Filtering vs Darkening vs Blackout Blinds: What’s the Difference?

Darkening vs Filtering vs Blackout

Whenever you’re shopping for window coverings – blinds, curtains, shutters – you’re going to have to make a series of decisions. One of those decisions is how much light you want your blinds to let in.

There are generally three categories of blinds: light filtering, room darkening, and blackout. The boundaries between them are blurred, and a thick light filtering window covering might be similar to a thin room darkening set of blinds, but the general categories remain the same. They serve different purposes, so you will want to consider the purpose, usage, and focus of the room when deciding on a window covering.

What are the details for each of these window coverings? Which kind of blinds should you get? Read on to learn more and make the decision yourself, or contact us today for an expert discussion on the topic.

Broad Categories

The exact definition of a given set of blinds is variable. It is often set based on the amount of light the blinds let through when they are closed, on a scale that looks like this:

  • Light Filtering: 0 – 95% of light blocked.
  • Room Darkening: 95 – 99% of light blocked.
  • Blackout: 99 – 100% of light blocked.

However, these definitions are rarely measured and are not necessarily common from brand to brand. Some manufacturers will label anything that blocks more than 80% of light as “room darkening”, for instance, while others might make no distinction between light filtering and room darkening, reserving the label “blackout” for anything greater than 95% light blocking.

Light Filtering Blinds

Light filtering blinds are among the most common and most widely varied styles of blinds on the market.

Their purpose ranges from diffusing light to make a room brighter, to dimming light to control glare and make a room more comfortable.

Light filtering blinds are generally thinner material. When the blinds are open, sunlight can pass through unobstructed. They do not obscure your view or the view of others inside your windows. When the blinds are closed, they diffuse sunlight. This helps to brighten a room with diffuse light, turning the windows into large light panels rather than sources of glare. The result is a room with a softer, more diffuse illumination, with fewer harsh light and dark spots.

Light Filtering Blinds

Light filtering blinds have a handful of benefits.

  • They can lend a room a more even look, minimising or eliminating harsh light and shadows.
  • They can bolster privacy while still letting in more light than anything other than the sheerest curtains.
  • They are available in a range of different densities, allowing you to let in more or less light, as is your preference.
  • They can be adjusted, opened to let in more light, or closed to diffuse it more thoroughly.
  • They offer insulation from solar UV radiation. This helps your home be more energy-efficient, reduces potential damage from UV rays on items in your rooms, and reduces accumulated heat.

Light filtering blinds are also some of the most broadly varied styles on the market. You can find anything from very thin, sheer blinds that serve as little more than light diffusers and mild privacy screens, to thicker blinds that can almost be categorised as room darkening. There is also a wide range of styles, patterns, and materials available, from fabric, vinyl, and PVC to wood. These blinds are often part of the decour, as well as a functional part of a room.

Light filtering blinds are not without their downsides. Generally, many of them are relatively thin and sheer, making them less useful for rooms that require more complete darkness like a home theatre. They may also be thin enough that they do not provide much privacy during darker hours when it’s brighter inside than outside. They also may not provide much insulation against sound, as thicker blinds will.

Room Darkening Blinds

Room darkening blinds are also very common and widely varied. They are the middle ground between light filtering blinds and blackout blinds, and thus their definition is flexible, as it depends on the categorisation of the other two. Different companies and different sellers have different definitions.

Room darkening blinds are, as the name implies, blinds designed to reduce the amount of light that makes it into a room. Like all blinds, they can be opened, partially or fully, to allow some diffuse light into the room. However, the material they’re made from tends to be thicker and more opaque, so they block more light when fully closed.

Room Darkening Blinds

Room darkening blinds have a range of benefits, including:

  • Broad light control. Room darkening blinds can be fully open to allow all light in, to be fully closed, darkening the room considerably. They do not block all light, however.
  • Good functionality for light control. With room darkening blinds, a room can be bright and open for entertaining, or dim for your TV or entertainment room, as controlled by how open the blinds themselves are.
  • Highly insulating. Room darkening blinds tend to be quite good at reflecting solar radiation, which helps keep a room cooler and more energy-efficient. They may also offer some sound dampening as well.
  • Good for constant levels of light pollution, such as in areas where light shines in a room 24/7 (from sunlight and streetlights) or from the general light density in a city.

Room darkening blinds are among the most common styles. Many people want blinds that can be used to let in light or dampen it in a room for a home theatre system or other functionality where glare from daylight is unwanted.

They are not without their drawbacks, however. First and foremost, they do not block all light, so anyone hoping for full blackout but buying room darkening blinds may be disappointed. They are also thicker and require heavier hardware than light filtering blinds, which limits the range of decour options available to you. You also still need lights inside the room when the blinds are closed, but any room will need internal lights when it’s dark out, so that’s not necessarily an issue.

Blackout Blinds

Blackout blinds are the most heavily filtering (and heavy) blinds on the market. They block 99-100% of the light that would come in through a window. They tend to be quite thick or made of a solid material like wood that does not allow light to penetrate it. They have several benefits, such as:

  • A high level of insulation. They block all light and reflect much of the heat that would otherwise infiltrate a room, improving energy efficiency.
  • Sound dampening. Thick blackout blinds can help block out noise as well as light from the outside, though they will not be completely soundproof.
  • Variable in style. Since blackout blinds just need to be a thick, light-proof material, they can have a wide variety of patterns and designs printed on them.
  • High privacy. Blackout blinds let no light through, one way or the other. When they are closed, no one can see in or out, lending your room perfect privacy.

Overall, blackout blinds are best for rooms where you want to be able to shut out the outside world. They are often found in hotel rooms and bedrooms where the occupants want to sleep at all times of the day. They can also be found in home theatres and conference rooms, where a central focus of the room is a screen that would be washed out, covered in glare, or otherwise invisible under the brighter light of the day.

Blackout Blinds Example

That said, blackout blinds have some drawbacks. Since they completely shut out the outside world, the room requires its internal light sources. They tend to be heavier and more thickly constructed, which means they require beefier hardware and have more limited choice in style. Additionally, they need to be perfectly fitted into your window opening, otherwise light can infiltrate around their edges. Some even require rails on the sides of the window opening, for a full seal. Finally, it may be difficult to find blackout blinds in brighter colours, as they are most typically manufactured in dark or black designs to suit the needs of a sleeping room.

A Note on Pricing

In various pros and cons lists for different styles of blinds, you may see some flagged as more or less expensive. The truth is, there is so much variance between different styles of blinds that price can be a broad and overlapping range. High-end light filtering blinds made with high-quality materials may be more expensive than blackout blinds, while blackout blinds tend to be heavier and higher quality (and thus more expensive) on average.

Pricing Note

In a broad sense, the more light the blinds filter, the more expensive they will be. However, the material, the construction, the design, the brand name, and many other factors all contribute to the calculation, and as such, the price cannot be easily defined.

Any time you are concerned about the price of your window coverings, it’s worthwhile to consult with professionals like us to determine exactly the right set of blinds to meet your needs in terms of usage, appearance, functionality, and price.

Which Blinds Are Best?

The best choice of blinds depends largely on your situation and requirements.

Light filtering blinds tend to be best in rooms that do not require privacy or darkness. They are good as a way to soften the light and block UV rays in public rooms like a kitchen, living room, or office. They are also common in commercial spaces, where a large open room like a reception area or a restaurant dining room might want broad and diffuse light, but limited glare to protect the eyes of customers and visitors.

Which Blinds Are Best

Room darkening blinds are generally better for rooms that require some level of privacy but do not require full darkness. Bedrooms, nurseries, and restrooms can all make use of these kinds of blinds. They are also good in commercial spaces that want a darker ambiance but don’t want to necessarily make the room completely dark.

Blackout blinds are, of course, good for when you want zero infiltration from light, and as little noise from the outside as possible. They’re generally best for bedrooms, nurseries, home theatres, hotel rooms, and other rooms used for privacy or sleep during the day.

To determine which blinds are best for you, you may want to ask yourself some questions.

“What is the general purpose of the room, and how much light is acceptable for that purpose?”

If the room can function in brighter conditions and is used socially, light filtering blinds are generally fine, and the primary concern will be appearance more than light filtration.

“What are the privacy requirements for the room?”

Rooms that require more privacy will want thicker blinds. The thicker end of light filtering blinds are often fine, and either darkening or blackout will work well. Only the thinnest light filtering blinds are a poor choice for private rooms.

“Are there items, decour, or fixtures in the room that are sensitive to light or UV and should be protected?”

The thicker a set of blinds is, the more it protects against UV light. However, in cases where the interior of a room or individual items need to be fully protected, UV-filtering glass in the windows, and museum glass for protective cases and frames are often a better choice.

“Is the room generally exposed, and could it use additional protection from heat and solar radiation?”

The more exposed a room is, the more uncomfortable it can get in the sunlight, especially at the peak of summer. Thicker blinds may make a room dark, but they will better insulate it against heat and light.

Heat and Light

Finally, there is another option: using more than one. Just like curtains, blinds can be layered. Often, commercial and residential window casements can fit two styles of blinds. One, an external blind, fits in the casement and holds a blackout or heavily room-darkening blind, which is drawn when the occupants want the room darker for sleep, theatre, or other purposes. The other set of blinds are typically a light filtering blinds set, suitable for diffusing light and making a room more comfortable, offering some privacy, but keeping the room light and open.

Picking the right style, appearance, and filtration level for blinds is not an easy task, which is why we recommend giving us a call to help you make that choice. Feel free to drop us a line at any time!

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