What Is the Color Temperature of Light for Light Bulbs?

With so many types of light bulbs, the color temperature of a light bulb really does matter.

Different color temperatures of light not only shine a light on our daily activities, but they also set a mood.

What looks right in the living area or a workspace might not create the desired ambiance for a dinner party. 

What is the color temperature of light for light bulbs? Traditionally, soft white light measures at 2,700 K (kelvin units). The yellow glow of this light works to provide enough light for general needs. It ranges from 2,700 K to 3,000 K. That’s been the standard since, well, since the light bulb was invented.

However, our world is constantly changing and so are we.

Nowadays, the light that flashes on when we flip a switch to avoid running into a coffee table at night won’t necessarily work for reading a manual or actually putting together a new desk for a home office. 

Breaking Down the Range of Color Temperature of Light 

To simplify which color temperature of light for light bulbs is best, it helps to think of the range of color temperature.

Soft white light ranges from 2,700 K to 3,000 K. Bright white or cool white light ranges from 3,500 K to 4,100 K. The color temperature that mimics daylight ranges from 5,000 K to 6,500 K. 

Here’s an even easier way to see these ranges:

  • Soft White = 2,700 K to 3,000 K
  • Bright/Cool White Light = 3,500 K to 4,100 K
  • Daylight = 5,000 K to 6,500 K

The higher kelvin “degrees” give off a brighter or whiter light.

Try visualizing an elongated piece of metal being heated. On the end closest to the heat, a reddish glow appears. It then graduates to a yellow, then white, then bluish white, and finally blue.

The yellow color represents the 2,700 K range. A whiter color appears around 3,500 K. A bluish-white appearance occurs at around 5,000 K. 

Therefore, the lower kelvin unit delivers a warmer tone that’s often associated with a calmer atmosphere.

Keep that in mind when breaking down which light bulb to use for an area of the home or office space.

Choosing a light that provides a soft warmth for a den or bedroom makes more sense than another light with a higher kelvin range. 

Consider the Color Rendering Index 

Although kelvin units make it easier to better understand the color temperature of light for light bulbs, other factors influence the way light appears.

The color rendering index (CRI) of a light source is used to determine how the eyes perceive colors.

Using CRI basically means measuring the light source’s potential to accurately render the way colors appear to the human eye. 

In other words, CRI offers a scale that helps calculate how closely colors appear to their truest form.

If, for example, a couch is supposed to be a bright red, then the light source should exemplify this, showing bright, crisp color.

On the CRI’s scale of 0-100, anyone can figure out the ability of the light bulb to render colors closer to the actual color.

For example, the CRI of a light source that scores 85 on the scale reveals the subtleties of the color of the red couch much more effectively than a light source with the score of 50. 

CRI Chart
Excellent  100-90
Good 85-60
Poor 0-55

Knowing this helps consumers comparison shop for light bulbs while also clarifying the appearance of an item before a purchase is made.

No one is happy if the consumer purchases a couch that looked to be a bright red only to bring it home and find that it really is dark orange. 

The same sort of philosophy holds true with the difference between applying makeup in a bright, natural light and attempting application in a dimly lit bathroom.

The differing results can be startling.

This also explains how a famous actor or actress can appear flawless in one type of light and hideous in another. 

When working on a painting project or craft with intricate details, the assigned color rendering index score of your lighting can make a huge difference.

You can view my recommendations on the best lighting for craft workspaces in my Hobby Lighting Guide.

What’s the Difference Between CFL and LED Light Color Temperature? 

The way the color temperature of light for light bulbs can play tricks on your eyes doesn’t stop with CRI.

Light bulbs have changed a lot in recent years. Many consumers now buy lights bulbs that are shaped in a coil or other shapes that look nothing like the traditional bulb.

In addition, the color temperature of light for a light bulb isn’t necessarily just about measurements anymore.

Now that society is so concerned with energy, innovations in technology have given us more choices.

Most importantly, consumers now have access to CFL and LED lights that save on energy usage.

The range of colors for these lights rival the traditional light bulb’s variety in more ways than one, essentially providing more options but also requiring more decisions.

A compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb is simply a smaller version of those long, giant lights you might find in a grocery store or a warehouse.

This smaller, compact version might now be used practically anywhere in the home or maybe even in an appliance. 

Then there’s the light-emitting diode, or LED, light bulb involving the movement of electrons and ultimately delivering a small amount of heat.

LED light bulbs require very little energy to produce the best quality of light. The only problem is the initial cost.

Which Light Bulb Is Better, CFL or LED?

Both light bulbs save energy and can be measured for quality.

Most experts would agree that LED light bulbs are the best in regards to lighting quality and energy efficiency, but most consumers often purchase CFL light bulbs because the upfront cost is significantly less.

In an average home, when incandescent light bulbs are replaced with CFL light bulbs, the amount of electricity consumed, along with CO2 emissions and pollution, are all drastically reduced.

Moreover, the color temperature for light in CFL light bulbs delivers a large scope of colors.

LED light bulbs rival CFL light bulbs with similar qualities and better energy efficiency.

While CFL light bulbs last for 8,000 hours, LED light bulbs last for 25,000 hours by using almost half the watts of a CFL light bulb, but the LED light bulb costs a lot more at initial purchase.

What Are the Best Color Temperatures of Light for Areas in Your Home?

Of course, different rooms in your home will require different lighting needs.

For example, you wouldn’t want a blindingly bright, white light in your bedroom at nighttime, and we can all imagine the disasters that might occur with improper lighting in the kitchen when working with sharp knives or inspecting food for freshness.

Living Room

Normally, a mixture of different color temperatures make the best light bulbs for the living room.

Most living rooms work nicely with ambient lighting that showers a room with light without generating too much light and brightness. 

Living rooms are generally larger than the rest of a home, so light fixtures might be set up to highlight photographs or paintings.

A lot of living rooms use floor lamps in multiple areas to provide light for entertainment purposes such as watching movies or socializing.  

Kitchen

Also a great place for social gatherings, the kitchen usually requires two different kinds of lighting.

The main type of lighting used in the kitchen would be a sharp light to aid in the preparation of meals.

If the kitchen has an attached dining area, the lighting in that portion should be easier on the eye, providing for a warmer color temperature.

No one wants a bright lamp shining in his or her face while trying to carry on a conversation with the person across the table.

Bedroom

Because the bedroom isn’t always just for sleeping, lighting options matter.

Usually, a night table houses enough space for a small lamp. That lamp could have a brighter light for reading while a floor lamp could give the room a warmer color temperature.

More importantly, avoid bedroom lights that have blue color temperatures that are associated with sleep disruption. 

Outdoor Lighting

For large open spaces, bright lights best illuminate the area to help with movement and social gatherings.

Walkways often utilize smaller LED solar lights that focus solely on providing a path that leads to a doorway.

Outdoor spotlights tend to be brighter with larger bulbs. The smaller, dimmer landscape spotlights are reserved mostly for accenting the magnificence of a tree or the beauty of a plant.

Experimenting with the Color Temperature 

In the end, various factors, such as the different materials used to produce the bulb, determine what the eyes see.

Most of the time, filmmakers or photographers use several different types of bulbs and light fixtures to produce one visual in one small scene or photo. Those bulbs and light fixtures help generate a particular mood.

The same idea can be applied to the different rooms in a house.

If you find that you’ve replaced a traditional, incandescent bulb with a fluorescent one and now feel like you’re living in a cheap hotel, consider not just the kelvin unit but also the CRI, the light fixture, and the paint on the wall that also affect the room’s atmosphere. 

Experimenting with different lighting can help with making a final decision about what light source works best for a room or a workspace.

Combining all the tools provided here with your own vision will make the end result, a much better one.