Eight Types of Lighting and Their Applications

Go to any lighting store and you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the number of options available. There are hundreds of fixture types out there to consider, which makes sense, because we use light in an endless variety of ways. General lighting, task lighting, accent lighting, security lighting, residential, commercial, industrial lighting, and much more.

It may be impossible to list every last fixture out there, but here we’ll take a look at eight of the most common and what they’re used for. Chances are, you’ve seen some of these fixtures recently:

Recessed and Surface-Mounted Downlights

Downlights are exactly how they sound – fixtures that emit light downward. Some downlights are surface-mounted, especially in commercial settings, but most are recessed inside of a ceiling. Recessed downlights are standard in residential properties, where they can be installed just about anywhere. Hallways, bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms – really, just about anywhere.

Recessed downlights are preferred for their low-profile aesthetic and zero glare. Because they sit up inside the ceiling, recessed downlights create gentle pools of illumination. If positioned properly, this can be used to great effect, like highlighting a standing display or helping people find an exit. Emergency LED lighting is a good fit for this last application, as it will remain on even when there’s an interruption in power. It’s also designed for recessed lighting fixtures, too, so it can double as an appearance-boosting fixture during normal operation.

Wall Pack Lighting

You’ll normally see wall pack lighting outside, where it’s mounted to building facades, poles or under overhangs. You may find it in large indoor spaces, too, such as warehouses and distribution centers.

Wall pack lighting is all about night-time visibility and is placed in areas where additional safety and illumination is needed. For this reason, wall pack lamps are aimed at sidewalks, paths, along streets, and other high traffic spots.

Given their exposure to the elements and potential vandals, wall packs are built to last. Most are made with a cast aluminum housing, which is heat and corrosion-resistant, and a polycarbonate lens that resists impact while providing excellent optics.

Parking Lot and Street Lighting

Parking lot and street lighting fixtures are designed to be pole-mounted and suspended off the ground, sometimes at heights in excess of 20 feet. Some parking lot and street fixtures are referred to as cobra heads. This has to do with their oblong shape, which does look vaguely like a snake’s head. From ground-level, you won’t see that, of course. Instead, you’ll see the intense illumination that these fixtures are known for.

In recent years, many cities have made the switch to LED light bulbs for their street lighting needs. That’s because LED sources produce high quality illumination that’s easy on the eyes. LED lighting emits wavelengths similar to natural daylight, so they score well on the color rendering index (CRI). Compared to metal halides and high-pressure sodium fixtures, LEDs are far better at rendering color properly, which benefits night-time visibility.

High and Low Bay Lighting

Bay lighting products are always found in commercial and industrial settings, where their unmatched output is excellent for a large indoor area.

Low bay fixtures are mounted to ceilings between 12 and 20 feet high, while high bay fixtures are designed for ceilings between 20 and 45 feet high. In both cases, the bay provides brilliant performance and enough light for warehouses, department stores, manufacturing facilities and the like.

Bay lights may be mounted directly to the ceiling or suspended from it, allowing facilities to establish optional emission patterns.

Panel and Troffer Lighting

Panel and troffer lighting is designed for commercial lighting purposes, and specifically in any building with a drop ceiling design. Dropped ceilings are ubiquitous in office buildings, so you’ll most often find panels and troffers there.

Panels offer edge-to-edge lighting that can be easily dropped into the ceiling, while troffers have a convex, trapezoidal shape. The lamp sits up inside the troffer, so the emission patterns are slightly different between panels and troffers, though they work in the same applications. Panels provide a wider coverage area while troffers tend to be a bit more efficient.

In offices, fluorescent lamps have long been the first choice in lighting technology. Fluorescent light, though, has a limited emission range that can leave people feeling uncomfortable. A fluorescent bulb also contains a small amount of mercury, so if it breaks, it could be a health hazard to anyone nearby. LED panels and troffers are emerging as a safer, more energy efficient source of illumination.

Security Lighting

Security lighting is designed to operate from dusk to dawn, providing excellent night-time visibility exactly when it’s needed most.

Floodlights are the frontline option in security applications, as they’re designed to throw a lot of illumination over a larger area. A good spot for a security light is over a garage door, or any exterior door, really. Security lighting is also a popular addition to commercial properties which typically have surveillance cameras in place as well.

What gives security lighting its dusk-to-dawn capabilities is the presence of a photocell. Photocells detect the presence (or absence) of sunlight, switching the power on or off in response. That way there’s no wasted light.

Task and Accent Lighting

There are a ton of fixtures designed for task and accent lighting purposes. It’s not the fixture design that defines task and accent lighting in this case, but the application. Spotlights, track lighting, wall sconces, chandeliers, pendants, and even under-cabinet lighting can all meet the definition of task and accent lighting in some instances.

Task lighting refers to any light that facilitates a process or points out something of interest. For example, a common location for task lighting is over a workbench, inspection area, or a changing room.

Accent fixtures use lighting for aesthetic and environment-building effects. They’re available in a range of colors and color temperature options, so they can be used artistically. You may see them built into a set of stairs, for example, or into a dramatic light feature.

We’ve Got the Whole Lighting Spectrum Covered

There’s a lot of lighting out there, clearly. Sorting through all of it can be a daunting task because it’s not just about the fixture, but how it’s going to be used.

Our lighting team has expert knowledge of lighting fixtures and their many applications. If you’re trying to find the best light for your project, we can help. Not only can we help you determine the right lighting source, we can also source the right lighting option for your needs.