Softening LED Light Output for Ceiling Recessed Fixtures

The efficiency of LED lighting technology comes in part from its naturally directional light output. This quality makes it a logical solution for flood or spot lighting, wall washing, and other large commercial and industrial applications. However, it can also be a roadblock to adopting LED lights for home, healthcare, and hospitality settings where softer, more ambient light may be preferred.

Luminaire manufacturers employ several techniques to deliver this quality from LED recessed lights in such settings. As each one diminishes the lumen output of the LED light source by a different degree, it is important to consider the best technique for any given application to ensure minimal compromise in energy efficiency.


Opaque or clear multifaceted diffuser lenses are very commonly built onto the luminaire’s aperture and/or directly onto the LEDs themselves to scatter the light. A small amount of light – generally no more than 10% of the initial output – gets lost as it is absorbed by the lens material.

Diagram 1: Cross section of a typical LED recessed light with a diffuser


Indirect LED placement is sometimes used in conjunction with diffuser lenses. In side-lit recessed luminaires, the LEDs are positioned so that they face inwards rather than down towards the floor. The light bounces around the interior of the luminaire (usually with the help of a white, reflective surface) and out of the fixture’s lens/aperture. Approximately 30% of the initial light output may be lost in this process.

Diagram 2: Cross section of a recessed light with a diffuser and sideways-facing LEDs


A baffle trim is another physical feature that softens light output through a textured surface. In baffled fixtures, the light source and optics are inserted deeper within the recessed fixture so that they sit higher up in the ceiling. Leading outwards from the light aperture is a series of concentric ridges resembling stairs. The light output softens as it bounces off the baffle ridges, eliminating glare along the way. The amount of light waste varies, with black baffles absorbing more than reflective, light-colored baffles.

Diagram 3: Cross section of an LED recessed light with a diffuser and a reflective baffle trim

In addition to softening the light, baffling makes the light source less visible from eye level. This effect is often desired for ceilings in bedrooms, waiting rooms, and reception areas which call for a more soothing, discreet light.


Manufacturers can achieve exponentially softer lighting effects by combining all three of these features into LED ceiling fixtures – as is the case with the PR25 Ultra Thin Baffle LED Recessed Light.

Diagram 4: Cross section of recessed light with a diffuser, sideways LEDs, and a baffle trim
Diagram 4: Cross section of recessed light with a diffuser, sideways LEDs, and a baffle trim

Creative professionals often say that good design is invisible, and that principle certainly applies here. Ambient lighting should be secondary to the people and objects occupying a space, rather than creating distractions with irregular output, unwanted shadows, glare, or simply unsightly, out of place quality of light.

For help designing the perfect lighting schematic for your home or business, contact LED Waves at 1(800)986-0169.