What is CRI and Is It Important for My LED Strip Light Projects?

Okay, diehards—and we know you are a HitLights LED strip light diehard if you are interested in the Color Rendering Index (CRI)—if you are ready to get the lowdown on CRI, HitLights is ready to dive in. While CRI is a bit of a complicated topic, at its core, CRI is a scale measurement of how uniformly a light source (like an LED strip light) illuminates all colors of the color spectrum. Our entire industry is constantly pushing to produce higher and higher light quality in LED strips. We know that consumers want attractive, clear, beautiful (and beautifying!) light from LEDs. It’s not too much to ask that an innovative product like LED lighting—frequently adopted for the energy efficiency and convenience properties—also produce light that is pleasing to the eye. CRI is part of that equation, giving LED strip light lovers like you more information to help you pick exactly the LED strip light you’re going to love.

Table of Contents:

What does CRI mean in lighting?

CRI stands for Color Rendering Index. It measures light produced by a light source, gauging how evenly or uniformly each color of the color spectrum is produced by the light source, compared to how the color would appear (or render) in natural sunlight. 

In even simpler lay terms, if you imagine natural sunlight on a bright, cloudless day producing “perfect” white light that produces each color of the rainbow “perfectly” then CRI would evaluate light from a light source, measuring how close or far away the color of the light source is to the “perfect” colors created by that ideal sunlight scenario. 

If you held up a shiny red apple while standing in that bright sunlight, you would see the red color in all its wonderful redness; you would know that your eyes are receiving the “true” red color of that apple. Then, if you took the apple inside, now looking at the apple under light produced by a light bulb or a light diode—how closely does the red of the apple resemble the red you viewed while you saw the apple in sunlight? This is exactly what CRI is designed to measure. The closer the color (the red of the apple in our example) viewed under a light source to the color viewed in the natural sunlight, the higher the rating on the CRI scale. 

CRI is a complicated topic, backed by extensive science and data collection, but we hope our layperson definition will give you a starting point to understand what CRI is and why it would be a consideration in the world of HitLights LED strip lights

Before we move on from the introduction of CRI, a few more definitions may be helpful. The scale of CRI is zero to 100. Despite what you may guess, there are lights—other than natural sunlight—that have a CRI rating of 100. Many incandescent bulbs are considered to be CRI 100 (meaning colors viewed under incandescent bulbs look as they would under natural sunlight.) A CRI of zero would be where all colors look the same. The higher the CRI, the closer the appearance of colors is to those same colors in natural light. Got the basics? Get ready for some deeper CRI knowledge.

Is CRI the Same as Color Temperature?

CRI is not the same as color temperature. In LED strip lights, we often talk about color temperature, meaning what is the appearance of the light source itself (like soft white, warm white, cool white, etc.) So looking at the illuminated LED strip light, we see light with a bluish tint (which we might call cool white) or a golden glow (which we might call warm white.) All of those are assessments of the LED strip’s color temperature. CRI is measuring the appearance of the colors of the things viewed in the light produced by the light source (like the red apple as our example above.) 

The color temperature rating of an LED strip light and that same strip’s CRI rating are independent of each other.

When talking about these two qualities, it’s easy to conflate and confuse the two—both scales are measuring colors, but in totally different ways. And just to stay one step ahead of you: lumens and brightness ratings also are different from CRI. 

How important is CRI in lighting?

There are some environments where color assessment is critical, like certain medical settings or where color is used to mark hazardous materials (especially where light sources may be not ideal.) In other environments, getting the truest view of colors might not be urgent, but thoroughly desirable. Especially environments where lots of time is spent; work is conducted; natural light is either scarce or not available, having a lighting of a high CRI is a positive attribute, where the colors of the environment would be closer to that of natural light.

Imagine a room decorated with beautiful artwork or carefully selected photographs hanging on the wall. Fine drapes with flecks of color throughout hang around stately windows. An elegant handwoven rug ties the whole room together. A room with such detail would beg for high CRI lights, letting each color shine out and be seen in such an appointed room.

In general, the more identically natural light can be replicated, the better when it comes to light sources. Many of us remember the initial push from incandescent lights to some alternative light sources—who can forget old fluorescent tube lights and the way everything in their path had a sickly, dreary look? LED lighting and LED strip lights are specifically gaining in the ability to produce attractive looking light as well as energy savings. 

Is CRI of 80 good?

Most people want their light sources to reflect the qualities of natural light. In situations where that is the case, look for light sources with a CRI of 80 or higher. Light sources with a CRI of 80 to 90 are considered good; CRI of 90 to 100 is excellent. Note: this scale applies to all kinds of light sources, including LED lights. For perspective, even candlelight has a CRI!

What is a good CRI rating for LED lights?

The consideration of the CRI of LED lights is similar to other light sources. The higher the CRI, the more closely colors render as they would in natural light. LED lights with a CRI of 80 to 90 are considered good. LED lights with CRI of 90 to 100 are considered excellent. 

Let’s close out our CRI discussion with some real examples from HitLights. Our customer favorite Luma5 is a premium, standard density LED strip light, available in cool or warm white color temperature. It boasts a CRI of 90+. 

Our bright and gorgeous Premium 24V strip light is available in neutral white; warm white; soft white and boasts a CRI of 95+ (getting pretty sunny in here!) Tried and true Luma 20 is a high-density premium strip with a CRI of 80+. 

No matter the factors you are looking for in your LED strip lights, HitLights is sure to satisfy. If you have any questions about any of our products or if you want to talk about CRI with a real-life LED lighting pro, give our service-driven, knowledge-based team a call today. Give us a call now at 1 (855) 768-4135 and we’ll help you shine bright and brilliant light on all your LED strip light installations. 

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