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How Do Lumens Work?

How Do Lumens Work?

You may have noticed the term Lumens on your bulbs and bulb packaging. Next to the name is what may appear to be a random number.

It turns out that this number is far from random. It’s the lumen number, and it determines whether the bulb will give you the amount of light you hoped to get.

To understand what the number means, let’s start by finding out: What are lumens? And how do lumens work?

Lumen: What Is It?

A yellow light light bulb

Lumen indicates how much visible light a light source emits. 

In other words, it’s the unit for measuring how much light a source gives off and, therefore, how bright the light is.

Think of how you gauge distance in terms of miles and weight in terms of pounds. In the same way, we measure the brightness of light using lumens.  

Starting January 2012, The Federal Trade Commission made it mandatory for bulb manufacturers to include a product label with every bulb. This product label, aptly named Lighting facts, includes the bulb’s brightness in lumens. 

Previously, the product details availed to customers did not include lumens. But they included the energy used in watts.

Users relied on the indicated wattage to determine how much energy the light consumed, but they had no way of knowing how bright the light would be.

But today, as companies introduce newer bulbs and lights to the market, the lumen level helps customers compare the brightness in different bulbs. And therefore, they can choose bulbs according to how much light they want in specific spaces.

How Lumens Work

Yellow light bulbs hanging in the dark

The more lumens in a bulb, the brighter the bulb. That means the higher the lumen rating of a bulb, the brighter the bulb and vice versa. 


The actual brightness your eyes perceive may differ from the lumen value the light manufacturer gives. And this happens for several reasons.

  • The light’s wiring system may not be efficient.
    That means the bulb is not giving off the maximum amount of light it should be giving. As a result, the light is not as bright as it should be.
  • The lens may be fuzzy.
    Lens clarity can vary from bulb to bulb. Light coming out of a clear and bright lens appears brighter than light shining out of a dimmer lens.
  • Color temperature.

Correlated Color temperature indicates the appearance of light as determined by how close to blue or yellow the light is. It’s measured in Kelvin (K). 

Color Temperature ranges between 2000K and 6500K and is divided into three broad categories:

The lower range (2000K-3000K), Warm White, is closest to the yellow-orange tone.

The mid-range temperatures (3100K-4500K), Cool or Bright White, have a neutral white tone that leans toward blue.

The higher range (4600K-6500K), called Daylight, has a bluish-white tone that resembles daylight.

Color temperatures within the Daylight range appear to be the brightest. Those within the Warm White range are the least bright, even when they have the same lumens as the other two ranges. 

The most relatable example of this is your computer monitor. 

When you adjust your Display settings to Cooler, the monitor becomes brighter.

And when you select Warmer, the brightness diminishes, and the display now has hints of yellow undertones.

For Projectors

Projector Lens

Unlike bulbs with a single lumen rating, projectors have two lumens ratings: White Lumens and Color Lumens. And the ratings may have the labels White Brightness and Color Brightness.

When shopping for a projector, it’s prudent to consider both the white lumens rating and the color lumens rating.

Here’s why:

White lumens indicate general luminosity on the screen where you beam the light. So any object projected on the screen will appear bright.

On the other hand, color lumens show the brightness of colors and allow you to see colors vividly. So if the projector has a low color lumen rating, the colors won’t be distinct. 

The best projectors have close or matching lumen values for white and color brightness.

When your projector has a high White Brightness rating and a low Color Brightness rating, the screen will be bright, but the colors won’t be vivid. That doesn’t make for a good viewing experience, so pick a projector with a good balance of both.

Light Intensity or Candela

Decoration light bulb

Candela refers to the amount and intensity of light in a specific beam angle and direction

The difference between lumens and candela is:

Lumens indicate the total light output coming from a source and beamed in all directions. 

On the other hand, candela indicates the total amount of light the source beams in a given direction and beam angle.

So if the beam angle shifts, the candela changes, even though the direction remains the same. 

And if you beam the light in a different direction, the candela changes.

6000-Lumen Shining Distance

Lights with 6000 lumens can have an illumination range of 900-1300+ yards. The actual distance may vary from one bulb to another.

Most bulb manufacturers indicate the approximate distance each bulb illuminates. So it’s a good idea to confirm the manufacturer-indicated range before buying any light.

This way, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the kinds of lights to buy for different spaces. 

Some 6000-lumen lights have a 360-degree beam angle, making them ideal for when you want the light to spread in all directions. 

Others are foldable up to 90 degrees. This variety is mainly for indoor use and, when folded, gives a beam angle of 270 degrees.

Generally, though, the average 6000-lumen bulb is bright enough for most tasks and spaces, as you can see here.

6000 lumen, super bright garage light. Easy to set up.


How Bright Is 1000-Lumen?

A girl studying under the light

A 1000-lumen light bulb allows you to see objects clearly up to a distance of about 160-220 yards. Its brightness is equivalent to the brightness of an indoor spot that’s next to a window on a sunny, cloudless day.

You can comfortably use the illumination from such a bulb to do most activities, including reading and working with tools. 

You can also use the same light to examine things at close range. But, depending on the size of the object you’re examining, you may need to move closer to the light source.


Decorate Lighting Bulbs

Lumens indicate the brightness of the light you’re getting from a given source.

The higher the lumen level, the brighter the bulb is, and vice versa.

All bulbs and lights sold in the U.S. have the lumen level printed on the bulb and the bulb packaging.

Use the lumen amount to compare the brightness between two or more bulbs. Then you can pick the right bulb for each room depending on how much light you need.

Light bulbs have a single lumen rating, while projectors have two: the white lumen rating and the color lumen rating.

Choose a projector with a high rating of both color and white lumen. This will ensure that all the colors projected on the screen are vivid.

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