Difference between daylight lamp and full spectrum

Updated February 21, 2017

The terms "daylight lamp" and "full spectrum lamp" are often used interchangeably, and as of May 2010 there are no regulations regarding the specific use of the terms. While both terms may be used to represent the same lamp, sometimes called a "daylight full spectrum lamp," each term focuses on a different aspect of the lamp's characteristics.


Full spectrum describes the ability of a lamp to put out light that contains all colours of the lighting spectrum. However, it is a marketing term rather than a technical description, so each manufacturer decides exactly what constitutes a full spectrum. The term was first used in the '60s by Dr. John Ott. Under his definition, a full spectrum light source contained both visible and invisible colour wavelengths of light, notes the Lighting Research Center. Daylight lamps were developed based on the need to simulate daylight for health reasons in people who were denied exposure to the sun, such as servicemen on Navy submarines and astronauts in the space program.


Fluorescent full spectrum lamps--the type originally developed--do not present the different wavelengths of the spectrum evenly. Graphs of their outputs show spikes at various colour temperatures, while natural daylight shows more of a bell curve on a graph. Some lamp manufacturers have focused on recreating that even spectrum representation in their lamps, marketing them as daylight, rather than full spectrum, lamps. One of the primary methods for doing this was moving from fluorescent lighting fixtures toward tungsten-based fixtures, and later, halogen fixtures.

Colour temperature

Colour temperature is a measurement of a light's colour based on the way heat affects colour. It is measured in degrees Kelvin. This system is often confusing for some because the higher the temperature in degrees Kelvin, the cooler the colour of the light. Lower numbers on the scale represent yellows and oranges while higher numbers represent blues. Natural daylight is in the blue end of the spectrum at approximately 5,500 degrees Kelvin, and manufactured daylight lamps have colour temperatures in the 5,500 to 6,500 degrees Kelvin range. Full spectrum lamps may or may not use this colour temperature range. When they do, they are often referred to as "daylight balanced."

Invisible Spectrum

In addition to the visible colour spectrum that runs from the warm yellows and reds to the cool blues and purples, there are known invisible wavelengths of light at the warm end, called infrared (IR), and at the cool end, better known as ultraviolet (UV). Both of these wavelengths can cause damage in the form of skin cancer and other medical problems, but they also have benefits, including possible strengthening of the immune system and helping the body absorb vitamin D, notes Full spectrum lamp manufacturers often try to manipulate their products' outputs at these extremes of the spectrum, either eliminating IR and UV elements completely or incorporating only the beneficial ranges of those wavelengths. Daylight lamps are less likely to have the invisible wavelengths modified and may give off both beneficial and harmful UV and IR wavelengths.


Lamps marketed as full spectrum and daylight are both more expensive than regular light bulbs, even bulbs that share the same light output properties but simply don't use the full spectrum or daylight marketing terms. Full spectrum bulbs, when bought as single units, can cost between £5 and £19 each, compared to 90p to £1.90 for a standard tungsten bulb. Daylight bulbs tend to range from £4 to £11 (all pricing as of 2010).

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Anne Hirsh has been writing and editing for over 10 years. She has hands-on experience in cooking, visual arts and theater as well as writing experience covering wellness and animal-related topics. She also has extensive research experience in marketing, small business, Web development and SEO. Hirsh has a bachelor's degree in technical theater and English and post-baccalaureate training in writing and computer software.