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Spotlights Vs. Floodlights: What’s the Difference?

What is a spotlight? What is a floodlight? Knowing the difference between the two is important for properly lighting any application. Before you can understand the difference, you must know what a beam pattern is. Beam angle or pattern 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.

what is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - beam pattern graphic

A larger beam angle means a wider spread of light across an area and vice versa with small beam angles. It might be easier to think of a beam in terms of width. To convert beam angle to beam width, use this formula: beam angle in degrees x 0.018 x distance from the bulb or fixture. The chart below shows beam width at different distances from the ceiling/mounting surface.

8′ 10′ 12′ 14′ 16′ 18′ 20′
10° 1.44′ wide 1.8′ wide 2.16′ wide 2.52′ wide 2.88′ wide 3.24′ wide 3.6′ wide
20° 2.88′ wide 3.6′ wide 4.32′ wide 5.04′ wide 5.76′ wide 6.48′ wide 7.2′ wide
40° 5.76′ wide 7.2′ wide 8.64′ wide 10.08′ wide 11.52′ wide 12.96′ wide 14.4′ wide
80° 11.52′ wide 14.4′ wide 17.28′ wide 20.16′ wide 23.04′ wide 25.92′ wide 28.8′ wide
120° 17.28′ wide 21.6′ wide 25.92′ wide 30.24′ wide 34.56′ wide 38.88′ wide 43.2′ wide
what is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - spot beams on wall
From left to right: LED landscape spotlight showing 15°, 30°, and 60° beam angles

While it depends on the angle and individual light retailers, small beams are often referred to as spot beams, and larger angles (usually anything above 90 degrees) are considered flood beams. Bulbs and fixtures might not always be labeled as spot or flood specifically, but their beam patterns define them as such. Floodlights and spotlights come in many different styles. Sometimes bulbs or fixtures may look the same but emit completely different beam patterns.

PAR and MR bulbs, for example, are just a couple of many bulbs that can be used for either flood or spot lighting. The photo below shows a PAR30 bulb that is available with a spot or flood beam pattern.

what is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - PAR30 bulbwhat is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - PAR30 bulb beams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fixtures, such as LED light bars and retrofit LED can lights may also look similar to one another while functioning as either spotlights or floodlights. Some light bars are even capable of emitting flood, spot, or combination beams. There are, however, certain fixtures that we imagine when we think of floodlights and spotlights.

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

A simple Google image search for floodlights will reveal hundreds of large square fixtures that are typically used for landscape lighting, parking lots, tree uplighting, architectural lighting, work lighting, and other applications that require wide light spread. These lights not only have flood beam patterns but are usually referred to as actual floodlight fixtures

what is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - LED flood lights

Spotlights are usually significantly smaller than floodlight fixtures and are designed for highlighting small areas. These lights are often found in gardens, theaters, above garage doors, on police and search and rescue vehicles, or other applications where focused light is needed.

led-ar111-spot-lamp-12w7-watt-mr16-dimmable-led-bulb-cob3-watt-led-landscape-spot-light-glux-series18w-color-changing-rgb-led-landscape-spotlight-mount-base

If you’re offroading and need to see far down the path ahead of you, a spotlight will project a longer, narrow beam of illumination. A flood beam would allow you to see a wider area at a closer distance.

what is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - beams on road
LED light bar with flood (left) and spot (right) beam patterns

A bulb with a spot beam pattern would also be the best choice if you’re installing track lights in your kitchen and need to highlight the sink or stove as it will shine exactly where you need it.

what is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - track lights
GU10 LED spotlight bulbs with 30­° beam angles.

If you want to illuminate the front of your house, you will need a floodlight because it can cover more surface area.

what is a spotlight - what is a floodlight - wall wash
LED floodlight fixture with a 120° beam angle

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.

 

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call us toll free at 866-590-3533. Our customer service and technical support teams are available from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. CDT Monday-Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT on Friday.