Warm or Cool: It’s Up to You: Understanding Color Temperature and CRI

Comfort and style are two goals of room design – we all want our home to look and feel just right. Choosing furniture, décor and paint colors are steps along the way, but did you know that the color temperature of the lighting has a big influence on the design’s outcome? Warmer color temperatures will lend a glow that is cozy and inviting. Cooler color temperatures can make the room look and feel clean and bright. Plus, the way the color looks – known as the Color Rendering Index, or CRI – is a must-know, too.

Here’s how to select the perfect color temperature and CRI for your desired room ambiance. 

Color temperature refers to the visible color of a white light source, or how the actual light appears to your eye. It is measured on the Kelvin (K) scale, numbered from 1,000 – 10,000. 

The most common color temperatures for residential LED bulbs are 2700K and 3000K. 

Traditional incandescent bulbs were designed to mimic the candlelight’s warm color, so this is the color most homeowners are familiar with. To replicate this look in your home, choose LED bulbs in the warmer range of 2200K to 2700K to create a cozy, calm, and inviting feeling. A slightly brighter, 3000K color is sometimes preferred for applications like downlights, undercabinet, and table lamps. 

Color temperatures between 3100K and 4500K are referred to as “cool white” or “bright white.” Within this range, light bulbs emit a neutral white up to slightly blue light and are ideal for laundry rooms, garages, and workshops. 

Color temperatures above 4500K are in the natural daylight range of light. White light sources that are bluer or “cold” in color tone like the color of fluorescent lighting in an office building would have a higher color temperature, such as 5000K. The color is crisp and clean and ideal for outdoor lighting, such as security lighting. 

With the increasing popularity of LED lighting, CRI is another need-to-know term. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) measures how the light source makes other colors look in a room in contrast to a natural light source (like daylight shining in through a window). It is measured on a scale from 0 to 100. 

Objects or colors illuminated by light sources with lower CRI values may appear less vibrant than those with higher CRI values. 

Most LED bulbs sold today are typically at least 80 CRI, and this CRI value is generally acceptable to most consumers. Light sources with at least 90 CRI offer a higher quality of light that renders colors closer to the look of an incandescent bulb, which measures about 100 CRI.

Some spaces, such as kitchens and bathrooms will benefit from utilizing light sources with higher CRI values since food, fruit, skin tones, etc. will look more vibrant. The state of California has mandated specific light quality requirements, including a CRI minimum of 90CRI for most LED light bulbs used in all new residential construction. High CRI bulbs typically cost more due to the added technology required to develop better light quality.

Now that you’ve learned the difference that color temperature makes in lighting design, shop our selection of light bulbs and our full line of lighting collections (some of which have LED lights built right into the fixture) here.