Trying to find the perfect combination between colour temperature and downlights? Then this practical guide is just for you.
There are various things to consider when buying downlights, and the colour temperature should be near the top of your priorities list. Why? Because colour temperature has a noticeable effect on the feel of space around you and can shift the room’s entire atmosphere.
However, asking which colour is best for your downlights is like asking which colour to paint your wall: there is no right or wrong answer. The decision comes down to the space itself and your personal preference.
Before the introduction of LED lighting technology, nobody had a choice of which colour temperature to use. You simply bought a light bulb without knowing its colour temperature. Thankfully, LEDs came into the market, and were immediately available in warm white 3000K and 4000K.
This is both a blessing and a cure: it has given consumers more options, but also a hard time choosing the best-suited colour temperature for their needs.
The Colour Temperature Chart
Colour temperatures are measured in Kelvin, symbolised by the letter K. A higher Kelvin rating means a whiter and bluer light. Contrary to popular belief, a higher colour temperature is not a measurement of brightness but of appearance (brightness is measured in lumens). The main temperatures used in modern-day LEDs include:
- Extra Warm White 2700K
This is similar to a traditional incandescent light bulb or halogen but slightly whiter. However, a 2700K LED actually appears more orange in appearance than other colour temperatures. People in the trade refer to this as ‘soft white.’ It is not always an option with some brands on LED downlights, in which case you can narrow your search down to a few options.
- Warm White 3000K
It is one of the most current popular choices. A 3000K LED is clearer in appearance but still quite warm. It is neither too warm nor too cold.
- Cool White 4000K
It is commonly used in commercial locations such as supermarkets and offices due to its much clearer and white appearance. Cool white appears brighter than warm white, meaning it is also more energy-efficient. It can make a room feel cold and clinical, but it brings out a modern and cleaner appearance in the right environment. Cool white is also referred to as neutral white or cold white. It is also an ideal option for kitchens and bathrooms.
- Daylight 5000K – 6500K
It goes slightly beyond cool white, adding more of a blue tinge to its environment. Some people find it too harsh, while others adore it.
Difference Between Warm and Cool Downlights
One interpretation of different colours could be their connotations. For example, red = passion; blue = calm. You can use colour temperatures to create certain moods in your space based upon such connotations. Generally, warm white is atmospheric and cool white is practical.
Lower colour temperatures are considered warm because they remind us of candle lights and fires. Warm downlights can be used to create a comfortable atmosphere in bedrooms, restaurants, and cafes. Warm white is also described as soft white.
Higher colour temperatures that tend towards blue are considered ‘cool.’ They are generally perceived as brighter and are great for work areas such as kitchens and offices. The downside to high colour temperatures is that they can appear stark, harsh, or sterile. Examples of other places that use high colour temperatures are hospitals and stores.
Colour Temperature vs Lumens
When upgrading from incandescent bulbs or replacing existing LEDs, it is crucial for you to select the correct bulb. One of the most confusing specifications surrounding LEDs are lumens and Kelvin temperatures.
A lumen is a measure of how much visible light is generated by a light source. It is often denoted in ‘lm’. A significant lumen figure means brighter light. Both traditional lights and LEDs use lumens to quantify how much light they produce. LEDs can produce more lumens at lower watts, making them some of the most popular bulb solutions in the market. When choosing your bulb, remember to compare the lumens produced and not the wattage.
- Kelvin Temperature
The Kelvin of light represents the colour that a bulb will produce. Generally, a light’s Kelvin temperature falls anywhere between 2000K and 6500K.
Colour Temperature Consistency is Key
When two bulbs of different colours are installed next to each other, colour discrepancies are more obvious. Mismatched lighting can seem out of place. Whatever you choose should try to keep the colour consistent within a space. For example, all downlights in one ceiling should match.
However, maintaining colour temperature consistency may be challenging in an open plan living where the kitchen and living areas are in the same room. A cool white LED of 4000K might work in the kitchen but seem too harsh for the lounge. Likewise, a warm white LED like 2700K might be ideal for the living area but not practical enough for working in the kitchen.
In such a case, meeting in the middle at 3000K is a good compromise that can keep the light consistent throughout the space. This is probably why 3000K is the highest selling colour temperature for LED downlights. But that does not mean you can’t use different colour temperatures in different rooms if necessary. You could use one colour temperature for your ceiling downlights and another for floor and table lamps, allowing you to switch between different lighting modes for different occasions.
If you are upgrading an old light to LED, you need to know what colour you are replacing. You can try to match it, but if you can’t find an exact match, just get something close. If you can’t decide on the colour temperature, you could try a ‘tri colour’ light fitting…
Tri-Colour Light Fittings
The dimmable downlight tri-colour series is a revolutionary new LED downlight that saves you the guesswork of choosing the right colour temperature while purchasing. Instead, you can just buy the light fittings you need and use a controlled switch to get your desired colour temperature.
You simply click between Warm White (3000K), Cool White (4000K), or Daylight (6000K) at any time. It is an ideal solution for dynamically changing light colours in different areas of your home or business according to preference with no need for remote control. These type of downlights offer unprecedented versatility and freedom of choice. Some manufacturers refer to tri-colour lights as:
- 3CCT – three Correlated Colour Temperatures
- SCCT – Selectable Colour Temperature
- Colour Changing (to avoid confusion with RGB full-colour spectrum lights)
- Tri-Colour Switch
- Three Colour Options
Switches or Controls?
Changing colour temperatures is done differently on each downlight. Some Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT) downlights are adjusted by small dip switches, located under the bezel on either the front or back of the downlight. The dip switch design is called CCR select-able.
When buying a downlight that changes colour temperature, you need to understand what you are purchasing. Some downlights with switches located at the back have a design flaw where you have to remove them from the ceiling to change the colour temperature. It is a tedious task, especially if you have lots of them in a room.
However, they are ideal for users who are unsure about what colour temperature they want. You can also use them in rented accommodation where you might want to change every few years. Even the fittings with switches at the front are not perfect because you still have to climb a ladder and remove the bezel for each light.
If you plan to change the colour temperature regularly, the best choice is a downlight whose adjustments can be made using a wall switch or remote control. Annoying kids can easily change your designs, but it is the best choice for frequent adjustments.
Which Light Colour Should You Use in Which Room?
Every home or business has various rooms that require illumination with specific light colours. The following is an overview of the rooms in homes and different general areas in businesses.
- Reception Areas and Front Desks
These are places where companies welcome customers and offer a first impression. The best atmosphere in such an area should be fresh and relaxed. Depending on the amount of natural light available, the colour temperatures of very warm white (2700K) and warm white (3000K) are ideal. You can perfectly illuminate the room with diverse LED downlights.
- Living Rooms, Dining Rooms, and Recreational Areas
These are areas where you get together with friends and family to socialise. They have one thing in common: they are spacious places requiring a cosy mood. You can achieve this using downlights with a warm appearance. Our recommended colour temperature would be very warm white (1800-2700K).
Different activities, such as game evenings, dinners, drinks, reading, and film marathons, occur in these rooms. Therefore, you can use dimmable downlights to adjust the atmosphere to the circumstances.
- Kitchens and Canteens
Kitchens and canteens mainly have two functions – food preparation and eating. Although the cooking area is a workplace, the dining area needs a specific atmosphere. During your lunch break at work or when having a meal at home, you want to relax and socialise with friends and family. Therefore, the ideal downlight should have a warm white colour temperature (3000K).
If you like a warmer appearance during a specific meal during the day, you can install a dimmable downlight or use a mix of light colours. The general lighting in the dining table and seating areas around the canteen can be complemented with 2200-2700K LED bulbs.
A bedroom is a place whose primary function is sleeping and relaxing, maybe even without being disturbed. Lighting may not play a role when sleeping, but it is essential for other activities you carry out in the bedroom. You can watch TV or read a book, and it is also where you get dressed.
The light colours in a bedroom are preferably very warm white (2200-2700K) an warm white (3000K). Generally, people don’t prefer to wake up to too bright light. Therefore, some people can perceive warm white lighting as too bright. Due to colour preferences for each person, dimmable downlights are the best solution. These give you both general lighting and warmer mood lighting.
- Bathrooms and Toilets
In sanitary facilities, the colour temperature mainly depends on what the space is used for. For example, toilets in homes are preferably illuminated with the colour temperature very warm white (2700K) or warm white (3000K). Such downlights can also be used in catering establishments, companies, and general home bathroom lighting.
Very warm white and warm white colour temperatures are usually suited to rooms used mostly in the morning or evening. For other activities such as plucking eyebrows, shaving, and applying makeup, it is better to use the light colour cool white (4000K). You can install LED GU10 in the ceiling or mirror cabinet to ensure that this cooler light is limited to the specific area where you perform these activities.
- Workspaces and Offices
General offices and home workplaces are areas where people need to concentrate. The light colour cool white (4000K) is popular and the most ideal for its fresh appearance, allowing people to remain actively focused on their daily activities. Downlights are becoming a common trend in most offices since they shine downwards and help improve productivity.
A hallway is a transient space where people pass through rather than hang out in. It is the perfect place for you to be brave in your light choice. You need to avoid a cool colour temperature that will make your guests look pasty and pale. Instead, you could go for a warm colour temperature ranging 2700-3500K. If you have a long or narrow hallway, you can install your downlights closer to the wall to create a lovely scalloped effect where the light washes the wall.
When looking for the perfect downlights to install in your space, remember there is no right or wrong answer. You need to consider the room’s main functions and choose based on your preferences and the guide above.
Besides colour temperature, you should also take a look at how to perfectly position your downlights so that you can get the most out of them.