What is Lumen in Projector? And How to Use Them to Choose a Projector?

Lumens crop up every time you shop for a projector. What are they anyway? Why are they so essential when it comes to choosing the best projector for you or the best quality projector from across the board? What is about them that makes the projector tick?

What is lumen in projector terms? And how to use them to choose a projector will also be covered for good measure.

What is Lumen in Projectors?

Lumens—officially known as ANSI lumens—are units of measurement that show how strong or intense a light source is. ANSI, by the way, is the acronym for the American National Standards Institute. There are many different scenarios involved that require different lumen levels or ranges.

Candlelight is obviously weaker than a bonfire or light bulb, for example. Lumens are related to projectors because projection has always involved light control and how it’s reflected or projected onto a given screen or surface.

When evaluating which projector to get for your home entertainment setup or business presentations, don’t be overwhelmed by the many strange terminologies and specifications involved.

 Further reading: How Many Lumens for Outdoor Projector Do You Need?

Why are Lumens Important?

You need to go back to the basics and look at the most important features such as lumens, screen size, and resolution (whether it’s SD or HD as well as FHD or UHD).

lumen in projector
Lumen in projector


While device resolution and contrast ratio are important projector features, ANSI lumen count is yet another important factor to consider when it comes to objectively appraise the brightness of a given device in numerical terms rather than subjective terms as “dim” or “really bright”.

Ambient Light Robs the Shine of Your Projector 

To wit, the brighter your projector the sharper the resulting image will be. In dark rooms, you can get away with dimmer projector lamps but in classrooms without the blinds drawn or conference halls with bright lights as well as outdoor drive-in theaters, you’re required brighter lights.

See more: How Many Lumens Do You Need to Project in Daylight?

The brighter lights with more lumens help the projector combat having its brightness look dimmer in comparison to all the surrounding ambient light around it. Even a dim light looks bright in the darkness in its lonesome but it fades when a brighter light source or sources surround it.

What are the Lumen Counts of Common Light Sources?

According to projector experts, the following common light sources have the corresponding lumen counts. They’re arranged in accordance with lumen count from least to greatest. 

  • Candle: 14 lumens.
  • Sunset: 400 lumens.
  • Fluorescent Office Lighting: 400 lumens.
  • Movie Set Lighting: 1,000 lumens.
  • 100-Watt Light Bulb: 1,600 lumens.
  • Home LED DLP Projector: 2,000 to 3,000 lumens or more.
  • Business Laser DLP Projector: Up to 5,000 lumens or more.
  • Sunny Day: Up to 100,000 lumens or more.

You can mitigate the ambient light of outdoor projection by putting the screen in the shade or at a darker corner, thus you won’t need a concentrated beam of 100,000-lumen lamp just for people to see your projection during daylight.

lumen in projector
Lumen in projector

What are the Key Light Sources of a Projector?

The key light sources or types of lamp used with a projector are lamp, LED, and laser. Because lasers are concentrated beams of light, you could get away with projecting lower lumens on pico or pocket-sized projectors because the end result should still be remarkably sharp.

Lamp light of the metal halide or halogen variety has lower lumens as well but only because of the limitations of the bulbs. They can also easily make the projector overheat the same way incandescent bulbs get hotter compared to fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Lumen Counts of Lamp Projectors vs. Laser Projectors vs. LED Projectors

Lamp projectors typically run at least 2,000 lumens. Laser projectors can reach all the way to 3,500 lumens. With optional equipment, you can even go higher. Finally, LED projectors max out at 2,000 lumens instead. 

The differences between lamp and LED projectors despite having similar luminosity are higher quality images, sharper pictures, and better contrast due to the LED bulbs being longer-lasting and less prone to overheating.

Why are LEDs Better Than Standard Projector Lamps?

The LED (Light-Emitting Diode) is superior to lamp bulbs like metal halide and halogen because they last longer on average. A high-intensity UHP (Ultra High Performance) lamp lasts about 4,000 to 6,000 hours in eco mode. An LED lamp with the same lumens lasts 10,000 hours on average. 

Furthermore, LED projectors to have better luminous efficiency and improved color saturation, which results in higher perceived brightness or at least a more efficient distribution of light relative to the projected image.

Furthermore, their ANSI lumen measurement more than meets the eye because a similarly rated standard lamp projector might appear dimmer compared to an LED projector with the same rating.

Ambient Light and How it Steals Your Projector’s Thunder 

Ambient light is the reason why projectors are so bright nowadays. In the past, you could get away with dim or even oil-lamp-lit projectors of yore as long as you put the projector inside a dark room or pitch-black room with blackout curtains to minimize daylight or ambient light.

When you can’t control the ambient light in the room by turning it off and whatnot, like in the case of daylight, it ruins the image by stealing the thunder or brightness of the projection. Ambient light is defined as light that’s already present in a given place before additional lighting is installed.

They could be normal room lights or natural light peeking out of your windows.

You may also like: How Many Lumens Do You Need to Project in Daylight? 

Brightness When Ambient Light is Present

A conference room or convention area with loads of lighting requires higher brightness on the part of your projector to deliver images that don’t lack in intensity or overall brightness. You can get away with dimmer lights in darker spaces but you also require a higher contrast ratio to boot. 

Multipurpose places require a lumen range of 2,000 to 4,000 lumens. In regards to screen size and luminosity, the rule of thumb is that the bigger the screen size the more brightness is required to deliver sharp images.

The Lumen Requirements of Home Projectors

In a home cinema or theater environment, you should pick a projector that’s rated at below 3,000 ANSI lumens. This is enough to cover an 80-inch to 100-inch picture (most homes require 80 inches, especially humbler or smaller apartments).

Take note that with these devices, significant effort is placed on ambient light level control. Your living room should have curtains and lighting fixtures you can turn off. Not necessarily to the point of putting the room in pitch blackness but enough to minimize ambient light.

  • Bigger Screens Require More Lumens: If you’re seeking large image projection, you’ll need a higher lumen count in turn from your home cinema projector of choice. Even though more lumens means a pricier price tag, the image is at least more resistant to ambient light fade. 
  • Under 3,000 ANSI Lumens: People who choose projectors with this brightness level are usually targeting superior color performance on an 80-inch or so screen size. However, they need tight control of ambient light to maintain image vibrancy while mitigating fadeout risk. 
  • Above 3,000 ANSI Lumens: Consumers gunning for above 3,000 ANSI lumens typically have more money to burn for an Ultra HD 4K resolution projector. At this level of pixel density, more light is required to maintain vibrancy. It’s less sensitive to ambient light impact as well. 

More lumens or brighter levels don’t necessarily equate to a better projector quality all-in-all. It depends on the context and application. For the most part, most home cinemas gun for the affordable below 3,000 lumens choice or the more expensive over 3,000 lumens pick.

The Lumen Requirements of Business and Education Projectors 

Since business and education cover huge fields, there are a couple of lumen thresholds to keep in mind for a variety of industries.

  • 3,000 to 3,999 ANSI Lumens: This lumen count is ideal for smaller settings such as a classroom or meeting based on the 80-inch or so screen size. It offers a budget-friendly price point and works in places with minimal or controlled ambient light. 
  • 4,000 to 4,999 ANSI Lumens: This lumen count is ideal for projecting high-quality images at mid-sized spaces. This is for university classrooms or A/V presentations at your school auditorium. It could even fit small theaters with even larger screens than 80 inches. 
  • 5,000+ ANSI Lumens: This lumen count is ideal for large commercial settings like conventions or for advertising space outdoors. The lumen count is so intense and bright that it works well even with high levels of daylight or ambient light, like in a drive-in or backyard theater setting. 

How to choose the projector? Read this post.

Take note that just because direct daylight is up to 100,000 lumens it doesn’t necessarily mean your projector should project a blinding 100,001 or more lumens to compensate. A shaded area or a covered court for your movie screening will suffice.

In Summation

When shopping for a projector, you can’t just go for high-lumen devices and expect to receive high-quality picture quality. Brightness does affect projector performance, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of factor that serves as your end-all-be-all measurement of projector quality. 

Sometimes, a better fit is a pico DLP projector with lower than 1,000 lumens of brightness because you need a portable projector while you’re on the go on camping vacations or office presentations during business trips.  


  1. What Are Lumens? And How to Use Them to Choose a Projector“, ViewSonic.com, January 14, 2020

James Core

I love my projector system and I am here to help you find the right projector for your needs.

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