"Daylight" toned light bulbs put out hot, white light at a color temperature up around 5,000 K. That sets them apart from the "soft white" siblings, which shine at a lower, more yellowy 2,700 K. It's up to you which is more aesthetically pleasing, but if it's daylight you're after, then you'll want to consider these six LEDs.
On the shelf
You'll typically find daylight bulbs sitting right next to their soft white siblings on the store shelf. Most manufacturers, like Walmart here, use some form of color coding to help you tell the bulbs apart.
For this roundup, I went out to Lowe's, Home Depot, Target and Walmart and picked up every dimmable 60W replacement daylight LED I could find -- six bulbs in total. Then, I set out to see which one was the best.
Colin West McDonald/CNET
The first thing I tested was how heat affected each bulbs. Like most electronics, LEDs don't perform quite as well when they get hot -- that means that the brightness will dip a little bit in the first hour or so of use as things heat up. After that, the bulb's thermal management will kick in (heat sinks, usually) and the brightness will level out at what's known as the "steady state." LEDs that lose less of their brightness to heat are better choices for enclosed fixtures, where heat gets trapped.
Here's what I found after several hours tucked away in the CNET lighting lab. The Sylvania 60W Replacement Daylight LED was the clear winner here -- it only lost about 10 percent of its brightness to heat. That puts it right where you want it, in that green zone.
I also wanted to take a look at how good each bulb was at making colors pop. Since they aren't as yellowy as soft white bulbs, daylight bulbs tend to do a pretty good job here, as the pictures pretty plainly show. There are subtle differences, but for the most part, that's some colorful-looking candy.
Cree 4Flow Daylight LED
Here's our first test subject, the Cree 4Flow Daylight LED. Unlike most LEDs, Cree's 4Flow bulbs don't use heat sinks to regulate heat. Instead, they use cleverly designed convection vents to circulate air through the bulb. The result is an LED that does an awfully good job at imitating incandescents, especially when it's turned on.
Cree's bulb was the top performer in our dimming tests, but it comes with a couple of caveats. First, it isn't as bright as advertised, ringing in at just 625 lumens (Cree claims 815 lumens). And while it's still much, much better than an incandescent, it's also the least efficient daylight LED we tested.
And here's a close look at the M&M shot, where the colors all come out looking pretty good. Keep an eye on the orange and red M&Ms in these shots -- that's where you'll see those subtle differences I mentioned before.
GE's bulb offers the best warranty of any that we looked at, with 10 years of money-back coverage. It didn't do very well in our dimming tests, though, and it uses a little more energy than the competition, too.
Here's the candy shot. See how the orange M&Ms look a bit less saturated than in the last version of this picture? That's because the GE bulb has a slightly lower score than Cree does on the color rendering index (CRI).
Up next, the dimmable version of Philips' 60W Replacement Daylight LED. It's tied for the most expensive bulb in this roundup, coming in at $8, but it's also one of just two that I would recommend for use with dimmer switches (the Cree 4Flow LED being the other).
Like every bulb we tested, the Philips LED came in under the stated lumen count, putting out just 738 lumens' worth of brightness. Still that tied it with Sylvania for the title of brightest of the bunch. It's also one of the most efficient daylight LEDs that we tested, putting out over 80 lumens per watt. Only Sylvania beats it on that front.
We also tested the Philips SlimStyle Daylight LED. It sports a unique, flattened design that distributes the light-emitting diodes around the horseshoe-shaped perimeter of the bulb. It's also pretty cheap, costing just $5.
The SlimStyle LED did a nice job in almost all of our tests. It wasn't as good on dimmer switches as the Cree or standard-shaped Philips LEDs, and it puts out less than 700 lumens, but it also had a very good quality of light, and one of the closest color temperatures to that hot white, 5,000 K target.
Bulb no. 5: the Sylvania 60W Replacement Daylight LED. At $8, it's not as good a value as that SlimStyle bulb is, and it didn't do a very good job in our dimmability tests, but it's still a very solid choice.
If you go back to that heat graph slide towards the beginning, you'll see that Sylvania creamed the competition, making it the best daylight choice for an enclosed fixture. It also tied the standard-shaped Philips LED for the title of brightest bulb of the bunch, and put out a strong quality of light, with the color temperature that came closer to 5,000 K than any other bulb in the roundup.
Finally, here's the Walmart Great Value Daylight LED. At about $4 each, it's the most affordable 60W replacement daylight LED that dims that I could find at a major retailer. It offers decent efficiency and more brightness than the Cree 4Flow and Philips SlimStyle Daylight LEDs.