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Best LED Work Light Buying Guide

7 Min Read

Choosing the best LED work light can be an overwhelming and confusing process. There are so many options and industry lingo, it’s enough to make anyone go back to the flashlight on their cell phone. Whether it’s a magnetic LED work light, or one with a stand, this guide looks at the design features the best LED work lights will have. Our goal is to streamline the process for you and take the stress out of the equation.

Row of work lights

There are four main components to look out for when choosing an LED work light. Broadly speaking these are:

  • Type of LED used
  • Type of battery, whether its rechargeable or not
  • Robustness of design and ‘IP rating’
  • Design features

Type of LED used

Not all LEDs are created equal

As the title suggests, some LEDs used in work lights are better than others. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. You can clearly see the difference when you pick up a quality work light like the SLR-1000 compared to a cheap one from the bargain bin of a hardware shop.

SLR-1000 Magnetic Inspection Light

The difference is down to the type of LEDs used, whether they are SMD’s or COB LEDs, or even DIP! Let’s look at the differences:

DIP LEDs – (Dual in-line package)

DIP LEDs have been around for a while and are seen in outdoor applications as they have high resistance properties against impact. This is due to their construction, being surrounded by resin and welded directly onto the circuit board via two pins. The downside, however, is the limited brightness that a DIP LED can produce. To make an effective LED work light comprised of DIP LEDs, the unit itself would have to be impracticably large and cumbersome. Despite this, they are often found on cheap work lights and camping lanterns, providing a dim and underwhelming light.

DIP LEDs lined up
DIP LEDs (Dual in-line package)

SMD LEDs – Surface Mounted Diode

SMD LEDs are used in multiple LED work lights. They are reliable and can pack up to three diodes onto a single SMD chip. This means you can create a different range of colours from a single chip. They do produce more of a glare, which makes it a better choice as a spot light, rather than as a floodlight. This glare is offset by strong diffusers which fan the spread of the LEDs into a uniform pattern.

SMD LED chip
SMD LED (Surface Mounted Diode)

COB LEDs – Chip on Board

COB LEDs are the latest technology found in work lights. These LEDs pack in 9+ diodes into a single LED chip, making them much more efficient for the space they occupy. This also means they emit more light for the power they consume, leading to brighter LED work lights that operate at greater efficiency.

COB LED chip
COB LED (Chip On Board)

Hopefully this has helped you to understand some common LED variants. But how bright are they? Traditionally, work light brightness was measured in watts. Back in the day, you may have had a 5, or 10 watt work light. Nowadays, they are measured in lumens, with a rough conversion of 1 watt to 100 lumens. So next time you see a work light with a rating of 30w, you will know it’s about 3000 lumens.

“200,000 lumen work light”

The larger the lumen output, the more light it can generate, right? Not so fast! Some LED lights found on sites like Amazon and eBay will claim crazily high lumen outputs for the price. For example, a 200,000-lumen work light for $30. This is completely false and the lumen output would be under 1000 in reality. Unless the work light has gone through testing with a body such as ANSI FLI, then these lumen outputs are just unsubstantiated claims.

Best LED work light buying guide – Rechargeable or disposable battery?

For years, disposable batteries ruled the roost when it came to work lights. The convenience of quickly swapping the batteries out made them popular, vs the long charging time of old battery technology. Thankfully the situation has improved, with lithium batteries found in almost all technology. Rechargeable work lights are no exception.

SLR-4400 Rechargeable Site Light

The question is, what is better? Well, that depends on how often you use it. If this work light is going to receive some serious usage, then a rechargeable battery is going to be its best power source. It won’t take too many charges before it has already paid you back for the initial investment.

Unlike old nickel variants, lithium batteries are a very reliable power source. This is down to the way the energy is charged and discharged.

Lithium batteries tend to charge a lot quicker than nickel batteries and have less of a ‘memory effect’ which in the past hampered the longevity of a rechargeable battery. A battery memory effect is essentially whether a battery will lose some of its power if recharged when not fully discharged.

For example, if you have a work light that has 40% charge left and you decide to recharge it, a battery with a high memory effect will permanently diminish a fraction of that battery’s efficiency. Eventually, if you keep up this type of charging ‘behavior’, then the battery will have lost most of its power. This was common in Nickel batteries, where the recommendation was to completely discharge the battery before recharging.

5-stage battery indicators

Lithium, however, doesn’t have as much of this effect. You can perform top-up charges without letting the batteries completely run down. Therefore, most modern mobile phones use lithium batteries.

“an expensive way of powering your work light”

Disposable batteries – At what cost?

Now that we have lithium batteries covered, why do people still use disposable batteries in work lights? It all comes down to convenience. AA & AAA batteries are found everywhere. I bet your local store has a pack of either of them on the shelf. This means if you run out halfway through a job, simply pop to the shop and pick some up. This however can be quite an expensive way of powering your work light…

Good quality batteries cost around $5 per pack, so if you’re having to use a pack every day and you work for 5 days a week, 20 days a month, then the cost is around $100 a month. An eye-watering amount when you work out the numbers! This alone makes the case for rechargeable work lights, as they even with the cost of recharging them every day, it will work out far cheaper in a matter of weeks.

Daily disposable battery cost
$5 a day
$25 a week
$100 a month
$1200 a year

The case for disposable batteries in an LED work light

Disposable battery work lights are useful when they are used once every few months or as a backup. If they are used in domestic settings for the occasional look in the loft, or when checking the car’s dipstick, then a disposable battery work light can be handy. This is because these actions will require only 30 minutes of use max.

With this type of usage, a single pack of good quality AA or AAA batteries may last you the year inside a work light like the CT-2 or the super popular PL-3. In addition, if you are a tradesperson who needs a work light every day of the week, having a disposable battery work light makes for a good backup in those shortages when you need to recharge your main work light.

CT-2 Cheap Inspection Light

Picking a robust and waterproof LED work light

You can tell when something is built with higher quality, just by picking it up. When you feel its structure, you can see the robustness of its design. This is one of the key differences between cheap work lights and premium work lights. When shopping online you don’t get the benefit of being able to physically pick the light up, but you can see the construction properties the manufacturer has detailed about them.

Common quality materials to look out for are nylon-polymer, copolymer and aluminum. Both ‘polymers’ are used extensively in work light construction, as they provide a strong yet lightweight ‘shell’. This is very important when used regularly and in tough environments.

“Work lights with these construction materials are a winning formula.”

Aluminum provides a lightweight metal that is highly corrosion-resistant and flexible.

Work lights with these construction materials are a winning formula. Look out for companies that state this in their product descriptions, so you are not disappointed with the quality.

Another nod to build quality is the ‘IP rating’ a work light has. IP rating stands for ‘Ingres Protection’ and in simple terms refers to its dust and waterproof qualities. When a work light goes through testing, the manufacturer will test its resistance to both dust and water. At least it should do and if so it should be tested to an industry-standard like ANSI FL1, which is an industry-wide testing procedure designed to ensure a uniform level of quality across all manufacturers.

CRI-1650R work light covered in water and dust

What is covered in the ANSI FL1 test?

During the ANSI FL1 tests, they look at the following:

Lumen output – Simply the measure of light a work light produces

Peak beam intensity – The measure of luminous intensity at the ‘middle’ of the beam

Beam distance (M) – The maximum distance the beam of the work light can reach

Runtime – How long the work light will run till it drops below 10% of its output

Impact resistance – How maximum meters can it be dropped from safely

Dust and waterproofing (IP rating) – how much protection it offers against dust and water

The findings of the IP rating are given a numerical code so people can understand the level of dust and water protection they have.

IP Table


As you can see from the chart, the higher the number, the greater the level of protection. Solids are measured between 1 and 6 and water between 1 and 8. The final findings are an IP rating that look something like:

IP65 text

This indicates an IP rating of IP65. This ensures complete protection against any form of dust and some level of water protection (providing all charging ports and covers are closed). At this level, the work light can withstand ‘jets of water’, so you could confidently use it in the rain, but just not if the ‘water jets’ are too powerful, or if it becomes submerged.

Sometimes an IP rating can appear like:

IPX5 text

The X in the first number means it ‘has not been tested’ for dust ingress. It does not mean it cannot be used in environments with dust. It simply means it has not had any form of testing against it.

Always look at the IP rating when deciding which LED work light to purchase, as you will need one to cope with the type of environment you are using it in. For example, if you work on the highways or railways, then you will spend most of your days/nights outdoors. You will therefore need a work light that has strong waterproofing. If your work light fails here, then you risk being left in the dark in a very dangerous situation.

What design features do you need when choosing the best LED Work light?

There are so many different names for work lights, that it often becomes an incredibly broad category which means different things to different people. Some people refer to them as ‘task lights’, some as ‘site lights’ and even ‘job lights’. With definitions that vary so much, it’s more important to look at what the light can do, rather than its name.

SLR-1000 carabiner clip

Work lights are often placed into very tight spaces. Therefore their ‘fixing options’ are crucial. What we mean by this are its: stands, magnets, hooks, clips and anything else that allows you to fix it to a position that you desire. Magnets are used as a fixing option so work lights to be placed on electrical panels, under car hoods and against steel girders. As most tradespeople are never too far from metal, this makes the addition of magnets so useful.

SLR-1750R magnetic Site Light

If you are looking to place a work light on the floor, then a ‘kick stand’, or flat base with a rotational body makes the most sense. This way you can place it on the ground and angle the light up to the desired location. Larger ‘site lights’ often have these as they carry more weight and need to placed on the ground. This isn’t the case for all site lights, however, as some will have magnets built into their stand to allow for placement at height. A good example of this is with the SLR-3500 and SLR-5500 site lights.

Some work lights will also have tripod mounts, so they can be positioned at height. Tripods come in different shapes and sizes, so if you’re choosing one for a work light then make sure you check which lights are compatible with it.

Conclusion – Ready to buy the best LED work light!

There are so many different options when it comes to work lights. Hopefully, this guide has helped to cut through the confusion and presented some of the key features to look out for when choosing your new work light.

At Unilite, we have a solid lineup of work lights and proven experience in this field, having started in the early 1980s. If you need any more information about our collection of lights, please check us out at https://unilitena.com/ or get in touch at sales@unilitena.com

Further Reading