color rendering index

A figure of merit, on a scale of 0 to 100, used by manufacturers of fluorescent, metal halide and other nonincandescent lighting equipment to describe the visual effect of the light on colored surfaces. Natural daylight and any light source approximating a blackbody source (see color temperature) is assigned a color rendering index (CRI) of 100.

To determine a CRI value, observers view 8 standard pastel colors under the light source being rated and under light from a blackbody source (such as an incandescent lamp) having the same color temperature. The CRI is calculated, roughly speaking, by averaging the observers' estimation of the extent of the differences in the appearance of the colors under the two lights. Although the CRI is intended to apply only to the visual quality of light, photographers have also used it in choosing light sources.

The CRI can only be used to compare two light sources that have the same color temperature. A 5000 K, 80 CRI light source is not necessarily superior to a 4000 K, 70 CRI light source.

some typical
color rendering index
values for light sources
Light source CRI
clear mercury 17
white deluxe mercury 45
warm white fluorescent tube 55
cool white fluorescent tube 65
deluxe warm white fluorescent 73
daylight fluorescent 79
metal halide 4200K 85
deluxe cool white fluorescent 86
metal halide 5400K 93
low pressure sodium 0-18
high pressure sodium 25
100-watt incandescent 100

Illuminating Engineering Society.
Interim Method of Measuring and Specifying Color Rendering of Light Sources, LM-19, NY, 1962.

For an exposition of the mathematics of calculating the CRI, visit

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