Sourcing lighting for your project isn’t only about aesthetics. Lighting has a host of other considerations, including Kelvin color temperature, that must be understood when specifying everything from functional recessed lights to a statement chandelier. Here are the basics to understanding how color temperature affects lighting and the look of every room.
What is Kelvin in lighting?
The definition of Kelvin is “the SI base unit of thermodynamic temperature, equal in magnitude to the degree Celsius.” Scientific jargon aside, Kelvin is used in lighting to measure the color temperature of a light bulb. In short, the higher the Kelvin rating (expressed in K), the whiter the light will be.
Light bulb color temperature is represented in the unit of absolute temperature, Kelvin, noted by the symbol K. As a quick rule, the higher the Kelvin, the whiter the light. Household fixtures are commonly found in color temperatures on the Kelvin scale of 2700K (warm incandescent), 3000K (warm white halogen) and 3500K (household fluorescent).
Color temperatures higher than 3500K are typically used for commercial and hospital applications, as the light is bright and has a bluish daylight cast that can be harsh for home interiors; but task lighting may be useful at 4000K and above. When selecting new lighting for your home or project, be sure to take its color temperature into account to ensure the best outcome.
Color Temperature Chart
The right color temperature begins with the bulb. Use the Kelvin color temperature scale below to help identify the approximate hue certain bulbs will provide.
Color Temperatures of Light Bulbs
Aside from the type of the light bulb itself, using Kelvin temperature can also help guide you in determining which fixture is right for each room. Whether you need an ambient source of light or highly focused task lighting, consider the following Kelvin ranges:
- Less than 2000K: gives off a dim glow of light, similar to what you might find from candlelight; best for low-light areas where ambient illumination is welcomed.
- 2000K-3000K: gives off a soft white glow, often yellow in appearance; best for living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and outdoor spaces.
- 3100K-4500K: gives off a bright amount of white light; best for kitchens, offices, work spaces and vanities where task lighting is needed.
- 4600K-6500K: gives off a bright amount of blue-white light, similar to that of daylight; best for display areas and work environments where very bright illumination is needed.
- 6500K and up: gives off a bright bluish hue of light, often found in commercial locations; best for task lighting.