How Many Lumens Should Your Desk Lamp Have

Desk lighting is a core component of any workspace. Poor lighting can lead to eye strain and reduce your productivity pretty dramatically.

In this article, we’re going to touch on how many lumens a typical desk light should have.

Key Takeaways

  • You will want anywhere from 450 – 800 lumens for typical desk & office lamp applications. 
  • Consider dimmable LEDs as your light bulb of choice. They are energy efficient, last long, and can be dialed to the perfect brightness for your specific environment.
  • Bulbs these days use watts to reference brightness instead of lumens due to older incandescent bulb standards. 40-watt equivalent LED bulbs output roughly 450 lumens. 60-watt replacement bulbs are typically 800 lumens. 
BenQ E-Reading Desk Lamp Image

Choose The Right Light Bulb For Desks

Common Bulb Brightness Options

Before LED lights were popular, incandescent bulbs were the main option. They are power-hungry types of light bulbs. For that reason, they are always categorized by their power usage in watts. 

The most popular bulbs out there were 40 and 60-watt bulbs. 40-watt incandescent bulbs were good enough for most people. But if you wanted a bit more brightness, you had to opt for the 60 or 75-watt options. 

LEDs have taken over all home lighting due to their power efficiency and long lifespan. Because this takeover was somewhat recent, you will continue to see LED bulbs rated as 40 and 60-watt “equivalent”. 

GE LED Light Bulbs, 40 Watt Eqv.
  • Make your home more energy efficient with GE Relax HD LED light bulbs. It replaces 40-watt light bulbs, using only 6 watts.
  • GE LED light bulbs are cost-effective, long-lasting & use low energy saving you $56 in energy costs versus a 40-Watt incandescent bulb over the life of the light bulbs.
  • Relax HD light bulbs offer a warm, soft light perfect for comfortable moments and cozy spaces.
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Manufacturers want you to know that you can expect the same amount of brightness in a 40-watt incandescent bulb by calling the LED replacement a “40-watt equivalent” bulb. In actuality, LED bulbs use much less power. 

A 60-watt equivalent LED bulb will actually only use about 8.5 watts. And a 40-watt equivalent LED bulb will only use about 6 watts. 

If you want a super bright lightbulb, a 75-watt equivalent bulb will get you a whopping 1100 lumens! This is very bright, so only choose this option if you need the light or have a dimmer. 

LED Equivalent Power RatingBrightnessActual Power Draw
40 Watt450 Lumens~ 5.5 Watts
60 Watt800 Lumens~ 8.5 Watts
75 Watt1100 Lumens~ 13 Watts

450 lumens is great for reading, studying, and other casual computer work that does not need intense brightness. You’ll get 450 lumens with a 40-watt LED bulb equivalent. 

If you want to light up a larger area or need more light, an 800 or 1100-lumen light bulb will be more appropriate. That will be the 60 and 75-watt LED equivalent bulbs. 

Eye Comfort Is King

Instead of thinking about how bright your desk lamp should be, think about what brightness level is actually comfortable for your eyes. 

Everyone’s desk setup is a little different. Some might have a ton of ambient light around them, some might have bright white walls, and others might just have their laptop in a black room. 

Different situations will require a different amount of desk lamp brightnesses. The best indicator for the correct brightness level is eye comfort. 

e-reading desk lamp far under shot

If the light is too dim or too bright, you will feel the strain on your eyes.

This is why I would recommend going for a bright bulb with a dimmable control. The dimming control can be hardwired into a lamp, or these days, bulbs can be even dimmed with an app.

Beam Spread & Diffusion

Another factor that can change the required brightness of a desk lamp is the type of lamp you have and its beam spread.

If the beam spread is too narrow, an 800-lumen bulb might be too intense in a certain area. 800-lumen bulbs might only be beneficial for lamps that have a large and even beam spread. 

Lamps can control how the light spreads in many ways. Typical lamps have a lampshade that protects your eyes from the bare bulb. Lampshades also dim the light and spread the light softly, reducing the bulb’s intensity significantly. 

Other light sources use a diffuser which spreads the point source of light. Diffusion is a great way to reduce the point light intensity and spread it across a larger area. 

I highly recommend monitor light bars. These have a great brightness range and beam spread. We have a dedicated article on what monitor light bars are here.

Check out the beam spread of my BenQ ScreenBar Halo. It is centered and feathers out very well.

computer tower hidden on neighboring furniture

Dimmable Lights

If you want a brightness level that can be dialed in with precision, I highly recommend using dimmable light bulbs. 

Dimmable light bulbs are much more adaptable than fixed-brightness bulbs. During work hours, you can have your bulb at full brightness. At night when you are away from the desk you can have your lamp become a nice and dim accent light. 

Industrial Dimmable Desk Lamp

 This desk lamp provides adjustable brightness, touch controls, dual USB charging ports, and an AC outlet for convenient device charging while working or studying under a flexible, daylight-balanced light source.

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Most of all, you can let your eye comfort dictate what the right brightness level is. When you go for dimmable LED bulbs, there is no need to stress about whether or not you are getting the exact right lumen count.

Dimmable bulbs give you peace of mind and are extremely adaptable. With how long LED light bulbs last, a dimmable bulb is certainly worth the investment. 

Color Temperature

Another consideration when deciding on a bulb type is color temperature. This is basically referring to the shade of white. 

The lights that are more blue-tinted are considered “cooler” lighting. The more yellow-tinted lights are considered “warmer” lighting.

Warmer lighting typically gives a more cozy and relaxed vibe, while cooler lights are more seen in industrial settings and workplaces. 

screenbar halo lighting mode 3 with cold lighting
Cool lighting
screenbar halo light bar halo bias
Warm lighting

If I’m at home, I always lean toward warmer lighting. It’s just more inviting. The lighting at my workplace is much cooler, driven by typical fluorescent light bulbs.

If you don’t like warm or cool lighting specifically, I would highly recommend a color temperature-adjustable desk lamp. Monitor light bars do this very well, but most LED desk lamp options on Amazon do this too.

Color Rendering Index

Did you know that certain lights can actually bring out more color in your environment? This characteristic of artificial lights is called the color rendering index or CRI. 

A simple way to understand the way CRI works is to imagine if you have a colored light shining on an object. Let’s say a purple light is shining on an apple. 

That apple probably does not look red anymore under that purple light. The purple light does not have all the light wavelengths to bring out the accurate color of the apple. Thus a purple light has a poor CRI. 

Any light source that does not have a complete set of natural white light wavelengths will result in an inaccurate appearance of the object’s color.

This is why CRI is advertised by many LED lighting companies. Check out this article to learn more about CRI. 

Types Of Lightbulbs

There are a ton of different light bulb types out there, and there is a clear winner. Instead of overwhelming you with all the different bulb technologies that you shouldn’t use, let’s talk about the winner: LED light bulbs. 

If you do want to learn more about other types of lights, here is a nice bulb overview from The Home Depot

LED light bulbs are by far the clear winner for modern home lighting for a few reasons:

  • Long lifetime. LED bulbs can last over 20 years based on usage! Many incandescent bulbs have a lifespan of 1,000 – 2,000 hours. LED bulbs have a life of at least 15,000 hours. That’s about 10x the lifespan! 
  • Lowest power consumption per lumen of light. 
  • Developed enough to come in all colors and sizes to replace most existing bulbs. 

The only downside is that they might be a bit more expensive upfront. But that is easily paid for by the extended lifespan of LED bulbs. 

Instead of needing to swap out an incandescent bulb every year or two, you can just replace an LED bulb once every 10 or 20 years! The 10x lifespan really helps justify the LED bulb cost. 

Choosing The Right Desk Lamp

Now that we have our light source selected, let’s talk about the different types of desk lamps out there. These can either use the bulbs we talked about earlier or can have integrated LEDs.

Task Lights

Task lights are the most appropriate lamps for a desk environment. They typically have a shaded light with an adjustable arm so they can be positioned towards your workspace.

Benq e-reading lamp - glare issue

These can come in floor-standing or desktop configurations. Many new task lamps have integrated LED strips and no bulbs at all. This makes lamps very small and thin if you are a fan of that aesthetic.

If you have a task lamp with an interchangeable bulb, you can upgrade lights throughout the life of the lamp. For example, you can install a Philips Hue RGB light bulb instead of a normal white light bulb. 

You can’t make upgrades like that in integrated LED desk lamps. 

Auto-Dimming Lights

We talked a lot about how dimmable light is so much more flexible for everyday life. You can adjust your light to the perfect level based on your surroundings and ambient light levels. 

Dimmable lights are the best way to control and reduce eye strain. But what is better than dimmable lights? Auto dimming lights! 

Auto-dimming desk lamps have a little light sensor that detects how well-lit your environment is and outputs a calculated amount of light. This ensures that your table lamp is not blindingly bright if your environment is dark, and outputs more light if your surroundings are also bright. 

It essentially reduces the chance of your desk lamp becoming a spotlight which can be very straining on the eyes. The same way looking at a TV in a dark room is a little straining on the eyes. 

Auto-dimming lights match your environment and reduce eye strain automatically by constantly adjusting brightness throughout the day! 

Monitor Light Bars

If you are tight on space and have a monitor on your desk, let me introduce you to monitor light bars. These are LED lights that mount directly on your monitor and spread light right at the center of your workspace.

Monitor light bars have tons of benefits that we cover in our dedicated light bar benefits article. We also have a list of the best monitor light bars for every budget, along with light bars for curved monitors.

Some of the major benefits of monitor light bars include:

  • Zero desk footprint
  • Centered light source
  • Auto-dimming / brightness control
  • Color temperature control
  • Zero screen glare
  • Cable management friendly
  • Just looks good if you ask me

I would highly recommend looking into monitor light bars and giving them a shot if the above benefits seem attractive to you. You can always return them if you are unsatisfied.  Check out our article on how light bars compare against typical desk lamps.

Quntis Monitor Light Bar PRO+ with Remote Control
  • Compatible with almost all monitor types
  • Long light bar with wide beam spread
  • Dedicated remote with simple interface
  • Integrated 2hr break timer
  • Remote control usability can be improved
  • Auto dimming mode is a bit too dim
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Premium Pick
BenQ ScreenBar Halo Monitor Light

Enhance eye comfort with this monitor light bar's integrated backlight design that illuminates your back wall (bias lighting). With a smart wireless controller, it's easy to adjust brightness and color temperature. Its patented clip design mounts on almost any monitor, saving valuable desk space, and it's powered via USB, eliminating the need for extra wires.

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Standard Lamps

Standard lamps are not super common on desks, as they typically spread light all around. They are not focused on the work area specifically. 

Nevertheless, they are still very cozy lights to have around, and that may make your workspace more inviting. These are also lights that are more flexible with the interchangeable bulbs. So you have the upgradability and flexibility of using different types of light bulbs and even smart lights. 

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I'm a big time workspace enthusiast who is constantly experimenting with my setup. Sharing along the way to help people make their own desk setups more functional and inviting, whether it be for productivity or play!

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