What's the difference between CRI, CQS, & IES TM-30 and why is it important?
Determining Lighting Source Quality
Whether you’re an artistic person or not, our eyes are sensitive to light quality and color. A red shirt lit directly with noontime sunlight will render much different than if lit under a fluorescent bathroom light. You will ask, why does this color look so different under different lights (Different as in: unsaturated, color shifted, dull, untrue, etc)?
The question is, “How do we determine the right light quality that render true colors?” After all, the benefit of light is not the light itself, but the objects and places it illuminates.
Typically, the standard light source that we compare others to is our special star, the sun.
Some lights render colors better than others compared to the sun. There are several different methods to test the quality of light:
- Color Rendering Index (CRI)
- IES TM-30-20 (previously TM-30-15)
- Color Quality Scale (CQS)
But First… What is Color Temperature (CCT)?
It should be mentioned that the color rendering is different than color temperature. Here is a brief summary of what color temperature is:
In the lighting industry, correlated color temperature (CCT) refers to the color appearance of light emitted. Not all white lighting is equal, as you well know. When some metals are heated to a particular temperature, measured in degrees Kelvin (K), they appear to give off different colors of white. -ie. 3000k warm white or 6500k cool white). For instance, a white light can have a warmer color which looks yellowish, amber or orange to our eyes, or it can be a cool white which will look bright white or even slightly bluish white.
With respect to sunlight, noontime sun would be cooler than the color temperature of the sun during sunset. As you read on about what CRI is, you’ll see the relevance of knowing color temperature as well.
To learn more about color temperature, visit our page about Tunable White LED strips
What is CRI?
Color Rendering Index, commonly referred to as CRI, is a method we can use to measure how color looks to the human eyes, depending on the light source as compared to the sun. The CRI provides a scale of values up to 100, with 100 being the best color rendering light quality and a value below zero representing very poor color rendering. The higher the CRI value (also called CIE Ra), the more accurate the colors will be.
When a light has a CRI of 100, it means that there is no difference in color rendition between the light and the reference light (the sun). Likewise, a CRI of 75 means that the light bulb renders a 75% replication of the visible colors that the sun shows, given that both lights have the same color temperature. That means that if the reference light is the light of the sun during sunset time, the light source being measured must also have the same color temperature for the most accurate comparison to measure CRI.
Basically, this CRI value helps us determine how well the light source can reveal colors to the human eyes.
When we talk about accurate color, it’s in reference to the colors seen under a chosen reference light, usually the natural light of the sun. A reference light could also be another light source, like halogen lighting. Light sources that have a CRI of 90% or higher let our eyes see excellent color rendering, but between 80-90% is also considered good lighting for color.
It should be noted that a CRI of 100 does not mean perfect lighting, nor are the colors perfectly accurate. The CRI value is an expression of how close the observed light is to the reference light. If the reference light doesn’t show good colors, then a CRI of 100 wouldn’t be preferred.
How is CRI Calculated?
The value of CRI for a light source is calculated by testing colors. The Commission Internationale de l’eclairage (CIE) established a scale of 8 CIE standard color samples for the CRI method. In rare cases, there are an additional 7 other colors that can be used, but only 8 are commonly used to measure CRI value. The test involves comparing the eight color samples under the light source and then comparing it to a reference light source, usually the sun. The average differences are then subtracted by 100 to get the CRI value. That is why light sources that show more “real” colors have higher CRI values, the average differences are smaller between the light source and the reference light.
Flexfire’s test results of CRI with 15 color comparisons. Normally, CRI is compared with only 8.
The first problem with the CRI method of measuring light quality is that it only uses eight color samples out of the many that are possible. Secondly, these color samples are pastels, not saturated colors. Lastly, light sources can only be compared when they have equal CCT. Is there a better way? YES!
This method was established in 1937 and last reviewed in 1974. With all the new capabilities in lighting technology, a new method for measuring light quality was long overdue; hence, the development of the IES Method explained below.
What is IES TM-30-15?
IES stands for Illuminating Engineering Society, which is the organization that developed the new and improved method called TM-30-20 (Previously TM-30-15) for evaluating light source rendition. Color science research backs this new method and provides an even more accurate measurement of color rendering.
Currently, TM-30-20 is used in conjunction with CRI, however it will eventually replace the CRI metric. The TM-30-15 method uses a Fidelity Index, Gamut index and Color Vector Graphic to evaluate the light source color rendition. The difference between the Fidelity Index of CRI and TM-30-15 method is that the latter uses 99 color evaluation samples (CES), instead of just 8.
Fidelity Index (Rf)
The Fidelity Index is used to measure the light source’s closeness to a reference source, just like described in the CRI method. The scale using the TM-30-20 method is from 0 to 100 and uses 99 color evaluation samples. The use of 99 color samples versus just eight color samples allow a more statistically representative and reliable metric in showing how accurate the colors will be shown. The 99 colors in the TM-30-20 Fidelity Index were chosen from real world objects.
They have been further categorized into 7 groups:
- Skin color
- Printed material
- Color systems
This categorization is beneficial to LED lights because the testing can be application specific. If an architect is looking to show certain paint colors, he/she would mainly look at the paint colors category of the Fidelity Index.
Fidelity Index (Rf) Compares 99 Color Samples
Gamut Index (Rg)
The definition of the word ‘gamut’ is “the complete range or scope of something.” The Gamut Index, in lighting, is used to measure the increase or decrease in Chroma of a light source. Chroma is the quality of the color’s purity, intensity, or saturation. For instance, the color of a red fire engine is a high-Chroma red and a neutral gray is a low-Chroma color. An Rg score that is around 100 means that the light source can produce colors with a similar level of saturation as the sun at daylight (approx. 5600K/6500K). When looking at LEDs, to get an acceptable color quality, the score should be between 80 and 120; higher scores represent higher levels of saturation (the intensity of color). When the score is above 100, the color will be more intense than it’s natural color in the sunlight.
Color Vector Graphic
This form of measurement reveals how certain colors appear with the observed light, whether the colors show up dull or more vivid. The Color Vector Graphic is an intuitive tool that shows which colors will be more or less saturated, or just right through a visual representation. Instead of through numbers, this graph shows you the changes of hue and saturation which is a great complement to the Fidelity and Gamut Indices.
Since the Fidelity and Gamut Indices are based on averages, you’re not able to tell which colors are saturated. This is where the Color Vector Graphic is important to understand if you have an application specific need for the LED lighting. The Color Vector Graphic used along with the values of Rf and Rg will help provide a more precise idea of how true colors will be with that light source.
The graphs below are Color Vector Graphics; the following will help you interpret the graphs:
1. The black circle represents the reference light (the sun) and the red shape is representative of the test light.
2. The black circle is made up of the 16 hue bins (colors put into categories) of the reference light.
3. Any red line inside of the black circle means that those hues are desaturated by the observed light when compared to the reference light.
4. Any of the red line outside of the black circle means that those hues are oversaturated by the observed light when compared to the reference light.
5. When the red line overlaps the black line, the hues rendered are the same for both lights being compared.
6. Perfect overlap of the red and black lines means that there is no difference in color rendering between the two light sources.
Quick Overview of Color Vector Graphics:
- Outward shift represents more saturated colors
- Inward shift represents duller colors
- Sideways shifts (the whole red shape shifts) mean a hue shift
- Lastly, no shift means that the colors are not distorted
Flexfire LEDs High CRI Render Series 3000k Test
CQS - Color Quality Scale
Another method we use to determine and analyze lighting quality is called CQS, or the Color Quality Scale. This was also created from the need to find an alternative to the unsaturated CRI colors. Developed by NIST, there are 15 highly saturated colors that are used to compare chromatic discrimination, human preference, and color rendering (the method evaluates 15 colors to more accurately span the range of normal object colors).
Summary of terms
Below is a quick recap of what you can tell with these lighting measurement tools
CRI - Color Rendering Index – How closely the observed light can render colors like the sun, using 8 color samples.
Fidelity Index (TM-30) – How closely the observed light can render colors like the sun, using 99 color samples.
Gamut Index (TM-30) – How saturated or desaturated colors are (aka how intense the colors are).
Color vector Graphic (TM-30) – Which colors are saturated/desaturated and whether there is a hue shift in any of the 16 color bins.
CQS - Color Quality Scale – An alternative to the unsaturated CRI measurement colors. There are 15 highly saturated colors that are used to compare chromatic discrimination, human preference, and color rendering.
Why is Knowing CRI and TM-30-20 Important?
Understanding how CRI and TM-30-20 renders color will help you choose the best lighting product for your project. If you have a photo studio, art gallery, beautifully colored kitchen backsplash, or retail product display, you may want light that will be as close to natural lighting as possible. Now, you know that the higher the CRI percent is, the more accurate the colors will look to the human eyes. When it is important that artificial light renders color accurately, CRI and TM-30 are good measurement methods to rely on. A couple of examples where color rendering would be important are in manufacturing companies or fashion design offices where people need to compare colors. You can find more information about TM-30-15 here.
Below are a few examples of how you can use these new TM-30-20 metrics:
When Rf and Rg are both below 70, you can conclude that the lighting will be fairly poor.If you want dim lighting and color vividness isn’t necessary, this lighting would be acceptable.
When Rf is below 80, but has a high Rg it indicates that the lighting may not be perfect, but you will get some vivid colors.
This is good for grocery stores. A hue shift in the orange hue bin, as shown on a color vector graphic, allowing a more orange color where carrots are displayed will make the carrots look more appealing to customers. The same thing goes for lighting over a tomato or apple display; the hue shift should be towards the outside of the black circle which will have the red tones more saturated. This will enhance the appearance of these products, in respect to their colors.
Retail stores can use this knowledge as well. If clothes are grouped by color, the lighting can be used to enhance those colors so that they appear more blue/red/orange/yellow/etc.
When Rf is above 80, but has a low Rg it indicates that some colors are desaturated.
Using a color vector graphic, a photographer may use lighting that desaturates red tones when taking portrait photos.
A perfectly overlapping Color Vector Graphic indicates a light that perfectly matches the reference light.
This should be used when you are creating a design that needs to mimic natural sunlight.
How Does Flexfire LEDs Fit in?
Whether you are remodeling your own home, a professional interior designer, a photographer, an artist, or anyone else who works with colors, LED lights are one of the best tools for design.
Our ultra High CRI lighting LED strip lights, all of which have a CRI rating of 93 - 98+, high Rf and Rg. We use premium phosphor mixes and high quality diodes to not only make consistant color temperatures and high brightness LED strips, but phenominal CRI outputs. These lights are perfect for the photographer who needs bright and natural looking light for the studio; for the retail store looking to display the various clothing colors available; and any other commercial or residential projects that place a high importance on color rendering by light.
Not only will choosing the right CRI for your light strips help you create the look you want, but you are also cutting down on energy use with LED light strips. If you are still hesitant about choosing one on your own, we have reps available to help you decide on the best high-CRI LED light strip for whatever your project may be.
We can also customize some of the above characteristics for your specialty application. We are available to assist you throughout the design process to make sure you have the best LED lighting for your application.
Below is a chart comparison of our high CRI LED strip lights:
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