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LED, Fluorescent, and Halogen Lights: What Is the Difference?

LED vs. Fluorescent vs. Halogen Incandescent

LED vs. Fluorescent vs. Halogen Incandescent

Three Types of Light Bulbs

There are three major types of lighting solutions available for the general public. They are halogen incandescent, fluorescent, and LED lamps. Each one is unique and has its own advantages and disadvantages and this article will explore them in detail.

This article will give you the information to help you make an educated and well-informed decision to purchase your next type of lamp for your home or business.

Incandescent Light Bulb

Incandescent Light Bulb

Incandescent Lamps

Incandescent lamps were the first type of electrical lighting solution created in the early 1800s and popularized by Thomas Edison. This type of lamp creates light by superheating a filament wire inside the lamp until it glows by passing an electric current through it.

Because of its low production cost, compatibility with alternating and direct current, and simplicity of integration, this is the most widely used form of light in automotive, commercial, and residential lighting and is available in a wide assortment of sizes, output, and voltage ratings.

Typical incandescent lamps are filled with inert gas such as argon and nitrogen to reduce the evaporation of the filament wire due to the high heat. Halogen incandescent lamps use halogen elements such as iodine or bromine inside the lamp to create the halogen cycle when combined with the tungsten filament wire; this redeposits the evaporated material back onto the filament wire to improve its life span.

Because this type of light superheats a metal filament wire until it glows red hot to produce light, nearly all the electricity (~95%) used is converted to waste heat instead of light. In other words, incandescent lamps produce more heat than visible light output, so there is a lot of wasted energy.

In addition to the wasted energy, incandescent lamps typically have a short life span of about 750–1000 hours which may require frequent replacements for applications where the light is constantly on 24/7. Frequent operation of the light, such as turning on and off all the time, will eventually reduce the life of the lamp as well.

While these incandescent lamps may be inefficient, they are very simple and cheap to produce, which explains why there are so many on the market today. Due to their inefficiency, many governments around the world are beginning to implement "phase-out" regulations to ban the manufacturing, importation, and/or sale of incandescent lights in favor of more efficient forms of light such as compact fluorescent and LED lights.

Fluorescent Light Bulb

Fluorescent Light Bulb

Fluorescent Lamps

Next, we have fluorescent lamps, which are low-pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamps. These types of light use an electric current to stimulate the mercury vapor inside the lamp which produces UV (ultraviolet) light which then causes the phosphor material coating on the inside of the lamp to glow. The method of light production is known as fluorescence and is created when a specific material absorbs light or electromagnetic to produce light.

Fluorescent lamps are much more efficient at converting electricity into visible light than incandescent lamps and are also much more reliable, typically lasting up to 10,000 hours. These lights have a high efficacy (lumen output to watt power consumed) and can exceed 100 lumens per watt of power consumed compared to the lower efficacy of incandescent lamps which are closer to 16 lumens per watt.

Fluorescent lights require a starter to initially turn on the light; this is because the mercury vapor atoms need to be ionized to begin the process of fluorescence and ballast to maintain and regulate the power to keep it running. Unfortunately just like incandescent lamps, frequent on and off operation of the lamp will reduce its life span because these lamps require a "warm-up" time.

There is a choice of color available with fluorescent lamps because the amount and combination of phosphor material inside the lamp can be adjusted according to what correlated color temperature (CCT) is desired; this ranges from 2700K (warm white, typical incandescent lamp color) to 5000–6000K (natural daylight).

While fluorescent lights are much more ideal than incandescent lights in many ways such as output, energy consumption, and long-term savings, they are generally more expensive to produce. This is because of the external components and material required, and they are classified as hazardous waste thanks to the usage of poisonous mercury vapor.

These lights have to be properly disposed of when it is no longer used and is recommended to be thrown away separately from general waste. Fluorescent lamps also produce a small amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation which may be harmful to those who are sensitive. These lamps are also limited to the shape and size of the application because of the design.

LED Lamps

Last, but not least, there are LED lamps which stand for light-emitting diode. These lamps produce light by passing an electric current through a semi-conductor. LED lights are very desirable for applications that require a constant and reliable light source that can operate in undesirable conditions that include extreme cold weather and applications that have excessive vibrations.

LED lamps are very efficient at converting electricity into light, so they have a very high efficacy rate of over 90 lumens per watt of power consumed for an average quality LED bulb. The small and compact nature of LED diodes allows these to be used in a variety of locations and be integrated into existing fixtures without excessive modification required.

LED lights can also be controlled very precisely so they can be used for a wide variety of applications that have specific needs; color and output can be easily manipulated during production by simply changing the semiconductor material to change the color and using drivers to increase the output.

Unlike the previously mentioned lighting solutions, LED lamps are unaffected by frequent operation, such as turning on and off, and can last up to 50,000 hours or more. Some LED lights made in the 1970s and 80s are still around today and working.

There is also very little thermal radiation emitted from LEDs which makes them ideal for usage in heat-sensitive applications. These lamps are able to direct light in very focused areas which is ideal for specific area lighting and reduced glare. And since LED lights do not require a warm-up time, full brightness output is available within a millisecond of turning on the light.

However, the disadvantages do include the high initial price that will eventually be returned over time in the form of money saved in energy costs to operate. The voltage input is very temperamental as well since LED lights have a sensitive threshold to a minimum and maximum electrical input which may require a regulated power supply.

Other disadvantages include the need for a heat sink to dissipate the heat created from the electrical components and the direct light LEDs produce may not be ideal for applications that require a large coverage of light around the entire bulb.

Summary of Advantages and Disadvantages

Incandescent Lamps


  1. Cheap to manufacture
  2. Easy integration into many applications
  3. Wide variety of sizes, output, and styles available
  4. A plethora of replacements easily available


  1. Inefficient efficacy
  2. Most of the energy is converted to heat rather than light
  3. Short life span (~1000 hours)
  4. May become expensive to maintain due to replacements over time
  5. Dim light output
  6. No selection for colors
  7. Sensitive to vibrations/shock, weather, and excessive/frequent uses

Fluorescent Lamps


  1. High light output, bright
  2. High efficacy rate
  3. Color choices available from warm white to natural daylight to cool white
  4. Longer life span (~10,000 hours)
  5. Energy-efficient, low power consumption


  1. Relatively expensive due to materials and external components required
  2. Uses poisonous mercury; not eco-friendly
  3. Sensitive to vibrations/shock, weather, and excessive/frequent uses
  4. Emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  5. May flicker during operation and start-up
  6. Lamp shape and size affect output and quality of operation

LED Lamps


  1. The extremely high efficacy rate
  2. Very high light output
  3. Very low power consumption
  4. Large selection of color that includes the entire color spectrum including infrared and ultraviolet
  5. Instant light availability and brightness (~ 1 microsecond or less)
  6. Unaffected by extremely cold weather, vibrations, shock, and cycling operation.
  7. Very direct light output to light specific areas


  1. High initial price
  2. Voltage sensitivity
  3. Hard to mimic the light distribution that other forms of light produce; LEDs are direct focus lights
  4. Thermal dependency (requires effective cooling to prevent overheating of the LED lamp)

Lighting Choice Poll!

HID Bulb (Automotive)

HID Bulb (Automotive)

Honorable Mention: HID Lamps

HIDs stands for high-intensity discharge lamps and is a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp that produces light output by creating an arc of electricity between two tungsten material electrodes. The arc of electricity ignites the metal salts inside creating plasma, which is the light source. Other variants include metal-halide, sodium-vapor, xenon, and mercury-vapor lamps.

HID lamps are typically not available to the general public and are not as common as incandescent, fluorescent, and LED lamps in general lighting, which is why they are not mentioned above. However, HID lamps are still available in many other applications which is why they should be mentioned in this article. These lamps are typically much brighter than the above-mentioned list but are more specialized in their uses.

These lamps are typically used in applications that require a huge amount of light that needs to be spread across a large area such as gymnasiums, warehouses, stadiums, and more. HID lamps are also common on many automobiles for headlights as well as aircraft and underwater diving. Unfortunately, HID lamps produce large amounts of UV light and require UV-blockers to limit exposure to humans and animals, and can be costly to produce a reliable and efficient system.

Choosing the Best Light for Your Needs

There are advantages and disadvantages to the three light sources mentioned in this article; it is entirely up to the owner of the application to determine which one would suit their needs the most.

For example, a household owner who wants to replace that one basement light that they never really turn on wouldn't benefit from an expensive LED bulb, a regular incandescent or fluorescent bulb replacement would suffice. However, the owner of a major warehouse that operates 24/7 would greatly benefit from upgrading all their costly incandescent or fluorescent lamps to all LED.

There are many variables to consider before purchasing a specific lamp to determine if it will be beneficial in the long run.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


R D U on November 04, 2018:


Brainy type on February 06, 2017:

It's: halojen. Just know that j is the same as Jisele and g is the same as grated cheese.

Leslie on September 01, 2016:


Jhenny on February 04, 2015:

Ahmed,Thank you for your kind words. You probably liked the red color while you were pgrneant because red can stimulate appetite! And you are correct about being careful when pairing green with red. If they are not muted (meaning mixed with their opposite, and in this case, each other), they can intensify each other to the point of being obnoxious! In other words, when you use colors which are opposite on the color wheel, be careful not to use them in large quantities or in equal parts. They will make their counterpart even stronger.To answer your question, I'd stay with white or off white. Staying neutral on something like cabinets, allows you to move to a new color scheme (like changing the wall color) more easily. Hope that helps and thanks for visiting!Debbie