Comparison of landscape spotlight and flood light
August 18, 2023 9 min read

Spotlights Vs. Floodlights: The Difference Explained

What is a spotlight? What is a flood light? Knowing the characteristics of these two lights is important when choosing light bulbs and fixtures for landscape, off-road, and interior lighting applications. The first step to understanding the difference between spotlights and flood lights is knowing what a beam angle is.

What is a beam angle?

A beam angle is a measurement of the angles that are formed between a cone of light’s brightest point (the center) and the points on both sides of the center where the light’s intensity is 50 percent as bright. Having a larger beam angle means the light will spread over a larger area than if it had a small beam angle. In the photo below, you can see how the width of the beam increases as the angle gets larger.


From left to right: landscape spotlight showing 15°, 30°, and 60° beam angles

Bulbs and fixtures might not always be labeled as spot or flood specifically, but their beam angles define them as such.  Another way to tell the difference between a flood beam and a spot beam is by the light's NEMA light beam type. The NEMA classification measures the horizontal and vertical beam intensity area.  This is designated by two numbers: Horizontal Type # X Vertical Type #. This classification measures 10% of the maximum horizontal and vertical beam intensity area.

What is a flood light?

Any light with a beam angle of around 45 degrees and above is considered a flood light. Flood lights are used to light up larger areas with a wide light spread. Flood light fixtures are commonly used for landscape lighting, parking lots, tree uplighting, architectural lighting, work lighting, off-road lighting, and other applications that require a wide light distribution.

What is a spotlight?

Spotlights have a max beam angle of around 30 degrees. These lights are used to shine a focused beam of light to highlight smaller objects or details. Spotlights are often found in gardens, theaters, above garage doors, on police and search and rescue vehicles, or in other applications where focused light is needed.

Sometimes flood and spot bulbs may look the same but emit completely different beam patterns. For example, the photo to the right shows a PAR30 bulb that is available with a spot and flood beam pattern. The bulb sizes are the same despite emitting different beam angles. This means that you can swap out flood beam or spot beam bulbs into any fixture that is compatible with that light bulb size.

Landscape Spotlights and Flood Lights

The most common light fixtures you may think of when thinking about spotlights and flood lights are landscape fixtures. Landscape spotlights are used in outdoor lighting to highlight specific features like trees, shrubs, sculptures, or architectural elements. They emit a concentrated beam of light, allowing for precise illumination and a dramatic effect. On the other hand, landscape flood lights are used to light larger areas such as yards, building facades, or signage. They offer a wide beam of light, which also can help enhance security. Both outdoor spotlight and flood lights are great additions to low-voltage landscape lighting systems.

 

Any fixture with a round head is considered a spotlight fixture, while any fixture that is rectangular or oval is considered a flood light fixture. Therefore, “spotlight” can refer to the beam angle of a bulb as well as the fixture style. The same is true for flood lights.

A typical landscape spotlight fixture
A typical landscape flood light fixture

Off-Roading Spot and Flood Beams

LED light bars and light pods can emit flood, spot, or combination beams. If you’re off-roading and need to see far down the path ahead of you, a light bar or pod light with a spot beam will project a longer, narrow beam of illumination. A flood beam would allow you to see a wider area at a closer distance. Combination beams combine both spot and flood beams to see wide areas from far away. For help determining which beam angle is best for your off-road needs, click here.

From left to right: LED light bar using flood, spot, and spot/flood combo beams

Spot Beam and Flood Beam Patterns for Interior Spaces

When choosing the beam angle of light bulbs for your home, it is important to think about the everyday function that will be performed in that space. For example, a bulb with a spot beam would be the best choice for installing track lights in your kitchen since it will shine light directly over the sink or stove where you need it. Or, if you have a large gathering space, it might be best to install bulbs with a wider beam pattern that will emit an even spread of light around the room.

GU10 LED spotlight bulbs with 30­° beam angles

In the end, it’s up to you to choose which light is best for your application. Just keep in mind what large and small beam patterns are designed to do, and you should have no problem creating the look you’re aiming for.

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