What is the CRI spec on LED strips?

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While looking at LED strip specifications, you may have come across the metric called CRI. Unlike color temperature, CRI is related to color but is a bit difficult to grasp at first. This post goes over CRI as it relates to LED strips.

If you're interested in a general overview of CRI, see here.

What is CRI on LED strips?

CRI stands for Color Rendering Index, and is a measure of how accurate a light source is at reproducing colors. CRI is an important measure for LED strips when the appearance of objects is important, for example, retail, under cabinet lighting, photography and high-end architectural lighting.

Why is LED strip CRI important for certain applications?

Have you ever had trouble distinguishing subtle differences in shade or hue, and needed to go near a window to see it better?

An accurate light source is one which makes objects appear the same as they would appear under natural lighting. An accurate light source would allow you to discern subtle color differences just as well as you would under natural daylight.

In our example above, if you had an accurate LED strip with a high CRI, you would be able to distinguish those colors without needing to move to the window.

Depending on the purpose and application of the LED strip lights, color perception may be very important. For example, for under cabinet lighting, high CRI LED strips would be very helpful in accurately determining the color of various food ingredients, such as the ripeness of a tomato. In a manufacturing environment, color accuracy may be crucial for determining the color of paints or textiles.

What CRI is acceptable for LED strips?

As discussed above, CRI is a convenient metric for determining the accuracy of a light source. In practice, however, minor inaccuracies in color appearance will go unnoticed and may be acceptable for certain applications.

In general, 90 CRI or higher is recommended for LED strips used in retail, hospitality and high-end architectural lighting. For professional applications such as photography, 95 CRI or higher may be desired. This is particularly true due to the higher CCT used for these applications, where the light source must come close to mimicking natural daylight.

For most other applications, 85 CRI is an acceptable level, especially where cost and efficiency are concerns. Any CRI lower than 85 will begin to be noticeable, and cast a dull, muted light across the entire installation.

Look at more than just the CRI value for LED strips

If we dig a bit deeper into how CRI is calculated and what it represents, the first thing you will notice is that it is calculated by taking an average of 8 or 14 different color sample scores, depending on whether we want to calculate CRI (Ra) or CRI Extended.

The score for each color sample represents the ability of the light source to render that particular color. Therefore, by taking a closer look at each of these color samples, we can learn more about which colors the LED strip renders well, and which colors are not rendered well.

One particular color within the CRI calculation is called R9, and it provides a wealth of information about how well deep, saturated red colors are rendered. This is particularly important for skin tone rendering.

Therefore, we recommend looking for high CRI LED strips that not only advertise high CRI values, but high R9 values as well.

Check out Waveform Lighting's line of  high CRI LED strips here.

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