Unlike R or BR bulbs that offer general area lighting, PAR shaped bulbs have more sharply focused light to help highlight specific areas or objects. This can be done creatively indoors to emphasize one area of a room over the rest of the room, or to highlight a piece of art or furniture. They're also used to feature retail items in commercial settings.
These bulbs or lamps come in a variety of "beam angles" or "beam spreads" to meet these highlighting needs; the smaller the beam angle, the smaller an area the light will cover. Of course this will also be affected by the distance of the bulb from the area or object being focused on.
PAR bulbs are also commonly used in outdoor fixtures as either spotlights (narrower beam angle) or floodlights (wider beam angle). Some of them come sealed and "wet location rated" for this purpose, and you can look for this rating in their specifications when purchasing PAR bulbs if you'll be using them outdoors. You can also choose "damp location rated" bulbs if they will largely be protected from the elements and will only be exposed to humidity, fog, or the occasional wind-whipped snowflake.
When you choose PAR LEDs, you not only get the traditional benefits of LED lighting -- like extremely long life ratings and low energy usage for big savings -- but you also get a technology that emits almost no heat with the light. This doesn't make much difference outdoors (unless you need the bulbs melting snow), but when used as highlighting bulbs, you can help to protect art and furniture by minimizing the heat directed at them. Unlike fluorescent lighting, LED also emits little to no UV, offering another level of protection.
We'll discuss three primary sizes for PAR bulbs and, as with other types of bulbs, these sizes determine what we call them. These sizes and their common uses are described below.
At 2.5" across, these are the smallest of the PAR lamps we're discussing. They're more frequently used to highlight smaller pieces of art, objects on a single shelf, specific products in retail, etc. They're most often used in track lighting.
At 3 3/4" across, these are mid-sized PAR lamps useful in 4" recessed cans or track lighting fixtures. In recessed cans, they provide floor lighting in more specific areas of a room than reflector bulbs do; in track lighting, you might feature larger pieces of art, an entire bookcase or shelving system; or a larger product display.
PAR30 lamps are unique in that they come with both short neck and long neck options. This gives you flexibility in terms of how you want the lamp sitting in a recessed can (hidden further inside or extending a bit). Traditionally, though, long neck PAR30s are used in recessed cans while short neck PAR30s are used in track lighting.
At 4 3/4" across, these are the largest of the PAR lamps we're discussing. Especially in the case of those with a floodlight beam angle or beam spread, these would provide you with the closest thing to general lighting while still being more focused than true reflector bulbs. Still, these do offer spotlight options and can still be used as a highlighting tool.
PAR38 LEDs also come in the highest wattage options, making them useful anywhere you need the light reaching further -- from two-story ceilings for instance, or in outdoor floodlight fixtures.
We hope this provides an easy way to understand PAR LED bulbs and their uses. You can click on any of the categories above to visit that type of bulb on our site. We offer same business day shipping for in-stock items, and our customer care team is here to assist with your purchase if needed.
Need an introduction to lighting ballasts? Here's our complete overview on this topic, in hopes of helping you find the ballasts that best meet your lighting needs. Have we missed something in this guide? Make sure to leave a comment and let us know. We'll make updates to cover as much as we can.
What is a Lighting Ballast?
Let's start with what ballasts are. Outside the lighting world, a ballast is any kind of heavy material placed low in a ship to improve its stability. In this article, any mention of a ballast is about a lighting ballast. Similar to a ship ballast, a lighting ballast provides stability to a light bulb, or lamp.
(Light bulbs are called "lamps" in the lighting industry; we may use the terms "bulb," "lamp," "light," and in some cases "tube" interchangeably to refer to the item you're lighting up with a ballast.)
A lighting ballast provides this stability by generating the voltage needed to start a lamp and then continues to regulate the flow or current of electricity during operation. This is because the lamp itself cannot regulate this electrical current and, without a ballast, would quickly be destroyed.
What Lamp Types Use Ballasts?
Incandescent light bulbs -- including halogen lamps -- do NOT require ballasts. This is because the electricity flows through a filament that resists or effectively regulates the flow. This resistance is what causes the filament to "incandesce," or glow from the heat. Of course it requires a lot of heat to cause a bright enough glow to light up a room, and this is why incandescent bulbs are so inefficient. The vast majority of energy goes toward producing heat rather than light.
LED lights also do NOT need ballasts, but use a different kind of electrical regulator called a driver.
This leaves us with gas discharge lamps, including fluorescent, metal halide, high pressure sodium, low pressure sodium, and mercury vapor lamps. All of these require lighting ballasts. Without going into detail about how these lamps work, each is filled with gases that become excited and emit photons (which we perceive as light) when charged by electricity. Since they do not have a filament to resist or regulate this electricity, the ballast does this work.
Types of Ballast Technology
There are two main types of ballast technology: electromagnetic (commonly just called “magnetic”) and electronic.
Magnetic ballasts are an older technology, and they're no longer manufactured for fluorescent lights (due to legislation), though they are for HID lamps like metal halides and high pressure sodium bulbs. The frequent hum and flickering of fluorescent lights in the past was due to magnetic ballasts modulating current at a lower cycle rate.
Magnetic ballasts for HID lamps include core and coil ballasts and F-can ballasts. Core and coil are extremely popular for their low cost, long life, and versatility, but they are also noisy; so for indoor applications -- especially in quiet environments -- you would typically want an F-can ballast or an upgrade to an electronic HID ballast. (See the video below.)
Electronic ballasts (for either fluorescent or HID lamps) are a newer technology, and they're replacing magnetic ballasts in many settings. They regulate energy more efficiently than magnetic ballasts and therefore run lights at a lower cost.
There are also some hybrid ballasts that use magnetic ballast components while being run by some electronics for increased efficiency.
Despite the fact that electronic ballasts are a newer, more efficient technology, magnetic ballasts still offer an important benefit: they work well in cold temperatures. Because of this, they continue being used for HID lamps, which are often used in outdoor settings to light parking lots, streets, construction sites, etc.
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