Expert Advice On Selecting A Good Reading Lamp

September 10, 2018 6:34 am by sandiego
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Expert Advice On Selecting A Good Reading Lamp

But the doctors warn that too much light or glare is just as bad as too little light. ”When light glares from highly reflective surfaces, it’s fatiguing and especially disturbing for older people with cataracts and retina problems,” Dr. Faye says. Shaded lamps cut the glare and focus and modulate the light.

The best bulbs brighten up quickly, don’t lose light over time and provide a lot of light for a small amount of power. The worst will add to your energy bills, don’t last as long as our Best Buys and don’t match the Kelvin and lumens stated on the box.

But the final arbiter of what makes a good reading lamp doesn’t have to be an architect or lighting consultant.

Of all the shades available, lighting consultants agree that a translucent shade is the most comfortable for reading. It focuses light down for reading but also diffuses it upward and sideways to light the ceiling and adjacent walls. ”A shade should be as translucent as possible without the bulb itself being visible,” Mr. Cline says.

Use this chart to see equivalent watt and lumen output for old-style incandescent and the three types of energy-saving bulbs (LEDs, halogens and CFLs).

Every room requires something slightly different. If you are sitting in a chair next to where you’re going to place the lamp then you need to ensure its suitable. Having a lamp at the other side of the room is not going to be good if it doesn’t reach that far. When you want to select a good reading lamp you have to ensure you choose a suitable lamp for the actual room. If you don’t do this, you will end up in a heap of trouble and it’s not ideal to say the least. Table lamps can be great and affordable but at the same time you need to ensure its suitable for the room.

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The light bulb market has gone through enormous change since traditional incandescent bulbs were removed from the market and replaced with energy-saving bulbs. Below, we walk you through what you need to know to buy the best bulb for your needs.

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Each of the different shapes provides a slightly different spread and angle of light, from the almost 360-degree spread of a globe or golf bulb, to the narrow beam of a spotlight. The ‘right’ shape of the bulb and spread of the light is essentially down to your personal preference, but do consider how the bulbs will look when they are switched off as well as on, and whether they will fit sensibly in their chosen location. For example, you wouldn’t want a large stick shape if it will protrude from the top of your bedside lamp.

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The colour of light can impact everything, from your mood to the colour of the vegetables on your chopping board, so it is important to get the colour of light that you prefer. Use the picture below to match the Kelvin scale rating with the colour you are after and go armed with this when you head out to buy your bulb.

CRI (colour rendering index)

The colour of light is measured on the Kelvin scale, which is actually a measure of temperature. This is why light bulb manufacturers often refer to ‘colour temperature’ on the packaging. Now we don’t need to get into the ins and outs of the Kelvin scale in this guide, save to say that the numbers you see on the side of the bulb packet denote the colour of light that the bulb will emit.

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While there are small halogen incandescent bulbs available now, for reading they must be used in a lamp with a large shade and equipped with a dimmer or high-low switch. ”If you use a tiny light bulb in a tiny shade, it produces a small pool of light and a crisp shadow, neither of which are good for reading,” Mr. Cline says.

”The traditional silk shade modulated light beautifully,” says Mr. Marantz, ”because the transmission of light was moderate, neither too bright nor too low.” But if silk shades are too expensive or inappropriate, there are translucent shades made of less expensive materials such as parchment, fiberglass or linen.

Many of us have felt the sinking feeling of getting a new bulb home, switching it on and being bathed with a stark white or bluey light that’s more akin to a trip to A&E than a warm cosy living room.

For a quick guide, below is a summary of each and how much a typical 700+ lumen bulb might cost you per year if you have it on for around three hours a day.

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It’s not easy to choose the right lamp as there are lots to choose from. Even if you know you want a reading lamp you can still end up choosing the wrong one. It’s easily done but there is no need to choose the wrong lamps anymore. There are lots of simple ways to get a good reading lamp and the above are just a few things that might prove useful. You should look at ensuring the lamp offers sufficient lighting so that you don’t strain your eyes. Desk lamps are easy enough to find. To find out more, check out

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Light from a halogen bulb is similar to an incandescent in colour and quality, as both use a tungsten filament. There’s little difference between the two in the amount of energy used and halogens are significantly more expensive to run than other energy savers. With an expected life span of less than two years, a halogen bulb is unlikely to pay for itself before it fails.

A version of this article appears in print on April 10, 1986, on Page C00006 of the National edition with the headline: EXPERT ADVICE ON SELECTING A GOOD READING LAMP. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

The lamps shown above were all chosen because they offered flexibility – the arms or shades can be moved – and they cast medium to large pools of light. Most will accept 100-watt or three-bulbs.

Many a shopping trip has been thwarted by the lack of this critical piece of information. There are an awful lot of fittings to choose from so, if you can, take the old bulb you are replacing to the store with you. But if you can’t do that, then use the graphic above, which shows some of the most common fittings. You will need to write down the fitting reference number and take it along to match with the packaging on the box of your new bulb.

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The solution to finding a good reading lamp is not necessarily to re-create Grandma’s parlor. The key is to know what makes the eye comfortable and least fatigued when reading and then to place a light with the right shade and bulb at the appropriate height and angle.

Before you buy though, check out our to find the best bulbs for your needs, and to see where to buy the best bulbs. Our reviews of both spotlights and conventional bulbs reveal not only the best but also the ones to avoid – and there’s a big difference between the two.

Whichever lamp you choose -desk, table, floor or wall-mounted -experts recommend that it be placed to the side and slightly behind you for maximum comfort. ”The light might be just above eye level in the general region of the face,” Mr. Marantz says, ”and you should not be able to see the light source itself.” For reading, the lamp can go on either side. But to avoid the shadow of your arm while writing and reading simultaneously, a right-handed person should place the lamp on the left. ”Probably an ideal lamp is a hybrid of the Luxo, which swivels 360 degrees and can be raised or lowered, and a traditional lamp with a translucent shade,” Miss Lindsley says.


For a metal shade to cast a large pool of light on adjacent areas, Miss Lindsley suggests that it have a reflector or be painted matte white inside.

Hopefully you are now feeling a little more informed and you have made all of the key decisions. You know the fitting to look for on the box, the shape of bulb, the light colour and brightness you want, and the benefits and drawbacks of a CFL, an LED and a halogen.

The image below shows the impact of CRI – the left-hand image is shot under light with a CRI value of 100, the image on the right is a CRI value of 80.

See our for the CRI ratings for all of the bulbs we have tested.

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You’ll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don’t get stuck with a Don’t Buy.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choice of size, type and brightness, head to our reviews section where our independent lab tests reveal our Best Buy light bulbs.

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These use almost 90% less energy than a traditional incandescent, making them the most energy-efficient type of lighting. LEDs are usually more expensive to buy, but should last up to 25 years. In the long term they are the cheapest option. An LED could save you more than £180 in energy use over its lifetime, compared with an old-style incandescent bulb.

Traditional incandescent and halogen bulbs have a near perfect CRI and score in the high 90s. LEDs and CFLs are a little behind this and are more likely to have a CRI value in the mid 80s. 80 is considered an acceptable level, although like many things it comes down to personal preference.

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Understand Good Lighting Is Needed For Reading without Straining Your Eyes

As a rough guide, around 400 lumens would be suitable for a bed-sized table lamp, whereas you might want between 1,500 and 3,000 lumens in total (from more than one bulb) for a good-sized living room.

Having the wrong type of lighting can end up with you straining your eyes. It’s not ideal to say the least and it happens more often than not. You have to think about the type of lighting available so that you can sufficiently read without causing any strain on the eyes. You need to ensure the type of light from the desk lamps are suitable enough to read. This is something which far too many people don’t get and it’s a problem to say the least. However, with good lighting you will be able to read without too much trouble. Check here.

Before you buy a new light bulb, read our top tips to avoid a costly mistake.

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Whether you are buying table lamps, freestanding lamps or another, you really should give a lot of consideration over the costs. However, while the costs are important to consider, it’s not the only thing you need to take into account. You need to ensure it offers sufficient lighting as well as suitable for your room as well. These things will matter just as much as what the costs will. You also need to ensure there is sufficient value for money. It’s important to get this so that you get a good lamp.

There are also compact fluorescent bulbs, but these may not be bright enough for reading.

”What you want is a well-lit room where the reading area is illuminated by a generous, focused pool of light, and the surrounding area by comfortable ambient lighting,” says Jo Anne Lindsley, the lighting consultant at Synergy Consultants Inc. in Manhattan. ”What you don’t want is high contrast between the area where you’re reading and the far end of the room,” says Carroll Cline of Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design in Manhattan. ”The eye always wanders away from the printed page and then comes back. As the eye drifts from a brightly lit area to a dark, shadowy one, it dilates in the darkness. In a high-contrast situation, the eye becomes fatigued.” While there are many ways to light a room, experts believe that specific kinds of shaded lamps are best for reading.

To complicate matters further, each bulb is given a CRI score. CRI stands for Colour Rendering Index and is a measure of the ability of a light source to accurately represent different colours. Put simply, you want to make sure you get a bulb that makes your tomatoes look red, rather than a strange orangey colour.

Decide what type of light you’d prefer. This breaks down simply into brightness, otherwise known as watts or lumen output; and the colour of the light, measured on the Kelvin scale. Don’t be put off by these technical terms – here is a short explanation of each.

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As you can see in the images above, there are a few errors in the colours in the right-hand image. The carrots are not quite as orange, the work surface appears slightly cold and blue and the green is also a subtly different shade. A CRI score of 80 is still pretty accurate and suitable for most lighting situations, however if you want a light to pick out a particular work surface or perhaps even a painting, you may want to pick a light source with a high CRI value.

”Your eyes,” Dr. Friedman says, ”will tell you what they want. If the light isn’t comfortable, they will show signs of fatigue, like burning, redness, brow ache, headache and squinting.”

Buying desk lamps is not as difficult as you might think but there are many who end up choosing the wrong type of reading lamp. Not all lamps are the same, there are some which are more suited to reading and others more suited to lighting a room. Far too many people don’t get the right type of lamp and end up with something that’s not quite suitable for their room. So, how can you choose a good reading lamp?

In choosing bulbs for a reading lamp, ”the old three-way, 50-100-150-watt soft-glow bulb is the most comfortable and useful,” Mr. Cline says. ”Not only are people used to its warmth, but the different levels of brightness accommodate a change in ambience and a family’s assorted needs.” One reason Mr. Cline prefers the flexibility of the three-way bulb to a single 100-watt bulb controlled by a dimmer switch lies in its construction. A 50-100-150 bulb is designed with two filaments, one of 50 watts and one of 100 watts, which can be used singly or in combination, giving a more consistent bright light at all times. A single-filament bulb controlled by a dimmer switch darkens to a yellowish light as the wattage is diminished.

”THE problem with lighting today is that lights are so specific,” says Paul Marantz, a lighting consultant at Jules Fisher & Paul Marantz Inc. in Manhattan. ”The glowing light that Grandma’s silk-shaded floor and table lamps provided made good reading light. But this kind of lamp is no longer in fashion.”

See the graphic, above, for the most common shapes. If you are just replacing a blown bulb, it’s useful to take the old one to the shop to match it with ones on the shelves.

Now you have decided on how bright you want your bulbs, you need to decide on the colour of the light.

In glass shades, ”most made of clear, opal or sand-blasted glass transmit too much light,” Mr. Marantz says, ”while amber or green glass shades lined in white milk glass provide only ‘down’ light. These colored shades can’t light a room, but can work as reading lights, especially on desks.” However, an opaque shade is less efficient than a translucent shade because it doesn’t cast light sideways.

Most people have become used to the warm yellowy light given out by the old incandescent bulb, which is 2,700 on the Kelvin scale. Midday sunlight is about 5,500k, sunset or sunrise lighting is around 2,500k and a candle is around 1,600k.

”Eyes vary with age,” says Dr. Alan Jay Friedman, clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at New York University Medical Center. ”The older you get, the more light you need to read by.” Dr. Eleanor Faye, the ophthalmological director of the Lighthouse for the Blind Low Vision Service, says: ”The eye’s need for more light to read by increases 1 percent a year. When you’re 10, you can read by 40 watts or hardly any light. By the time you’re 60, you need around 100 watts.”

In the past, when nearly everyone filled their homes with incandescent bulbs, brightness was measured in watts – which is actually a measure of power. Since the introduction of energy-saving bulbs, this is a less useful measure of brightness, as new bulbs use a lot less power to produce the same amount of light. So, instead, light output is measured in lumens. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light.

Now you have your bulb fitting and the colour and brightness in the bag, you will need to decide the shape of the bulb you want. Again, there is a bewildering variety and different brands have a subtly different look and characteristics.

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They could save you hundreds in the long run. There are three main types of regular light bulb – CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp – the standard type of energy-saving light bulb), halogens or LEDs.

CFLs are cheap and widely available in a range of sizes and outputs. Some older CFLs were slow to brighten, but this has improved considerably in recent years. They are four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and quickly pay for themselves in energy savings  – but not everyone likes the light they emit.

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