How to Choose LED Colour Temperatures

Choosing lighting for your property needs a little more knowledge than was once needed. Lighting design has become more sophisticated with the incredible opportunities that LED lighting has created and understanding what a color temperature is and where best to use them is a key to getting your lighting choices right.

From a simple LED lamp offering the choice of a warm white, neutral white, or cool white to light fixtures specifying a degree of kelvin to show you it’s colour of white, this is our guide to understanding color temperatures.

What is a Colour Temperature?

A CCT or Correlating Colour Temperature is the definition of the colour of white light being created by a light source and is measured in a number of ‘kelvins’, such as 2700K or 3000K.

Understanding the Color of White Light

A very quick tutorial as this will help you make your own choices:

Everything we see in the world is from light that shines onto those objects and then reflects at an incredible speed into our eyes. The quality of that light therefore affects all that we see.

For example if we choose a warm colour of light to shine on everything then we see a warmer version of the objects we are looking at. If we have a cool coloured wall and light it with a neutral coloured white light, it will remain a cool colour.

Amazingly all the light we see is a mixture of the 3 colors our eyes can interpret, red, green and blue (RGB). There are millions of variations of full colour that are created from this RGB mixture and some of them make the part of the visible light spectrum we call white. Take a paint chart as an example, there seem to be an infinite amount of white choices each leaning into a particular colour bias. This is the same with light.

LED and White Light

LED lighting as a technology has given us more choices of white light than ever before for your property. Every manufacturer has chosen to create a popular choice of white and they have become somewhat standardised.

What do LED Color Temperatures Mean?

The higher the degree of kelvin, the cooler the white light becomes. Follow this guide of common colour temperatures used within lighting products and LED lamps:

How to Choose the Right Color Temperature For Your Room

Remembering the quality of white light will affect every object in your room, these are the fundamental points to consider.

Room Type & Activity

Each colour temperature suits an activity in the room at a particular time of the day and time of the year. Tuneable lighting can adopt variations of white light from a single source, but generally you need to base your choice upon the main activity a room will be used for.

Use 3000K for task lighting surfaces which should be the brightest part of any room when turned on. These work surfaces will benefits from feeling bright even when they may not be highly illuminated so a cooler warm white is suitable.

Use 3000K for most work orientated rooms like Kitchens and Bathrooms.

Use 2700K for Dining Rooms and Lounge’s. The richer warmer white light is calming and easy on the eye.

Use 2700K for hallways and residential corridors as they need to be a welcoming by enriching the general reflected light. This light will not spoil the lighting of adjoining rooms if kept warm.

Furnishing Colour & Surface Treatment

The style of a room will have colour and surface choices that need to be lit appropriately. It’s unlikely you will bother to choose a variety of colour temperatures in lamps and products to suit the objects near it, but overall consider whether you want to try and brighten the surface with a 3000K or 4000K or go with the darker colour and use 2700K.

Warm tones and timber will be enriched further with a 2700K extra warm white.

A shiny very reflective surface like a polished floor, kitchen worktop or white sinks and baths, will all benefit from a 3000K warm white to enhance the feeling of brightness coming off of them. However, if the polished surface has a particularly warm colour, like a natural timber floor, then consider a warmer 2700K.

As oak ages it becomes a cooler grey colour so your choice is to accentuate that cooler tone with a 3000K or try and compensate with a richer white of 2700K. 

What Colour Temperature is best for Darker Coloured Rooms

Dark coloured walls or surfaces within a room will not be reflective and will soak up the light. A warmer toned light of 2700K and even lower to 1800K with industrial styled squirrel caged lamps, will enhance the feeling of enclosure and create a cosy intimate mood.

What Color temperature is best for Light Coloured Rooms?

Lighter colours will are increasingly more reflective the whiter they are. The more neutral the surface colour the greater the choice you have of color temperature to influence the space so it’s more the activity in the space that will be the deciding factor. Marble and lighter granite in kitchens and bathrooms usually dominate the space and benefit from a 3000K warm white light.

Time of Day

Consider what time of the day the light fixture or whole room will be most used to decide upon which choices of white light will most benefit the room. It may be a combination.

For example, a light coloured lounge will suit a cooler 3000K warm white as an uplight onto the ceiling to brighten the room on dull days but benefit from the warmer tones of 2700K or lower in the table lamps when they are the only lighting used during the evening.

A north facing room will always need some assistance with daylight, so consider reflecting 4000K neutral cooler white onto the ceiling throughout the day.

A bedroom can benefit from the mixture of 3000K for the ambient general lighting, 2700K in the accent lighting and possibly 4000K in an adjustable LED reading light for the task lighting.

Smart Lighting & Colour Temperatures

Smart lighting brings a deeper level of control and choice of colour temperature, even individually to each lamp and light source. It allows scenes to be set to choose a dominant colour temperature to change the mood of the room. This allows your same room dramatically change it’s colour of white through to any mixed visible colour at any time of day.

Colour tuning the white light is also a choice that manufacturers have provided a simple solution for. This allows the same source of light to range in it’s colour temperature according the the users choice or set time of day. For example, an LED strip hidden in an alcove or around the perimeter of a room can be cooler white 4000K in the day and be tuned to 2700K for the evening.

Recessed LED Downlighters and LED lamps offer a choice to warm dim. This takes the full power of the LED from 2700K down to a warmer tone of white – even 1800K candlelight – when dimmed. 

What is the Difference Between Color Temperature and Color Rendering?

The Color Temperature is a quality of the light itself whereas the rendering of color is the process of how accurate an objects true color is represented by that light when it falls onto it.

Does the Color Temperature of Light Affect the Rendering of Color?

It does not influence the measurement of color rendering (Ra) but the color of light even if just different types of white light, will inevitably affect how we actually see the colors of things around us.

Don’t worry, we’re all a little confused about it but – check out: Color Rendering Index 101: Let CRI Make Your Home Look Great

Andrew Orange , the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.