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Beam Angle Explained

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Reflector bulbs are more than just floodlights and spotlights. Like any light bulb, they come in shapes and technologies to fit any application. Two cases in point are the PAR and the MR16. These common bulbs, whether halogen, CFL, or LED, are highly specified, containing engineered surfaces that control the beam of light to an angle so precise it takes seven different classifications just to explain their possible uses!

Very Narrow Spot (VNSP)

The very narrow spot is just like it sounds. At 7 degrees or less for an MR16 or 15 degrees or less for a PAR lamp, this reflector casts an intense, focused beam without a square inch of wasted light. Bulbs with a VNSP beam angle are often used to highlight a small statue or figure on display in a museum or in a jewelry store to make diamonds “pop.”

Narrow Spot (NSP)

landscape lights

Photo by RBerteig (flickr)

Like the very narrow spot, the narrow spot is most popular in commercial applications. At 8 to 15 degrees for an MR16 or 16 to 30 degrees for a PAR lamp, the reflector casts a beam slightly less focused than a VNSP. Look for bulbs with an NSP beam angle in retail settings highlighting a special or sale item or in landscape bullets illuminating a sign or garden feature.

Spot (SP)

The spot, though primarily used in commercial applications, also shows up in homes from time to time. At 16 to 22 degrees for an MR16 or 31 to 60 degrees for a PAR lamp, the reflector casts a medium-sized beam. Bulbs with an SP beam angle are used in stores to highlight a special or sale area or outdoors to illuminate an architectural feature.

Narrow Flood (NFL)

Fireplace Spot Light

Photo by ell brown (flickr)

Businesses and homeowners alike find uses for the narrow flood. At 23 to 32 degrees for an MR16 or 61 to 90 degrees for a PAR lamp, this reflector casts a medium-wide beam. Stores use an NFL beam angle to highlight a display table, while homes might use this bulb in recessed eyeball lights to illuminate a painting over a fireplace mantle.

Flood (FL)

This true “floodlight” has wide variety of applications. At 36 to 45 degrees for an MR16 or 91 to 120 degrees for a PAR lamp, the reflector casts a wide beam. Bulbs with an FL beam angle can be seen in everything from pendant lights in coffee shops to recessed lights in living rooms.

Wide Flood (WFL)

Need a lot of light? There are worse options than the wide flood. At 46 to 59 degrees for an MR16 or 121 to 160 degrees for a PAR lamp, the wide flood has a dispersed beam to cover a large area. Bulbs with a WFL beam angle are common in many general illumination applications from motion-sensing lights above garage doors to recessed cans in auditoriums and movie theaters.

Very Wide Flood (VWFL)

recessed lights

Photo by mccun934 (flickr)

The very wide flood finds its way into specialty applications, more often than not. At over 60 degrees for an MR16 or over 160 degrees for a PAR lamp, this reflector casts an extremely wide beam. Bulbs with a VWFL beam angle are used to illuminate without highlighting any particular object or area. They’re good options for outdoor flood lighting and low-ceiling recessed lights.

Keep in mind these designations vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some brands, like Ushio, throw them out altogether for their simpler system of “narrow,” “medium,” and “wide.” Also note that just because a bulb may have a commercial application, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it in your home. Use reflectors to make your walls a canvas for your lighting ideas, and be sure to share those ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or Pinterest!

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Benjamin is a writer for 1000Bulbs.com.

  • C GAVIN ROBERSON

    Thank you for making this excellent knowledge available.