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The Desk Lamp Buying Guide
The ideal desk lamp helps you easily see the tasks and projects you’re working on without eyestrain or glare. Ideally, the light also works with your overall decor and style.
Since there are a lot of options out there for desk lamps, it can be difficult to know where to start or what features to look for. Our handy buying guide takes some of the hassles and stresses out of finding the perfect desk lamp for your home office.
A. Types of Desk Lamp
You can divide desk lamps into two broad divisions: those that adjust and those that don’t adjust. After that, your options for a desk lamp include those that plug into an outlet or those that are battery-powered or use a different source of power.
Since few people use their desks just for writing anymore and often need additional outlets or chargers at the ready, it can also be helpful to look for a desk lamp with those features built in.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most common type of desk lamps out there.
1. Swing Arm
A desk lamp with a swing arm lets you direct the light at whatever project you are working on at the moment. If you need to bring the light closer to a complex project, you can just swing the arm down.
The swing arm style is ideal if you work on a lot of drawing or drafting projects since it lets you move the arm and the light across the width of your desk with ease.
Technically speaking, a swing arm desk lamp is a type of adjustable desk lamp. But desk lamps can adjust in other ways as well. Some might feature telescoping poles so that you can alter their height up or down.
Others might have adjustable lamps so that you can tilt the light up or down depending on your illumination needs.
3. Battery Powered or Alternative Power Source
Not all desk lamps need to plug into an electrical outlet to operate. Some use battery power or another source of power. For example, there are a few desk lamp models that plug into a USB on your laptop and run off of the computer as a source of power.
4. Outlet/Charger Included
Welcome to the modern age, when the average person has numerous devices that all need charging. The good news is that you don’t have to position your desk near multiple outlets.
All you need is a desk lamp with built-in outlets or with a built-in charging feature. For example, IKEA produces some lamps that offer wireless charging. You don’t need a charger plug or any outlets to juice up your phone. The bad news is that, now, wireless charging only works with certain phone models.
5. Organizer Desk Lamp
Source: Bed Bath & Beyond
If your desk regularly gets messy or cluttered, an organizer desk lamp can help kill two birds with one stone. It not only illuminates your working area.
It also contains openings and storage for pens, notepads, and all the little things that tend to pile up on people’s desks.
6. Magnifying Desk Lamp
You’ve probably seen magnifying, light-up mirrors designed to help you apply eye makeup or pluck your eyebrows without straining your eyes. It only makes sense that a similar concept exists for desk lamps.
After all, a lot of tasks involve tiny detail work, which can be difficult to see even if you have excellent vision. A magnifying desk lamp features a magnifying glass surrounded by a ring of light. Whether you’re working on an intricate drawing, assembling tiny computer chips or doing delicate stitch work, it helps illuminate and enlarge your projects.
7. Clip-On Desk Lamp
Source: Home Depot
You might not always need a lamp at your desk. Or, your desk might be small enough that there’s not really room on its surface for a full light.
A clip-on desk lamp can be the right option for you in that case. The lamp attaches to the edge of the desk with either a clamp or clip. You can take it down and stash it away when you don’t need a source of light or if you need to spread out materials all over the surface of the desk.
B. Desk Lamp Styles
Once you know what type of desk lamp you want, you can start thinking about the style of lamp that will work best with your room or desk.
Think of the overall style in your home office when choosing a desk lamp style. Also, keep in mind that styles and tastes change. You might be better off picking a classic looking desk lamp that will look fantastic for years to come instead of choosing a super trendy, of-the-moment style.
1. Traditional Lamp
A traditional desk lamp has a timeless look. It looks equally at home on a desk in a scene from “Mad Men” as it does on a desk in a 21st-century office. When you think of traditional desk lamp styles, you might picture the lamp that’s used in the Pixar logo or the iconic green banker’s lamp.
2. Mid-Century Modern
If you can’t get enough of mid-century modern style, well, you’re not alone. The style’s focus on minimalism, natural materials, and flow appeals to a significant number of people, meaning that desk lamps and other decor touches will be available in style for a long time to come.
Real-deal Tiffany lamps can be worth a small fortune. They are also incredibly, incredibly rare, reports CNBC. What’s a lot more common are “Tiffany style” lamps which feature a similar stained glass style but aren’t made by the company and are usually made from less expensive materials.
That said, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy a Tiffany style desk lamp if you like the way it looks. The lamps are popular for a reason. Many people enjoy the look of the colorful, patterned stained glass.
It’s also worth noting that, while they are nowhere near as pricey as the originals, Tiffany style lamps aren’t exactly cheap, either. You can expect to pay more than $100 for many models.
Source: Crate and Barrel
What are the hallmarks of contemporary style? Neutral colors, clean lines, geometric shapes. A contemporary desk lamp might sound like it will be dull looking, yet, these lamps tend to make a bold statement.
5. Goose Neck
The key style feature you’ll find on a gooseneck desk lamp is the flexible metal coil that connects the light source to the base of the lamp. It’s this characteristic that gives the lamp its distinct look, and that makes it an ideal option if you need to adjust the light source frequently while working.
Source: Crate and Barrel
Another decor trend that’s been having a heyday is the industrial style, sometimes called the warm industrial style. It makes use of heavier materials, such as cast iron, exposed lightbulbs, and concrete and somehow makes them into a warm and inviting space.
If you love the look of salvage shops or can’t get enough of cast iron, an industrial style desk lamp might be the style for you.
Rustic style homes or country style homes tend to feature muted colors and features similar to what you’d find in a country cottage or log cabin. It is possible to go for a rustic look and to look modern and up-to-the-minute doing it.
Combining a wooden desk lamp with the modern conveniences of life is one way to pull off the look.
8. Banker’s Lamp
Source: Home Depot
There might not be a style of desk lamp that is more iconic than the classic banker’s lamp. Although a green lampshade is a classic, these days you can find banker’s lamps with shades in a rainbow of colors, as well as with stained glass or patterned shades.
The original name for banker’s lamps was Emeralites, a neologism that combined the words “Emerald” and “light.” The style was patented at the start of the 20th century and produced for decades by a single factory in Moravia.
Like Tiffany lamps, original banker’s lamps or Emeralites are valuable collector’s items. But you can easily find cheaper versions made of less expensive materials at several online stores.
C. Desk Lamp Light Bulb Options
Picking out a desk lamp is only half of the journey. You also want to choose the right type of bulb for your new lamp. Nowadays, there are almost as many light bulb options as there are lamps. Here’s a quick rundown of the bulbs you might come across, as well as some information about bulb sizing.
1. Styles of Light Bulb
Source: Public Domain Pictures
There are six basic styles of light bulb that fit desk lamps. Some bulb styles are interchangeable and will work in a variety of different types of lamp. Other lamps will only fit a particular kind of bulb. Here are your main light bulb options:
Incandescent light bulbs are your garden variety bulbs. You can find them virtually anywhere light bulbs are sold and they usually are very affordable.
Although incandescent bulbs are common and cheap, they have two things working against them One is their short lifespan.
The other is their energy use. Recent changes in the law have required that today’s incandescent bulbs be more energy efficient than models created in the past. But even newer models of these bulbs use more energy than LEDs or CFLs.
b. Compact Fluorescent (CFL)
Desk lamps that work with standard incandescent bulbs will also work with CFLs. You can think of CFLs as the more energy efficient cousin of incandescents. They use about 70 percent less energy than incandescents, according to Energy Star. They also last a lot longer than incandescents.
CFLs can be a bit fussy, though, and some people really dislike them. You shouldn’t use them in closed off lamps, as too much heat shrinks their lifespan.
The big drawback of the CFLs for many people is the quality of the light they produce. Although you can find “warm” CFL bulbs, for a lot of individuals, the light made by standard CFLs is just too harsh and cool.
Like CFLs, you can use most modern LED bulbs in any lamp where you’d usually use an incandescent bulb. There are also desk lamps that feature built-in LED lights.
You can think of modern LED bulbs as offering the best of all possible words. They are incredibly energy efficient and have very long lifespans. Depending on how frequently you use them, some bulbs will last for up to 20 years.
In the past, LED bulbs were insanely expensive, a fact that people justified by pointing out their long lives. While the bulbs are still pricier than their incandescent cousins, you can find models for around $5 these days. IKEA has some models for around $2 each.
Shopping for a LED bulb is a bit of a different experience from shopping for an incandescent. Instead of looking at the number of watts a bulb produces, you want to look at the number of lumens the bulb produces, which will give you an idea of its brightness. The more lumens, the brighter the bulb.
Like CFLs, you want to be careful about placing a LED bulb in an enclosed desk lamp fixture. When the lamp is sealed off, the heat from the bulb has nowhere to go and ends up shortening the life of the bulb.
Halogen light bulbs are a type of incandescent bulb. The bulbs feature the addition of halogen gas, which makes them more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs and also increases their lifespan. Some desk lamps that need halogen bulbs require a special size or shape of the bulb. That means you can’t just swap a standard incandescent for a halogen bulb in all cases.
While halogen bulbs are incandescents that are filled with halogen gas, xenon bulbs are incandescents filled with xenon gas. They also have a considerably longer life than your standard incandescents and a longer life than most halogen bulbs.
Xenon bulbs don’t heat up very much and can be safely handled even after being left on for some time. The big drawback of them is that they usually have special sockets or fittings, meaning you often can’t simply trade a standard bulb for a Xenon one.
While plenty of desk lamps will work with CFLs, some need a specially shaped fluorescent, such as a small fluorescent tube. Depending on the style of the lamp, the fluorescent tube might have a screw-on base or two prongs that pop into place.
No matter what, if your desk lamp needs a fluorescent light, you won’t be able to swap in another type of light bulb.
g. Bulb Sizes
Not only are there different types of a bulb to pay attention to, but there is also a full range of sizes to look out for. Usually, your desk lamp will specify what size bulb it needs and might even include a bulb if it calls for a very specialized shape and style.
When it comes to screw-in light bulb bases, there are three sizes you need to know about. E26 is the standard size, used for most lamps. E12, or candelabra, is used by smaller lamps. If your desk lamp calls for a candelabra light bulb, it will most likely need an E12 base.
Some lamps need a bulb with an E17, or intermediate, base. It’s slightly smaller than E26 and is rare.
If your bulb burns out and you aren’t sure which style or size you need, your best bet is to take the bulb with you to the store when buying a new one. Compare the old bulb to the new to make sure you’re picking out the right option.
D. Desk Lamp Base Material
The variety of materials used to make desk lamps is a bit more limited than the variety of materials used to make other types of lighting. Despite that, you still have some options when it comes to the material a lamp is made of.
The type of material you pick will influence the overall look of the lamp. In some cases, the material has a direct connection to the quality of the lamp.
Metal desk lamps look sleek and stylish. They also tend to give off a utilitarian vibe. Depending on the style of lamp, the metal might be a brushed steel or chrome or a sophisticated bronze.
Some lamps are made of what looks to be metal but are actually a coated plastic. Additionally, some desk lamps have metal parts mixed in with plastic or other less expensive materials.
Source: Home Depot
Plastic desk lamps have their pros and cons. They tend to be lower priced than other materials, but they also tend to look cheap. Because plastic is available in many colors, you might be able to find a lamp that goes with your color scheme if you pick a plastic one.
That said, not all types of plastic desk lamp are particularly inexpensive. The Z-Bar LED Lamp contains a mix of plastic and metal and retails for between $200 and $300.
You don’t often see wooden desk lamps, but they do exist. Usually, wooden lamps fit into a rustic style or are a sleek, contemporary style, like the one pictured above.
Ceramic is another material you don’t often see used in desk lamps, but there are a few out there. Often, the ceramic is used as an accent feature or is combined with another type of material.
The old-school banker’s lamps are an excellent example of desk lamps that use glass as the main material, even if their base is made of metal. You can also find Tiffany style desk lamps that make good use of glass in their design.
II. More Details
Looks, bulb type, and materials aren’t the only things to consider when buying a desk lamp. Here are a few more things you’ll want to think about.
No matter what your budget, you can find a desk lamp to fit it. Stores such as Target, WalMart, and IKEA all have a selection of lamps for under $10.
If you have more to spend or what a lamp made out of durable, higher quality materials, you can easily find lamps for under $100 but more than $20 or $30. Some lamp models do get pricey, based on their design or marketing. A branded, designer lamp can easily run into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
If you want a high-quality lamp but don’t have a big budget, it can help to go the vintage route. Vintage or thrift stores often have older lamps available for less than you’d pay for a new one.
The size of your desk lamp should work with the overall size of your desk. Lamps come in a range of sizes, from mini to oversized.
Keep the proportions of your desk in mind when shopping for a lamp. If you have a smaller desk, you’ll want a smaller lamp. Otherwise, the lamp will take over the entire area and won’t leave you with much room to do your actual work.
It can be helpful to try out the lamp before you commit to it. Put it on your desk and turn it on. The light should illuminate the working area fully. If not, you’ll need a larger lamp or might need to adjust the angle of the light source.
3. Choosing the Right Light
The odds are that you’ll be using your desk lamp along with a computer. Staring at a computer screen for some time, then switching your gaze over to the surface of your desk or another area can cause eyestrain if the area isn’t illuminated properly.
That said, it’s important to choose a desk lamp that provides at least three times as much light as the computer screen. Light output is measured in foot candles (FC) and the average computer monitor produces between 20 and 25 FC.
To keep your pupils from dilating and to reduce the risk for headaches when switching back and forth from looking at a screen and a desk, your desk lamp should have at least 60 to 75 FC.
Glare can also be an issue when it comes to the lighting produced a desk lamp. You don’t want a lamp that will point directly at your monitor screen. Nor do you necessarily want a lamp with a fixed position. Being able to adjust the angle or direction of the light source is a must. You’ll be better able to see what you’re working on and will avoid straining your eyes.
Choosing a desk lamp with a dimmer switch and a type of bulb that you can dim also gives you greater control over the brightness produced by the light. Just remember to look for bulbs that work with dimmers if you are going to pick a dimmable desk lamp. Some CFLS and LEDs aren’t dimmable.
III. Where to Buy Desk Lamps Online
Now that you know all there is to know about the purchase of a desk lamp, you’re ready to make an informed decision and buy one for your home.
Here are a few of the best places to find desk lamps online: