Kelvin Color Temperature Scale

Last Updated on November 26, 2021 by The Tutor

Kelvin Color Temperature Scale Explained

The Kelvin color temperature scale is used to describe the way various light temperatures appear visually. It is measured in degrees on a Kelvin scale (K) and typically ranges from 2700 – 5000 degrees Kelvin.

Virtually all light bulbs or lighting fixtures that come with bulbs included will reference on the package which Kelvin Color temperature is associated with the item you are purchasing. Having a complete understanding of what these temperature choices mean and how they will look in your home will help you to make the best lighting choices.

What is Color Temperature?

Color temperature is how to use the color a light emits to measure its overall temperature to the eye and the overall feeling or mood the light will provide to a room. The warmth of coolness of light is measured on the Kelvin color temperature scale.

Lighting Color

Understanding the Kelvin Color Temperature Scale

The Kelvin scale below will give you a general idea as to the various common ranges of temperature that is offered in home lighting. The lower the number, the “warmer” the color. As the number goes higher on the scale, the color temperature gets colder. It does not mean that the room actually changes in temperature, but it does go from “cozy” on the left, to feeling like a prison cell to the right.

kelvin color temperature scale

Kelvin Color Temperature Scale

How to Choose the Right Light Temperature

Choosing the right light temperature is actually more important than selecting the light fixture. If you do not match the temperature with the room correctly, you will never be happy with how the room looks. In fact, you may not even be able to sit in the room for an extended period of time because the light will make you uncomfortable.

When we were remodeling our kitchen, our contractor initially installed LED recessed lights that had a temperature of about 4500. We hated the feeling in the kitchen and our son would say he felt like he was in the gym locker room at school. We then started to test different color choices with the recessed lighting fixtures which can easily be swapped out. We tested temps all the way down to 2700 and eventually decided that 3500 worked best for our kitchen.

Here are some examples of what you would use each light temperature for. Use this as a general guide but then do your own testing in your home.

Kelvin Color Temperatures of 2000 – 3000

The most common temperature offering you will find in this range is 2700. It is often called “Warm White”. This is considered to be a very warm temperature for a room and it will give off more of a yellow color. You would use this color in your family room or anywhere else where you want to feel relaxed. It is used in rooms that have a lot of warm wood tones. You may use a color temperature of 2700 for a bulb in a lamp that is sitting on a nice wooden end table because it will complement the wood grains.  kelvin color temperature

The Kelvin color temperature of 3000 is best used in the bedroom or in your family room if you have a lot of white walls and not so much wood or wood furniture. You still get that bit of warmth but also are providing adequate light. A temperature of 3000 may also be great for your dining room. However, when you consider a traditional dining room chandelier, there are often many bulbs and the choices could be limited. For a room like that, I would recommend having your chandelier for aesthetics but also recessed lighting on a dimmer to provide the light needed for the room.

Kelvin Color Temperatures of 3500– 4000

This Kelvin temperature color range is what I would use for a kitchen, an office and even your bathroom. This color range is often called “Cool White”. The décor (colors used) and the size of the room will help you to decide whether to go with 3500 or 4000. Once again this is where your testing will be critical. We went with 3500 in our white kitchen but then used 4000 color bulbs in our bathrooms which have darker walls. kelvin color temperature

It is also okay to pair bulbs or fixtures with different temperatures within the same room but as long as they are close. For example, you can have the recessed lighting in your bathroom ceiling at 3,500 but the light above your vanity mirror at 4,000. However, you would not want one at 3,500 and the other at 5,000 because there would be too much of a contrast between the two.

Kelvin Color Temperatures of 4500– 5000

This temperature range is sometimes called “Daylight” and I would use this color range for your basement or a work area. It is great for a bulb that you use to put on your makeup. This is a good temperature to use for a reading lamp or any other task lighting where the brightness is more important than the “mood” or feeling that you are trying to reach.  Kelvin color temperature

I finished my basement years ago and before I was educated in the area of lighting. I installed 12 recessed lighting fixtures that now to me seem like the wrong temperature. They are 3500 and I should have gone up to 4500. Now, to replace 12 LED recessed lighting fixtures would be a bit costly and not worth the money. This is why it is important to understand these options before you are done with your home lighting project.

Kelvin Color Temperatures of 5500 and up

When I think about a color temperature of 5500 or higher, the first thing that comes to mind is the garage and I am naming this temperature range “Prison Light”. This is a place where you need maximum light and the feeling or warmth is irrelevant. Go out to your garage right now and look at the light that you have in there. Many homes were built with a single light bulb and you can barely see anything in there. Other garages have old fluorescent ballasts that take a while to warm up in a cold garage and also may not be emitting the proper light.  garage lighting

Another place where this Kelvin temperature range is appropriate is a commercial space or warehouse. You can even use something this cold or blue in your shed although my shed is my man cave and I have lighting just a bit warmer in there.

Kelvin Color Temperature Recap

Now that you are finished reading all of the different lighting options within the Kelvin color temperature scale, you should have a good place to start when selecting which light bulb or light fixture will work best for you. Your selection of the right lighting color will make a huge difference in how your  home will look. Please feel free to ask questions in the comment area below.

Remember what I mentioned earlier about using two different temperatures in the same room. You can absolutely do that as long as they are close in temperature. In my kitchen, I have a temperature of 3500 in the ceiling with the recessed lighting but then I am using 3000 with the under cabinet lighting. It all works well together.

Related Questions

What does color temperature mean?
Color temperature is measured on the Kelvin scale. The lower the temperature number, the warmer or more yellow the light will be. The higher the number, the colder or more blue the light will be.

Why is color temperature important?
The temperature is extremely important because if you do not match the temperature to the room, then you will likely have lighting that looks horrible. Lighting can also be annoying or unpleasant if you are using the wrong temperature. If the temperature is not right, it can actually be uncomfortable to sit in the room.

Which color temperature is best for your eyes?
During the day, the temperatures with the higher numbers around 5500 are best for your eyes. At night, the lower temperatures closer to 3000 are best for your eyes.

Which color temperature is best for a kitchen?
The best color temperature range for a kitchen is 3500-4500 but it will vary based upon your kitchen. We recommend testing the various colors in your kitchen to see which works best for you.

Which color temperature is best for a bathroom?
The bathroom color temperatures need to be a bit higher and colder. A temperature of 4500 works best for the bathroom. Meanwhile, the light in your shower may need to be a little warmer.

What color temperature is daylight?
A temperature of 4500 is typically referred to as “daylight”. It is one of the colder light temperatures.

What color temperature is best for outdoor lighting?
The outdoor lighting color really depends upon what you are trying to light. If you are lighting your landscaping, then a temperature of 3000-4000 is appropriate. If you are lighting the exterior side of your home then you want to go a bit colder to the 5000 range.

Who invented the Kelvin color temperature scale?
It was invented by Lord Kelvin in 1848 in Belfast Ireland. He was a mathematical physicist and engineer.

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