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The difference between Spotlights and Floodlights


When it comes to lighting patterns for vehicle work lights, some work vehicle customers are unsure whether spotlights or floodlights will best suit their operators' needs. Other questions may arise around the choice between LED or halogen lighting, and the different units of measurement when it comes to brightness. It’s important for upfitters to understand the differences between spotlights and floodlights and the best applications for each.


Difference in Light Patterns

At a basic level, spotlights and floodlights represent two types of light patterns, or ways the light is projected. As a rule, the narrower the pattern, the further the distance the light travels.


You can see this effect in action with vehicle headlights; high beams are a narrow pattern that projects light further, while low beams have a wider spread that doesn't travel as far.


Floods and spots are more or less on the opposite ends of this spectrum. Floodlights are short, wide patterns, generally used to illuminate a wide area; conversely, a spotlight is designed to travel a longer distance but in a much narrower beam.


For optimal visibility in different situations, many work vehicles have at least one floodlight and spotlight, incorporating both types of lighting patterns.





LED or Halogen

Most makers of floodlights and spotlights have transitioned fully to LED offerings, although halogen options are still available.


LED lights have many advantages over halogen including longer product lifetime, less heat output, and substantial energy efficiency. LEDs usually perform as well as or better than halogen in terms of light output. However, halogen is still an option when lower price is the most important factor, or when heat generation is not considered a drawback.


Whether you choose LED or halogen, make sure your work light is tough and durable. Most reliable spotlights and floodlights today are made with shatterproof polycarbonate lenses.


Lumens and Candlepower

If you’ve shopped recently for a new floodlight or spotlight, you may have noticed that the brightness is measured in terms of either “candlepower” or “lumens.”


Candlepower is the unit of measure typically applied to spotlights. For instance, a spotlight with a candlepower of 200,000 means it emits the equivalent of 200,000 candles.


Floodlights are usually measured in lumens. Floodlights for work vehicles typically range from 800 lumens on the low end to 37,000 lumens on the brighter end of the scale.


One candlepower is technically the equivalent of 12.57 lumens, although it is not a simple “apples to apples” comparison. Candlepower is the intensity of light at the center of a spotlight beam when measured in one direction. Lumens is a measure of how much light a lamp produces in all directions.


All motor vehicle lamps are required to meet federal specifications regulating the brightness of lamps. These regulations require that each lamp be designed to meet certain intensity values at various angles.


Spotlight Applications

One of the most common applications of spotlights is on police and municipal vehicles. Police cruisers in particular must be able to illuminate a narrow area at a long distance to help officers see individuals or locations.


A spotlight can also be useful across a number of commercial equipment applications. For example, commercial locomotives may have spotlights installed as a general utility light, used for identifying obstacles in the path ahead and alerting upcoming pedestrians. Agricultural vehicles can use spotlights to locate and drive away nocturnal wildlife that might otherwise be injured or killed, or to spot other potential obstacles that may otherwise be hard to see at night.


Generally, if you've got a vehicle out at night, it can probably use at least one spotlight. Spotlights for work vehicles typically range from 30-100 watts and provide a light strength of 215,000 candlepower or more. They are typically mounted on the front of a work vehicle.


Floodlight Applications

Floodlights (also commonly referred to as work lights) are useful across a wide range of applications and are often mounted on the sides of vehicles. You can commonly find floodlights on slow-moving vehicles or those performing tasks at night such as roadwork, street-sweeping, or harvesting. Floodlights are used in a variety of other situations. For example, they are highly useful for helping vehicles move through fog. They can also be used to illuminate underwater areas and are common on commercial boats for rescue operations and general night use.


Combining Floodlights and Spotlights

Flood lights and spotlights are often used in combination on work vehicles. Together they serve as a beacon, locator, and tracking tool for various types of night work.


Combining the light patterns of floodlights and spotlights enables them to do different jobs at the same time: For example, floodlights could be activated to help you drive through fog, with a spotlight also turned on to allow you to see further and spot obstacles in the distance.


When selecting work lights for work vehicles, consider first the visibility needed for the task at hand and whether you need a pattern of breadth (floodlight) or depth (spotlight). In addition, there are a number of specs/preferences to consider such as material, dimension size, color output, number of diodes, wattage, and expected life of the product.


Also note that light intensity is not the only factor relative to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Make sure you are aware of specific requirements when reviewing lighting applications for upcoming builds.