Have you ever wondered where those markings on the packaging of your new torch come from and what they mean? They’re the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 standard, a system of the lighting industry’s testing and measurement methods.
The ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard is a product standard developed by the lighting industry. It measures portable lighting products, like flashlights and headlights. The standard gives customers a clear idea of what they’re looking for. It also gives more credibility to the manufacturer.
Stick around, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about this standard. This way, you’ll get a clearer idea of how it applies to your new flashlight.
What Is the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard?
The ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard is a way for the portable lighting industry to test its products.
The purpose of the standard was to give the industry a series of uniform testing and measurement. This gives more credibility to the companies using it, and the icons work as a stamp that ensures a certain tried and tested quality.
The standard also gives clarity to you, the consumer. When you see the icon indicating the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard, you’ll know exactly what you’re buying. You can be sure that your new torch has gone through rigorous testing and the claims the package makes are true.
Another reason why the standard comes in handy is that you can see everything at a glance. You can exactly point out the aspect you want to focus on, fast.
For instance, you might need an extra-bright headlight for midnight trail running. Or, how about a water-resistant bike light for your commutes? You can start your comparison of the specific icons and move forward from there.
Who Developed the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard?
Leaders in flashlight manufacturing participated in the creation of the standard. Many of the best brands that make flashlights today use the standard on their products.
From Petzl to Streamlight and Energizer, you can find these icons on packages of quality manufacturers.
Other key influencers in the formation and monitoring of the standard are:
- ANSI: American National Standards Institute organized the development of the standard. It also carries out updates when needed.
- NEMA: National Electrical Manufacturers Association publishes the standard.
- PLATO: Portable Lights American Trade Organization monitors and verifies its use.
Since 2016, the ANSI body has worked with PLATO, (Portable Lights American Trade Organization). It released the new revised ANSI/PLATO FL1 2016 Standard. The aim was to improve both the quality and packaging transparency of portable lights. Additionally, in 2019, PLATO worked on updating the standard, so it became the ANSI/PLATO FL1 2019 Standard.
The latest version of the standard is from 2019. To view it with all the specifics, you’ll have to buy it from NEMA or PLATO. But, for most people, understanding the basic meaning of the symbols is enough.
What Does the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard Include?
The ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard includes a series of measurements. These measurements go with icons that help you identify the right product for your needs. It also allows you to make comparisons between different flashlight models.
The icons you’ll find on the package represent different aspects of the light. These include:
They’re measured using the International System of Units, or metric system. So, in some cases, you’ll have to convert the measurements on the package to feet.
The measurement of the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard includes:
- Light output.
- Peak intensity.
- Beam distance.
- Impact resistance.
- Water resistance.
- Battery run time.
Light Output (Lumens)
This icon is the most important one to look for when you’re buying a new flashlight. It indicates the highest output the flashlight produces.
You might remember Watts on your old flashlight. They represented the energy used by the lamp, which gave you a sign of its strength. LED lights revolutionized the industry, requiring less energy for a brighter light. This is why wattage doesn’t give you a clear picture of the amount of light you can get anymore.
Consumers often confuse lumens with wattage, even though the two are very different. Lumens are the light output, whereas wattage shows how much power the flashlight uses. Thanks to the improved efficiency of LEDs, flashlights can now emit a brighter light using less power.
LED light manufacturers measure the output in brightness with the unit of lumen. This number refers to the amount of light streaming from one source at the intensity of one candela. The higher the lumens, the brighter the torch.
The total lumens of output is measured as an integrating sphere when the light has been on for 30 to 120 seconds. Only measuring the output at 30 seconds won’t give the correct result. LEDs require more time to heat up and the battery voltage to dip.
Note that this measurement is from the highest setting. In some cases, this can be a high-energy-consuming mode—the more complex the flashlight, the more different modes it’ll usually have.
Depending on your needs, you can pick up a 1-lumen reading light or keychain flashlight. You can also find a 2,000-lumen light that will illuminate your entire back yard.
Our Lumens, Lux, and Candela article is a great resource to learn more about Lumens and light output
The water-resistance icon refers to at least an IPX4 rating for the flashlight’s closures. This means protection against water sprayed from all directions.
Do note that this water resistance is not enough for submersion. If your torch includes this marking, it’s protected against splashes, rain, and fog, so it’s ideal for outdoor use.
To receive this icon, the torch has to endure splashes after the impact-resistance test. This is to make sure the light will work in real-life conditions.
- IPX4: This rating means water-resistant—you can splash water from all sides, but it can’t penetrate.
- IPX7: If you see this rating, it means the flashlight is waterproof. It won’t be damaged if you submerge it in 3.3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. Water might leak into the light; however, it won’t be able to get into electronics or batteries. During testing, the light must still be on when removing it from the water—a retest is done 30 minutes after taking it out of the water.
- IPX8: This rating means the flashlight is submersible and can be underwater for up to four hours. Manufacturers sometimes specify the depth limit as IPX 10 (the limit would be 10 meters or 33 feet). When testing, the flashlight doesn’t get submerged to the specific depth; however, they submerge it entirely in a pressure-controlled container.
Peak Intensity (Candela)
Candela is a measurement of energy; however, to figure out candela, you first need the lux reading. The lux reading is the brightest part of the beam at a certain distance, between 2, 10, and 30 meters. Furthermore, the light should be at its brightest mode with the tightest focus.
- Candela: Highest light intensity.
- Lumen: Total brightness.
To measure this standard, the beam has to be at its highest focus and brightest setting. The tester has to take the reading within 30 and 120 seconds of turning the flashlight on, with the distance from the brightest spot of the beam.
The distance from the source may vary, but this is calculated in the measurement of candela, so it doesn’t affect the result.
Beam Distance (Meters)
The beam distance is the longest distance from the source where the illumination still reaches 0.25 lux. It’s measured in meters.
Lux is another unit of measurement of illumination. 1 lux is about equal to 1 lumen, distributed evenly across 1 square meter.
0.25 lux might not seem like much; however, it’s the equivalence to the full moon’s light.
This measurement is especially useful for those who spend time outdoors. A long beam will let you see far into the distance if you’re a roadside construction worker. It’s also great if you live far away from city lights and tend to move in the dark of night.
Impact Resistance (Meters)
This icon is important for the clumsy ones and those who work in rough conditions. It expresses a flashlight’s impact resistance, and you’ll see the exact measurement in meters on the icon.
The shortest distance for a flashlight to qualify for the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard is 1 meter—a little over 3 feet.
To test this standard, the light needs to work after dropping it on concrete from the specified distance. The testing needs to follow real-life conditions. This means the light needs to include the batteries at the moment of dropping it. All other possible accessories need to be on the light, as well.
To qualify for this icon, the flashlight needs to endure up to six drops. On the first drop, the distance is 1 meter. After every drop, the tester inspects the light for any cracks between the drops. They also turn the light on to make sure it maintains its full functioning.
If the flashlight keeps working, the test continues, and it’s then dropped from a higher distance.
If the light breaks or doesn’t turn on, the test ends. The last result it endured without breaking gets noted as its impact resistance.
The impact resistance is a factor that you should keep in mind, but not base your decision on. This is because the impact resistance rating only tells you how durable the outside of the flashlight is. The crucial parts on the inside, such as the electronic circuits, are less durable than the flashlight exterior.
Flashlights will get dropped once during testing. So, regardless of the impact resistance reading, repeatedly dropping a flashlight can lead to operational failure or other issues.
The waterproof icon indicates the light will maintain its functionality after submersion.
The submersion test is for 30 minutes at a time and gradually increases depth. This test also comes after the impact-resistance test to mimic real-life situations.
You’ll find the specific depth, expressed in meters, at the bottom of the icon.
Battery Run Time (Minutes)
The ANSI/PLATO F1 Standard also defines how manufacturers need to test and measure the battery’s run time.
If the battery comes included in the package, it’s the one used for the test. Still, often there’s no battery included with the light. In these cases, the test uses the battery recommended by the manufacturer.
This rating is measured as the light runs continuously until the output drops to 10 percent of its primary power. The time is measured by minutes in an integrated sphere, similarly to the lumens rating. Furthermore, the light output will be measured every 15 minutes.
Take Run Time with a grain of salt, as run time is one of the most significant limitations of the ANSI FL1 Standard. The reason for this is because not all flashlights or batteries operate the same way. We all know that a battery slowly loses its voltage as it discharges, which is why a 1.5v battery won’t continuously release 1.5v over time.
Note that the run time is for the default setting when you turn the power on. Torches today include many lighting modes, from low reading lights to blinding brightness. You’ll usually get an energy-consuming high mode that will last only a fraction of the time of a lower-light mode.
Learn everything you need to know about Batteries with our Ultimate Guide to Batteries!
The quality of the battery also plays a significant role. Cheaper flashlights might not include efficient batteries; therefore, you’ll notice a drop in intensity and light output quickly.
Manufacturers aren’t always the best at disclosing what kind of batteries they include. For this reason, when choosing a new flashlight, you shouldn’t pay too much attention to its run time.
Peak Beam Intensity vs. Perceived Brightness
We can’t put a numerical measurement on how we perceive the brightness of a light. Although 10.000cd is brighter than 5.000cd, we won’t see it as twice as bright. Humans’ perception of brightness is non-linear, which means that “double the intensity” doesn’t translate to “double the brightness.”
It would be best if you kept this non-linear perception in mind when comparing peak beam intensity readings. As an example, you need four times the intensity if you want the light to appear twice as bright.
Read our Ultimate Guide to Flashlights to learn what to look for when finding the best flashlight for your needs
Spot vs. Flood Beams
When shopping for a new flashlight, you’re likely facing the choice between spot and flood beams. Not all manufacturers will tell you what kind of beam the flashlight features; luckily, you can figure it out quickly.
You must look at the candela per lumen rate (cd/lm). Flood beams have a smaller candela per lumen rate; therefore, ideal for up-close work. On the other hand, spot beams have a larger candela per lumen rate, which makes them excellent at long-distance use.
Heavy-duty tactical flashlights have a candela per lumen rate of 20 to 100. This higher rating makes them ideal for a wide range of uses—commonly within the military or police force.
Terms Used Prior to the Standard
Before these guidelines, manufacturers and sellers would use a variety of phrases on the packaging. These include terms such as the following:
- Candlepower: This term has been replaced by Candela. 1 Candlepower is about 0.981 Candela, so the terms are roughly interchangeable.
- High-flux LED: Commonly used as a fancy way of describing a bright LED.
- Watts: Watts is a measurement of electrical power, which used to be a common indicator of brightness in incandescent lights. It has been replaced by Lumens which is a true measurement of light output.
How Does the ANSI/PLATO F1 Standard Testing Work?
A flashlight manufacturer can opt to test its new product according to the ANSI/PLATO F1 Standards, but it’s not obligatory.
Instead, it can perform the test through a third party, but PLATO will track the use of the standard.
Not all manufacturers will choose to test their lights for every standard. This is why you may only see the lumen measurement, run time, and waterproof icon on a given product. Still, every other claim on the package needs to be correct to qualify for even one of the icons.
The testing requires several samples, usually from three to five. This depends on which specific test it is. From those, the tester draws a “typical” result.
What If the Light Doesn’t Include the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Icons?
If the package and instructions don’t mention the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad product.
You will likely have some type of a manufacturer’s guarantee on your torch, even if they haven’t decided to test it.
The icons mean that the product has gone through the tests and measurements. The process in itself is voluntary. When you buy products that include an ANSI/PLATO FL 1 rating, you’ll know the quality you’re getting. Still, the manufacturer gets to decide on whether to test or not.
We recommend that you buy quality products from trusted brands. Still, sometimes the flashlight you want doesn’t have the FL 1 icons, and that’s completely fine.
What If the Product Doesn’t Follow the Standard?
You might have a light that states a specific battery life but doesn’t fulfill its promise. If this happens, contact the company. You could have received a faulty product.
The decision of whether to test a specific light is on the manufacturer. Still, it will need to fulfill all the promises made on the package. Even though the manufacturer can perform the tests, PLATO will verify the results are correct.
If the manufacturer tests even one of the features, all the claims must follow the standard. This means that even if your flashlight doesn’t include a beam distance with an FL 1 icon, it needs to fulfill every statement on the package.
The Bottom Line
Investing in any lighting—especially an expensive one—can seem like a daunting task at first. If you’re not familiar with the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard, all those numbers and icons can be confusing. Knowing a bit about what each one of them represents makes this easier.
The standard is pretty much a win-win for everybody. It gives the companies more credibility and some peace of mind for you, the consumer. If your new torch includes ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Standard markings, you can rest assured that it has gone through a rigorous testing process.
It also makes it easier for you to find the exact features you’re looking for. Are you looking for a waterproof headlamp for hunting? How about an impact-resistant keychain flashlight? Whatever it is you need, you can see it at a glance.
Next time you’re looking for a flashlight, take a peek at those little icons to help decide.