Lighting Research Center Lighting Research Center
    Volume 8 Issue 1
October 2004    
color rendering index (CRI) - A rating index commonly used to represent how well a light source renders the colors of objects that it illuminates. For a CRI value of 100, the maximum value, the colors of objects can be expected to be seen as they would appear under an incandescent or daylight spectrum of the same correlated color temperature (CCT). Sources with CRI values less than 50 are generally regarded as rendering colors poorly, that is, colors may appear unnatural. correlated color temperature (CCT) - A specification for white light sources used to describe the dominant color tone along the dimension from warm (yellows and reds) to cool (blue). Lamps with a CCT rating below 3200 K are usually considered warm sources, whereas those with a CCT above 4000 K usually considered cool in appearance. Temperatures in between are considered neutral in appearance. Technically, CCT extends the practice of using temperature, in kelvins (K), for specifying the spectrum of light sources other than blackbody radiators. Incandescent lamps and daylight closely approximate the spectra of black body radiators at different temperatures and can be designated by the corresponding temperature of a blackbody radiator. The spectra of fluorescent and LED sources, however, differ substantially from black body radiators yet they can have a color appearance similar to a blackbody radiator of a particular temperature as given by CCT. efficacy - The ratio of the light output of a lamp (lumens) to its active power (watts), expressed as lumens per watt. spectral power distribution (SPD) - A representation of the radiant power emitted by a light source as a function of wavelength. blackbody radiator - A temperature radiator of uniform temperature whose radiant output in all parts of the spectrum is the maximum obtainable from any temperature radiator at the same temperature. Such a radiator is called a blackbody because it absorbs all the radiant energy that falls upon it. All other temperature radiators can be classed as non-blackbodies. Non-blackbodies radiate less in some or all wavelength intervals than a blackbody of the same size and the same temperature. chromaticity - The dominant or complementary wavelength and purity aspects of the color taken together, or of the aspects specified by the chromaticity coordinates of the color taken together. It describes the properties of light related to hue and saturation, but not luminance (brightness). color appearance - The resultant color perception that includes the effects of spectrum, background contrast, chromatic adaptation, color constancy, brightness, size and saturation. color consistency - The measure of how close in color appearance random samples of a lamp or source tend to be. color matching - The action of making a color appear the same as a given color. Often used as a method of evaluating the ability of a light source to render colors faithfully. color stability - The ability of a lamp or light source to maintain its color rendering and color appearance properties over its life. The color properties of some discharge light sources may tend to shift over the life of the lamp. full-spectrum index (FSI) - A mathematical measure of how much a light source's spectrum deviates from an equal energy spectrum, based on the slope of its cumulative spectrum. full-spectrum color index (FSCI) - A mathematical transformation of full-spectrum index into a zero to 100 scale, where the resulting values are directly comparable to color rendering index. An equal energy spectrum is defined as having an FSCI value of 100, a “standard warm white” fluorescent lamp has an FSCI value of 50, and a monochromatic light source (e.g., low pressure sodium) has an FSCI value of 0. gamut area - A measure of color rendering based upon volume in color space. It is the range of colors achievable on a given color reproduction medium (or present in an image on that medium) under a given set of viewing conditions. hue - The attribute of a light source or illuminated object that determines whether it is red, yellow, green, blue, or the like. isotemperature - A set of coordinates within which all points have the same temperature. In a color space diagram, isotemperature lines represent lights with identical correlated color temperatures. metamers - Lights of the same color but of different spectral power distribution. photopic - Vision mediated essentially or exclusively by the cones. It is generally associated with adaptation to a luminance of at least 3.4 cd/m2. primary - Any one of three lights in terms of which a color is specified by giving the amount of each required to match it by additive combination.
What is the best way to communicate the color rendering properties of a light source?

Depending upon the context, a person might ask a number of different questions about the color rendering properties of a light source, such as:

  • Do objects appear natural under the light?
  • Can subtle differences in shades of colors be seen?
  • How colorful do objects look?

Given the present state of knowledge about predicting the color appearance of objects under different light sources, no single metric can capture the multidimensional aspects of color rendering implied by these questions. In very general terms, a high color rendering index (CRI) implies that colors will appear natural. A low full-spectrum index (FSI) implies that the light source will enable good discrimination between small color variations. Finally, a large gamut area (GA) implies colors will be highly saturated.

In practice, available measures of color rendering can at times seem to contradict each other. For example, an incandescent lamp has the highest possible CRI value of 100, but scores poorly on FSI because it is deficient in the short wavelength range. A recent study found CRI to be a poor predictor and GA to be a good predictor of color naming accuracy (Deng 2001). In another study, light sources with high values on GA and low values on CRI were highly rated in terms of color preference (Narendran and Deng 2002).

Depending on the application and the desired effect, one of these color rendering metrics may be more appropriate than the others. In residential lighting, for example, CRI may be the most relevant metric, while GA may be the most appropriate metric for enhancing the color of meat in a supermarket. Thus, a light source with a high value on one metric but low on the other two will not necessarily render colors poorly for a specific application. Nevertheless, a single metric can be misleading. NLPIP recommends the use of all three metrics to represent the color rendering properties of light sources. By recommending all three, NLPIP suggests that specifiers will be more likely to "triangulate" to the most useful light source for a particular color application.

The NLPIP report Lighting Answers: Full-Spectrum Light Sources (revised in 2004) also includes CRI, FSI, and efficacy values for many commercial light sources. For sources not listed in the report, it will be necessary to obtain spectral power distribution (SPD) data from the manufacturer to calculate FSI and GA in order to supplement published CRI values.

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