OLEDs and LEDs – What’s the Difference?

As countries look for ways to reduce their carbon footprints, lighting, which uses nearly 20% of the world’s energy, has become a key target — and increasingly solid state lighting (both LED and OLED-based) is being explored as an energy-efficient answer.

We’ve all heard about LEDs, but what about OLEDs? Both generate light using semiconductor technology, use less energy and are typically longer lasting than the incandescent or gas filled bulbs they are slated to replace: but that is where the resemblance stops. The type of light each produces and the way it can be used is complimentary, but VERY different.

One difference is the materials used to manufacture each of the technologies. OLEDs are created using organic semiconductors, including polymers and so-called small molecules, while LEDs are constructed using inorganic III-V materials such as gallium nitride (GaN).

There are also visible differences in the way each generates light. OLEDs, which can be applied to flat panels (like glass or plastic substrates), emit an even illumination over an entire surface. LEDs, which are cut up and packaged into essentially miniature bulbs, generate brilliant points of light.

The thin, flat characteristic of OLED substrates lends itself to diffuse, non-glaring applications such as florescent overhead lights replacements to be used in commercial buildings around the world. In the realm of displays, OLEDs are already available on the market in applications like smart phones and MP3 players, making them more energy efficient, brighter and easier to read. However, the cost of producing OLEDs is still high, but that is expected to change over time as manufacturing and material costs come down. In contrast, LEDs create sharp beams or single points of light used in applications as diverse as lighting up the Eiffel Tower in Paris to flat panel display backlighting to industrial and home lighting applications.

Lighting is one of a few industries undertaking a huge transformation as it explores new energy-saving options. As newer lighting designs and technology are explored, solid state lighting – both OLEDs and LEDs – makes a lot of sense and will be the next step.

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