Lighting can be an immensely tricky business, so to help make things a little easier, we’ve put together a glossary of all the lighting terms you might encounter while browsing our site. If you’re looking for a particular definition that we’ve missed or if you have any additional questions at all, please feel free to contact us with your query.
A-Z of Lighting
Additional lighting – often from directional light sources – used to highlight particular areas or objects. Commonly used in retail displays and galleries.
Many spot and flood lamps are manufactured using a thin film of reflective aluminium deposited on the inside of the glass. Unlike dichroic reflectors, this reflects both the light and heat forward out of the lamp.
The air temperature in the vicinity of a light fitting. Extreme temperatures can affect the performance of a light bulb, so many have heat sinks built into them – particularly LED light bulbs – to help dissipate heat.
Also known as ‘amps.’ Refers to the amount of electric current flowing through a circuit, and is used to calculate the wattage of a lamp.
A type of light bulb cap, also known as a small bayonet cap (abbreviated to SBC). It is a ‘push-and twist’ type of cap commonly used on candle light bulbs and others that require a smaller fitting. The number 15 refers to the diameter of the cap in mm.
A type of light bulb cap, also known as a bayonet cap (abbreviated to BC). It is a ‘push-and twist’ type of cap and is the most common type of fitting in the UK. The number 22 refers to the diameter of the cap in mm.
Part of a fluorescent lamp fitting which regulates the current flow through a fluorescent lamp.
The most common type of light bulb cap used in the UK. Also known as a B22d or BC cap. It is a ‘push-and-twist’ type of cap, with two short horizontal spikes protruding from its base.
See bayonet cap.
Describes the spread of a directional light source, in degrees. A light with a small beam angle (e.g. 30°) would have a very narrow, focused beam of light, while a light source with a larger beam angle (e.g. 120°) would cover a much wider area.
Specialist fluorescent lamp designed to emit invisible ultraviolet (UV) light.
A popular term for the electric lamp, derived from the light bulb-shaped glass envelope in which lamps are often enclosed.
The burning position defines the position in which lamps should be installed and operated and are sometimes defined by code letters as follows:-
h = vertical (base upwards)
s = vertical (base downwards)
p = horizontal
The candela (cd) is a standard measure of luminous intensity to allow direct comparison of the ‘brightness’ of different light sources. For any physicists who may be reading this…
“The candela is the luminous intensity, in a given direction, of a source that emits monochromatic radiation of frequency 540 x 1012 Hertz and that has a radiant intensity in that direction of 1/683 Watt per steradian.”
A common light bulb shape, often used in smaller lamps and decorative fittings. So named because the light bulb resembles the shape of a candle flame.
The electrical connection and mechanical fixing for a lamp is often referred to either as a cap or base. Lamps use a wide variety of fittings, partly to meet the appropriate electrical and safety requirements and partly to ensure that luminaires can only accept the appropriate lamp (to prevent using low voltage lamps in mains fittings, for example). Common caps for standard incandescent lamps include the ubiquitous 22mm ‘Bayonet’ fitting (otherwise known as ‘B22d’ or ‘BC’) and the Edison Screw (or ‘ES’) fitting, named after the early pioneer in electric lamp development, Thomas Edison. To ensure compatibility between different manufacturers’ products, international standards for lamp bases have been agreed by the IEC under the IEC 60061 standard. For further information see our Caps and Bases page.
Any light fitting designed to be hung directly from the ceiling.
Also known as ‘crown silver’ lamps, these are lamps with a highly reflective coating on the front of the glass. This reflects much of the light back towards the lamp fitting.
Originally designed for use in spotlight fittings with parabolic reflectors, particularly for shop window displays, these are also used in many contemporary designer light fittings to reduce glare and create spectacular effects where the lamp itself is visible.
Since the reflective coating also reflects heat back into the luminaire, these lamps can cause overheating and should only be used with luminaires that have been designed to accept them.
Colour Rendering Index
Abbreviated to CRi, the colour rendering index is a scale that measures how accurately a light source reproduces the colours of the environment around it. It is measured up to 100, where 100 is perfect reproduction. Many halogen light bulbs have a naturally high CRi, often of 100, whereas the best LED light bulbs have a CRi of 90 or greater.
The colour temperature of a lamp is a measure of the ‘warmth’ or ‘coldness’ of the light that it produces. Lamps that produce a ‘warm’ or ‘yellowish’ light (for example the sodium lamps used for street lighting which appear orange) have a lower colour temperature. Lamps producing a pure white or bluish tinged light have a higher colour temperature.
Colour temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K) and is defined as “the temperature of a black body having the same colour appearance as the type of lamp being considered”.
- Lamps with a colour temperature of less than 3500K are usually described as having a ‘warm’ appearance.
- Lamps with a colour temperature between 3500K and 5000K are considered to have a ‘cool’ appearance.
- Lamps having a colour temperature over 5000K are said to have a ‘cold’ or ‘daylight’ appearance.
Typical colour temperatures are:-
- High-pressure sodium lamps: 2000K to 2200K
- Tungsten filament light bulb: 2700K
- Tungsten halogen lamps: 3000K
- Fluorescent lamps: 2700K to 6500K
- Metal halide lamps: 3000K – 5600K
- Daylight: 5500K – 6500K
A term used to describe a particular colour temperature range. Cool white lighting has a colour temperature of between 3500K – 5000K and emits a bluer, more intense light suited for kitchens, bathrooms and work areas.
Often also known as ‘low energy’ light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps use the same technology as fluorescent tubes but with the tubes folded into a much more compact design. The main advantages of compact fluorescents are:-
- Lower power consumption – typically 80% less than equivalent incandescent lamps.
- Longer operating life – typically 3 to 15 times longer than conventional incandescent lamps.
- Lower heat output than incandescent lamps, making them ideal for use in enclosed fittings or close to delicate lampshades.
There are two distinct categories of compact fluorescents:-
- Integrated: The lamp includes both the fluorescent tube and the necessary control gear in one package. These are ideal for use in direct replacement for conventional incandescent lamps and are often produced with standard BC or ES fittings.
- Non-integrated: The control gear is part of the fitting or luminaire and the lamp is just the folded tube. These used to be fitted mostly in commercial and industrial fittings but are more frequently now being used in homes as well as in exterior lighting.
CFL light bulbs are still widely available, although they have been superseded by LED lighting from both a performance and energy efficiency perspective.
Control Gear for Fluorescent Lamps
Fluorescent lamps require special circuits to start the lamp when power is applied (the starter) and then to limit the electrical current once it is running (the ballast). This is often referred to as the control gear. In conventional fluorescent fittings, the ballast is integrated into the light fitting and the starter is generally a small user-replaceable plug-in tubular component.
In ‘high frequency’ or ‘electronic’ fluorescent fittings, the control gear uses an electronic circuit to perform these functions. This makes the lamp faster to start, more efficient and virtually flicker-free. In some compact fluorescent fittings, this circuitry is fully integrated into the lamp itself.
Certain types of electronic control gear also allow fluorescent tubes to be dimmed.
See Chrome Cap.
The amount of light delivered to a surface by a light source. Measured in lux.
Sometimes known as ‘cool beam’ lamps, dichroic lamps have a special multi-layer coating on the reflector of the lamp.
This means that visible light is reflected forwards whilst the heat is transmitted backwards through the rear of the lamp. The word dichroic literally means ‘two coloured’.
A cover or case over a light source designed to soften (or diffuse) the light it emits.
The ability to vary the light output of a light bulb or fitting by use of a compatible dimmer switch or smart device.
You can find out more by reading our guide on LED dimming.
A switch that allows you to adjust the brightness of a light bulb or fitting. There are two types available: leading edge and trailing edge dimmers. LED light bulbs must be used with compatible dimmer switches.
A type of light bulb cap, also known as a small Edison screw (SES). This type of cap simply screws into the fitting and is most commonly used on light bulbs designed for small and decorative lamps. The number 14 refers to the diameter of the cap, in mm.
A type of light bulb cap, also known as an Edison screw (ES). This type of cap simply screws into the fitting and is one of the most commonly used caps available today. The number 27 refers to the diameter of the cap, in mm.
A type of light bulb cap, also known as a giant Edison screw (GES). This type of cap simply screws into the fitting and is most commonly used for specialist commercial and industrial purposes. The number 40 refers to the diameter of the cap, in mm.
One of the most common cap types used today. As its name suggests, this type of cap simply screws into its fitting. Also known as an ES or E27 cap.
Lighting designed to function in the event of a power outage. Many commercial LED light fittings feature integrated, battery-operated emergency drivers, so the light uses mains power during normal use, but automatically reverts to the emergency driver when mains power is cut.
After the development of energy-saving light bulbs such as LED and CFL light bulbs, wattage alone is not an adequate indicator of a light bulb’s brightness. Equivalent wattages are used to compare like-for-like light bulbs. For example, a 5W LED light bulb is roughly equivalent to a 60W incandescent light bulb and will be around the same brightness.
See Edison Screw.
Light strings commonly used for decorative and celebratory purposes. Festoon lighting consists of a cable to which light bulbs are fixed at regular intervals.
The filament is the part of an incandescent lamp that glows as an electrical current is passed through it. In very early lamps the filament was made of carbon. Most incandescent lamps now use tungsten filaments.
Fluorescent lamps are a type of gas discharge lamp which generate invisible ultra-violet radiation and then use a phosphor coating on the inside of the lamp glass to convert this into visible light using a process known as ‘fluorescence’. By using different coating materials, fluorescent lamps can be made to generate light in a range of different colour temperatures. Typically these include Warm White, White, Cool White and Daylight versions.
The tube diameter is often expressed in eighths of an inch (e.g. T5 = 5/8” = 16 mm).
Advantages of fluorescent tubes include:-
- High energy efficiency.
- Long operating life (typically over 10,000 hrs).
- Even light distribution.
Some fluorescent lamps are manufactured without the fluorescent coating and use a bluish-black glass in order to deliberately emit only light in the ultra-violet (UV) spectrum. These are used for specialist applications such as banknote forgery detectors and nightclub special effects lighting.
Fluorescent lamps are generally designed to work directly from the mains (110 or 240V AC power) but require a starter and ballast or electronic gear to operate. Electronic control gear (ECG) converts mains power to a very much higher frequency and gives several advantages over conventional ballasts and starters including:-
Greater efficiency and hence lower power consumption.
- Reduced flickering
- Faster starting
- Usually manufactured in a tube shape, fluorescent lamps can also be found in circular, “U”-shaped and a variety of other specialist shapes.
See Giant Edison Screw.
A larger variant of the standard Edison screw cap. Uncommon on household light bulbs but often used for industrial lighting purposes on lamps over 500 watts. Also known as a GES or E40 cap.
GLS stands for General Lighting Service. These are the standard, pear-shaped light bulbs that are present in almost every home. Also known as ‘A-shape’ or ‘A60’ light bulbs.
See Tungsten Halogen.
An electrical component integrated into many LED light bulbs and fittings. Heat sinks are designed to draw heat away from the delicate componentry of a light bulb, helping to preserve it and extending its lifespan.
High-Intensity Discharge lamps are used to illuminate larger spaces like car parks and warehouses. More energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs and much brighter.
International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
The International Electrotechnical Commission is the authoritative worldwide body responsible for developing consensus global standards in the electrotechnical field. IEC is dedicated to the harmonization and voluntary adoption of these standards, supporting the transfer of electrotechnology, assisting certification and promoting international trade.
Most “standard” light bulbs are incandescent lamps. These use a filament (usually tungsten wire) inside an enclosed glass light bulb that glows white-hot as an electrical current is passed through it. The filament is prevented from burning by either creating a vacuum inside the light bulb or filling it with inert gas.
Incandescent lamps are not very efficient since most of the radiation is in the infra-red spectrum (ie heat rather than visible light). The light produced is quite “warm” with a colour temperature of around 2700°K.
Ingress Protection ratings denote how protected a light bulb or fitting is from water and foreign objects. IP ratings consist of two numbers: the first specifying how protected an object is from the ingress of solid objects, while the second specifies how protected it is from water ingress. See our guide to IP ratings and bathroom zones for more information.
Units used to measure a light source’s colour temperature (abbreviated to single letter ” K”).
Lamp is the generic term for a light source. Light bulbs, tubes, capsules and spots are all types of lamp.
Leading Edge Dimmer
A common type of dimmer switch, not compatible with most LED light bulbs.
A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor light source. LED Light Bulbs offer long life and high energy efficiency, but initial costs are higher than those of compact fluorescent and incandescent lamps. The life cycle of LED lamps is multiple compared to incandescent lamps, however, degradation of LED chips reduces luminous flux over the life cycle as with conventional lamps.
Many different types of lamps may be manufactured in “long life” versions. The design often means using better quality components, different construction and manufacturing techniques as well as more stringent quality control. Long life is a relative term and depends very much on the technology of the lamp.
See compact fluorescent.
Lumens (lm) are a measure of the amount of light which is visible to the human eye from a lamp or light source. The higher the lumen rating, the brighter the lamp will appear. A typical household light bulb might emit anything between 300–1000 lumens, while a high-powered floodlight could emit in excess of 20,000 lumens.
Luminaire is the general term for the fitting into which a lamp is installed. This will always include a lamp holder with the electrical connection to the lamp and may also include shades, reflectors or diffusers along with decorative, protective and/or safety features.
Described the efficiency of a light source. Compares light output (lumens) with power input (watts) to determine a lumens/watt ratio (lm/w).
Metal halide lamps are a type of discharge lamp that creates an electrical arc inside a high-pressure gas capsule containing various rare earth compounds. Usually used in retail, showroom and factory applications, they can create a very crisp white light with colour temperatures ranging from 3,000°K to 10,000°K.
Halogen lamps that contain a small reflector to more efficiently control light distribution. These types of light bulb often have a narrow beam angle, providing a bright, focused source of light.
Passive Infrared Detection
A type of motion-detection commonly used on outdoor floodlights and commercial light fittings. PIR lights activate when the sensor detects a significant change in surrounding infrared, such as when a person walks past.
A type of luminaire attached to a cable, most commonly hung from the ceiling.
A process used to generate white LED light. Blue LED light bulbs are coated in phosphor to cause a reaction that produces white light. It is one of the most efficient methods for producing white LED light.
An electronic component that helps to regulate the light output from a particular source. It does this by detecting light levels around the lamp and adjusting power input accordingly.
A measurement that denotes how long a light bulb or fitting will last before it no longer operates. For incandescent light bulbs, this usually means when the filament will burn out, but as this doesn’t happen with LED lights, their lifespan is calculated differently.
Although it’s too slow to notice, LED light bulbs gradually get dimmer over time, and they are deemed to be at the end of their life when they drop to a certain percentage of their initial brightness. This is most commonly 70% brightness (known as an L70 measurement), but this can vary. The light bulb will continue to operate past this point but should be replaced as soon as possible.
Used to describe new light bulbs and fittings that are compatible with older light fixtures. The majority of LED light bulbs are retrofit, making it easy to replace older incandescent light bulbs.
Red, Green, and Blue. Used to describe coloured or colour-changing lighting. These three colours can combine to create any other colour on the spectrum.
See Small Edison Screw.
Tungsten halogen lamps are similar to incandescent lamps but instead of just being filled with inert gas they also have small quantities of a halogen type gasses (bromine, chlorine and iodine) or their compounds added to the filler gas and use quartz instead of glass for the lamp capsule. Benefits of tungsten halogen lamps include:
- A slightly higher colour temperature than ordinary tungsten incandescent lamps, giving a bright, white light, ideal for shop display lighting.
- Physically much smaller than equivalent tungsten incandescent lamps.
- Longer rated life – typically 2000 to 5000 hours or more. One disadvantage of tungsten halogen lamps is that the quartz envelope is much more sensitive to contamination than ordinary glass light bulbs. The quartz capsule must not be touched with bare hands since contamination can lead to overheating and severely reduced life. Some designs get around this by encapsulating the lamp inside a glass envelope.
Named after James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, the Watt (W) is a standard international unit of measurement for power. In the case of electric lamps, the ‘wattage’ of the lamp defines the amount of electrical power that it consumes and also is related to the brightness of the lamp. However, since different types of lamp are more or less efficient in converting electrical power into light, the Watt is not in itself a measure of brightness. For example, a 20W compact fluorescent lamp is approximately as bright as a 100W incandescent lamp yet it consumes only one-fifth of the power.