liked the Vietnam diorama below as well.

This "Industria Mechanika" (I hope I got that right) model below was one of my favourites.  I spent a stupid amount of time studying this one up close, and trying to reverse engineer the techniques and tools involved.  The kit itself was also amazing.  I really want one now.

The cargo ship below was absolutely massive.  This one was definitely no stock kit... it was pretty much scratch built, and took up an entire table to itself.

Well, the above pics represent a mere fraction of the total entries on display that day.  The whole show is just overwhelming, and I only managed to take pics of some of the ones that jumped out at me from among the madness.

At the end of the day, the teams of judges went through all the entries (a task that took a very long time, due to the sheer number of them), and started laying down ribbons next to the winners in each category.  So... how did I do?

Erny did well enough to be noticed in a category that was chock-full of VERY good entries.  While I was initially disappointed that he didn't place in the top three, after getting a closer look at the entries that beat him, I couldn't fault the judges.  The winners were simply better.  Mine was technically very clean, but I can't say that it was above and beyond in any way.  Perhaps some freehand tattoos or more weathering or more dramatic lighting and use of colour would have helped.

Oh well.  This is why you enter as many painting competitions as you can.  It helps identify your weaknesses, and motivates you to get better.  And in my case, it helps motivate me to get stuff done.

My Grey Knight terminators and Nurgle Chaos Knights went head to head against each other, in a slightly less hotly contested category (not many groups of figures entered this year).  The weathered warriors beat the sleek terminators, as I would have expected when being judged by historical scale model enthusiasts.

One thing I have noted with IPMS judging is that often the painting is secondary to how well built the entry is.  Conversion work and hyper detailing will almost always beat painting quality.  As I am primarily a painter, not a builder / sculptor, I often find myself being edged out by more ambitious builds, so it's always a pleasant surprise when I win something.

Speaking of which, the 40K diorama also did well, winning the 1st place prize ribbon in its category (sorry, no pic).

However, the real star of the show was my son.

Both his dragon and his werewolf ended up in the same category.  The dragon got first, and the werewolf got second.

The real surprise was hearing that Tristan's dragon ended up winning the "Best of Show Junior" award as well!  During the award ceremony, he went up on stage to shake hands, receive his trophy, and have his picture taken.  Not bad for a 9 year old!

He was thoroughly psyched, and is already planning his future entries.  After all, he's still got 7 more years of eligibility in the Junior categories...

Make that six years... the wife is making plans with the extended family around that time this year, and Tristan and I may have to miss the upcoming one.  Hmmm... perhaps we could do a road trip down to Seattle to attend their IPMS Spring Show instead?

As always, comments and questions are welcome!