An Introduction to Automotive Lighting Design 

The primary purpose of automotive lighting design has always been to improve safety. Automotive lighting design refers to three distinct sets of lights on the car, each with their own safety purposes. 

The first is the headlight which allows you to see at night. The second are the turn indicators which inform other drivers when you want to turn. The third is the tail-light that improves visibility for vehicles behind you on the road.

Using these three sets of lights, automotive lighting design improves not only your own safety but the safety of everyone else on the road with you. 

However, as we will see, automotive lighting design is more than just a safety feature, it has become a stylistic expression of an individual car.

The automotive lighting domain is one that is constantly seeking to reinvent itself. Every new face-lift of a vehicle will invariably have an update on the lighting used in the vehicle. A recent example, in 2020, can be that of the Renault Kwid, a successful hatchback that got a facelift and along with which came the latest technologies like Adaptive lighting, DRL headlights, and sequential blinkers ( about which you will read later on in this blog )
This series will benefit mechanical engineering students, vehicle stylists who are interested in lighting effects or vehicle cosmetics, and automotive enthusiasts who desire a general overview of lighting.

 The automotive lighting domain ensures the safety of vehicle occupants and that of the road users. For instance, the taillights and headlights are specifically designed to provide guidance, indication, and decision support to the drivers. 


Current Trends


To show the evolution of light trends let’s use the classic example of the Mercedes Benz 190SL, manufactured in the 1950s. Previously, Mercedes employed glass headlamps, however, the design drastically changed overtime from glass to plastic.
Because plastic is very cheap in comparison to glass, as well as other multiple factors that have an impact on the lamp if you use glass materials.
Over the years, headlamps now serve several purposes such as auto leveling and laser light headlamps,  (headlights adjusting themselves and dipping a beam downwards to avoid blinding other road users), which are only possible by using plastic instead of glass.


Projector headlamps

These high-performance headlights project a more focused beam of light and consist of a replaceable bulb. They make use of lens positioning to provide great setups for night driving illuminating a larger area of the road surface, at greater distances than traditional reflector headlights. 


DRL headlights and sequential blinkers

The DRL lights are everywhere. A relatively new feature on most cars, daytime running lights (DRL) is an automatic system that turns on along with the vehicle. DRLs were introduced in the European Union to reduce the number of fatalities due to car accidents, as having a DRL enabled machine improves visibility for an oncoming vehicle during hazardous road conditions - fog and rain. 
Sequential blinkers use multiple LED strips that are turned on sequentially allowing for better visibility during lane changes. 


Adaptive front lighting (AFS)

This system will direct beams in the direction that the car is traveling. So, instead of always pointing forward, when you are turning right, your car's headlights will focus right. This makes things safer for you as you can see more, and safer for pedestrians who will be able to see your car sooner. 


Job security

In the automotive lighting domain its possible to never fall out of favor or lose your job due to the adoption of new technologies. With the introduction of "driverless" vehicles, such as those being developed by Ford Motor, General Motors, and Tesla, lighting fixtures could play a huge role with sensors integrated within headlamps detecting how far away incoming vehicles are on the road. 


Leading Software for Automotive Lighting Design

Understanding and learning the appropriate software is imperative to leverage any opportunities in the automotive lighting design domain. Software allows designers to perform comprehensive optical simulations and analysis of automotive lighting products.


3D Modelling Software

The leading 3D modeling software is CATIA and is primarily used for 3D modeling. CATIA seamlessly enables the creation of 3D models from 2D sketches whilst allowing for advanced mechanical surfacing, shape design, styling to create, modify, and validate complex innovative shapes for industrial design.


CAE (computer-aided engineering) Software

Multiple CAE (Computer-aided engineering) software suites do exist and are used for simulation, validation, and optimization of products and manufacturing tools. As well as to analyze the robustness and performance of automotive components and assemblies to support design teams in decision making.  The industry leader in CAE software is Ansys in terms of mechanical finite element analysis.


Light Simulation Software

The industry-leading light simulation software is Lucidshape. Primarily optimized for automotive applications, LucidShape’s software suite facilitates designers to develop, verify, visualize, and deliver high-quality designs for automotive forward, rear, and exterior lighting.

 An example, we can accurately simulate to investigate whether an optical reflector is projecting the required output to light the road. 


Electronic Circuit Design Software.

Lighting has transitioned from utilizing high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs to the adoption of LED technology. Adaptive automotive lighting software and systems are using input from a variety of sensors that measure factors such as speed and steering wheel angle.
This is where electronic circuit design software comes in, we have to simulate an appropriate circuit while considering the space constraints that come with sophisticated automotive lighting design. 

This work is normally taken up by the electronic engineer on a project or plant. The engineer will use EAGLE (Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor) software by Autodesk, to design and simulate applicable circuitry for the lighting specifications.


Wiring Harness Design software

RapidHarness allows for the simulation and design of production-ready wire harness schematics, which can be taken straight to the manufacturing floor, simulating how much wire or wire length you need for a particular design.


Rendering and Sketching Software

In case a unique design idea comes to mind, how do you demonstrate it? 

You can use rendering and sketching software like KeyShot and Photoshop that allow real-time 3D rendering and sketching. These visuals can then be shared with customers and users.

Technical Content

-The pre-requisites you will need to study to excel in this field. 



The first basic element is plastic. Plastics adoption has increased over the last decade due to plastic’s ability to reduce weight, provide added durability and toughness, prevent corrosion, and provide design flexibility. You should know about the different properties of Plastics and how they behave when subjected to different external stimuli.
What are the formations of plastic? How does plastic respond to manipulation? How can you predict the behavior of plastics, for instance, resistance to chemicals and reaction to water?



You will also need to learn about regulations because first and foremost, lighting is a safety feature. You need to know what standards and regulations are in place to make sure the lamp you design is safe and acceptable from a legal standpoint. For example, some regulations today focus on far-field intensity distribution while other regulations require a minimum luminous intensity for OLEDs.



CAE has different verticals such as photometry, thermal, electronics, and rendering. These can be different departments in a manufacturing plant. Engineers who specialize in CAE, within the domain of lighting design,  often become subject matters experts in one of the four verticals.


3D design and 2D Design

3D and 2D design are non-negotiables to succeed in the domain of automotive lighting.

Standalone 2D modeling is important, as it is an essential development step. It’s an aid to methodically think about a modeling problem. It’s also critical to design documentation on any design projects such as performance parameters of the design, material specifications required, and dimensions that are critical for function


Testing Validation

Finally, once the design is ready, all the 2D and 3D developments and modifications made and finalized. Comprehensive testing will be carried out on the actual product.


In the second part of this series, we will look at the jobs that an engineering graduate can apply for and the typical career trajectory of an engineer in the Automotive Lighting domain.

You can enroll in our specialized CATIA course (Automotive Lighting Design using CATIA V5) to get you familiarized and started on this awesome journey.  Goodluck.


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