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What is Kelvin [Color] Temperature?

The phrase “color temperature” may be misleading because it actually refers to the warmth or coolness or the color appearance of a particular source of white light. The phrase has come into being because of the peculiar way in which a metal behaves when it is heated. When a piece of metal is heated, it not only becomes hot but also begins to emit a light. What is more, this light changes color as the temperature of the metal being heated changes gradually. For instance, when you start heating a metal, it first turns reddish in color. Then the color changes to orange, yellow, and white (in this order). As the metal continues to become hotter, the white glow gives way to bluish-white and subsequently to darker shades of blue.

It is recommended that you understand color temperature and specifically, what the various terms and figures associated with it mean, to choose the appropriate lighting solution for your commercial or industrial lighting project. Knowing about color temperature will also ensure that you save on lighting costs and enhance employee productivity and comfort by choosing a light that is ideal for a specific task or workspace.

What do You Need to Know About Color Temperature Before Choosing Lights?

Energy-efficient light bulbs are available in a wide range of shades. For instance, there are “warm” white fluorescent light bulbs as well as “cool” white fluorescent bulbs. The monikers make it obvious that these two bulbs emit lights of differing shades. But this difference actually stems from the difference in their color temperatures. Different light bulbs can reach different color temperatures.

In lighting parlance, the exact technical term used to refer to color temperature is correlated color temperature (CCT).  It is expressed in Kelvins (K). There is a negative relationship between the color temperature value and the warmth produced by a lighting source. So, higher Kelvin values or color temperatures do not indicate that a lighting source produces “warm” light. On the contrary, the higher the color temperature, the “cooler” is the light looks visibly. Similarly, the lower the color temperature, the warmer is the glow of the light produced by the bulb.

The following diagram shows the color range used in lighting, with the most common, 5000 Kelvin, indicated.

A “warm” white light is emitted by a bulb with a color temperature of about 2,000-3,000K. A “warm” light actually casts a reddish or orange glow on objects. Because red and orange are conventionally associated with warmth, a light bulb with a lower color temperature is also referred to as being “warm.”

On the other hand, a “cool” white light is emitted by a bulb that has a color temperature of about 5,000-6,500K. A “cool” white light casts a light bluish or icy blue glow on objects. Because ice is typically associated with coolness, a light bulb with a higher Kelvin value is referred to as being “cool” white. At still higher color temperatures, like 5000K and more, light bulbs emit deeper shades of blue.

The above-mentioned pieces of information regarding the common terminology used in the lighting industry will help you choose the right light for your commercial premises.

How does Color Temperature Affect Your Commercial or Industrial Space?

You have learned about color temperatures and the inverse relation between this value and the kind of light that a bulb emits. Now you might wonder how color temperature will affect your choice of a lighting apparatus for your office, lobby, or the production area. You will have to consider both the type of work carried out in a specific area of your commercial premises and the color temperature of the lighting apparatus.

It is a well-established fact that lighting also affects a human being’s mood. A warm light is perceived to be inviting. So business owners usually prefer to install “warm” white lights in the lobby area of their commercial premises to make guests feel welcome. If you are a business owner or a building manager, it is recommended to use lights with color temperatures between 2,700K and 4,100K in these spaces. In this context, it is worth noting that most energy-efficient lights are manufactured to produce the warm and soft white light that is associated with incandescent bulbs.

The below picture is of a typical office space with 4,100 Kelvin troffer LED fixtures installed. This is to provide a bright and warm enough light without being overbearing (too bright or with a blueish tint). 4,100K usually has a very slight yellow tint but is mostly white.

Picture of Office Lighting 4100 Kelvin
Lights that emit a cool white color are ideal for workspaces where your employees should be able to see the objects that they are working on clearly. Kelvin ranges between 5,000 (looks pure white) and 6,500 (has a slightly blue tint) are in the range that is close to mimicking sunlight. The sun is perceived at 5,780 Kelvin to the human eye.

It is important to note that the human eye perceives higher Kelvin temperature ranges as a little bit brighter than lower Kelvin temperatures, which is measured in pupil lumens. As the light source gets closer to the sun’s range Kelvin range of 5,780, it looks a little bit brighter. This is why most of the industrial and commercial areas such as warehouses, parking garages, gas stations, outdoor pole lighting, stairways, gyms, sports fields, and similar areas are now retrofitting to energy efficient fluorescent, induction, or LED that is 5,000 Kelvin or higher. Not only does appear brighter to the human eye, but you can use less energy (wattage) to achieve more brightness. Here you can see a warehouse space lit with 5000 Kelvin pure white T5HO lamps:

A picture of T5 HO High Bay Fixtures in a Warehouse
On the other hand, the lights that you choose for such spaces should also not be glaringly bright or that hamper visibility. Color temperatures between 3,500K and 4,100K are recommended for such spaces. Typical office, library, school, and general hallway and commercial interior space lighting is 4,100K.

Retail business owners have to think along similar lines when considering buying energy-efficient lights for their shops. The prime objective of the lights installed in these spaces is to illuminate the displayed objects so that these are clearly visible, and there are no distracting shadows. A light with a color temperature of 2,700K-4,100K is not ideal to illuminate small objects with fine details inside a showcase. So jewelry shop owners, for instance, should instead opt for bulbs with higher color temperatures for their premises. Lights with color temperatures of around 5,000-5,800K are ideal for such purposes.  This again mimics sunshine and allows products to really pop.

Now that you know about color temperatures and how these values affect the nature and intensity of the light being emitted from a lighting source, you can make an informed choice when buying pieces for your commercial or industrial area.


In a nutshell, color temperature is the color that the light puts out. If you want a warm or inviting feel to your area, go with a 2,700K-4,100K light product. If you want to maximize the light level and be the most efficient possible while lighting up an area to mimic daylight, it is recommended to install 5,000K-6,500K.


If you need help with your lighting project please email us or give us a call at 800.983.1315.


Erin Shine

Categories: Lighting Basics Lighting Learning Center
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