LED Shop Lighting Ideas, Recommendations and Tips

LED Shop Lighting Ideas, Recommendations and Tips

Complete Buyer's Guide for LED Shop Lights: Benefits, Styles, Design and Layout Tips

What is an LED shop light?

LED shop lights are the new LED replacement version of fluorescent shop lights. Shop lights are commonly used in workshops (hence the name) and garages where a simple but cost-effective lighting fixture is needed to illuminate a small area such as a workbench or tabletop.

Traditional fluorescent shop light fixtures were designed to accommodate 4-ft fluorescent tubes, which at that time provided longer lifetimes when compared to incandescent bulbs, and required lower electrical consumption while providing daylight balanced color temperatures. This made them a very popular and appealing choice for workshop type lighting applications.

With the integration of LED technology, the performance clearly exceeded that of fluorescent lamps, making LED versions of a shop light the preferred option for consumers.

What are the advantages of an LED shop light?

Even though LED shop lights have longer lifetimes with higher efficiency than their fluorescent counterparts. However, they did adopt the same linear fluorescent form factor and typically come in 4-ft lengths that utilize a very similar fixture style.

There are a variety of different advantages shop lights provide. Here is a brief list:

  • Simple installation - a shop light fixture does not require complex wiring knowledge or electrical experience
  • Less waste of light - a shop light fixture can be positioned or installed exactly where the light is needed most, meaning excess light will not be wasted illuminating areas that are unoccupied or not used as frequently, thus helping to further reduce electrical costs
  • Adjustable or flexible positioning - a shop light fixture's height and placement can be adjusted or altered without any degree of difficulty. Conventional 4-ft fluorescent/LED tube light fixtures are designed to be ceiling mounted only, making them difficult to install, and are permanently fixed into place, allowing no movement after installation
  • Cost effective, budget-friendly

Those advantages along provide a clear indication that shop lights are an excellent choice for workshop-style lighting. So, what is the real differences when fluorescent shop lights and LED shop lights are compared? We see a wide-range of benefits and advantages offered by LED shop lights:

  • The overall benefits of LED lights vs fluorescent lights is exactly the same for shop lights - lower electrical consumption, no mercury, longer lifetimes.
  • LED tube lights direct light downwards to its intended target, whereas fluorescent lamps emit light in a 360 degree angle. So in a shop light fixture, the actual efficiency of LED shop lights is higher than that of fluorescent shop lights, which tend to lose some of the light.
  • LED shop lights also utilize enhanced light spectrum options including high CRI and photosynthesis optimization. This comes in handy for workshops that require color accuracy, such as woodworking shops, or even for growing plants.
  • Since shop lights are typically installed and positioned closer to the ground, they run a high risk of being accidentally struck by stray objects or power tools. When fluorescent tube breakages occur, it can be very hazardous and requires an extensive cleanup effort. Whereas, LED shop lights are typically made of extremely durable polycarbonate plastic, and even if they break, there is no risk of hazardous chemical leakage.

What types of LED shop lights are available?

There are two common or primary types of LED shop lights on the market today: integrated LED shop lights and LED shop light retrofits.

Integrated LED shop lights come with pre-installed LED chips and electronics mounted directly into the fixture (i.e. integrated) such there is no longer a lamp that can be replaced. With longer lifetimes of LED technology, the thought is that the light will continue to emit sufficient light until the fixture itself becomes decommissioned.

Its very common that integrated LED shop lights are the preferred choice, since these fixtures are designed around LEDs, featuring the newest technology. Because of this, they do not include features like lamp holders, instead focusing on the integration of LED emitters into the fixture.

Going with the LED tube light retrofit approach is essentially staying with the existing fluorescent fixture design, which means that the LED tube light has to fit in the existing shop light fixture that was originally designed for fluorescent lamps. This option is limited in terms of mechanical and electrical compatibility, and as a result provides a disadvantage in terms of both product performance and options.

However, just like everything else in the lighting industry, the economic conditions make things more hazy and less clear. For example, the enormous quantity of fluorescent ceiling fixtures already installed in existing buildings has lead to LED tube light retrofitting being a lucrative and sizable market. As a result, manufacturers have became more invested in R&D work on LED tube light design as well as production. When it comes to the consumer, there is a wide variety of LED tube lights available at competitive prices, which essentially entices them to continue using fluorescent shop light fixtures and simply retrofitting them with LED tube lights.

Below, we'll go over some scenarios and provide recommendations dependent on your situation.

We recommend going with integrated LED shop lights if:

  • You are looking for what provides the best maximum light efficiency and energy savings
  • You do not have fluorescent shop light fixtures already installed or can afford the up-front investment required by new LED shop light fixtures (which typically is only applicable in larger installations)
  • When light color and quality options (such as upgrading) are not as important to you
  • You want something simple, a plug-and-play light fixture without any replacement lamps to worry about down the road

We recommend going with retrofit LED shop lights if:

  • You have specific requirements or certain needs when it comes to color quality, such as color rendering
  • You want to be able to easily change your lighting in and out on a regular basis (for example, swapping out different LED tubes for different color temperatures)
  • You already have fluorescent shop light fixtures installed, or can find them available at a low cost
  • You feel comfortable with potentially needing to rewire the fluorescent shop light fixture or bypass or remove the ballast entirely
  • You holding out, optimistic about future developments in LED tube lights, and want to be able to upgrade to a new LED tube light without having to replace the fixture entirely

What are some features you should look for in an LED shop light?

Below we will go over some unique tips and unique LED shop light features you might find useful.

Light Output

The brightness of an LED shop light is typically measured and listed in lumens. If you haven't studied up on this metric, you can use the following as a rough estimate:

Incandescent bulbs: 15 lumens per watt

Fluorescent lamps: 50 lumens per watt

For example, a 1500 lumens LED shop light is roughly equivalent to a 100 Watt incandescent bulb (1500 lumens divided by 15 lumens per watt) or a 30 Watt fluorescent lamp (1500 lumens divided by 50 lumens per watt).

So, how is this useful? Let's imagine you have a fluorescent shop light already that uses 2 lamps that are 30 Watts each, you can estimate and determine you will need roughly 3000 lumens from your shop light to maintain the same level of brightness.

Color Temperature

Color temperature is a number that describes how yellow or blue a light's color is.

  • 2700K is considered the same color as the classic incandescent light bulb
  • 3000K is slightly bluer and is similar to a halogen bulb light color, while still preserving enough warm, inviting yellow to it
  • 4000K is often called cool white because it is neither blue nor yellow, instead it is directly in the middle of the color temperature scale
  • 5000K is typically used for determining color, such as for textiles and prints
  • 6500K is considered full spectrum, and is a good way to replicate the appearance of outdoor lighting conditions

Depending on the activity, or personal preference, will dictate what color temperature we would recommend.

If you're looking for more of a relaxed or warm atmosphere, lower color temperatures would be the most appropriate. Whereas, if you're considering an LED shop light for a residential garage, that application would be the perfect candidate for 4000K or below.

Higher color temperatures are great for applications that need better color acuity. With 5000K, you get a very natural and clean white light, which allows for improved color perception that 4000K and below simply cannot provide, due to their yellow bias.

If you're looking to replicate natural daylight conditions, 6500K would be the optimal color temperature to go with.

CRI: we recommend going with 80 or above

CRI sometimes can get a little tricky to properly understand, since its not immediately visible from just looking at the emitted light from a shop light.

CRI is graded on a scale from 0 to 100 which measures how accurate an objects appearance will be under a light. So, the higher the score, the more accurate their appearance are portrayed.

So what does accurate really mean, and why its important?

For example, imagine you are trying to paint your car in your garage, which doesn't get any natural light. A perfectly accurate LED shop light would make the paint color look identical as it would under natural daylight.

However, an inaccurate, or low CRI LED shop light, would make the paint color look entirely different. So, despite how hard you try, once the car was outside its color would no longer look the way you thought it would (bummer)!

So, what is a sufficient CRI number?

  • If you're looking for a solution for non-critical tasks, we recommend going with LED shop lights with a minimum of 80 CRI.
  • If you're looking for enhanced appearance and color accuracy, then we recommend something with a 90 CRI or above.

So, how do you know what an LED shop light's CCT or CRI is? Typically, all manufacturers will be able to provide this information to you on the product specification sheet or packaging.

On/Off Switch

Traditionally, shop lights used a pull-chain for its on-off switch, and many LED shop lights continue to offer this design.

However, you can also find some designs that use a rocker switch mounted onto the unit itself.

Daisy Chaining

If you are considering using multiple LED shop lights in a single area, you might find it challenging to run wires from each fixture to a single outlet or power source. Alternatively, daisy chaining allows the fixtures to be connected one after another, which highly simplifies your installation process.

Mounting Method

The majority of LED shop lights include a chain that allows the fixture to hang from the ceiling. Other models will also allow for flush mounting directly onto the ceiling.


Some LED shop lights include reflectors on each side of the fixture, which helps to direct light downward. If you're looking to increase brightness over a specific area with reduced glare this can be incredibly helpful.

How do I install a LED shop light?

Below, we'll over general recommendations and tips for installing an LED shop light. However, for specific mounting and usage instructions, you need to refer to your shop light manufacturer's manual for suitable mounting and application methods.

Determining the Installation Location

Before you begin installing an LED shop light fixture, the first thing to take into consideration is a suitable location. You'll want to accurately measure the area the light is being placed in, so its properly positioned above the workbench or work area thats being illuminated. You also need to make sure that the ceiling or mounting surface above this location can handle and support the weight of the shop light.

The majority of shop lights are able to connect to electricity via a regular wall-plug. So, you want to make sure you can safely run an electrical cable to the shop light without any obstructions. If you're looking at daisy chaining the fixtures, you need to confirm their power draw will not exceed that of your electrical cables.

Last, confirm that the providing chain and mounting height allow for the fixture to hang at an appropriate level. A fixture that is mounted too high may not be able to provide enough directed light to the workspace, while a fixture mounted too low could present a safety hazard if it gets in the way of people or other objects (such as power tools). Even though LED shop lights do not contain hazardous chemicals like mercury, they still operate on line voltage, which can cause serious injury or death if electrical safety is not properly observed.

Mounting the Shop Light Fixture

Read your shop light's included manual. Before mounting your shop light fixture, cut the power to all outlets and wires that you will be working with, so that you remain safe from unnecessary shock or injury during the installation process.

Once mounted, an integrated LED shop light fixture should be ready to turn on.

When it comes to a retrofit LED shop light, it requires the fluorescent tube to be replaced with a compatible tube light. We recommend determining the wiring method your existing fluorescent shop light fixture is currently using before installing an LED tube light. A hybrid LED tube light, or also known as a 3-in-1 LED tube light, makes installation into a fluorescent shop light fixture a much easier process, since it does not require any ballast rewiring or electrical skills.

Final Thoughts About LED Shop Lights

LED shop lights are the perfect choice for illuminating a work area. Integrated LED shop lights are great since they offer a lamp less solution, but LED retrofit shop light fixtures also provide a variety of their own unique possibilities.

At Stars and Stripes Lighting, there are hundreds of options at your fingertips. If you're still feeling unsure, just get in touch with us. We'll provide you with accurate information that won't overwhelm you. Our team of lighting experts will help take all the pressure off in deciding which fixtures to choose. We can help educate you on the best product for your application, work with you to create a custom layout, and even estimate the cost of your project. Contact us today so we can help you select the best LED shop lights today!

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