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Understanding Color Rendering Index (CRI) for LED Lights

Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2023-05-22      Origin: Site

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The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is a metric that is often misunderstood yet critical in evaluating the color quality of light sources for applications where accurate color reproduction is important. This article seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of CRI and how optimizing it can improve the quality of illumination in different settings.


CRI quantifies a light source's ability to faithfully reproduce the colors of objects illuminated by it. It is calculated by comparing how 16 test color samples appear under the test light versus a reference light source, producing a score indicating the similarity.


A higher CRI indicates:


• More accurate rendition of objects' natural colors For example, LED lights with a CRI over 90 can reproduce most object colors similarly to incandescent lights.


• Enhanced color discrimination We can distinguish greens, blues, and reds more easily under high CRI lighting.




What is the Color Rendering Index (CRI)?



CRI quantifies a light source's ability to faithfully reproduce the colors of objects illuminated by it. It is calculated by comparing how 16 test color samples appear under the test light versus a reference light source, producing a score indicating the similarity.


A higher CRI indicates:


•More accurate rendition of objects' natural colors. For example, LED lights with CRI over 90 can reproduce most object colors similarly to incandescent lights.


•Enhanced color discrimination. We can distinguish greens, blues and reds more easily under high CRI lighting.


Areas of application include:


•Indoor lighting for color-critical environments like offices and retail stores.


•Outdoor lighting for applications requiring color fidelity such as landscape and street lighting.


•Photography where high CRI illuminants produce richer hue in photographs.



When choosing high CRI illuminants:


•Higher CRI is generally better, aiming for 80 or above as a minimum.


•Opt for ones emphasizing specific hues important for the task - e.g. high greens CRI for plants, high reds CRI for skin tones.


•CRI is not absolute; consider other factors like cost, efficiency, etc.




CRI on a Scale of 1 to 100


Similar to test scores, CRI is measured on a scale from 1 to 100, where higher numbers indicate better color rendering ability. CRI values of 90 and above are considered excellent, while scores below 80 are generally viewed as poor.


Measuring Artificial White Light Sources


CRI is used to evaluate the color rendering quality of artificial white light sources, like LED and fluorescent lamps. This is in contrast to natural light sources like sunlight which is considered the benchmark for color rendering.



Comparing Colors Under Artificial and Daylight


CRI quantifies how accurately an artificial light source can reproduce the colors of objects compared to natural daylight. When using an artificial light, the goal is to mimic the colors produced by daylight such that objects appear the same.

CRI is calculated by measuring the difference in color between an object illuminated by the artificial light and the same object illuminated by natural daylight. Even artificial lights with the same color temperature (e.g. 5000K) as daylight may not reproduce the same vividness of certain colors due to differences in their spectral compositions.


In summary, CRI on a scale of 1 to 100 provides an easy-to-understand metric for comparing the color rendering ability of various artificial white light sources relative to the benchmark of natural daylight. Higher CRI indicates better mimicry of how objects appear under natural illumination conditions.



Revealing a Light's True Colors through Objects


The color rendering ability of a light source, as measured by its CRI, is not apparent when simply viewing the light itself. Two lights with identical white color can have very different spectral compositions and thus different CRIs.

The only way to ascertain a light's true color rendering quality is by observing how it illuminates objects of varying hues. A light with a high CRI will reproduce the natural colors of the objects faithfully, while one with a low CRI will distort their true colors to varying degrees.


CRI only becomes evident through differences in how objects appear under different light sources. When shining a high CRI light on common objects like carrots, greens, reds and skin tones, their colors will appear natural and rich. However, under a lower CRI light, the same objects may look less vibrant and their colors shifted.



How CRI Is Calculated


CRI is determined by comparing how test color samples appear when illuminated by the light source under examination versus an ideal reference source at the same color temperature, typically 5000K.


Various techniques are employed to calculate CRI, including test methods using sample color patches, chromatic adaptation calculations, and the R96a method.



The Test Color Sample Method


The test color sample method involves shining the light in question onto 15 virtual color patches called test color samples (TCS) and measuring the reflected color.

For each test color sample, an "R" value is calculated by comparing its reflected color under the test light to that of the ideal reference source. The R values indicate how accurately the test light reproduced the color compared to the reference.


An Overall CRI Score


The individual R values across all 15 test color samples are averaged to produce an overall CRI score on a scale from 0 to 100. Higher CRI scores mean the test light more accurately reproduced the colors compared to the ideal reference light.




CRI for Non-Daylight Color Temperatures


When calculating the CRI of a light source with a color temperature below 5000K, the reference light used is a Planckian radiator at the same color temperature rather than daylight.


A Planckian radiator is essentially any light source that produces light by heating an element, such as incandescent and halogen lamps. They have a spectral distribution that is well described by Planck's law.


This means that for a 3000K LED lamp, its CRI is determined by comparing how test color samples appear under it versus a 3000K halogen spotlight. The halogen spotlight serves as a "natural" light source at that color temperature, providing a meaningful reference for comparison.


The reason daylight (around 5000-6500K) is used as the reference for higher color temperatures is that it best represents the ideal light for human vision and color discrimination - what our eyes have evolved to see under.



Acceptable and Recommended CRI Values


For most general indoor and commercial lighting applications, a CRI of 80 is considered the minimum acceptable level for adequate color rendering.

However, for environments where accurate color reproduction is important for tasks performed or can enhance aesthetics, a CRI of 90 and above is recommended. Lights with CRI in this range are often termed high CRI lights.


Examples of such applications include hospitals, textile manufacturers, printing plants, paint shops and high-end retail stores, hotels and residential spaces where improved color perception could benefit the experience. Photography studios also benefit from high CRI illumination.


When comparing lighting products with CRI values above 90, it's useful to examine individual R values - particularly R9 which indicates color rendition of saturated red hues - in addition to the averaged CRI score. This provides a more nuanced understanding of the product's color rendering capabilities.




Choosing the Ideal CRI for your LED Lighting Project


Color rendering index plays a crucial role in determining the success of your LED lighting project. Follow these steps to select the optimum CRI range:


Step 1: Define the purpose of lighting


Identify if accurate color reproduction is important for your brand, if it will impact customer behavior, ensure safety or aid worker visibility.


Step 2: Consider your budget


High CRI LED lamps have higher phosphor content and slightly lower efficacy, making them more expensive. If budget is tight, 80-90 CRI options may suffice.


Step 3: Conduct tests


Test different CRI bulbs in situ to see which one most accurately reproduces colors relevant to your project.



Project Recommended CRI


Residential 80-90

Hospitality 80-95

Retail/Merchandising 90+

Business 90-97

Industry 90+

Utilities 70-80


The higher the CRI, the more critical color accuracy is to the project's function - from aesthetics for residential to ensuring safety and product quality for industrial uses.



Mastering CRI is Key to Perfect Lighting

Gaining a thorough understanding of the Color Rendering Index (CRI) and how to optimize it is critical for developing the ideal lighting environment for any application.


The key steps include:


•Defining how important accurate color rendition is for the specific purpose, whether aesthetically or functionally

•Researching the recommended CRI ranges for that application type

•Considering the trade-off between higher CRI (slightly higher cost and lower efficacy) and project budget constraints

•Testing different CRI light sources in situ to identify the ideal balance of color quality, performance and cost for the unique needs.


CRI provides an objective measure of a light source's ability to reproduce colors naturally and consistently. By following a methodical process of determining the appropriate CRI range for your project and then verifying it through practical testing, you can create lighting that not only fulfills requirements but enhances the experience.


Whether you need to ensure safety, improve visibility, boost productivity or create ambiance, optimizing CRI will help you achieve your goals through high-quality, faithful color reproduction. Mastering this metric is the first step toward perfecting the lighting design for any environment.





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