Magnetic vs Electronic Ballasts—An Easy Way to Tell Which You Have

Here's a Quick Way to Determine If Your Fluorescent Fixtures Can Work with Direct Drop-in LED Tubes

Ballast-compatible, "plug and play," or "direct drop-in" LED tubes make upgrading to LED technology easy: if your fluorescent ballast is compatible, you can simply replace the fluorescent tubes in the fixture with LED tubes.

However, direct drop-in LED tubes are not compatible with magnetic ballasts. You can determine whether you have a magnetic ballast or electronic ballast in your fixture in seconds. Simply turn the light on, then take a photo of the fixture using your smartphone or digital camera.

  • If there are no dark bands on the resulting image, you have an electronic ballast that is likely to work with direct drop-in LED tubes (with caveats: see the next section below).
  • If you see dark bands on the image, you will need to purchase ballast-bypass tubes and remove the ballast from your fixture before installation.

Electronic Ballast

iPhone photo showing fluorescent fixture with electronic ballast. Fixture may be compatible with drop-in LED tubes.


Magnetic Ballast

iPhone photo showing fluorescent fixture with magnetic ballast. Fixture is not compatible with drop-in LED tubes.

Or you could choose LED tubes where the ballast doesn't matter

Ballast-compatible tubes sound like the easy way to go when you're looking to upgrade your fluorescent fixtures, but they have a few drawbacks:

  • While a photo may be able tell you whether your ballast is electronic or magnetic, and while most ballast-compatible tubes are compatible with a large number of electronic ballasts, it's no guarantee that a particular ballast-compatible tube you purchase is compatible with your specific electronic ballast. Double-check with the manufacturer's ballast compatibility list. 
  • When the ballast in your fixture fails, as they all do sooner or later, your ballast-compatible LED tubes may stop working. The workaround for this is to purchase the (often more expensive) "type A & type B" tube, which is a hybrid between ballast compatible and ballast bypass.
  • The ballast itself draws energy whenever it's on, so while you save over operating fluorescent lamps, you're still paying for energy use that you don't need if you keep your ballast. It's not that big of a job to bypass the ballast, and ballast-bypass LED tubes, which are what ELEDLights mainly carries, are often quite affordable, quite efficient, and quite reliable.

    Check out our expert selection of LED fluorescent replacement tubes. All our lights are backed by solid warranties and supported by USA-based customer support. If you're not satisfied with the quality or the light won't work for your application, you can send it back within 30 days in its original packaging for a full refund. We have lights to suit all requirements, from standard office fixture replacements to ultra-bright lamps for high bay fixtures. If you don't see a light to fit your specific requirements, reach out to our team!

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