What is Lighting Color Temperature?

May 22, 2020

Light is light, right? Not exactly. Picking out the shape and size of a light bulb is only part of the job. You may not realize it, but light bulbs are produced in a wide range of color temperatures. The color temperature of light you choose can help set a certain mood in your living space, or even make you more productive in an office space.

Color temperature is not an indicator of lamp heat. It actually lets us know what the look and feel of light will be using warm and cool colors. Understanding the temperature scale will help you choose the best “color” of light for your home.

Color Temperature Scales

The color of the light that a bulb emits depends on its Correlated Color Temperature (CCT). The CCT replicates the Kelvin temperature of a metal object when it’s heated. The word “correlated” is important because we’re not actually describing the heat — just the color the metal object looks like at certain degrees Kelvin. Thus, the correlated color temperature.

Kelvin Color Temperature Scale

If you heat up a metal object, the object appears to glow. Depending on the Kelvin temperature that’s heating the object, the glow will appear in various colors, such as red, yellow or blue. The Kelvin color temperature scale ranks these colors from warm to cool, or low to high. Using this scale, we can gauge what color of light a bulb produces:

  • Less than 2000K: dim light, close to candlelight
  • 2000K-3000K: warm light with hints of yellow
  • 3100K-4500K: bright white light
  • 4600K-6500K: bright blue-white light (daylight = approx. 5200K)
  • 6500K and up: bright bluish light

A good rule of thumb is the higher the temperature, the “cooler” the color. For example, a 5500K hospital-grade bulb is cooler than a 2700K bulb you’d likely use in your living room.

Most residential lighting applications fall somewhere on the scale between 2000K and 4500K. It’s important to know what light temperature bulbs you have in fixtures around your home. If you ever replace one with a different temperature than its neighboring light sources, you’ll notice they aren’t the same “color.”

Warm Light Colors

Light produced in the 2000K to 3000K range on the light color temperature chart is called “warm white.” You’ll find red and yellow hues that are more flattering to skin tones and clothing, which is why these temperatures are popular in living spaces.

2700K color temperature bulbs are standard for bedrooms and living rooms to create a cozy atmosphere. Move up to “soft white” 3000K color temperature or higher for areas that require more visual tasks like the kitchen, home office, laundry room and bathroom. In these spaces where warmth and relaxation are not a priority, increase to a cooler color temperature for more clarity.

TCP has all the warm temperatures covered with energy-efficient LED options for your home. TCP’s  filament LED bulbs create a very soft light with color temperatures below 2700K, or move up to 3000K with our PRO Line family of LEDs. No matter what LED temperature you choose, you’ll maximize savings and minimize maintenance costs with TCP Lighting solutions.

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aesthetic lighting and functional lighting with ambient lighting

Cool Light Colors

Blues and greens are considered cool and they live at the higher end of the Kelvin scale. Cool light produces more contrast, so it’s preferred for task lighting in a bathroom vanity or kitchen.

If a neutral white light is important to you, look for color temperatures between 3100K and 4500K. These range from “cool white” to “bright white” with the higher temperatures starting to show a slightly blue tint. These temperatures are brighter, offering a “cleaner” look than the warm temperatures.

Choose 3500K color temperature in living spaces where earthy, warm tones are being used. If your paint scheme and home decor skews more toward cooler colors, opt for bulbs in the 4000K to 4500K range. TCP’s daylight color temperature LEDs provide a crisp light with a slightly bluish-white tone. This color temperature is used for residential outdoor lighting and security lighting.

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