A Brief OLED History Lesson


They might be new to most consumers, but OLED technology has actually been around for quite awhile, relatively speaking of course. It all started back in the 1950s, when the first observations of electroluminescence in organic materials were made by André Bernanose in France. According to Wikipedia: "They applied high-voltage alternating current (AC) fields in air to materials such as acridine orange, either deposited on or dissolved in cellulose or cellophane thin films." But that's OLED technology in general. For a good history on OLED lighting, we turn to our good friend Rod Mertens,, who penned a guest post on lighting.com covering the brief history of OLED lighting products. He writes:

The first OLED lighting fixture was introduced by OSRAM back in 2008. The desk lamp, designed by renowned lighting designer Ingo Maurer, used 10 OLED panels, and OSRAM only ever made 25 fixtures (each costing around €25,000!). Today, several companies are producing premium OLED lamps; but still, the cheapest OLED lamps cost around US$500.

In 2009, Philips became the first company to offer OLED panels, under the Lumiblade brand. Lumiblade panels are being offered mostly to designers and OEMs allowing them to experiment with the new technology. Philips also sells panels for premium commercial installations. For example, Aston Martin’s new showroom has 800 Lumiblade panels hanging from the ceiling.

Most of these OLED panels are not very efficient (only 15 lm/W to about 50 lm/W), small in size, and are made on rigid glass substrates. The Fraunhofer is the first (and only) company to offer transparent panels, under the Tabola brand. Verbatim offers color-tunable panels, in which you can choose the light’s color on the fly. Some companies, such as LG Chem, focus on efficiency. The largest OLED panel on the market today is Lumiotec’s 15-by-15 centimeter panel.

Due to the premium price, OLED panels are still found only in very high-end fixtures and installations, such as art lighting and in showrooms. Low efficacy, low brightness, and low production capacity continue to prevent the technology from entering the general and commercial markets. Some analysts actually believe that OLEDs will never be able to compete with CFLs and LEDs and will remain a niche technology.

If you noticed, we bolded two sentences in Rod's excerpt  and we did this for two reasons:

  1. To show how quickly things can change in this dynamic space.
  2. To prove the analysts wrong.

We firmly believe that OLEDs will compete with other forms of lighting - and we think they can do it at an affordable price point. Hopefully, if things go as planned, we'll have played a small part in the rewriting of the OLED history books.