Color quality considerations when switching from halogen to LED

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Halogen lamps were a very popular lighting technology which offer numerous benefits over incandescent lamps. In addition to longer lifetimes, halogen lamps offer a slightly higher color temperature near 3000K, allowing for increased color clarity over their incandescent counterparts.

With the proliferation of LED technology, however, replacing halogen bulbs is considered low hanging fruit from an energy-savings perspective. The energy savings are indeed undeniable - a 50 watt halogen bulb can be replaced with an LED lamp using only 10 watts of energy.

For many color-critical applications, however, energy savings is only one of the factors to consider. For museums, art galleries and high-end residences, the color quality of the light source is likely the number one consideration. Below, we've outlined some crucial considerations when it comes to color rendering and color temperature when replacing halogen lamps with LED lamps.

Color Rendering Index of Halogen Lamps is 100 CRI!

Before the development of energy-efficient lighting technologies, searching for a bulb was a relatively straightforward task, where the only considerations were brightness (wattage) and form-factor (e.g. A19). Once the lamp was installed, you knew exactly what you would get - a nice, warm incandescent glow, with perfect color rendering.

Energy efficiency and heat generation issues aside, incandescent and halogen lamps are actually excellent light sources from a color quality perspective. Measured using the color rendering index (CRI), incandescent and halogen lamps have a perfect, 100 CRI rating. This is because, by definition, CRI uses incandescent and halogen sources as the measurement standard to measure warm-white color temperature light sources.

In other words, incandescent and halogen bulbs are the standard to which all other light sources, including LED lamps, are compared against.

The inconvenient truth is that switching from halogen to any other light source will lead to a reduction in CRI and light quality. It should go without saying that if you're looking to replace your halogen lamps with LED lamps, the best way to minimize the impact to color quality is to pay attention to the color rendering metrics of the LED lamp. As a simple rule of thumb, the higher the CRI and R9 values, the closer a light source will be to halogen in terms of color appearances.

Color Temperature Considerations for Halogen Replacements

Color rendering is, of course, a critical aspect of light quality, but this all assumes that we have the color temperature selection right. Without an appropriate color temperature selection, even the highest CRI lamps may lead to inferior results. (Confused about the difference between color temperature and CRI? See our article here).

Halogen lamps almost invariably have a color temperature rating of 3000K. Therefore, locating an LED lamp with a 3000K color temperature rating would be your best bet if you are looking to replicate the same color appearance.

On the other hand, a warmer color temperature such as 2700K may be of interest. In comparison to 3000K, 2700K will offer a bit more emphasis on yellow and orange tones, creating a more relaxing environment. This may be a good thing for a residential space, or a bad thing for a more task-oriented space if color clarity is a concern.

Furthermore, with LED lamps, higher color temperatures with 95 CRI are available, and could be worth considering in applications where color accuracy and approximation of color tones closer to natural daylight is needed. Unlike halogen lamps, these options will further reduce the amount of yellow and orange wavelengths to produce a cleaner, more neutral light source.

Do keep in mind that LED lamps have a fixed color temperature, independent of their dimmer setting. Incandescent and halogen lamps get "warmer" in color temperature as their dimmer setting is turned down, while LED lamps will exhibit a constant color temperature even when dimmed down. This means that if you specifically like the look of dimmed halogen lighting, you may actually prefer a lower color temperature of 2700K rather than 3000K.

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