What Does a Light Fixture’s IP Rating Mean?

Lighting, regardless of the technology being used (LED, halogen, incandescent, etc.), has to be treated with respect. It can draw high electrical currents, generate heat, and be subject to hostile environments (like an unexpected rainstorm during an outdoor video shoot). Furthermore, dust, dirt, and particulate matter can enter into a fixture, and reduce efficiency. On the other hand, there are also less critical lighting scenarios that aren’t particularly demanding.

When specifying lighting for an application, whether theatre, houses of worship, video production, schools, or whatever, it’s crucial to choose lighting fixtures that are appropriate to the task. For example, there’s no need for a waterproof fixture for a theater lobby’s lighting; however, it might need to be protected against insects being able to get inside, because in the process of being zapped by the light, they’d burn up and could produce an unpleasant odor.

As with anything else in life, you need to be prepared for the unexpected. You might purchase lights for a video production and assume the production facility will be a clean, non-hostile environment. That’s fine—until you need to shoot a video at a factory that generates significant particulate matter, or a promo video for a cruise line where an occasional splash of salt spray materializes at the worst possible moment.

Make the Right Lighting Selection

To make the lighting selection process easier, check for the lighting’s IP (usually referred to as Ingress Protection) rating. This specifies the protection an electrical enclosure, fixture, or connector offers against foreign objects, from a child’s inquisitive fingers to water. Note that an IP code can apply to anything—cell phones, electrical connectors, outdoor speakers, etc. With lighting, it can apply to the fixture itself and the connectors and vents used by the fixture, because they offer the greatest opportunity for dust and water to invade.

The code has two numbers. The first indicates the degree of protection against solid matter entering the fixture, while the second indicates the degree of protection from liquids. The higher the number, the greater the amount of protection. The first digit ranges from 0 (no specific protection) to 6 (the fixture is sealed so tightly even dust can’t get in). Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 indicate the largest diameter of an object that can enter the fixture (50, 12, 2.5, and 1 mm, respectively). 5 indicates that the fixture is resistant to dust, but not dust-tight. Unless the incoming dust is ongoing, it won’t be in a high enough quantity to interfere with the light’s operation.

If there’s a second digit (if not, you’ll see an X), it specifies resistance to water. Numbers range from 0 (no protection) to 9 (handles high-pressure, prolonged submersion and powerful jets of water). For example, 1 means protection against falling water drops and drips, while 8 means the lighting can be immersed in water. 2 and 3 indicate resistance to water spray coming in at 15 or 60 degrees from vertical respectively, 4 resists water spray from all directions, 5 can handle low-pressure water jets, and 6 can deal with situations like lighting a boat that gets hit with waves. For really tough applications, 7 allows temporary immersion in water up to 3 feet deep, 8 allows continuous immersion in water (within constraints specified by the manufacturer), and 9K indicates resistance to high-temperature, high-intensity water jets.

Real-World Examples

A light rated at IP40 is common for indoor applications, because it keeps out most foreign objects and will (hopefully) never have to deal with being hit by water. For theater lights, which usually mount away from prying fingers and have no chance of being subjected to water, an IP20 rating (as for the Elation SixPar 300 ; see Fig. 1) is typical.


Figure 1: The Elation SixPar 300’s IP rating is IP20, which is fine for typical indoor lighting.

However, there are options for more demanding applications, like the ADJ 18P Hex IP (Fig. 2).


Figure 2: Note how the back of the ADJ 18P Hex IP is protected against solid or liquid material, including caps on the connectors.

Its IP65 rating makes it suitable for outdoor use because not only is it dust-proof, it can handle a reasonable amount of water. You might choose a light like this for outdoor theatre, on-location outdoor shoots, or lighting for cruise ship stages. Realistically, an IP65 rating will handle even fairly extreme needs; but if the lights need to be hosed off, or exposed to downpours, it may be necessary to use IP67-rated lights.

IP ratings also matter for outdoor flood lighting as used in theme parks, theaters, restaurants, security lighting, bars, and the like. The Osram Sylvania OSKREIOSFLX (Fig. 3) is a good example of an IP65-rated light that also offers the advantage of cool LED operation instead of standard halogen floodlights.


Figure 3: The Osram Sylvania OSKREIOSFLX is a floodlight, suitable for outdoor use, that uses LED lighting technology.

IP codes help match lighting products to your specific needs. Once you’ve determined the nature of those needs, and the meaning of IP code numbers, it’s much easier to choose the right lighting for the right job. If you have further questions, call your Full Compass Professional at 800-356-5844 (Monday-Friday, 7:00am-5:30pm Central time) for expert, helpful advice.

Leave a Reply