Candela (cd/m²) vs. Nits: A Breakdown Of Prominent Luminance Measurement Units

Luminescence is one of the most important visual elements at the moment. It determines the emission of light by a substance such as a neon or a fluorescent lamp, and it is generally a critical element of measuring light intensity. 

However, when it comes to understanding how luminescence and luminous intensity work, two metrics especially come to mind – candela and nits. Many people tend to misunderstand them, but candela and nits have lines of divergence – both in how they operate and what they track. 

In this article, we’ll look into the cd/m2 vs nits debate to understand how they work and what you should know about both units.

The Importance Of Luminance Measurement

When it comes to understanding the prowess of a display format, then luminance is one of the metrics you generally want to track. Here, you’re looking into the amount of visible light that is either emitted, transmitted, or reflected from a particular surface and in a specific direction. 

In most cases, luminance is used to describe the intensity of light that the human eye is able to accommodate. The metric is measured using the unit of  “candelas per square meter” (cd/m²), with one candela being equal to the brightness of regular candles you see everywhere. 

Generally, luminance plays an important role in understanding the efficiency of a display format. And, it comes in handy in the following ways: 

  • Visibility and Perception: The role of luminance is especially pronounced when it comes to understanding the visibility of objects in different lighting conditions. With high luminance, visibility is optimized, and you’re able to see and differentiate between objects. 
  • Visual Comfort: In environments where luminance varies, you can easily find yourself experiencing a sense of visual discomfort. By ideally controlling and measuring luminance levels, you’ll be able to create a more comfortable visual condition for the people viewing your display.
  • Lighting Design: Luminance measurements also come in handy when you need to design effective lighting systems. With a knowledge of the appropriate luminance levels, lighting designers are essentially able to create visually appealing and functional spaces. 
  • Safety: For situations such as transport system applications, an accurate measurement of luminance ensures that there’s enough lighting to optimize safe driving and navigation.
  • Photometry and Radiometry: Luminance also plays a key role in effective radiometry and photometry. These fields quantify light in terms of the human visual perception, and they can be used across multiple fields. 
  • Display Calibration: When it comes to displays like monitors and projectors, luminance ensures that you can achieve optimal brightness levels for the right visual experience. 
  • Energy Efficiency: The development of energy-efficient lighting solutions will also need proper measurement of luminance.

Now that we understand what luminance does, let’s look into the nits vs cd m2 debate to understand where these measurements operate and how to work with them.

Candela & Candela Per Square Meter (cd/m²): Understanding Its Significance

Basically, a candela is the primary unit of luminous intensity as recognized by the International System of Units. The measurement quantifies how much light is emitted in a particular section from a specific light source, and it is defined in terms of the emission of light within a particular range of wavelengths that also accommodate human eye sensitivity. 

Basically, a candela measures how bright the human eye believes a light source really is. As explained earlier, one candela signifies the brightness of a traditional candle – which, over time, has been a reference for luminous intensity itself.

In photometry, the candela operates as a fundamental measurement unit. This field considers the spectral sensitivity of the human eye to different light wavelengths, and the candela allows experts to understand this metric better. 

That said, it is also important to keep in mind that the candela measures luminous intensity – not necessary luminance. 

For luminance, we use the candelas per square meter – or cd/m². This metric essentially measures the brightness or intensity of light that is being transmitted from a surface, while also considering the distance area over which the light itself is being distributed. 

Take this as an example – if a surface comes with a luminance of 200 cd/m², it essentially means that the observer is able to perceive the same amount of light from each square meter of a surface as they would from 200 standard candles that are placed at a specific distance. 

All in all, the cd/m² unit measures how many candelas of luminous intensity are emitted or reflected from every square meter of the surface in question – or, the amount of light that is visible to a person from a specific area 

Unit Conversion to Candela Per Square Meter (cd/m²) 

Now that we understand what candela is and the candela per square meter metric, let’s look into how one becomes the other. 

Generally, to convert candela into candela per square meter, you’d need to divide the former by the area over which the light is distributed. The simple formula for this conversion therefore will be:

          Luminance (cd/m²) = Luminous Intensity (cd) / Area (m²)

Simply put, you begin by understanding the luminous intensity in candela. Then, you determine the area over which the light itself is being distributed. It could be the area of a screen, a surface, or any other platform where you’re making this measurement. Get the distance, then divide the luminous intensity by that distance to get the luminance – in candela per square meter. 

Say you have a light source emitting light at a luminous intensity of 1,000 cd. And, you need to calculate this into luminance on a screen that has an area of 3 m²: all you have to do is:

       Luminance (cd/m²) = Luminous Intensity (cd) / Area (m²) Luminance = 1,000 cd / 3 m² Luminance = 333.33 cd/m²

So, you have your reading. 

Of course, it is worth noting that luminance measures the perception of a surface by a human observer. So, it also considers the intensity of the light and the distance over which it is being distributed.

How Candela Is Used in Different Contexts 

Wondering how the cd/m² unit can come in handy? Well, consider its functionality in some of the following contexts: 

  • Display Technology: Luminance plays a key role in understanding the efficiency of display technology – from monitors to computer screens and even projectors. Essentially, manufacturers like NSE LED Cloud can use cd/m² to specify the brightness of displays, making sure that you get  optimal visual quality and readability regardless of the lighting conditions. 
  • Lighting Design: In architectural and interior lighting design, it’s also easy to see cd/m² being used to set and evaluate lighting levels in different locations. With proper luminance, you’re able to create comfortable environments for different activities and tasks. 
  • Photometry and Radiometry: The candela per square meter metric works in radiometry and photometry, ensuring proper readings of scientific research results. 
  • Outdoor Lighting: These days, it’s easy to find lighting in outdoor spaces. And, for this to be effective, you need luminance to determine the right illumination levels – whether for roadways, public spaces, outdoor signage, and more. With cd/m² measurements, you can ensure adequate levels of safety, visibility, and aesthetics.
  • Automotive Lighting: You also see a great deal of importance being placed on luminance when it comes to automotive lighting as well. Besides measuring the luminous intensity levels, automotive lighting systems can also be judged based on their cd/m² values to ensure proper brightness and visibility for indicators, headlights, and more. 
  • Visual Display Quality: The quality of visual displays, such as digital screens, is often assessed based on their luminance uniformity. cd/m² measurements help identify areas of uneven brightness that could impact user experience.
  • Medical Imaging and Photography: In the medical imaging space, luminance helps to ensure consistency and standardization in image quality. The same goes for medical photography and other visual capture technologies.
  • Outdoor Advertising: Displays that help with outdoor ads – digital signage, anamorphic LED displays, and more – need luminance values in cd/m² to catch your eye. This is especially true if the signages are placed in different locations and lighting conditions.
  • Calibration and Standardization: cd/m² values can work as references for calibration in different light measurement instruments, thus ensuring precision in measurements across different devices.

In all of these contexts, the candela per square meter unit serves as a standard for quantifying luminance. It helps researchers, developers, designers, and more to create and measure lighting and visual display solutions that easily meet their quality standards.

What Is Nits And How Is It Used?

Next on the cd m2 vs nits debate, we look at how nits works and why the metric is so popular. 

Like candela per square meter, nits also measures luminance. In fact, the term can be exchanged for (cd/m² to quantify luminance – and, many times, it is. Sure, it might sound like the head of lice. But, in the display world, nits helps to determine the brightness of a display simply. 

In the context of displays, nits can be used in different ways. Some of these include the following:

  • Display Brightness: For measuring the brightness of displays, nits have essentially become a major standard. It doesn’t matter if it’s your computer monitor, TV, or even your phone. What you’re essentially doing is controlling the number of nits emitted by the display directly.
    The higher the nits value, the brighter a display is. And, it becomes even more visible in an environment with optimal lighting. 
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range): For HDR displays and content, you also see nits playing a major role. Generally, HRD content is mastered with a broader brightness range. And, these displays come with the ability to reproduce these different levels of brightness across the board.
    It is also worth noting that display specifications tend to come with nits values in order to indicate how well the display is able to produce bright highlights and deep blacks. 
  • Outdoor Visibility: For outdoor displays, you see nits playing a major role. These displays need to overcome ambient light in order to maintain their visibility. When a display has a higher nits value, it is essentially more suitable for outdoor applications like digital billboards and information kiosks.
  • Visual Quality Assessment: Every display option needs to be properly tested. And, for this, manufacturers like us at NSE LED Cloud use nits measurements to p evaluate factors such as luminance uniformity, contrast ratio, and color accuracy. All of these measurements are critical for ensuring that displays meet certain standards for optimizing visual performance.
  • Calibration and Standardization: The process of display calibration involves making careful adjustments to a display’s settings time and again in order to get precise and consistent brightness and colors. With nits measurements, you can optimize this calibration process and ensure that a display is up to code.
  • Industry Standards: We all know that displays work in various industries. And, each industry has its own specific standards for maintaining display brightness. With nits measurements, you can ensure that compliance is verified across the board with these standards. 
  • Energy Efficiency: Nits measurements can also be critical in helping manufacturers and users to understand how energy-efficient a display really is. By dropping its display brightness, you can conserve energy while also keeping visibility optimal across the board.

All in all, nits help to expand the practicality of luminance as a metric. From determining a display’s performance to optimizing visual quality and more, this metric comes in very handy.

Candela vs Nits: What’s The Difference? 

In all honesty, there isn’t much of a difference when it comes to the nits vs cd/m2 comparison. They are essentially the same unit of measurement, with their aim being to focus on measuring luminance. Just as well, they can be used interchangeably, expressing the amount of light that the human eye can see per unit area. 

However, it is also worth noting that the term “nits” has become more commonly associated with screen brightness and the brightness of display options. This is especially true when it comes to things like electronics. Marketers and manufacturers can use nits to describe how bright their screens, TVs, monitors, and projectors are.

This here is mostly due to the fact that “nits” is simpler to say and reference. So, if you want to describe monitor brightness nits vs cd m2, then nits will most likely be the choice you make. The term’s connection to the term for brightness is also noticeable – directly responsible for its more popular use. 

All in all, candela per square meter cd/m² and “nits” pretty much refer to the same unit of luminance. The only difference is that “nits” is a term that is commonly used in the context of display technology to describe screen brightness.

How To Convert Nits Into Candela Per Square Meter

The general step for converting nits into candela per square meter is pretty simple. Since the two metrics are pretty much the same for measuring luminance, you don’t need any calculation. 

Essentially, 1 nit is equal to 1 candela per square meter:

                                                                                1 nit = 1 cd/m²

Any metric that is measured in candela per square meter can be represented in nits and vice versa.

Understanding Conversion Factors & Relationships 

So we pointed out that you don’t need to make any calculations to convert between both metrics. Nevertheless, there are a few factors that could affect the practical use of these terms. Soe of them include:

  • Calibration and Measurement: The precision of any luminance measurement will depend significantly on the calibration of the measuring equipment itself. Different devices would most likely provide different measurements due to this variance, so keep that in mind.
  • Display Technology: When it comes to displays, the term “nits” is primarily used to describe the brightness of a screen. Most manufacturers and marketers sell their products based on nits values, but remember that the actual measured luminance could vary a bit based on both the display technology and measurement technologies
  • Ambient Light: The perceived brightness of a display can be skewed by the presence of ambient light in the viewing environment. When the environment is properly lit, you might notice the display appearing a bit brighter – compared to a dim room. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the luminance value – whether in brightness nit vs cd/m2 – has changed at all. 
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range): As we explained earlier, the nits value is mostly associated with the highest brightness levels of a display in the context of HDR displays – especially concerning the darkest blacks it can produce. The  overall perception of HDR content and displays usually transcends the numerical value of these nits, however, and it would most likely involve the ability of the display to produce a broad range of luminance values. 
  • Human Perception: Although nits and cd/m² are equivalent units, the ability of a person to perceive brightness can still be influenced by factors such as the content being displayed, the viewing distance, and individual differences in optical sensitivity. 
  • Context: Finally, we explained earlier that the term”nits” is more commonly used in the context of displays – especially when marketers try to sell a product. On the other hand, you’d most likely see “candela per square meter” (cd/m²) more frequently when talking about specific contexts and technical discussions. 

All in all, remember that nits and cd/m² are the same unit. But, their practical use and interpretation can easily vary based on the technology, context, calibration, and human perception.

Challenges and Considerations in The Nits-Candela Conversion

As we explained earlier, there isn’t much of a difference when converting as you consider the nit brightness definition vs cd m2. However, it is also important to keep an eye on some of the following possible challenges: 

  • Display Technology: Different displays have their way of distributing and emitting light. Whether it’s an OLED, screen, LCD, or any other variant, you need to understand the relationship between perceived brightness and measured nit vs cd/m2. And, keep in mind that this correlation might not always be linear across display types.
  • Viewing Environment: The viewing environment – particularly, the ambient lighting conditions – can have a considerable impact on the perception of a display. Depending on the ambient light, a display can appear brighter or dimmer. This is despite the fact that the luminance measurement can be the exact same thing.
  • Content and Contrast: You should also note that the content displayed on a screen can affect its overall perceived brightness. In the case of high-contrast content, the display might appear brighter – while low-contrast content might make a display look dimmer.
  • Human Perception: Of course, there’s also the fact that human perception of brightness is subjective. Visual acuity, adaptation to brightness and lighting conditions, and more can easily influence the perception of brightness generally. 
  • Standardization: While the units themselves are standardized, there can be variance in the way they are reported, measured, and interpreted. With industry standards and measurement protocols, we can get optimal consistency in specifications and comparisons.

Candela vs Nits: How To Make A Choice

Despite their similarity, there’s a significant probability that you’d need to make a clear choice when presenting your luminance readings. So, how do you discern in the cd m2 vs nits debate?

  • Industry and Context: First, you want to understand the context in which you’re communicating and the industry you play in.  The term “nit” is more commonly associated with displays and screen brightness, and it is mostly used when describing the properties of display technology. On the other hand, scientific and technical reports tend to use the candela per square meter reading. 
  • Audience Understanding: You should also put your audience’s familiarity with the terms into consideration. If you’re discussing with professionals in fields like photometry, lighting design, radiometry, then using “candela per square meter” would most likely be the best bet. For a broader audience, however, there’s a high chance that “nits” would be more relatable.
  • Technical Precision: For those who want to emphasize technical precision, then “candela per square meter” might be the more suitable option. The term directly communicates the unit of measurement, and it can provide more emphasis on accuracy discussions in technical fields.
  • Display Technology: If your focus is specifically on displays, screens, and visual technologies, then it goes without saying that “nits” will be the better choice for you. 
  • Industry Standards: It could also help if you could check if there are any specific industry standards that dictate the term to use. Some industries come with established guidelines that help ensure consistency in communication, and following them will save you a great deal of stress. 
  • Content Format: Finally, put the format of your content into consideration. If you’re dealing with a technical document or something being presented to professionals, then “candela per square meter” will most likely be the appropriate option. On the other hand, “nits” will work better if it’s a consumer-friendly guide or marketing material.


Candela per meter square and nits pretty much do and describe the same thing. However, the point here is to understand where each term can be used and how to navigate this equivalency. 

If you need more clarity, feel free to contact us at NSE LED Cloud and we’ll be more than happy to help out.

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