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What is the difference between direct and indirect light?


A common lighting concept that we often encounter today is the terms direct and indirect lighting. Consumers often wonder what it is and why is it important to know the difference. How does direct versus indirect light affect a room and from which light sources do you get which light? The use of the right type of light can elevate the atmosphere of a room, the wrong type can ruin it. To make a room comfortable and to get the desired light we explain the concept of direct and indirect light.


What is direct light?


Direct light is when the light from a fixture or lamp falls on a specific area or an object. Direct light is created from a fixture or a screen that focuses all light in a certain angle. Directional light creates a sharp contrast between light and shadow. Downlights are a great example of a direct light since they only illuminate downwards. Spotlights are another light source that angle the light to a specific object or area.

When is it best to use direct light?

desk light

Direct light is important where we perform work and tasks, like at home but also in offices and other workplaces. Direct light illuminates specific objects and we need this for example when reading a book at home, studying or for when assembling a product. A small light fixture next to the workplace with directional light is important as it enhances the visibility and focuses the light exactly to where it’s needed.

kitchen light

In our homes, directional light is very important in places such as the kitchen and the bathroom. Above the kitchen workspace directional spotlights and under cabinet lighting is an excellent choice for illuminating the preparation and cooking areas. Waterproof downlights or tiltable spotlights are important in the bathroom. Direct light is also used in museums, art galleries and shops to enhance and focus our attention to a certain point or product. Rail track lights are perfect for this purpose since they also have a high colour rendering ability. Direct light can therefore be both functional and decorative as it also emphasises certain objects in a room.

What is indirect light?


Indirect light, on the other hand, is usually used to illuminate a wider area. A light source whose light also illuminates other objects in a room with an even light distribution is an indirect light source. Indirect light creates a harmonic even light without a sharp contrast between light and shadow. Naturally we have indirect light from the sunlight shining through a window, illuminating a room with a soft even light.

When is it best to use indirect light?

Indirect light is used to create ambience. It can help to balance out the stark lines of brighter direct lighting solutions. Instead of adding more direct light sources, indirect lighting is a great way to add more lumen to a room without the sharp contrasts of light and shadow from a directional light. Indirect light illuminates the room with an even, smooth light and it will make the room feel light, warm and welcoming. In work environments such as offices, schools, warehouses or hospitals, indirect light is especially important to keep focus and concentration levels throughout the day.


Indirect lighting is created in several ways, it can be created with the help of LED strips placed within predesigned moldings in a wall. In a kitchen or bathroom LED strips can be placed on the top of a cabinet. Wall fixtures and floor lamps provide a reflective light as it bounces of a wall.


A pendant lamp fixture made of paper, fabric or glass can provide a certain amount of indirect light as it lets light through the screen. A single pendant bulb gives light in all directions as its light is reflected by the walls and ceiling. A light source that also illuminate both wall and ceiling helps improve the orientation, visual communication and overall comfort in a room.

Use both indirect and direct light for a functional and comfortable room


It can be tempting to decorate a room with only directional fixtures for a cosy light but this will create a sharp contrast between light and shadow. On the other hand, decorating a room with indirect light will clearly illuminate the walls and ceiling, but you won’t have sufficient light for special work tasks such as reading or studying. For a room or office to be functional, ergonomic and at the same time comfortable, both direct and indirect light is necessary. A combination with both indirect light and a direct light source makes a room become alive, interesting and comfortable.

Keep in mind..



..that it is the range of the light and where it falls that determines whether a light source is direct or indirect. A wall fixture, with downlight light can still be considered not to be a direct light solution since it doesn’t cast light directly on an object or work area.


Outdoor Facade Indirect

  • For wall mounting
  • Tiltable 90°
  • Two colours available

Noxion Tracklight Accento

  • Best colour rendering
  • Lifetime: 50.000 hours
  • In different colours

LED Batline Connect

  • Small & flexible fixture
  • Connectable 12x or 20x
  • Even light row

Philips Classic LEDbulb

  • Classic E27-base
  • Warm white light
  • Dimtone Dimmable