Image showing light rays in relation to nits vs lumens comparison.

Nits vs Lumens: Comparison & Applications in Displays

Nits and lumens are two different light metrics used today. Both are applied in consumer technology and household products. However, is there a difference between the two terms? In this nits vs lumens comparison article, we’ll talk about the differences in meaning and application of each light measurement. Moreover, we’ll also cover other light measurements towards the end of this article. 

Nits vs Lumens: Quick Comparison

Nits vs Lumens (Source: Compare Displays)

Overall, nits and lumens are used in different concepts. Lumens is not the appropriate term to use for display brightness of LED displays. Nit is the more appropriate term instead of lumens. On the other hand, nit is not the proper term to use if we’re talking about the brightness of a light bulb or a lamp. For this context, we should use lumens. These contextual differences are crucial to accurately using them in the proper context.

Nits are measured using the light intensity (candela) as it hits the area (square meter). Lumens, on the other hand, is not measured relative to the area. Rather, we look at the light’s pure brightness. 

Here are some important differences you need to take note of:

  • Application: Nit is more appropriate for when talking about displays and screens. If you’re looking for a new TV, laptop, or computer monitor, nits best describes the brightness you need for the best experience. Lumens is more appropriate if you’re determining how much lighting is needed for your house, office, or any place. The number of lumens will determine how well-lit specific areas are, specifically for areas that require adequate lighting, such as home offices or study areas.
  • Scientific measurement: Lumens is the value of brightness as it comes from the light source. If you check the image above, lumens are depicted as the light coming directly from the sun. On the other hand, nits is the value of brightness after it has already made contact with a surface. In the image above, sunlight reflected from the moon is an example of nits.
  • Technical measurement: When measuring nits, we’re looking at the light on the screen. We assess this light based on the perception of our eyes. Lumens is measuring light that’s coming directly from the source. So if we relate it to a monitor screen, lumens are the light coming from the individual LED chips in an LED monitor.

Defining Nits

Nits (or nit or nits brightness) are used in consumer technology like smartphones or LED televisions. As long as the device has a screen, it is the ultimate measure of a display’s brightness. For example, a smartphone with 300 nits may not be excellent outdoors, and a smartphone with 500 nits display may perform better under direct sunlight. 

If a display has low nits, it doesn’t emit much light but is still visible and clear to the naked eye. However, stronger light sources like the sun can outpower a display with low nits. That’s why nit is an important number that you should consider when buying a display. LCDs and LEDs have different nits. You should also take note that higher nits are better. It all depends on the use case.

Applications of Nits

Nits have a lot of applications in display technology. Anything tech-related that features a display uses nits to describe the brightness of the screen and its overall impact on the end user. Here are some of the applications of nits in the industry:

  • Outdoor Displays: Displays used for outdoor signage, billboards, and digital advertising often require high brightness levels to remain visible in direct sunlight. You should be aiming for 3,000 to 8,000 nits for outdoor displays. If the LED billboard or signage will be in direct sunlight during the day, higher NITS is important. Hence, the location of the display is also a factor you need to consider when choosing a nit level.
  • Consumer Electronics: If you find yourself looking for smartphones, tablets, or laptops, knowing the nit is important. A high nit value means a brighter display. If you’re fond of working or studying outdoors, like under the shade of a tree or in parks, investing in higher nit devices is ideal. Aim for a device that can go as high as 1,000 nits to get optimal brightness. But if you’re mostly indoors, you can choose a device with at least 500 nits.
  • Professional Monitors: Similar to consumer electronics, nits are important in professional and gaming monitors. Professional editors and graphic designers need optimal nit values for color-critical tasks. Monitors with higher nits can produce better color output. That’s why investing in high-quality monitors with high nits is ideal for professionals whose job requires accurate colors. For gamers, higher nit enables them to fully enjoy the quality of the game’s visuals and graphics.
  • Televisions: Nits are also used to measure the brightness of LED, OLED, and QLED TVs. High nit values are desirable for TVs used in living rooms or other spaces with ambient lighting, as they ensure vibrant colors and crisp images even in bright conditions.

Defining Lumens

Lumens is the measure of visible light from the source. It is the metric we use to measure how bright light is when coming from the source, not what the eye perceives it to be. We use lumens specifically for light bulbs and lamps. A higher lumen in a light bulb means that it emits more light and produces a brighter light output.

Application of Lumens

Lumens, as a unit of measurement for luminous flux, are applied for multiple uses. However, it’s more common for lighting products.

  • Outdoor Lighting: Lumen value is important for outdoor lighting. The time and position of the light source must be carefully studied to determine how bright the light should be. For example, streetlights don’t need high lumen values at night so that they won’t be too bright for the human eye. Having the optimal lumen output is required for outdoor lighting to provide enough light at night.
  • Vehicle Lighting: Cars need to have enough lumens for optimal lighting at night time. The lights must have enough lumens to improve visibility at night or in low-light conditions caused by heavy rains and snow.
  • Residential lighting: Knowing the right lumen value can help you decide what kind of light you need for a particular area in your house.
  • Light Bulbs and Lamps: When you buy light bulbs in the hardware supply store, you’ll see the lumen output in the product information sheet. However, some buyers use wattage as the basis for the lighting output. Take note that higher lumens also mean higher wattage. But if you want to be more specific, referring to lumen is ideal.  
  • Stage Lighting: Lumens are very important in theaters, concert venues, and entertainment spaces because a large area is needed for lighting. These facilities must have enough lumens from lighting products to provide the best lighting during performances.
  • Indoor Lighting: Lumens play a great role in indoor lighting. Indoor light doesn’t need to have high lumens, especially if it’s just a small room. However, higher lumen output may be needed for large areas like function halls, gymnasiums, or auditoriums. Aside from lumen values, you must also determine how many lights you need for the room. For instance, if the room needs to have five light bulbs, you need to adapt the lumen value of the light bulb so that it will not be too bright or dim. Different areas may require different levels of brightness depending on the intended use and preferences of occupants.
  • Overhead projectors: Schools and companies use projectors as tools for presentations. The main problem with projectors is the clarity of the image shown on the screen. This happens because the project doesn’t have enough lumens and is easily outpowered by external light sources. When buying projectors, consider getting higher lumens so that images and text are crisp and clear.

Why Is Brightness Important?

The brightness of the display is crucial in your buying decision. Optimally, you’d want a bright and clear display, right? Whether you’re looking for a display for personal use (e.g., televisions and monitors) or for business use (e.g., LED panels and boards), knowing the right brightness is important so the display can be used as intended. Here are some things you might want to consider in this regard:

  • The display must be energy-efficient. Modern-day displays such as smart TVs and top-tier monitors offer bright output while maintaining optimal energy efficiency. Some even have automatic brightness adjustments and color adjustments to adapt the screen’s color to the room’s ambient lighting.
  • The display’s brightness must be adjustable. Users must have the ability to change the display’s brightness so that it remains comfortable to the human eye. During the day, the LED display must have optimal brightness to see content even in broad daylight. At night, users must be able to adjust it to a low level while maintaining picture quality.
  • The display must still be visible at various brightness levels: Low-quality monitors and displays often diminish visibility and readability when the brightness is low. This is probably due to the low-quality materials used in manufacturing the display. Hence, when choosing an LED display, you should pick only manufacturers that use top-notch materials.
  • The display must be color-accurate: Aside from visibility problems, some displays at low brightness sometimes produce inaccurate colors. Bright reds don’t seem to appear like dark reds. The best display to pick must still yield the best colors even at different brightness levels

Lumens to Nits Calculator & Conversion

When converting lumens to nits, you must be equipped with the right formulas. As we all know, nits can be expressed scientifically as cd/m² or the light intensity per surface area or square meter. Hence, the relative area is crucial in the lumens to nits calculator and conversion process. To translate, the lumens to nits conversion can be expressed below as:

Nits = Lumens or cd/m² = lm/m²

How To Use the Formula

  1. Get the display’s lumen value: You can get the lumen value by checking the product sheet or user manual. This is crucial because lumens is the numerator in the equation.
  2. Measure the area where you’ll place the unit: Once you have the lumen value, measure the area of the room or place where you’ll place the light.
  3. Substitute the values to the formula: Substitute the lumen value in the numerator and the area of the place in the denominator. The quotient should be equivalent to the nit value.

Sample Computation for Lighting

Suppose you have a light bulb that emits 5,000 lumens. You intend to put it in a place that measures 200 square meters. How many nits brightness does the light bulb have?

Nits = 5,000 lm / 200m²

Nits = 25 nits or 25 cd/m²

INTERPRETATION: For a room with a surface area of 200 square meters, 25 nits is too low and does not make the place a well-lit environment.

Since 25 nits is too low for a 200 square meter area, you need to pick an LED bulb with more powerful lighting. Here’s a quick guide:

  • At least ten and a maximum of 30 lumens per square meter for decorative purposes.
  • At least 100 and a maximum of 200 lumens per square meter for functional areas like high-traffic areas.
  • At least 300 and a maximum of 400 lumens per square meter for productive areas like offices and classrooms.

With that guide, let’s assess a 200 square meter room. Let’s assume that the area is a basketball court. Hence, we need 60,000 to 80,000 lumens to have a well-lit area. How many nits does 80,000 lumens translate to?

Nits = 80,000 lm / 200m²

Nits = 400 nits

A standard 18-watt LED bulb emits 1,200 to 1,300 lumens. Let’s assume the maximum lumen output for illustration. If a 200 square meter area requires 80,000 lumens, you need 67 18-watt LED bulbs to meet the lumen requirements. However, you can reduce that by getting more powerful lighting products.

Nit Value Table

We’ve compiled a range of values to compare ideal nit values.

Nit ValueDescription & Brightness Level
70 and belowVery dim. It’s not suitable for reading or lighting. This nit level is ideal only for devices such as e-readers.
71 to 150Dim. It’s not suitable for reading or lighting. This nit level is ideal for devices that use displays but don’t need ultimate brightness.
151 to 300Moderate brightness: It can be suitable for reading and lightning, but it’s not bright enough for long-term reading. This nit level is good for smartphones but too dim for outside use.
301 to 700Optimal brightness: It is the best lighting configuration for reading and lighting. It provides visual comfort for reading or working at prolonged hours. This nit level is perfect for smart devices. It can be used outdoors as well.
701 to 1,000High brightness: It is the best lighting configuration for outdoor displays. However, it’s not ideal for indoor use because it can be too bright for the eyes. Smart devices can also benefit at this nit level, especially if they are expected to be used outdoors (e.g., smartwatches).
>1,000Ultimate brightness: Devices with more than 1,000 nits are solely intended for outdoor use as they can emit the best brightness even under broad daylight. Having 1,000 nits in a smart device is also advantageous but it can consume more battery and generate a lot of heat.

The table above can help you choose the best nit value for your needs. Feel free to take a screenshot of it for your quick reference.

When using the table above, consider the distance of the light source from the user. Here are some guidelines:

  • If we’re talking about monitor brightness, the distance should be 3ft to 4ft away. Given that recommended distance, a lower nit value may be required to prevent retina burning or eye fatigue. Aim around 100 to 150 nits for devices close to the user.
  • Distance varies from the ceiling if we’re talking about lighting areas such as rooms or houses. Ideally, you should aim for at least 300 nits for optimal brightness and reading comfort. However, going less than 300 nits is ideal if the room is small.
  • You should also consider the size of the room when deciding the nits needed.

Nits vs. Lumens vs Other Measures

Nits and lumens are two luminous flux metrics discussed thoroughly in this article. However, we haven’t touched on the other concepts that might cause confusion, so let’s discuss them below.

Candelas

Candela or cd is the luminous intensity of light per unit solid angle. If compared to nits, candelas and nits are just the same. Both of these measurements are measured relative to the area or square meter. Imagine a cone. Think of the cone as light rays. As you go to the wider side of the cone, it expands. That’s similar to how we look at candela.

The narrower portion of the cone is coming from the light source. And since light travels at a straight line, it expands outwards based on the angle from its origination in the light source. Therefore, the angle at which light travels and expands is the candela.

Candela (Source: Auer Signal)

The image above perfectly shows the concept of candela. Pay attention to the cone-shaped blue areas. These are the perfect illustration of candelas. It’s difficult to see candela in real life but the image above accurately depicts what candelas look like. The bulb on the left has a wider coverage than the one on the right. Hence, we can say that a wider coverage can mean a more intense light.

Luminance

Luminance is the measure of light traveling and reflecting from a surface. It is computed by dividing luminous flux by the following:

  • infinitesimal area of the source;
  • infinitesimal solid angle, and;
  • angle between the normal surface and the specified direction.

Simply put, luminance is also candelas per square meter. However, when tackling the concept of luminance, you need to understand that we’re talking about the visibility of reflected light. This means that the amount of light reflected will vary on the surface. A surface with little reflective properties may not reflect light properly, which would then cause lower luminance as we see it. A surface with high reflective properties will reflect light excellently and enable use to see how bright the light is.

Take a mirror for example. It has excellent reflective properties that enable light to fully reflect or bounce from its surface. If light can be reflected more effectively, it fully shows the luminance of the light. Otherwise, surfaces that are opaque or uneven scatter light, which may show its true luminance.

Lux

Lux or lx is a measure for illuminance per unit area. You also call it illuminance because it is a measure of light intensity. Lux is one lumen per square meter in photometry. The use of lux is very technical and not common in consumer technology. You’ll probably hear more about lux in photometry and radiometry. 

In simpler terms, lux can be described as the amount of the light that can illuminate an area. Get a flashlight for instance and flash it to a white surface. Notice the area where there is light regardless of how intense the light is. That lit area is how we look at lux. If a large or wide area needs to be lit up, you need a higher flux.

In a technical manner, one unit of lux is equivalent to one unit of lumen per square meter, which is similar to our sample calculation above.

Conclusion

In our comparison of nits vs. lumens, we discovered that they have different applications in measuring light. Nits are more often used in displays, while lumens are for light bulbs. The net value of consumer tech products is crucial to the buyer’s decision. It is also used in businesses for LED advertisement displays and signages. Lumens are vital in indoor and outdoor lighting decisions. Understanding these units helps individuals and professionals choose the right lighting and display solutions for various applications, ensuring optimal visibility, clarity, and safety.

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