Nits vs. Lumens: Understanding Brightness Ratings In Displays

Regardless of the display variant or format, one of the most critical things to keep in mind is brightness. At the end of the day, there’s hardly any way for you to optimize your display if it isn’t bright enough. 

When brightness is concerned, two important metrics that need to be considered are nits and lumens. And, many display manufacturers tend to measure this metric in one way or the other. In most cases, manufacturers tend to focus more on either nits or lumens. So, how do the two of them compare and what are the connections between them? 

Importance of Brightness in Displays and Projectors

For your display, brightness is one of the most critical factors you would want to keep an eye on. Whether it’s a television, computer, or even an outdoor display option that you need for marketing and communications, you want to make sure that you can optimize brightness as much as possible. 

In general, brightness plays a critical role across several spectrums. These include:

  • Visibility and Readability: With optimal brightness, you can ensure that the content being displayed on your screen is readable and visible – regardless of the lighting conditions around the location. 
  • Enhanced Clarity: A brighter display can also improve text sharpness and clarity, ensuring that displays requiring detailed viewing can be seen across the board. 
  • Color Accuracy: With the right brightness settings, you can greatly improve the accuracy of colors being displayed on your screen. They appear more vibrant, making it easier to conduct tasks such as photo editing and design.
  • User Comfort: Generally, brightness needs to be adjustable, allowing you to customize the settings of your display to your preferred levels.
  • Energy Efficiency: Most modern display options also come with features such as automatic brightness adjustments that work with the ambient lighting levels to create a more energy-efficient lighting standard. 
  • Accessibility: With brightness controls, you can ensure that people who have visual impairments don’t have to do so much to access your display or content. 

A Beginner’s Guide To Nits vs. Lumens

Now that we understand the critical nature of brightness to everyday lighting, let’s consider two important metrics that are usually applied when measuring the metric – lumens and nits.

Understanding Nits 

The term “nit” is one of the most important for anyone looking to measure and understand brightness and how it works. In general, “nit” is a unit of measurement that helps to quantify the brightness of a display. In most cases, it is used to measure display brightness across display options. 

You might not know this, but the term “nit” is actually short for “candela per square meter” (cd/m²). This is the formal unit of measurement for brightness and luminance. Well look into how to measure candela later

Essentially, a nit represents how much light is being emitted by a display – especially in a specific area. With more nits, you get more brightness  – and we already know, there is no way to overstate the importance of brightness in display options. 

Just as well, it is important to note that the number of nits that a display can give you will mostly vary depending on the technology or display type – from LCDs to OLEDs to LEDs and more. Manufacturer requirements, models, and intended display use will also be important here. 

At the end of the day, your choice of the display brightness will depend on the device requirements as well as what you intend to use it for. In most cases, devices with higher nits tend to work better for outdoor use, while those with lower nits are more suitable for indoor environments where lighting is more controlled. 

Just as well, high-nit displays are much better for tasks such as graphic design displays and color presentation. All in all, you need to carefully consider the number of nits that a display can handle in order to ensure that it can meet your image quality and visibility requirements.

How Nits Measure Display Brightness 

While measuring cd/m² to lumens, it is important for you to understand how nits help to measure brightness and why the metric has become so important. 

In general, the nit brightness measurement is based on the metric’s ability to quantify how much light is emitted from a display over a particular distance span. Here is how the metrics helps to measure brightness in general: 

  • Luminance Measurement: As we all know, luminance measures the amount of visible light that comes from a particular source. In the case of displays, luminance represents how bright emitted light really is.
  • Area Consideration: Nits also consider the distance over which you measure luminance itself. For most considerations, this area measurement is measured based on a meter squared.
  • Candela Measurement: Candela is the basic unit for measuring a light source’s efficiency in terms of brightness. And in the case of display brightness, the metric usually measures light perpendicular to a screen’s surface.
  • Normalization: To come to a number for nits, you need to divide luminance by the area over which it is being measured. The result of this calculation is what you express as nits or cd/m². Of course, if you’re looking to calculate 300 cd/m² to nits, you really don’t have to. In terms of comparing cd/m² vs nits, they’re the same thing!

For a bit of an example, consider a display with a measurement of 500 nits. This means that the display emits 500 candelas of light for every single square meter across its surface area. Display manufacturers tend to display their brightness measures in terms of nits to give consumers a better idea of how bright it is across the board. 

And as a consumer, you also need to consider what you’re looking to use a display for in your bid to determine the right brightness levels – or, if you will, the right nit levels. Optimizing this will help ensure that the display is able to work as intended across the board. 

An Explanation Of Lumens

Next, let’s examine the lumens metric itself. 

In its simplest sense, lumens – taken as lm – is a unit of measurement that is used to describe the total amount of visible light that a source is able to give off. Essentially, it measures light intensity and the ability of a light source to emit light in different directions.  

How Lumens Measure Projector Brightness 

Now that we understand lumens, let’s take a look into the metric and how it measures the brightness of a display variant. 

  • Brightness Measurement: In its most basic form, lumens is used to indicate the brightness of a light source and how it appears to the human eye. When a light source has a higher lumen rating, then it is brighter. 
  • Uniform Measurement: Just as well, lumens will provide a more consistent way to draw comparisons between different light sources and their brightness. The metric is especially convenient because it doesn’t depend on the type of display or even the technology.
  • Directional vs. Omni-Directional: That said, it is important for you to note that lumens can also measure light output in different directions. You have light sources such as flashlights and spotlights that focus their output in a specific direction. And for these, you might find that the brightness you experience from them might be a bit higher than what the source’s lumen rating might show. 
  • Application in Lighting: Like nits, lumens are usually applied when you need to describe the brightness of a lighting product. For instance, a bulb that is rated at about 100 Watts will usually emit something in the region of 1600 lumens. However, that same equivalent in a LED light bulb might show the same light amount while still using less energy across the board. This is why things like LED posters and other lED-based concepts are so advantageous. 
  • Brightness vs. Color: Lumens provide an accurate measurement of a light source’s brightness. However, it doesn’t necessarily share much information about light color. Instead, you’d need to use a metric such as Kelvins (K) to measure light color.
  • Adjustable Brightness: There has also been a growth in adoption of light fixtures such as dimmable bulbs and more that allow users to make simple adjustments to brightness levels. Essentially, users will be able to make changes to the lumens being given out. 

The Relationship Between Lumens and Lux (lx)

Now, when it comes to lumens, one of the biggest questions that most people ask is how it relates to another metric that has to do with light – lux. To be fair, the two metrics describe metrics related to light. However, they generally measure different aspects of light and aren’t necessarily used in the same context. 

As we explained earlier, lumens measure visible light that a source can emit in different directions. The metric describes light source brightness based on human eye perception, as well as the luminous output of a bulb or some other source. 

On the other hand, lux measures illuminance – or, if you will, the amount of light that falls on a specific surface area. The metric measures the intensity of light at a specific location, while considering both the total light output – which, by the way, is measured in lumens – as well as the area over which the light output is emitted. 

So, how are the two of them related? Well, let’s examine the linkage: 

  • If you get a source of light that has a specific lumen rating, you can use that rating to calculate lux at a particular point on the emission surface. All you have to do is divide the lumen by the area (which is measured in square meters), and you’re good to go. 
  • Expressed in mathematical terms, you can calculate lux this way: 

lux (lx) is: Lux (lx) = Lumens (lm) / Area (m²)

  • Essentially, if you can determine the lux level you’re looking to get at a specific location, you will be able to use this formula to determine the number of lumens required from the light source to achieve the desired result. 

Take, for example, you have a flashlight that measures 2,0000 lumens and you need to understand its illuminance on a wall that is at a distance of 4 meters. If you’re looking to convert lux to lumen, all you have to do is use this formula: 

Lux (lx) = 2000 lumens / 4 m² = 500 lux

So, the light level on the wall will be measured at 500 lux. 

A clear understanding of this relationship will be critical if you’re looking to optimize lighting design since it helps you to get the right brightness levels – especially considering specific areas of specific surfaces. 

As a manufacturer or a designer, you will be able to select the right light sources and position them efficiently in order to meet the right lighting uses and standards. 

Nits vs. Lumens: Key Component Differences

At this point, it is quite obvious that nits and lumens are two units of measurement that are related to brightness and light. The difference, however, is that they measure different aspects of light and aren’t used in the same context. Now, we won’t look into the nits to cd/m² conversion yet. However, here are a few critical component differences between both metric

Measurement Parameters:

In general, lumens measure the amount of visible light that is emitted by a source across all directions. Its job is to quality the overall brightness of the source of light.

On the other hand, nits measure the luminance of a display per a single square meter, essentially qualifying the light intensity on a specific display surface. 

Direction of Measurement:

Lumens measure total light output from a source of light, regardless of the emission direction. As such, it can help to provide a description of the brightness of a light source from any specific angle. 

As for nits, the metric measures the brightness of a screen when viewed straight on, in a direction that is perpendicular to the surface. With its directional nature, this metric represents the brightness of the display as it is viewed directly.

Area Consideration:

Generally, lumens don’t consider the distance over which the light is distributed. Instead, it provides a measure of the overall light output – while leaving out the size of the brightened area. 

Compare this to nits, which considers the area over which the light is emitted and dispersed. As such, it represents the brightness of a display based on square meters – essentially accounting for the size of the screen. 

Units and Context:

We already covered the fact that lumens are expressed as lm, referring to the brightness of bulbs, lamps, and other sources of light. 

Nits, on the other hand, are expressed in cd/m². The metric is primarily used in developing display technology that quantifies screen brightness across different display platforms and devices. 

Application Focus:

So, how are the two metrics being used?  

Generally, lumens are used to describe the brightness of light sources. As such, the metric can be used when determining things like lighting design, architectural displays, marketing displays, and general lighting applications. 

For nits, you have a metric that is mostly used to quantify the brightness of a screen or display, and which ensures that the display is visible and can provide the right brightness level for different viewing conditions. 

All in all, lumens measure total light output from a specific light source, while nits measure a display surface and its brightness rating – while considering  both the light output and the size of the display area. 

The Lumens To Nits Calculator

The conversion of lux to cd/m² will involve a process where you need to make adjustments to the total luminous flux (measured in lumens) emitted by a light source to accommodate the surface area over which the light is dispersed. 

So, if you’re looking to make the conversion from lumens to nits, it is important to understand the size of the illuminated area in square meters. Essentially, this formula comes into play: 

Nits (cd/m²) = Lumens (lm) / Area (m²)

The conversion process can be done in the following way: 

Find the Lumens: You begin by identifying the total lumens produced by the light sources. In most cases, this information will be provided in the official documentation of the product. Whether it’s a giant screen or an IMAX display, you can find this easily

Identify the Area: Next, get a measurement of the area over which the light itself is dispersed. This could be a screen’s surface or some other illuminated area. As long as the area is expressed in square meters, it’s fine. 

Apply the Formula: The formula above should be used to conduit the conversion. Simply divide the lumens by the area, and you’d be able to get the nits.

 Nits (cd/m²) = Lumens (lm) / Area (m²)

Interpret the Result: Whatever you get will be in nits (cd/m²), describing the light intensity as it is perceived on a specific surface area. 

So, imagine you have a computer screen that emits 4,000 lumens with a screen size of 2 square meters. To make the conversion from lumens to nits, the formula will have to be: 

Nits (cd/m²) = 4000 lm / 2 m² = 2000 nits

This means that the screen will have a brightness of 2,000 nits. Essentially, when you view the screen straight on, it will emit 2,000 candelas of light per a single square meter. 

So, the screen has a brightness of 2000 nits, meaning that when viewed straight on (perpendicular to the screen’s surface), it emits 2000 candelas of light per square meter. Of course, when conducting the nits to lux conversion, you can easily take things the opposite route. 

You can easily do this if you want to convert 300 cd/m² to nits and much more. And when you need to convert cd/m² to lux, you can easily flip it in reverse

Now, for this example, it is important to note that we’re assuming a consistent level of light distribution over the entire lit area. In reality, display brightness across a surface can easily vary based on factors such as screen technology and even the angle of viewing.

Nits vs Lumens: Real-World Scenarios 

At the end of the day, much of the applications of nits and luminance can be daunting. However, by understanding where and how they work, you can better apply both concepts. 

Nits (cd/m²) in Real-World Scenarios:

Device Display: With nits, you have a metric that helps to specify and compare brightness levels across displays. These can be: 

  • Smartphones and Tablets: Manufacturers of tablets and mobile phones tend to advertise their brightness a lot. And, nits help them to easily specify just how bright their products really are.
  • Monitors and TVs: Nits can also help consumers make choices between displays that can help to optimize their viewing environment. If you have a well-lit room – as well as for outdoor signage – you’d find that  then a high-nit display is most likely the better choice.

Outdoor Signage: Next up, we have outdoor signage and billboards. The nit metric will need to be sufficient to remain visible under considerable ambient light – as well as changing weather conditions. 

Automotive Displays: With nits, you have a better chance of measuring brightness for infotainment systems, instrument clusters, and more. 

Aviation and Marine Displays: We can also use nits in maritime and aircraft settings, allowing devices and signage to meet brightness requirements for readability regardless of the lighting conditions. 

Gaming Monitors: Every gamer wants a monitor with a bright display. And with the right nit settings, you can achieve optimal visibility – especially for fast-paced, action-packed gaming titles. 

Photography and Videography: Nits easily provide use in settings such as video production and photography. Here, accurate lighting conditions are needed for capturing and viewing content across the board. 

Lumens (lm) in Real-World Scenarios:

As for lumens, we also see the metric being applied in some of the following ways

Lighting Selection: First and foremost, lumens play a considerable role in helping you to choose the right bulbs and fixtures for your space. These can be any of the following: 

  • Residential Lighting: Lumens show the brightness of bulbs for kitchens, bedrooms, and other outdoor areas. 
  • Commercial and Industrial Lighting: Operators and facility managers also use lumen ratings to select lighting solutions for factories, offices, parking lots, and other functional spaces. 
  • Energy Efficiency: When you see a fixture’s lumen rating, you’re able to have an idea of how energy-efficiency it is. Essentially, a bulb is more efficient if it is able to produce more lumens per watt compared to others. This is one area where LED technology especially shines. 
  • Lighting Design: Whether you’re an interior designer or an architect, you can use lumens to plan the right lighting schemes to help you get the right illumination levels in your space.
  • Projectors: For projectors, lumens help to figure out appropriate brightness ratings across the board, ensuring that these devices can display vivid, resonant content in different rooms and lighting conditions
  • Flashlights & Street Lighting: Lumens will need to be considered when choosing both flashlights and street lighting. For personal and public use, the metric provides enough context for anyone looking to optimize their lighting settings. 

Nits vs Lumens: Factors Affecting Both Measurements 

We already pointed out the fact that nits and lumens help to measure brightness and light output. However, considering that they aren’t the same, the factors affecting them also tend to differ. Let’s take a quick look at these factors as well as how they play a role in determining the readings you get:

Factors Affecting Nits (cd/m²): 

  • Display Technology: With nits primarily measuring the brightness of displays, it should  go without saying that the type of display technology you’re working with will play a role in the rating you get. You sure won’t get the same nit rating with an anamorphic LED display that you’ll get with an LCD screen.
  • Backlighting: If you’re working with an LCD, then you will need to pay attention to the backlighting type and quality as it affects your highest achievable brightness. On the other hand, high-quality LEDs easily produce brighter output.
  • Display Size: In general, larger displays will need more powerful backlighting systems to achieve the same brightness levels as you’d get with their smaller counterparts. 
  • Brightness Setting: You should also focus more on device brightness settings as it obviously affects the final output. 
  • Ambient Light Sensors: Over the years, there has been a development in sensor technology for smartphones and other devices. These sensors adjust brightness based on ambient light automatically, and they have an effect on nit readings.
  • Age and Wear: It is possible for you to notice a drop in brightness levels due to the aging of the device. As display components age, they tend to lose their maximum brightness capacities across the board.

Factors Affecting Lumens (lm): 

On the flip side, lumens focus more on light sources and their directional brightness display. To that end, you usually have to worry about the following factors:

  • Bulb or Lamp Type: This is probably the first factor you want to keep an eye on. Lamps and bulbs come in different types, and each has its own specific lumen output. For instance, LEDs and fluorescent bulbs tend to offer more lumens than traditional options like incandescent bulbs.
  • Wattage: In traditional incandescent bulbs, you usually get more lumens when wattage is higher. However, LEDs and CFL bulbs have been able to crack this code, offering more lumens while consuming much less power. 
  • Light Fixture and Design: When designing a light fixture, you want to consider your chosen scheme – as well as the design of components like diffusers and reflectors – as all of this can have a role to play in the efficiency of lumen distribution. 
  • Bulb Color Temperature: In many cases, the bulb color temperature of a light source also plays a role in affecting brightness perception. This metric is measured in Kelvin, and you have options such as cool white, which tends to appear warm and brighter despite having comparable lumen outputs to other colors.
  • Lumen Depreciation: Like display options, light sources can also see a depreciation in lumen output due to factors such as wear and aging. In official terms, we call this “lumen depreciation.”
  • Optical Characteristics: Directionality, beam angle, and other critical optical properties will have a role in determining the distribution of light. As expected, you might find a focused beam appearing much brighter than a dispersed one. 
  • Light Distribution: The method of light distribution across an area – which depends on factors such as room layout and available space – will also affect the perception of lumens across the board.
  • Dust and Dirt: When light fixtures collect dirt and dust, you can find that the effective lumen output will be reduced considerably. 

A proper understanding of these factors will come in handy when building the right lighting systems or examining display brightness.

Nits vs Lumens vs Luminance: How These Display Concepts Measure

When it comes to understanding brightness, many experts tend to work with different units and metrics. While we already understand how nits and lumens work as well as the links between them, there is another unit that tends to gain a lot of prominence in these discussions – luminance. 

All three form a trifecta of units that can help provide a proper understanding of how brightness operates in displays and light sources. 

Nits (cd/m² – Candelas per Square Meter):

In simple terms, nits measure the luminance of a surface or display based on distance. Its job is to primarily operate as a unit of display for monitors, TVs, tablets, and other devices, where it effectively quantifies their brightness to the viewer. 

Just as well, nits provide a simple way for evaluating the readability of a display in different lighting conditions. And as long as you have an understanding of the factors that affect it, you will be able to optimize it across the board. 

Lumens (lm – Luminous Flux):

As we said earlier, lumens measure the amount of visible light that you can get from a source regardless of direction. It measures luminous flux, and can be used to specify total brightness in a bulb or lamp, as well as the luminous output of products such as flashlights and projectors. 

With total output covered, lumens can also help to compare brightness across different light sources. So, if you’re looking to make a choice between two options, understanding their lumen rating can easily give you an edge. 

It is worth noting that lumens will depend on the efficiency of the light source. Factors such as the area illuminated and the viewing distance tend not to have any effect on it. 

Luminance (cd/m² – Candelas per Square Meter):

Now, we have luminance – a metric that measures the brightness of an object or a surface. More specifically, luminance measures the amount of visible light that is reflected or emitted per square meter. 

Today, luminance is used in different fields – from photography and video production to object brightness and automotive lighting. The metric considers the surface area of light, as well as its directionality – thus, it is especially valuable for anyone looking to understand brightness perception. 

However, it is worth noting that the metric can vary based on factors such as a surface’s color, reflectivity, and the illumination angle. 

Comparison Summary:

So, what does this all tell us? Here is a breakdown of some critical points: 

  • Essentially, nits and luminance can be seen as the same unit of measurement. And in many cases, they can be used interchangeably when expressing a display or a surface’s brightness levels. 
  • As for lumens, the metric looks into the total light output of a light source and shows their brightness across the board. 
  • While lumens can offer valuable information about light output, nits or luminance will be able to explain how the light is perceived across the board for your display or surface, 


Nits and lumens are two critical metrics that help us to clearly measure brightness. And for display manufacturers, understanding the distinction between them will come in handy when optimizing brightness across the board.

At NSE LED Cloud, we have a proper understanding of this and have been able to factor both in our products. Reach out to us to learn more!

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