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What is Color Temperature?

Color temperature is a description of the warmth or coolness of a light source. When a piece of metal is heated, the color of light it emits will change. This color begins as red in appearance and graduates to orange, yellow, white, and then blue-white to deeper colors of blue. The temperature of this metal is a physical measure in degrees Kelvin or absolute temperature. While lamps other than incandescent such as LEDs do not exactly mimic the output of this piece of metal, we utilize the correlated color temperature (or Kelvins) to describe the appearance of that light source as it relates to the appearance of the piece of metal (specifically a black body radiator).

By convention, yellow-red colors (like the flames of a fire) are considered warm, and blue-green colors (like light from an overcast sky) are considered cool. Confusingly, higher Kelvin temperatures (3600–5500 K) are what we consider cool and lower color temperatures (2700–3000 K) are considered warm. Cool light is preferred for visual tasks because it produces higher contrast than warm light. Warm light is preferred for living spaces because it is more flattering to skin tones and clothing. A color temperature of 2700–3600 K is generally recommended for most indoor general and task lighting applications. Color Temperature is not an indicator of lamp heat.

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