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How to Choose the Right

LED Lighting Product Color Temperature

LED lighting offers many benefits and features that were difficult, if not impossible to offer with other lighting technologies. Many of the obvious benefits, such as substantial operating energy and cost reductions, longer life, and lower overall heat generation are generally well known. Another feature that allows for dramatic appearance and productivity benefits now and in the future, involves the color temperature of the light produced by LEDs.

Lighting Color Temperature Measurement Beginnings

"White light" is commonly described by its color temperature. Measuring the hue of "white" light started in the late 1800s, when the British physicist William Kelvin heated a block of carbon. The block of carbon changed color as it heated up, going from a dim red, through various shades of yellow, all the way up to a bright bluish white at its highest temperature. The measurement scale for color temperatures, which was named after Kelvin as a result of his work, was based on Centigrade degrees. However, since the Kelvin scale starts at "absolute zero", which is -273°C, you can get the equivalent Centigrade temperature (compared to the visible colors of a heated black body) by subtracting 273 from the Kelvin color temperature.

Color Temperature Scale Application
led color temperature

The term used in general illumination is correlated color temperature (CCT). CCT relates to the color of light produced by a light source, and uses the Kelvin temperature measurement scale (SI unit of absolute temperature). It describes the relative color appearance of a white light source, indicating whether it appears more yellow/gold ("warm") or more blue ("cool"), in terms of the range of available shades of white.

Many people are now familiar with the idea of a "warm" white or a "cool" white being offered by fluorescent and other light bulbs. These bulbs have vastly different color temperatures. The "warm" bulb often has a color temperature of 3,000K and casts a more orange/red light on objects. Because you normally associate warmth with red or orange objects, this accounts for the "warm" descriptive name, even though it is a cooler (lower) temperature on the Kelvin scale. A "cool" white bulb commonly has a color temperature of 4,100K and higher on the Kelvin scale. This is in the low range of blue color, similar to ice, therefore earning the "cool" description.

Color Temperature Measurement Basics
sekonic color meter

Today, color temperature can be measured simply using a handheld meter, such as a Sekonic C-500R meter (shown in figure) where a reading can be taken in seconds with the press of a button. When the button is pressed, readings are taken from a group of sensors (blue, green, and one of two red light sensors behind the shield) and processed through algorithms to produce a Kelvin temperature reading that can be used for photography, verification, or simple reference purposes.

It must be noted that when using a handheld meter such as a Sekonic C-500R, it must be held closely to the light source or in the most neutral (average color, such as in the center of a room or space) in order to get an accurate reading of the color temperature of the light source and not the surrounding environment. For instance, if the light is held close to a red wall, the red reflection from the wall will skew the reading to the red end of the scale. Likewise, if held next to a white object or wall, the reading will be skewed higher. These skewed readings are illustrated in the Skewed Color Readings figure at right.

sekonic color meter position
Color Temperature Selection Considerations
choosing color temperature

So with choices now in lighting color temperatures, the questions that often arise are: "How do I know what color temperature I should choose? Should I have a certain color temperature in my warehouse, a particular color temperature in my offices, and then a specific color temperature in my lobby?" In some cases the answer may be the same color temperature for all of those applications, or it could indeed be different for each depending on the desired and/or required effect. Below are some suggestions on how to select the right color for your application.


Color Temperature and Purpose

Color temperature in a room or space can have a dramatic affect on the people that use that lighting to perform tasks. For example, rooms that are used for tasks such as reading can benefit by incorporating lighting on the cooler end of the scale. Many studies have been done on classroom and work settings where reading improves when done under lighting near 5500K (Day White - 5500-6000K). See Seesmart\'s "CS007 - Effects on School Children with Lighting Color Temperature Study" for additional information regarding the effect of color temperature in a school classroom. Warehouses also typically benefit from brighter white lighting, helping to see objects better and easier.