Skip to Content

What is the color coding temperature?

What is the color coding temperature?

Color temperature refers to the relative warmth or coolness of white light. It is measured using the Kelvin (K) temperature scale, where lower numbers indicate warmer, more reddish light, and higher numbers cooler, more bluish light. Color temperature affects how colors are perceived under different lighting conditions and is an important consideration for photography, videography, lighting design, and more. In this article, we will explore what color temperature is, how it is measured, its applications, and guidelines for color coding temperatures.

What is Color Temperature?

Color temperature describes the appearance of light emitted from a light source. It is based on the principle that a theoretical blackbody radiator, heated to different temperatures, emits light of different colors. For example, a blackbody heated to a low temperature like 1000 K glows with a reddish color. As the temperature increases, it turns orange, yellowish white, eventually bluish white at very high temperatures over 5000 K.

The color temperature scale uses the Kelvin unit to assign numbers to these colors. Lower Kelvin temperatures (2000-3000 K) are considered warm colors, resembling the colors emitted from candlelight or sunrise/sunset light. Mid-range temperatures (3000-5000 K) look neutral white, like sunlight or electronic flash. Higher temperatures (5000-6500 K) are cool, with a blue tint like overcast skies.

Measuring Color Temperature

Color temperature is measured using a Kelvin scale, based on absolute temperature measurements but offset from the typical Celsius or Fahrenheit scales. Some key reference points on the Kelvin scale are:

1000 K Candlelight, match flame
2000 K Sunrise, sunset
3000 K Warm white, incandescent bulbs
4000 K Cool white, fluorescent lamps
5000 K Daylight in the early morning/late afternoon
6000-6500 K Direct sunlight at noon
9000 K Overcast sky

Lower Kelvin temperatures are warm and high Kelvin temperatures are cool. Most indoor residential lighting falls between 2700-3000 K. Commercial spaces are often lit at 3500-4100 K for visual clarity. Outdoor shade is around 5000-6500 K and heavily overcast skies reach 9000 K or higher.

Each light source emits a range of wavelengths across the visible light spectrum. Its peak wavelength determines the dominant color we perceive. Warm, low color temperatures peak at the red/orange end of the spectrum while cool, high color temperatures peak at blue.

Applications of Color Temperature

The selection of proper color temperature for lighting is important for achieving optimal color rendering and desired visual effects. Some common applications include:


Photographers and cinematographers carefully control color temperature to balance cameras and render colors accurately. Warm lighting creates soothing portraits while cool lighting looks clean and clinical. Matching color temps in mixed lighting prevents jarring orange/blue color casts.

Interior Lighting

Homes use warm 2700-3000K lighting for a cozy feel. Offices often use 3500-4100K lighting for enhanced visibility and productivity. Cooler retail lighting encourages activity while restaurants use warmer lighting for intimacy.

Store Displays

Clothing and grocery stores illuminate warm-colored products like produce and textiles with warmer lighting. Cooler lighting suits electronics and jewelry to sparkle against the bluish light.

Circadian Lighting

Tunable white lighting modulates color temperature over the day to stimulate human circadian rhythms. Cool blue-enriched light in the morning wakes you up and warm afternoon lighting is relaxing.

Stage/Event Lighting

Theatrical lighting uses high-contrast color temperatures for visual interest. Concert follow spotlights employ warmer coloring for flattering skin tones on performers.

Color Temperature Guidelines

Here are some general guidelines and typical uses for different color temperature ranges:

Candle Flame – 1800K
– Intimate restaurant lighting
– Bedside and living room lamps

Sunrise/Sunset – 2000K-3000K
– Residential lighting – bedrooms, living rooms
– Hotel lobbies, restaurants, spas

Soft White Bulbs – 2700K-3000K
– Home lighting, especially bedrooms and living spaces
– Retirement home lighting

Warm White Bulbs – 3000K-3500K
– Office lighting
– Classrooms, libraries, study areas
– Kitchen lighting

Cool White Bulbs – 3500K-4100K
– Office lighting
– Retail display lighting
– Workshop and garage lighting

Natural Daylight – 5000K-6500K
– Warehouse and factory lighting
– Art studios, graphic design
– Doctor’s offices, dental clinics

Overcast Sky – 6000K-9000K
– High-end retail lighting
– Jewelry store display cases
– Light therapy lamps

Choosing an appropriate color temperature for your space will set the desired mood and optimize visibility for the environment. Warm light is relaxing for home use, while cool light keeps people alert and energized in workspaces. Photography and videography applications depend on specific color temperature needs. With today’s tunable white lighting, you can even adjust color temperature throughout the day.


Color temperature is an important, but often overlooked factor in lighting design and application. The Kelvin scale rates the warmness or coolness of light, ranging from candlelike warmth at 1000K to blue sky coolness at 9000K and beyond. Lower color temperatures create warm, inviting moods, while higher temperatures provide crisp, energizing effects. Photography, videography, retail displays, and circadian lighting all depend on proper color temperature. With today’s tunable LED lights, it is easy to adjust color temperature to suit any activity or purpose. Understanding and selecting the right color temperature for your needs will create the perfect lighting environment.