If you have read our page about the meaning of color temperature, you understand that the Kelvin rating on a light bulb or fixture indicates the shade of white light that emits from that source. Just as sunlight transitions from orange shades in the morning and evening to blues during the middle of the day, artificial lights also emit a specific color temperature.
If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the powerful light in an office building or grocery store, or found yourself relaxed by the yellow glow of a bedside lamp, then you know how broad the experience of various color temperatures can be. This isn’t saying that cooler or warmer color temperatures are better or worse than one another. Each color temperature has an application that is appropriate for it, and good lighting design incorporates that into an overall plan of how to light an office building, a manufacturing facility, or a residential home. Knowing your environment and context are critical to choosing the right color temperature, and can make all the difference in things such as employee performance or the consistency of your sleep cycles.
Throughout ShineRetrofits.com, you will find that our list of product filters includes the degree of color temperature you would prefer your product to have. This filter allows you to choose a different Kelvin level for the products that you are considering for your lighting project. The temperature you choose is extremely important in order to set the right ambiance for your indoor or outdoor setting.
If this makes you a little curious about what Kelvin level you should be choosing for your various lights, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we are going to go over the ins and outs of picking out the right color temperature for the right lighting application. Hopefully, this will help you make an educated decision on what lights you should install in your home or business, lights that can help you improve productivity or get comfortable and relax. That being said, there is an element of personalization to making this decision! Everyone has their own preferences. If you need help choosing a color temperature for your lights, you can always call one of our lighting experts at 1-877-874-0618.
The Scale of Light Color Temperatures
Color temperature is measured in degrees of Kelvin on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000, represented in numbers with a K after them, such as 3000K or 5500K. The scale is easy to follow. The lower the number on the Kelvin scale, the warmer and more yellow/orange the light will be. The higher the number is on the scale, the bluer the light will be.
On ShineRetrofits.com, you will find a color temperature scale that will show a representation of the various shades of white light. They range from orange/yellow to blue, with the yellowest light at the bottom near 2000k and the bluest light at the top close to 8000k. You will find this indicator throughout our website serving as a helpful guide to what color temperatures our products offer. In November of 2016, we revised this scale to more accurately reflect the actual color characteristics of the light source. We find that there are some gross exaggerations of these color temperature scales around the web, which is why we wanted to offer you this accurate scale to help you find the right light for your project.
Kelvin Color Chart
A good point of reference is that the sun at midday measure 5780 Kelvin. If you look at that color temperature on the scale of color temperatures, you’ll find the light is beginning to touch the edges of the bluish range of light. So, what you perceive to be white light actually has a bit of a blue as part of its spectrum. Typical household lamps use bulbs in the 2000-3000 Kelvin range, which often feels like white light with hints of yellow and orange as part of it. A candle registers at 1900K, so you can see how the glow of fire emits a warm, yellow/orange light. Keep in mind that these are all shades of white light.
What is Circadian Lighting
The natural color temperatures that we see throughout the day produced by the sun vary from warm to cool. The early and late sunlight is low on the color temperature scale, emitting a warm orange glow that has less intensity than at other times of the day. The sunlight that we see in the middle of the day is actually closer to being cool blue color temperature but appears to the eye as a clear white light at around 5780 Kelvin. The color temperature of a sunrise or sunset, on the other hand, is around 3200k.
Recent studies show that there are positive health effects when artificial lighting mimics the natural color temperatures of the sun throughout the day. This research serves as the basis for many of the color temperature recommendations we make in this post.
Warmer light is used in many living rooms and dining areas because we often spend our time there in the mornings and evenings. Warmer light tends to be more relaxing to the human eye and allows people to slow down and take it easy. We use cooler light in the workplace because we tend to be there most often during the middle of the day. Essentially, the core of what we want to achieve with color temperature is to match the natural rhythm of the sun. However, there are a few special cases that call for special color temperatures.
Ranges of Color Temperatures & Their Applications
Now let's take a look at some typical color temperature ratings that you might see while shopping for lighting products. For each range, we will suggest some applications where they are most appropriate. Once again, these are just suggestions for the uses of these various color temperatures. For example, we suggest that warm lighting is the most appropriate for restaurants or dining rooms. However, what if your restaurant had an ice theme because it is known for chilled drinks? Cooler color temperature lighting might be just the thing you need to achieve that arctic ambiance you’re looking for. Your space is your canvas, and ultimately the choice is up to you to go with what feels right.
2700K - Warm White - Intimate, Cozy, Personal
This is the light that you are probably most familiar within a residential or restaurant application. The warm glow of lower color temperatures is often reminiscent of the sunset or the glow of a fire. Common applications would be:
Living rooms are custom designed for relaxation. Plus, we often spend time in our living rooms in the evenings or after work, which means that you’ll be using artificial light sources the get the atmosphere of the room just right. This calls for warm and cozy light, so look for light sources around 2700K.
For the most part, restaurants want to create an inviting and intimate environment. That is why they most often choose warmer light sources with dimmers, so they can adjust the lighting throughout the evening as the sun goes down and day turns to night. Some will even opt for a warmer color temperature to mimic candlelight.
The primary mission of a hotel is to make you feel at home, so it is no surprise to see they use a similar color temperature to what you might use in your living room or restaurant. Warmer temperatures provide cozier atmospheres, which is why 2700K is a great choice for the hospitality industry.
3000K - Soft White - Warm, calming
If you still want a relaxing ambiance but may need a bit more clarity in your environment, bump it up to 3000K. These light levels are still for residential areas but typically where you are completing tasks such as kitchens and bathrooms. Here are some common applications for 3000K light:
A bathroom is one of those places in your home where you could go with warmer or cooler temperatures depending on preference., You might want to go slightly higher than in your living room so that you can see what you are doing and see a brighter reflection in the mirror. You would not want to miss that poppy seed stuck in your teeth! For that reason, we recommend 3000K in bathrooms.
While a kitchen is a gathering place in your home, which justifies warmer color temperatures, it is also a workshop for your culinary talents. A color temperature that is not quite as warm as the living room helps you to see the true color of the food in front of you or stay safe when cutting or handling food. This also helps you make sure that chicken is cooked all the way through when you pull it from the oven.
3500K - Neutral White - Balanced, friendly, inviting
The theory of circadian lighting informs us that the brain is most alert in the middle of the day when light levels move into the pure white areas of the spectrum. For this reason, we use these color temperatures in environments where people need to focus and remain alert. However, it is often overstimulating to spend your entire work day in completely white light, so these neutral tones should tend slightly more in the warm direction while staying near to the white part of the spectrum. Here are some common applications for 3500K light.
Keep your employees alert yet relaxed using one of these neutral warm color temperatures around 3500K. The light will be white enough to keep them from falling asleep without torturing them under blue light all day long, which can cause fatigue and irritability.
Retail stores want to create an inviting environment on the warm side of the scale, while allowing customers to see the true qualities of the products such as clothing or jewelry. 3500K is often ideal, offering you a sharp, clear light that won’t be too blue and, as a result, not very flattering or inviting to your customers.
4100K - Cool White - Precise, clean, focused
Sometimes, a warm and cozy environment is not appropriate for the job at hand. When you need precision and the ability to see your subject clearly, cool white lighting is ideal. These color temperatures are going to be above 4100K. Here are some common applications:
If you are using your garage as a workspace, you will want to use clean crisp lighting. This will bring clarity to any project you are working on and create the safest working environment.
Compared to a clothing retail store, grocery stores typically opt for slightly higher color temperature. This creates a better environment for examining foods and also makes the colors pop, which makes packaging more appealing.
5000K - Bright White - Vibrant, Crisp
5000K color temperature is approaching the intensity and clarity of sunlight and is best used in professional spaces where exactness is necessary. These applications are as broad as sports stadiums and warehouses. Here are some common applications for 5000K light:
Proper lighting in a warehouse contributes to efficiency and productivity for employees. Adequate light levels are also usually required by OSHA regulations, and crisp white light is ideal. This is not the best area to use warm, comforting light. Warehouses need the brightest light they can afford.
Sports stadiums across the country are replacing their lighting with LED technology. High-definition broadcasting has almost become a standard now, and that clarity relies on high quality lighting. HD cameras will be able to pick up subtle details better when the light is crisp white and strong.
Another industry where perfectly crisp lighting is a necessity in the healthcare industry. When you are up on the operating table, your doctor is going to want strong, clear light so that they can make careful observations and see exactly what they are doing.
6500K - Daylight - Alert, energetic
6500K light is strong and intense. You wouldn’t want to work under a light like this all day long, but for some applications, it can be critical. This kind of light appears like a mixture of blue and white light and will provide lots of energy output. A common application is indoor agriculture:
Light in the 6500K range is starting to be very apparently blue. At these color temperatures, the light is most similar to the light from the sun. For that reason, this is best for use in agriculture and particularly for indoor farming.
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