Most lights are in some way encased to protect them. For example, light bulbs have a cover, many strip lights are sealed, and smaller LEDs are in some form of plastic shell.
The way that these covers are designed impacts how you perceive the light. If they are completely clear, then you can see the individual LED components to light up. However, many bulbs and seals act as diffusers instead.
Diffused LEDs shine through a semi-transparent cover, absorbing the light and bouncing it through in different directions. Instead of seeing the individual LED light up, the whole bulb shines instead, giving a more uniform light spread over a greater area.
In this article, I’ll explain to you:
- What diffused light is, in a little more detail
- How they differ from clear LEDs
- Why you would use diffused LEDs
- How to diffuse a clear bulb yourself
What Is Diffused Light?
Let’s start by explaining diffused light in general. Broadly speaking, when you diffuse light, you bend it by reflecting it off a rough surface.
Using a surface that isn’t flawless, there are different angles that light is bent through, which creates the effect of spreading the light out.
If you take any light source and diffuse it, you essentially pass it through a material to soften the light and spread it out more.
It means the light will be less intense, but it’ll spread light through an area more, and can be useful for getting rid of strongly defined shadows.
Diffused vs Clear LED: What Is The Difference?
The casing can be considered clear or diffused. If it’s clear, you’ll be able to see the actual light-emitting diode. If it’s diffused, then you’ll instead see a surface that’s lit up.
There are two good examples to demonstrate this – LED light bulbs and LED light strips.
Starting with bulbs, you’ll find that most LED light bulbs are frosted. This means that the resin shell of the bulb is not transparent but instead looks white. As a result, when you switch on the bulb, the entire surface will have a uniform glow in your chosen color.
The alternative is a clear bulb (Amazon), where you can see the diodes inside a clear glass or resin case. When switched on, you can see the diodes lighting up. They’re popular from a design perspective – they don’t spread light around as evenly. Still, they look bright, and they have a classical design.
Some bulbs are working as a sort of middle ground. These filament LED bulbs (Amazon) are designed to look like old incandescent filaments. They have a twisted light inside and a clear shell.
However, the ‘filament’ isn’t the diode. Instead, it’s filled with LEDs. Essentially the LED lights are diffused through the internal filament but shine clearly through the shell. These are becoming very popular in vintage décor.
On the standard LED strip, you can see each individual LED. However, when switched on, the light isn’t uniform. Instead, it has brighter spots where each diode is placed on the strip.
Even when you hide the strip behind coving or under kitchen units, there might be brighter spots in the light being projected.
The gradient strip is instead sealed, with the case acting as a diffuser. The gradient strips therefore give off a more uniform, even light, although it might not be as strong because it is being reflected through the case.
What Is The Application Of Diffused LED Light?
Diffused lights have many benefits over clear ones. However, that doesn’t mean every light needs to be diffused because clear ones can be brighter and have other benefits.
But here are the main reasons to choose a diffused LED light.
Firstly, by diffusing light, it spreads out more, which creates softer shadows.
In a busy room, you don’t want a light bulb that leaves dark corners just because furniture is blocking the direct path from the bulb.
Diffused light bounces around the room, so corners are better lit, looking more appealing and safer.
It’s not just bigger items that have problematic shadows too. Think about the modern world and how many people use webcams or their phones for video calling.
If you’re relying on a clear light in the room, your own features could be in the shade because of the angle of your brow or your nose.
This can cause blurry video quality or just not look as pleasant.
Diffused light clears these shadows up. It’s why photographers use diffused lightboxes in their work.
Clear LED bulbs can also be uncomfortable to look at if they’re at their brightest.
You shouldn’t really stare at bulbs anyway, but diodes can get super-bright, which can hurt your eyes.
From that respect, diffusers act as a natural shield.
Broadly, diffused light is softer and more forgiving, and is ideal where you don’t want glare or dark shadows.
Can You DIY Diffuse LED Light?
Yes, you absolutely can diffuse an LED light yourself if you want to.
The easiest way to diffuse a light bulb is to paint it.
You’ll need to use heat-resistant glass paint and sandpaper to create a rough surface that creates the diffused effect.
Otherwise, the paint will mask the diode but still show it or completely block the light.
Just be aware that painting a bulb will shorten its lifespan.
Alternatively, you’ll need a diffuser layer. Again, this needs to be something semi-transparent that blocks and refracts the light.
Good materials to use as parchment paper and acrylic, can diffuse light and withstand higher temperatures.
How you cover the light will depend on the fitting or bulb. Still, many professional photographers just use clips to cover a standalone light.
However, it’s not really a permanent solution for the home.
If you’re using a pendant fitting bulb, then you can’t simply put material in front of it. Still, an enclosed light shade will work as a diffuser – find a style you like in any home store.
Diffused light is a popular choice in many rooms where you want to relax because the light is softer and doesn’t cast strong shadows.
Clear lights might be better for workstations and garages where you need a brighter tone though.
If you’ve bought clear LEDs and you aren’t happy with the look of the light, it’s often easiest to just replace the bulbs, but a diffusing shade or a lick of paint on the bulb can work as a DIY diffuser option.
Now, over to you.
Do you have diffused or clear LED bulbs in your home?