If you’ve spent any time detailing your car, you know it requires the right mix of lightning to make sure you’re getting the best finish for your paint that you can.
Even if you’re a only a weekend warrior, you can make some small changes to your garage lighting and have a big impact the next time you detail your car.
The best lighting for detailing your car is a combination of:
- Bright overhead lighting to eliminate shadows
- Handheld or tripod lighting for stronger lighting on the general work area
- Head lamps to illuminate the body panel you’re currently polishing
- Swirl Finder lights to detect hard to find paint imperfections
To be completely transparent, not everyone needs everything on the list. As you get more and more serious about detailing your car, you’ll naturally find yourself needing specialized lighting.
We recommend starting with super-bright overhead lighting and then adding different pieces as you need to.
The rest of the article will look at my recommendations for each. In many cases, I’ll link to a detailed review of my favorite light for each situation.
Let’s get started with some amazing overhead lights.
Best Overhead Lighting for Detailing: Hykolity LED Shop Lights
Last year when I was upgrading the lighting in my garage, I did a lot of research and testing to find out what I was looking for. I knew I would be doing some amateur detailing in my garage, so I wanted to go overboard with my overhead lights.
Basically, I wanted my garage to glow in the dark.
A typical two-car garage needs about 20,000 lumens to have adequate lighting. To really eliminate shadows so I could properly work on my car, I tripled that to 62,000 lumens for my entire garage.
When I was testing, I looked at six different LED shop lights to see which ones performed the best before going with a combination of 4′ and 8′ Hykolity LED lights.
For me, they were the perfect option.
Their performance was amazing! They had the highest output of lumens per watt (efficiency) and lumens per dollar (cost) of anything that I tested. I could also hardwire them into my existing wiring and control them from the light switch.
At 5000 Kelvin, they provide a nice, cool-white light. It brings out the detail in what I’m looking at without being ‘too crisp’ and making my eyes strain more than they need to.
Best Handheld Detailing Lights: Scangrip MultiMatch R
Once you’ve got your overhead garage lighting dialed in, it’s time to move on to smaller lights to illuminate the sides of your car.
You can do that in a few different ways, but my favorite is the Scangrip MultiMatch R.
This is a handheld light puts out 1200 lumens at any of five different color temperatures ranging from 2500 Kelvin to 6500 Kelvin. That’s a ton of light from a small package!
Scangrip figured out that warmer color temperatures work better for finding swirls and scratches on lighter colored cars. Darker colored cars need a cooler light with a higher color temperature. So they give you the option of switching between 4500K for lighter colored cars and 6500K for darker colors.
The MultiMatch R has a five power settings ranging from 10% output all the way up to a blinding 100%. Seriously, don’t look directly at the bulb when you turn it on at 100%. I may or may not be speaking from experience there…
The built in rechargeable battery that lasts up to ten hours, depending on the power setting. There’s also an LED readout to let you know how much juice is left.
Although there is a hole to let you use Scangrip’s tripods (either rolling or fixed-leg), I prefer the magnetic base. It’s powerful enough to attach to any magnetic surface. I put it on the side of my Gladiator GearDrawer and just wheel that around whenever I need to move.
All in all, the Scangrip MultiMatch R puts out a ton of light at all of the popular color temperatures for detailing. It’s a little expensive, especally when you compare it to the budget lights you get from Harbor Freight. However, it’s a high quality, heavy-duty light that should last you a really long time.
Color Match Headlamp Lights: Scangrip I-Match 2
I’ll confess that I’m not really a fan of headlamps. Personally I’d rather use a penlight or a handheld light rather than have anything on my head. However, a lot of professional detailers swear by this type of lighting.
It’s also worth asking HOW you need to use the headlamp light. If you’re looking for something for interior detailing, then any old light will do. You want something that puts out enough light, but color accuracy isn’t a big deal.
If, however, you’re looking for a headlamp for exterior work, then you want one that has a very high CRI (Color Rendering Index) so that the color of the paint looks the same under your light that it will outside in direct sunlight.
If you need a high-CRI headlamp for paintwork, then the Scangrip I-Match 2 is tough to beat.
The Scangrip I-Match 2 is a color matching headlamp with an internal rechargeable battery that should last about five hours.
What I like about the I-Match 2 is that it has two color temperatures, 4500K and 6500K and only weighs about a third of a pound.
Another cool feature is the hands-free, gesture-based power switch. To turn it on and off, just wave your hand in front of the light twice and it’ll switch on and off.
Scangrip puts the same quality of lighting in their headlamp as they do their larger MultiMatch R above. So again, I don’t think you need both of these products. Just pick the one that works for you.
Swirl Finder Penlights: Scangrip Matchpen R
If you’re serious about detailing, then you need a penlight to find swirls and imperfections that you couldn’t find using any other light.
Unlike a handheld light, the point of a penlight isn’t to directly illuminate your work area. Instead, you hold it at an angle so it illuminates any imperfections that you missed on the paint’s surface.
As Matt from Obsessed Garage says, they “will humble you when you’re polishing. When you’re checking your work after polishing, this will really tell you how you’re doing.”
The new favorite color matching penlight is the Scangrip Matchpen R.
Similar to their other products on this list, the Scangrip Matchpen R has two color temperature options. At the touch of a button you can switch between 4500K and 6500K.
While it only outputs 100 lumens, it can focus the beam of light anywhere between 10° and 45°. It also has an internal rechargeable battery that can be recharged from any USB port.
The longtime favorite penlight, the Rupes LL150 is similarly priced, but only has one color temperature option, and runs on AA batteries instead of a rechagable battery.
That means the Scangrip Matchpen R offers more versatility and better features at the same price point. That gives it the win in my book.
Why High CRI Lighting Is Critical
Did you know that not all CRI lights are the same?
I’ve already given him a shout-out earlier, but I have to give credit to Matt at Obsessed Garage for this as well. He mentioned offhand in one of his videos that most lights use the average of the first eight color values to get their overall color rendering index (CRI) score.
The problem is that there are actually FIFTEEN different color values, not eight!
Even though the typical high-CRI light does really well at rendering the first eight values, they might not be as good on the remaining seven
If having a truly color accurate light is important for how you plan to use it, then you’ll want to make sure that your light is accurate over all fifteen rendering points.