All you need to know about colour temperature and lighting - Lifestyle NZ
All you need to know about colour temperature and lighting

All you need to know about colour temperature and lighting

Coherent colour temperature is the secret behind great lighting design. Here’s how to use it.

Words by Blair Grant

Choosing lights that glow at the right colour temperature is vital when designing the lighting palette of a space . The wrong light colour can create an unintended mood in a space, no matter how well the other design elements are working towards the desired feel.

Here’s everything you need to know about using colour temperature in designing light for your space.

What is colour temperature?

Colour temperature refers to the tint that white light takes on at different levels on the kelvin (K) scale.

The word ‘temperature’ comes from the scientific underpinning of the way light is released from a heated metal. Imagine a piece of steel being progressively heated. As the steel warms, it starts to glow with an orange hue. Heat it a bit more and the glow turns yellow, then white, until finally at the hottest point it’s glowing blue. 

The temperature of the steel (as measured in kelvin) is associated with a different colour glow. At the low end of around 800K, the steel is red hot; at the high end of 8000K, the steel is glowing blue.

To get some idea of the colour temperature of common sources of light, daylight is in the range of 5500K to 6500K, incandescent bulbs sit around 2800K and fluorescent lights go between 4300K and 4700K.

Colour temperatures become cooler as kelvin values rise.

Why is colour temperature important for interior design?

Finely tuned colour temperature is the secret behind great lighting because different colour temperatures create very different moods in a space.

Think about the bright fluorescent lights in an office — they’re designed to be bright enough to work in comfortably and keep people alert. Contrast that with a candle-lit dinner, where the dim orange flicker of the flame contributes to the romantic mood.

Knowing what temperatures of lights produce what feelings is key, because you can then use them in your lighting design choices to shape the mood of your spaces.

How do you choose the right colour temperature for your lights?

Many bulbs don’t have kelvin values printed on them, so you’ll need to rely on the descriptions provided by the manufacturer as to how the colour will look.

There are no universal terms, but the same sorts of terms are used to describe certain kinds of lights. Words like cool, bright and daylight describe lights on the higher end of the kelvin scale, whereas words like warm, soft or golden describe the lower end. 

In terms of how they’re used, you can generally split lights into one of three categories:

1. Warm lights

Warm lights create relaxed vibes, perfect for the lounge and bedroom, or in any place you want to create a chilled-out vibe. 

Anything below 3000K would be considered a warm light

2. Neutral lights

Lights in the mid-range are good for general purpose use. They’re not so cool that they’re overpowering, but they’re also not so warm that it becomes hard to see.

Neurtral lights sit between 3000 and 5000K.

3. Cool lights

Cool lights are best used in areas you want to be bright and well lit. A home office, for example, would be an excellent place for cooler lights, as it’s a space where you want to be alert and focused.

These colours should be avoided in spaces you’re inhabiting before sleep — cool lights output a lot of sleep-disrupting blue light, so it’s best to keep them out of bedrooms.

Anything over 5000k is a cool light.

Kitchen lighting is often neutral to cool, making it easier to see what you're doing when cooking.

There are edge cases, of course, but these three broad categories should be sufficient to choose the kind of mood you want from your bulbs. For further temperature fine tuning, your best bet is talk to a lighting designer who will be able to find you a light with the exact colour temperature you’re after.

Plan your lighting design the right way by browsing Archipro’s Projects and lighting products, and adding those you like to your Design Board. When you’ve got a collection of ideas ready, share them with a lighting or interior designer, and get your project moving.

Top banner image credit: Inlite

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