CRI what is the color rendering index? CRI is an important factor when purchasing lighting products.

Color Rendering Index, or CRI, of a light bulb refers to how a specific light source makes the color of an object in the environment appear. A light with a higher color rendering index allows one to see the subtle variations in its shades and hues. We express the CRI of a light source as a number on a scale ranging from 0 to 100. The higher this number, the better is the ability of the lighting source to render the color details of an object accurately, and as the eye ideally perceives color as it should be seen. Typically, great quality (and new energy efficient) lighting products should have a CRI of 70 or higher.

The following images illustrate the concept of CRI

Picture of Inefficient and Low CRI Lighting A distribution warehouse with old T12 and Metal Halide fixtures that have low CRI (60-65) - notice the bland and dull colors.
owens and minor warehouse with new lighting The same area after we retrofiitted it with new high 85 CRI T5HO fluorescent high bay fixtures - notice how the colors pop now!

You can see that by switching out old technology with new efficient lighting and boosting CRI by even 20 points can make a huge difference in color quality. The higher CRI allows for more clear and vibrant colors to be seen. It allows indoor areas to look more like how they would appear outside in daylight. This mimics how the sun would make colors appear in our eyes. Knowing about the various aspects of CRI will help you choose the best quality and the most cost-efficient and appropriate lighting apparatus for your commercial and industrial premises.

Another way to think of it is like grading in school ranging from an A to F. CRI of 60 or below would be pretty bad like the first picture above or an F grade. At the other end, a CRI of 90+ would be an A grade, and make the colors very vibrant and accurate as the eye should see it.


For your convenience, every applicable product on lists the CRI. You can then filter products by the Color Rendering Index number. Shop now by Color Rendering Index

How is CRI Measured?

In a nutshell, we determine CRI by comparing the light source to another source with a perfect 100 CRI. The sun or daylight has been traditionally used as the baseline standard to compare out different light source technologies with. It makes sense because the human eye is adapted best to see best with the sun shining.

To compare the CRI of two lighting sources, it is imperative that these two have the same color temperature. For the uninitiated, color temperature refers to the color of the light produced by different lighting sources. Different light bulbs cast glows with different hues on the objects in an environment. This ranges from the warm reddish tones produced by bulbs with lower color temperatures to the cool bluish-white colors emitted by bulbs with higher color temperatures. The color temperature of a light source is expressed in Kelvins (K) and you can read more about that here.

What is the difference between CRI and Color Temperature?

When buying light bulbs for your commercial space, you must keep in mind this relation between CRI and color temperature. This ensures that you choose the right solution. The relation is explained with the following pictures comparing an old 400 watt high pressure sodium street light to a retrofit we did where a new 200 watt (56% energy savings) induction street light was installed.

The first picture above [left] is a 400 watt high pressure sodium street light that has a color temperature of around 2000K (very red-orange) and a color rendering index value of only 22. On top of using a lot of energy compared with today's standards, this is an example of old technology which has a low CRI and Kelvin Temperature. The low Kelvin temperature means that it puts out the orange/red color. The low CRI means the human eye won't pick up much of the color as it should be seen anyway. This is an old technology that puts out a lot of light (lumens). Compared with today's technology like fluorescent, LED, or induction, it doesn't really allow you to see things as they should be seen.

The second picture above shows the same streetlight that was changed out to an induction retrofit kit. It mimics natural daylight and has a color temperature of 5000K (daylight white) and has a CRI value of 80-85. So the road is now lit with white light, along with a lot of it showing colors as you would see them in the daytime. Notice the pavement and grass color accuracy in particular.

Kelvin Color Temperature Scale

On paper this is what the Kelvin Temperature range scale looks like. The 5000K daylight white induction lamp is indicated above, and you can see the 2000K range is very red-orange. For reference - the Sun is 5780 Kelvin.

What is the CRI of Different Lighting Technologies?

Different light technologies go back decades and there have been vast improvements in both the old ones and new ones. The incandescent bulb is ironically the oldest lighting technology out there, and also has a near perfect (95-100) CRI. This is because the existing way of testing for CRI goes back a long time. This test uses a Black Body as the baseline, and an incandescent bulb is also a black body design. Although, it doesn't mean necessarily that this type of bulb emits a near-perfect color rendering as the eye should see things. There are new methods increasing CRI but we have not yet become standard. Here is a graph with the different technologies and their CRI:

Incandescent 95-100
Mercury Vapor 20
Low Pressure Sodium 0
High Pressure Sodium 22
Quartz Metal Halide 60-65
Ceramic Metal Halide 80
T12 Fluorescent 62
T8 Fluorescent 85
T5 Fluorescent 85
Induction 80
LED 70-80+

Why do You need to Know about CRI when Considering a Lighting Retrofit?

More and more commercial space owners these days are choosing to replace their old lighting technology. These include high pressure sodium, metal halide, or T12 fluorescent bulbs. They are opting for more long-lasting, cost-efficient, and greener fluorescent, induction, or LED lights. Because CRI refers to the ability of light bulbs to accurately replicate colors, this value is an important parameter for building and business owners. Before retrofitting, you should know whether a light with a high CRI value is integral for your workspace. Does paying more for such a bulb enhance the productivity of your employees?

For instance, if you own an art gallery or work in a manufacturing facility that requires very specific requirements, you will need to install bulbs with CRI values greater than 90.

A Color Rendering Index Between 80-90 Is Still Excellent

Similarly, light bulbs with color rendering index values between 80 and 90 are ideal for restaurants and textile manufacturing units. On the other hand, if your facility manufactures heavy industry equipment, light bulbs with CRI values between 60 and 70 will suffice. Your workers may not need to see the exact colors of the machine parts they are dealing with. Bulbs with CRI values between 60 and 80 are also ideal for schools and offices where students and workers do not have to compare colors.

In general the latest technology in lighting has a 70+ CRI anyway. If you don't have any specialized area, you can focus more on the energy efficient aspect of Kelvin temperature.


In short, when looking for lighting products, try to purchase the products with the highest color rendering index within your budget. Generally specialized products with 90+ CRI also mean they cost a bit more. But in some cases where you need very high color quality, this may be necessary. Whether it be standard LED, fluorescent, or induction energy efficient technology, they all have pretty good CRI ratings (70+). They will light up your area as if you are viewing them in daylight.


If you need help with your lighting project please email us or give us a call at 800.983.1315. Our lighting-certified sales team is ready to take your call from 6AM-6PM MST from Monday to Friday.