Color temperature is a method of measuring the shades of color emitted by the light.
Warm, cool, and neutral whites are the main categories of color temperature.
Warm lights are best for cozy spaces.
Cool lights are for productive environments.
Neutral lights are for peaceful, relaxing corners.
Choosing the right color temperature for a specific space isn't a skill that comes naturally to many people. But once you understand a bit of the science behind this phenomenon, you'll quickly realize it's actually more straightforward than it may appear.
This guide will walk you through the mechanisms of color temperature, along with how it's measured and what to look for when bulb shopping. Whether you want to set a stage for cozy evenings by the fireplace or create an environment where you can be your most efficient, there's usually a way that color temperature can help you do it.
What Is Color Temperature?
Color temperature is a system for measuring light on a cool to warm scale. It describes the tone and shades of color emitted by light and includes everything from neutral to bright whites.
How Is Color Temperature Measured?
Color temperature is measured in kelvin (K), a base unit of thermodynamic temperature; the size of 1 degree kelvin is the same as that of 1 degree Celsius. The higher a bulb registers on the kelvin color temperature scale, the more it'll look like daylight. On the other hand, you'll find lights in neutral and warm tones on the mid- and lower-end of this scale.
Here are the most common ranges of kelvin degrees in different types of light bulbs.
2,700 K–3,000 K: warm and soft whites
3,500 K–4,100 K: cool, neutral, and bright whites
5,000 K–6,500 K: natural white and daylight
Different Types of Color Temperature
There are three main categories of color temperature and several subcategories that exist within them. Because each group can set a totally different mood, knowing like from like is necessary to make the best choice for your home.
Lights that feature warm lighting include everything from soft whites to candlelight. Warm, natural lights from sunsets, sunrises, and fireplaces all fall at about 1,800 K on the color temperature scale. Soft incandescent, fluorescent, and light-emitting diode (LED) lights all feature cozy, orange undertones and rank a bit higher at 2,700 K to 3,000 K.
Between 3,500 K to 4,100 K takes you into cool light territory, which is known for its subtle blue undertones. Many compact fluorescents and LED light bulbs fall into this category of light color temperature.
Natural and bright whites begin to appear once you move past 5,000 K on the kelvin color spectrum. Studio lamps, ring lights, and fluorescent tubes are all between 5,000 K to 6,500 K and are known for creating this kind of light, which is often compared to daylight.
How to Set the Tone for Your Home With Color Temperature
The quality of light can considerably impact the way a space feels. One little bulb can be all it takes to shift a room from an exciting, energizing environment to a relaxing place to unwind. Keep reading to find out how to change the mood with color temperature.
Where to Use Warm Light
Because warm light creates a lot of contrast, it’s best for spaces where you plan to relax rather than focus. They’re great for softening hard edges and moody wallpapers and darkening bright hues and intricate patterns.
Avoid using them in especially dim rooms because they may not always provide enough light to fully function in the space (unless that's the desired effect, like in a bathroom).
Where to Use Cool Light
Cool lights are great for rooms where you need to see everything going on and plan to do a lot of activities. Use this type of light in rooms like the kitchen or office. But they'll make it harder to unwind, so keep any bulbs 3,000 K to 4,000 K out of your relaxation zones.
Where to Use Neutral Light
Save neutral lights for the areas of your home where you want to feel energized or enlivened, like in your at-home gym or reading nook. This sunshine-style light will give you the boost you need to finish the last few pages or make it through your intense workout.
Find the Best Bulbs for Each Light Color Temperature
No matter what type of bulb you're buying, check the package to determine the color temperature beforehand. If you can't find the kelvin temperature on the box, look for a three-digit code.
The first number tells you where the bulb is on the color rendering index (CRI). This is the measurement of light in terms of how it affects the color's appearance. The following two digits are the kelvin temperature. For example, a package with a code of "835" has a CRI of 80 and a color temperature of 3,500 K.
In general, these are the color temperatures you can expect from the most commonly available types of light bulbs.
LEDs: available in all the different color temperatures, from cool to warm
Incandescent lights: available in warm color palettes from 2,700 K
Fluorescent lights: available in bright neutral tones from 3,500 K
Halogen bulbs: available in cool color tones from 3,000 K