A Guide to Understanding CRI in Lighting

A GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING CRI IN LIGHTINGIf you’ve ever caught your reflection under fluorescent lights and thought you looked a little bit … off, well, you’re not alone. You may not have heard of the color rendering index (CRI), but chances are you’ve noticed it in action.

Different kinds of bulbs emit light within different ranges of the color spectrum. Some, like fluorescents, are notoriously unflattering. Other lights, however, are much better at bringing out a full spectrum of vibrant and beautiful color wherever they shine.

If you’re planning your next lighting project, how can you make sure you choose the most attractive lighting for the job? It may all come down to the CRI rating. Here’s how it works, and what it means for your lighting projects.

What is the Color Rendering Index (CRI) of Lighting?

So what is the color rendering index, exactly? The simple definition is that the CRI is a scale which measures how well a light source brings out the true color of objects. Lighting with a low CRI rating does a poor job in this regard — imagine a room in which everything looks dark, dull, or strange and unnaturally tinted.

Lighting with a high CRI rating, on the other hand, brings out the full, beautiful range of colors inside of a space. Reds, yellows, and blues shine more vibrantly, the colors all seem to pop, and the textures of objects stand in sharper relief.

The CRI scale tops out at 100 — and lighting with a CRI rating of 90 or above will bring out a full, vibrant range of colors. Lighting with lower CRI ratings can reduce that vibrancy, making it unsuitable for some applications.

Here’s a quick cheat-sheet on how to use lighting with these different ratings.

CRI Rating When to Use This Kind of Lighting
90 – 100 The highest CRI rating offers the best vibrancy and color. This kind of lighting is mandatory for art galleries, museums, high-end retail stores, and color-critical applications such as paint, fabric, and upholstery.
80 This is a typical CRI rating for industrial and commercial spaces, where it may not be necessary to bring out every small nuance in color.
70 For industrial spaces, this CRI rating might not be ideal, but it’s still within an acceptable range.
60 and below Once a CRI rating reaches this level, it’s no longer suitable for almost any application. It can even pose safety hazards for workers, as it can cause them to struggle with poor visibility.


How Does CRI Differ Between Light Sources?

When everyone used incandescent lighting, CRI wasn’t much of a concern. Incandescent lighting uses the full spectrum of light, and just like halogen bulbs or natural sunlight, its CRI score is a perfect 100.

As more and more people have switched to energy-efficient LED lighting, however, there have been some unintended consequences. Unlike incandescent bulbs, the first LEDs produced the most intensity on the red, green, and blue wavelengths of the light spectrum. This meant other colors often appeared dull, washed out, or oddly off-color. In those cases, people who made the switch to LED lights could end up frustrated with how they performed.

Today, the good news is that your customers don’t have to choose between saving energy and attractive lighting. Innovations in LED technology mean your customers can enjoy a wide range of light quality and colors, allowing them to enjoy both a high CRI rating and the benefits of energy savings.

The Impact of CRI on Restaurants, Retailers, and Schools

Some of your customers’ industries are more sensitive to CRI differences than others:

  • Imagine you’re running a restaurant — would you put up with lighting that makes the food look like it’s tinged green or orange?
  • Or what if you’re a retailer? You want your merchandise to pop on the shelf, not sit there looking washed out and dull.
  • Even schools have realized the importance of a high CRI rating, which creates a warmer, more conducive environment for learning.

The effect of high CRI lighting is a warm, comfortable ambiance in which your customer’s true colors can shine. (In some cases, CRI isn’t as urgent a consideration. For instance, certain industrial settings may be less concerned with color than with general visibility and may prioritize brightness over anything else.)

What Does CRI in Lighting Mean for Your Customers?

Your customers might not know exactly how CRI works, but they will understand how it looks. By selecting LED options with a higher CRI rating, you can help them save energy without sacrificing the ambiance of their space.

As LEDs have gotten better and better, they’re also easier for your customers to use. Whether they need warm light for a welcoming reception area or cooler lighting for conference room presentations, today’s LEDs offer flexible options that also look great.

Prove to Your customers That LED lighting Pays Off.