What Is A Beam Angle in Lighting and How to Choose?

Discover what a beam angle is in lighting and learn how to choose the best one for your space. Direct the light to specific areas with the right beam angle.

Table of Contents

Beam Angle is an easy metric to help you optimize light coverage in your house or building. Any modern-day lighting work involves beam angle and light spread calculations. The beam angle is often used in lighting work, but few know of the details and its usefulness.

So, here is a detailed guide to help you learn all about Beam Angles in Lighting and help you choose the perfect beam Angel for your needs.

What Is a Beam Angle?

The beam angle is a measure of light spread from the source, such as a light bulb. Broader beam angles will result in more spread-out light, but the light will also be less intense. Vice Versa, narrower angles will have less spread by the higher light intensity.

Beam Angle Comparison

This light intensity is typically measured in Lumens. Lumens per square meter are called “lux,” and Lumens per square foot are called “foot candles.” The total lumens needed to light up a room change depending on the type of light and room size.

Examples:

1. What does 120 Beam Angle mean?

120 refers to the degree of angle of the light fixture. A 120° angle is a wide beam angle for light bulbs and can cover an entire room if the ceiling is high enough.

2. What does Narrow Beam Angle mean?

A narrow beam angle refers to a blub with a beam angle of less than 30°. However, there are even finer categories of beam angle, such as Spot angle or Narrower beam angle.

3. Common Beam Angles

There are two methods of referencing a beam angle. One uses angles in degrees, like 10°,  60°, 120°, etc. Another uses terminology like narrow beam angle, spot, wide, wider angle, etc.

The terminology and standards for beam angle are not universal, but the NEMA classification is the most commonly used one. NEMA is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the largest association of electrical equipment manufacturers.

Beam Angle (°)NEMA TypeDescription
10° – 18°1 Very Narrow
18° – 29°2Narrow
29° – 46°3Medium Narrow
46° – 70°4Medium
70° – 100°5Medium Wide
100° – 130°6Wide
130° or more7Very Wide

Why Is Beam Angle so Important?

Beam Angle helps determine the light coverage area; a higher angle equals more area coverage and vice versa. To fully cover the floor of a 40×40 square foot room, you will require One 60° light placed in the center of a 34 ft. high ceiling. Or two 60° lights placed 10 ft. from a 17 ft. high ceiling center.

Proper light spread calculations allow you to get a fully illuminated room with minimum light fixtures.

Low or narrow-beam-angle lighting can also be a stylistic choice for accent or mood lighting.

How do you Measure Beam Angle?

Here is a simple trigonometric formula to calculate beam angle (beam spread).

Angle = 2* Tan-1 [Beam Spread / Light Distance]

beam angles

The beam spread here is 50% of the total light output; any light outside this concentrated center is called “spill light” or “beam field.”

Beam angles for bulbs are calculated in a controlled environment with exact instruments. General consumers don’t need to calculate the angles; they can look at your light bulb’s packaging or the manufacturer’s website. This section is purely informational to help you better understand the right beam angle. 

Beam Angle Choosing Criteria

 Now that you understand the importance of light beams and the difference between narrower and wider beam angles, we can choose criteria. To select the best beam angle for your building, you need to consider Five Factors.

1. Building Type

There are two crucial building types when considering beam angles,

  • Residential Buildings

  • Commercial Buildings

Residential buildings focus on uniform illumination on a room-by-room basis. So a wider beam angle light in the center of a room is usually enough.

But Commercial buildings such as restaurants or factories will focus on efficiently illuminating a large floor area. They require medium to narrow-angled lights spread over a large ceiling area. Restaurants, in particular, also focus on mood and accent lighting.

2. Light Fixtures

Light fixtures are the next most crucial factor in beam angle selection. A light fixture is the base of a light, typically attached to a wall or ceiling. And it can have light sources (Bulbs or LEDs).

Light fixtures can change the beam angle of a light bulb. A hanging pendant typically decreases the angle, whereas a recessed light fixture may increase the angle.

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3. Lighting Type

Lighting types can vary depending on the person you ask, but traditionally there are three types of lighting.

  • Ambient Lighting – Diffused lighting is used to illuminate an entire room.

  • Accent Lighting – Focused and indirect lighting typically pointed at walls.

  • Task Lighting – Focused and direct lighting highlights a working area, like a desk.

 Ambient lighting requires wide beam angles, whereas task and accent lighting requires narrower light angles.

4. Ceiling Height

Light intensity decreases the further you are from the light source; higher ceilings will result in weak lighting at the floor level.

Residential buildings like houses or apartments have lower ceilings, usually 10 ft. or less. Such buildings will require a wide-angled light for complete room coverage.

Commercial or Industrial buildings like factories and warehouses have high ceilings, usually over 25 ft. These buildings require strong narrow beam angles and multiple light fixtures for full area coverage.

5. Bulb Type

We have discussed light fixtures, but the bulbs can also have significant variations. The most common bulb that everyone knows of is the pear-shaped type A bulb; when you have an idea, this is the bulb that shows up above your head.

light bulb

Type A bulbs have no direction, so we put reflectors on them to give them direction. Modern light bulbs, primarily led ones, come on PAR, BR, and MR reflector casings.

What is the difference between PAR, BR, and MR-type Bulbs?

BR (Bulged Reflector) = Beam Angle > 90°

PAR (Parabolic Aluminized Reflector) = Beam Angle > 45°

MR (Multi-faceted Reflector) = Beam Angle 15° – 45°

Which Beam Angle Should You Choose?

Finally, we have covered all the basics of beam angle in lighting, and we can now move on to selection.

Your choice of beam angle depends on the lighting application. The two most common categorizations of lighting styles and, thus, beam angle choices are residential and commercial buildings.

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1. Beam Angle for Residential Building

As discussed previously, residential buildings have lower ceilings and fewer square ft. of area. Here, we can use the same beam angles for houses and apartments, as the two are very similar from a lighting perspective.

In most houses, a medium beam angle, between 40° – 60°, is sufficient to light up a room properly. The actual beam angle can vary slightly based on the above-mentioned five factors.

Living rooms are larger than most other rooms in a house and usually have an attached kitchen or dining area. A wider beam angle, anything above 60°, is recommended for coverage of a living room. Living rooms also don’t require as much light, so they can make do with fewer light units.

residential building lighting

You need narrower light angles in other house areas, like staircases or walk-in closets; 25 ° is a standard angle for a 9-10 ft. ceiling.

Typically houses and apartments will use a combination of lighting styles. Using a variety of lighting units with varying beam angles creates visual appeal. Mixing and matching can also allow for accent and task lights.

2. Beam Angle for Commercial Building

Commercial buildings are a very different category from residential buildings. After all, there isn’t just one type of commercial building. So for ease of understanding, we have subdivided commercial buildings into the following.

Retail Stores

Retail stores have one goal for lighting, showcasing their products in the most flattering light. The ideal flattering light requires shadows, and glares need to be minimized. This requires intense ambient lighting, which covers the entire store, so narrow beam angle and multiple light bulb are preferred.

For example, jewelry stores use narrow beam angle inside display cases under 10°. Meanwhile, clothing store lighting uses a 30° or wider beam angle for mannequins.

Restaurants 

Restaurants are an outlier in the commercial space since they focus on aesthetics and mood lighting. Since many restaurants only open for business from early evening to late night, they tend to avoid a brightly lit environment.

A standard restaurant lighting setup uses beam angles of 25° for the dining table.

Restaurants are an outlier in the commercial space since they focus on aesthetics and mood lighting.

Offices

Office spaces will have multiple workers spread out, and poor lighting can cause some workers to face harsh light glares while others end up in the shadows. Also, employees working in front of a computer screen can strain their eyes if the surrounding light is too low.

Thus, wide flood beam angles are preferred in office spaces, typically around 60°, with narrower beam angles only used as task lighting.

Warehouses

Since warehouses have high ceilings, they require narrower beam angles that maintain their intensity when reaching the floor. The exact number differs based on ceiling height.

Real-Life Examples of Beam Angles

Following is a table describing appropriate real-life situations for different beam angles.

Beam AngleResidential BuildingCommercial Building
NarrowSmall KitchensStair CasesClosetsWarehouses Accent light for Merchandise Restaurant Tables
MediumDining AreaLiving RoomsClothing Stores General Ambient Lighting
WideOutdoor LightingLarge RoomsAmbient Lighting
Very WideLow Ceiling RoomsFlood LightingStreet Lamps

Conclusion

There you have a complete detailed guide on beam angle in lighting. Hopefully, this article has informed you of the basics, and you will use the information from this article when selecting lighting for your building.

Beam angle can be a daunting metric, but it’s a simple concept once you break it down. Use wide beam angles when you require a space to be well-lit, and use narrow beam angles to emphasize an area. Of course, don’t be afraid to use a combination of beam angels to achieve your ideal lighting environment.

However, if you find the beam angle selection process too tedious, you can rely on our experts at RC Lighting to help guide you. We offer several indoor and outdoor lighting solutions for residential and commercial buildings.

Illuminate Your Business’s Future Today with RC Lighting

RC Lighting has a fantastic selection of lighting solutions with a wide range of beam angles. Some of our most popular lighting solutions are Outdoor LED Step Lights, LED Underwater Fountain Lights, LED Recessed Lighting, and Commercial LED Track Lighting.

To get a customized quote for your lighting setup, Contact us Now! 

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