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What Is Color Temperature

Updated: 09/01/2022
Color Temperature

We all know that candlelight has a magical effect, doing wonders for ambiance as well as skin tone. But there's more to it than just the 'brightness' of the light. White light also has a 'warmth,' and getting this right is essential to creating the effect we want in our homes.

The new generation of energy-saving light bulbs was often criticized for producing a much harsher quality of light (reminiscent of the old fluorescent strip) than the much loved incandescent light bulb, which was much warmer. Fortunately, the technology of the new bulbs has now caught up, and it's now possible to get different 'colors' or 'temperatures' of the white light bulb - usually including very warm white, warm white, white, cool white, and daylight.

Understanding how these colors work and what effect they give is very important to make sure you get the ambiance you are trying to create right. After all, we've all had that experience of fitting a light bulb that suddenly makes our room seem more like a dentist's surgery than the hoped-for romantic boudoir.

What Is Color Temperature

The color temperature of the light is measured using a special scale called the Kelvin unit(having the unit symbol K). The higher the temperature, the 'whiter' the light color tends to be, with warm white having the lowest temperature range and daylight having the highest temperature range. Put another way, to the human eye, the lowest temperature range seems to emit more red/orange light, while the higher temperature range emits more blue light.

You need to understand a light bulb's stated color temperature has nothing to do with the heat output of the bulb (LEDs produce very little heat). It only refers to the perceived color of light emitted from the bulb. And the quality of the light has no connection with the finish of the light bulb, e.g., if it's clear or frosted. This only affects the way the light is distributed – I.e., frosted coatings will diffuse the light, whilst clear glass has more 'glare.'

Color Temperature Scale for Lighting

Generally speaking, when we discuss the color temperature, we will refer to it as either warm light, cool light, or daylight. Each of these types of light has their purpose:

Warm White

Warm white, also known as soft white, has a lower color temperature rating of 2000K to 3300K. The light produced by warm bulbs features tones of yellow and orange, which results in cozy, relaxed lighting (resembling candlelight or incandescent lighting). Warm bulbs are the preferred choice for use in your living room, dining room, bedrooms, and general-purpose lamps.

Cool White

Cool white has color temperature ratings of 3100K to 4500K and is generally considered to be friendly, inviting, clean, and efficient light. Most people will find cool white light bulbs ideal for use in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, and various work environments. This type of lighting is popular in commercial lighting applications.

Daylight

Daylight has color temperatures ranging from 4600K to 6500K (and higher) and is generally considered to be a bluish white light associated with alertness. Daylight bulbs are ideally suited for display areas, security lighting, commercial, and industrial applications. Many people like to use daylight bulbs for reading.

To be more specific:

Soft White (2700K)

Soft white has a very warm color tone that most closely matches to the yellow tinge of light traditionally associated with old lower watt incandescent light bulbs. As the warmest available artificial light, it can be used to great effect as accent lighting in lounges or general light in bedrooms. It also creates a warm, inviting ambiance in restaurants, boutiques, and reception areas.

Warm White (3000K)

Warm white is a whiter color than the more traditional incandescent bulb, but it still has a yellowish hue. It is associated with the light quality given out by traditional halogen light bulbs. It is still considered a nice soft tone which is very useful in the home, and there are now a wide range of LED bulbs that come at this temperature which makes them very suitable for domestic lighting designs.

White (3500K)

White is the color code for a more neutral color and is whiter than the two described above. Being neutral, it's often used in both domestic and also commercial lighting designs. It's particularly suitable for offices where people need 'bright' light so they can see what they are doing, but not so 'cold' as to appear clinical.

Cool White (4000K)

Cool white is a 'crisper' light and is the whiter light that is often used in fluorescent tubes. It shows colors in the environment in a brighter, more vibrant state, so is often used in offices and retail shops where the quality of color is important. It is also very useful in lighting designs for kitchens and bathrooms, where good crisp lighting is required for food preparation and tasks such as putting on make-up or shaving.

Daylight (6500K)

Daylight temperature is the crispest and of all the colors and most closely resembles natural daylight. This color is very useful for people in working environments who rely on the best possible color rendering, e.g., artists and other creative people. Jewelers also like it as it's the best light to ensure that cut gems sparkle. Daylight bulbs can also be used by people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), although you will need to check that the bulb does simulate natural daylight and not just rely on this color coding.

Why Is Color Temperature Important

Color temperature is especially significant in desktop publishing and photography. Differences in color temperature may lead to disparities in color rendering. The color temperature of lights is important for homes as well as offices as varied colors of light have a diverse psychological effect and are selected as cool or warm. 

The preference of light color temperature is administered by the look you wish to make in an area. Lights of diverse color temperatures are described by their resemblance to known sources or with characteristic adjectives.

Which Color Temperature Is Right for You

Which temperature of light is right for you, and your home? Only you can decide. But if you are accustomed to the light produced by a standard incandescent bulb, you are likely to prefer warm white LED light bulbs with a Kelvin rating in the 2700K to 3000K range. Garages, basements, and outdoor lighting are good places to go with cool white LED light bulbs with higher Kelvin temperatures.

If you are selecting LED lighting for your commercial or retail space, you should consider bulbs with temperature ratings in the 4000K to 5500K range. This type of light is often referred to as pure white or noon-time sunlight. This cooler type of lighting will tend to keep your work staff more alert, more productive, and less likely to make errors due to sleepiness. In a retail space, color temperatures of 5000K will enhance all of the colors in your store equally, and some believe this type of lighting may actually stimulate sales. This result is not promised, but it makes sense that if a customer has better visibility of what you are offering, they may be more likely to buy.

Hope you can make the perfect selection with the optimal color temperatures for your particular needs.

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