For Christmas enthusiasts and professional installers alike, the king of Christmas lights is the C9. Big, bold, and beautiful, C9 lights form the cornerstone of the vast majority of holiday displays across the country. C9s are the large bulbs you see all over the place on Christmas; they’re most people’s favorite, and instantly familiar to anyone.

However, not all C9 light strings are the same. There are two types of C9 strings: C9 stringers and C9 bulk light line with retrofit bulbs.

So, the questions become: What’s the difference between C9 string light sets and C9 bulk light line? And, most importantly, which should you be using in your display?

colorful looks with C9 Christmas lightsWell first, before you make any decisions or get installing, we recommend watching our comprehensive guide “How to Hang Christmas Lights on your Roofline like a Pro” featuring our own installation expert Jason Woodward. In it, he explains the difference between C9 stringers and bulk light line with retrofit bulbs, and goes over the entire lighting process from start to finish.

But if you still need some guidance, here’s a quick overview of the types of C9 lighting, and what you should be using for your own home.

C9 string light sets: simple, but imperfect

 C9 stringer sets are the typical go-to option for an amateur Christmas light installer. These sets include the light line and the bulbs together, manufactured as a single unit. The bulbs can’t be removed or replaced, and basically come “as-is” without you needing to do any modification or measuring.

For this reason, they may seem a bit more convenient to your time-strapped Christmas enthusiast. They’re also the cheapest high-quality option for Christmas lights, at least in the short-term.

C9 stringer light setHowever, while you can find high-quality C9 stringer sets, they still have some serious downsides:

  • Less bright: C9 stringer lights typically contain only a single diode within each bulb, compared to three to five diodes for retrofit bulbs (more on that later)
  • Less durable: All reputable C9 stringer lights (like ours) are designed to be durable, however, there’s no comparison between stringers and retrofit bulbs.

Though your average hobbyist Christmas installer probably uses C9 stringer sets each year to light their entire roofline, we actually don’t recommend them for that purpose. In fact, stringer light sets are not actually made for perimeter lighting. Instead, C9 stringers are best suited for foliage applications, like around tree trunks, hedges, bushes, or shrubs.

C9 bulk light line: The ideal option for perimeter lighting

We get plenty of questions about how to make a Christmas light display look professional. To be honest, one of the chief ways you can really elevate your display is by using custom C9 bulk light line and retrofit bulbs for all your perimeter lighting.

C9 bulk light line is purchased in spools, anywhere from 25 to 1000 feet. They come without bulbs, and require you to cut the lines to your own lengths. You then buy a pro-grade retrofit bulb—we recommend either Pro Christmas or Minleon bulbs—and screw them into each socket.

c9 retrofit bulbs and light lineIf it sounds like a little bit more work, it is. But then, why is bulk light line so superior to C9 string lights? There are a few reasons:

  • Better durability: The so-called “retrofit bulbs” used in bulk light line are far superior to those manufactured into stringer light sets in a single piece. Each bulb is its own single, self-contained unit, with the electronics sealed directly into the base of the bulbs. This makes them far, far more durable and long-lasting than stringer lights.
  • Brighter display: Retrofit bulbs usually have three to five diodes in each individual light, compared to just a single diode in most stringer sets. This makes them orders of magnitude brighter than stringer lights. This makes a difference when setting up a roofline display which aims to dazzle viewers all the way down the street!
  • Easier and cheaper to replace: If a self-contained bulb does succumb to the ravages of weather, humidity, and time after years of use, all you have to do is replace a single bulb. With stringer sets, you may have to replace the whole set.
  • Better customizability: Bulk light line comes with different bulb spacing options, with each socket spaced anywhere between nine and 15 inches. This allows you greater freedom to decide how you want your display to look.For most installers, it’s a budget issue: if the budget allows, we recommend narrowing the spacing down to nine inches, providing a fantastic, bright and tight display. For lower budgets, you can go all the way up to 15 inches and it will still look excellent with those bright, bright C9 retrofit bulbs. Also, you can swap out individual lights for different colors whenever you feel like switching up your display!

Basically, C9 bulk light line used with C9 retrofit bulbs is by far the better option for roofline and perimeter displays, but it does require a larger initial investment.

Using C9 Socket Cord and Light Bulbs

It also can be intimidating for DIY installers using it for the first time. In practice, though, it genuinely is a simple process:

  1. lighting a home with c9 lights step by stepGet your bulk light line in the spacing desired
  2. Carefully measure the area you will be lighting. For the cord area that will trail down to to the extension cord, we will use zip cord.
  3. Attach a male vampire plug to the end nearest to your power source.
  4. Screw in whichever color bulbs you choose, making sure to use pro-grade lights for the best effect and durability (again, we recommend sticking to Pro Christmas or Minleon bulbs)
  5. Terminate your run by adding a female vampire plug to the other end (watch this video tutorial from Jason)

lighting a home with c9 lights on a roofAnd you're ready to clip them to your home! It’s really that easy.

C9s offer limitless, dazzling creativity

For a Christmas display that will truly be the envy of your block, leaving amateur installers wondering how you achieved such a clean, perfect, professional display, you need C9 bulk light line, cut to size. Not only will your display be brighter, more durable, and better-looking, you can use any colors you want, whether it’s your classic red and green or white-only, the colors of your favorite sports team, or whatever wild combination you can think up.

If you do end up using C9 bulk light line in your Christmas display this year, please, let us know how it went! We’re always eager to hear from fellow Christmas enthusiasts in our quest to design the perfect Christmas display.