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LED Lighting and Color Temperature

LED Lighting and Color Temperature

The LED lighting industry has made great strides in producing energy-efficient and versatile lighting to suit all potential lighting applications. The industry’s many innovations, however, are sometimes lost in translation between the language that LED lighting engineers and designers use to describe their products and the language that consumers use to describe the kind of lighting they want in any specific setting.

One particular source of confusion lies in discussions of LED lighting temperature. Consumers frequently limit their descriptions of lighting as being too bright or dim, while designers and engineers use more specific correlated color temperature (“CCT”) specifications. Further, a lighting source that has a higher color temperature will be perceived as being “cooler” than a lower temperature “warm” lighting source. Understanding CCT and lighting color temperature in general is the key to unraveling this confusion.

The color temperature of visible light is measured along a scale of roughly 1500 to 8000 degrees Kelvin, which is named in honor of the Scottish physicist, Lord William Kelvin, who pioneered research into lighting color and temperature. Light at the low end of this scale will have predominantly orange and yellow tones, while light at the higher end will primarily include blue tones. This scale can be depicted graphically by considering a piece of metal that is subjected to an intense heat source. As the physical temperature of the metal increases, it first begins to glow red. At higher physical temperatures, the metal moves through glowing yellow and onto bright white or blue. The bright white and blue light will strike an observer as being sterile and harsh, thus accounting for end user impressions that higher color temperature lighting is “cold”.

Two different lighting sources can have similar CCT specifications, and yet the lighting impressions they create can be very different. Lighting color temperature and CCT specifications make no distinctions for the source’s spectral power distribution (“SPD”), which is a relative rating of the different lighting wavelengths present in any lighting source. A source’s SPD is critical for control over its color rendering index (“CRI”), which refers to the source’s ability to render colors as well as a natural lighting source. Advances in the LED lighting industry have now given engineers and designers unprecedented control over LED lighting CCT and CRI to enable the development of LED lighting sources that can match an end user’s every mood or desire, even as those moods and desires change over time.

Consider, for example, a retail store that wants to emphasize red colors for a particular set of goods that it is selling. Traditional incandescent lighting would be appropriate for this application, as incandescent lights have a predominance of long-wavelength red lighting in their spectrum, creating the “warm” color temperature that fits this particular use. If the store later wants to emphasize cooler blue color for a different set of goods, those incandescent fixtures would likely not fit the application. Unlike incandescent or fluorescent fixtures, color-tunable LED lights with advanced control systems would fit each of these applications and would be able to generate either warm or cool light with the most preferred CRI for each specific situation.

Next generation LED lighting is thus the most versatile and flexible illumination option for control over light temperature and the warm or cool impressions that light can create in the eyes of an observer. In the LED lighting industry, SpecGrade LED has established a reputation as a leading designer and manufacturer of LED systems that meet an end user’s every need. We are a domestic company with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. We have lighting technicians and consultants in locations throughout North America to answer your lighting temperature questions and to make recommendations on the best LED lighting systems for your applications. Please see our website or contact our support staff at 888-497-0135 to schedule a consultation.