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A Brief Guide to Polar Curves

A Brief Guide to Polar Curves

21st May 2024

Although the phrase “polar curves” suggests a snow-covered landscape of rolling hills, the normal definition is rather more prosaic. Polar curves relate to mathematics and appear on graphs. They show the way in which LED light bulbs and other bulbs distribute light.


Lighting engineers study photometrics. This is the process for measuring the intensity of light. Such intensity varies according to how close or far you are from LED light bulbs. Engineers use polar curves to plot the level of the intensity at any given point.

In other words, a polar curve tells an engineer how LED light bulbs spread light across a room or surface. This distribution may be narrow, wide, indirect or direct.

The Polar Graph

Some engineers refer to a polar curve graph as a polar luminous intensity graph. Either way, the “polar” aspect of the graph applies to its polar coordinates. These fan out in wheel-like spokes at a set number of degrees from a fixed point. The LED light bulbs are at this fixed point.

The “curve” is a visual guide to the distribution of light from the LED light bulbs. Lines curve out from the fixed point to represent this distribution. By checking these lines against the polar coordinates, an engineer knows exactly where the light from LED light bulbs will fall, and how intense it will be.

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