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How to Choose Lighting for Paint Colors

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So, you’ve just finished painting your bathroom the perfect shade of light blue that took you weeks to decide on. Washed in natural light, your bathroom looks like a calming seaside oasis. But when you turn the lights on at night, it completely loses its soothing affect. Why? Chances are the lighting you currently have installed is all wrong for your new paint colors.

The lighting we choose to use in our homes can have a huge effect on the way we perceive color because it is created by the way objects react to certain wavelengths of light. This is called metamerism. It’s the same reason why you might buy something you thought was black in the store, but in the light of day, you realize it’s actually navy blue. No color is definite or stands alone because any type of light, whether it’s natural or artificial, affects our perception.  When considering what kind of artificial light source to use in your home, whether halogen, incandescent, LED, or fluorescent, it’s important to think about how it will enhance or diminish a room’s existing color scheme.

Determine Your End of the Color Spectrum

Kelvin scale and color spectrum

Kelvin scale and color spectrum

The first thing you’ll need to do before choosing your light source is evaluate whether or not the paint color in your room falls into the warm or cool part of the color spectrum. If your walls are painted in rich reds, yellows, and other earth tones, you would most likely need a warmer light source. If they’re painted in blues, greens, or other vibrant colors with cool undertones, a brighter, cooler light source is your best bet.

The table below describes the kind of light that is generated by each artificial light source.

Incandescent Generates a yellow light that enhances warm tones, but dulls cool tones.
Halogen Produces a whiter light that is comparable to sunlight.
Fluorescent Generally used for cool lighting applications, but is available in warm color temperatures.
LED Can be used against all colors and is flexible across the color spectrum.

 

Warm Paint Colors

Warm Lighting

Warm Lighting

To bring out the richness and warmth of your paint color, choose fixtures and lighting that have a “warm white” color temperature between the range of 2400K and 3000K. The lower the number on the Kelvin scale, the warmer the color temperature of the light will be. Typically, the best lights to use within these color temperatures are incandescent or halogen bulbs that produce a whiter light that won’t distort color as much either way. LEDs and CFLs within the low color temperature range will work as well, but make sure they have a high enough lumen output to meet the level of brightness you’re wanting.

Cool Paint Colors

Cool Lighting

Cool lighting

To enhance the vibrancy of cooler paint colors, you’ll want to choose lighting with a color temperature that falls between 4000K and 6000K. LEDs and CFLs within this color temperature range are called either “cool white” or “stark white.” If you were to use a light source with a low color temperature against blue or green paint, the color might appear dull and distorted.

Brightness and Color Rendering

The color temperature of a light source isn’t the only thing that affects the way we see color; brightness of the light, or lumen output, does as well. Rooms with darker colors painted on the walls tend to absorb more light than a room with light colored walls and tend to look dull if the lighting is not bright enough. The brighter the lighting, the more the true color of your walls will stand out. However, the dimness or brightness of your room and how it reacts to color is all a matter of personal preference.

Another factor to keep in mind is the Color Rendering Index (CRI) of the light source that you’re using. Ranging from 0-100, this index determines how a light source will make a color appear to the human eye. The higher the lamp’s CRI, the better it’s color rendering capabilities. While standard incandescent lamps usually have a CRI of 100, LEDs have about 80+ CRI, and fluorescents range anywhere from 50 to 90.  As this video shows below, two of the same light sources with differing CRI ratings will cause colors to appear differently in tone.

 

Do you have any other home lighting questions? Leave us a comment or give us a shout on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, or Pinterest!

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Courtney Silva

Courtney is a Copywriter at 1000Bulbs.com. Check back often for more lighting facts, tips, and updates!

  • Angela R.

    I have “energy efficient” light fixtures in my home (fluorescent). I am having a difficult time finding paint that looks good in both day and night. I’m looking for a shade of medium tone blue, and nothing is working. Would it be better to lean towards gray? Or would that make it even worse? SOS – the kids are tired of their patchwork walls, and the garage can’t hold more test quarts!

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Courtney Silva

      Hi Angela! Thanks for your question. One reason that you may be having trouble finding a blue that doesn’t look good both day and night, is the color temperature of your existing fixtures. The color temperature of natural light tends to be very high and is above 5000K. If you are using fluorescent light sources with a color temperature of less than 4000K, this will cause the color to look a bit more muted than it does in the daylight and maybe not as appealing. The CRI of your light sources might also have something to do with the color not looking exactly how you hoped. As far as suggesting what color would look best, you might be better off consulting a design professional – they will surely be able to point you in the right direction. Hope this helps!

  • Ajinkya Lokare

    I would be having yellow square tiles in the balcony area[wall]….and CFLtube lights…what should be the color combination of my living room and sofa color to suit it[black/cream/brown/off white]

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      It’s much easier to replace your lighting than it is to repaint or refurnish a room. We recommend purchasing the paint and furniture to match, and then adjusting the lighting to match instead (following the article’s guide on warm or cool white colors depending on your room). It’s difficult to make a judgement call without actually seeing the room, so you might benefit from finding an interior decorator or someone similar.

  • caroline

    What lightbulb (kelvins and lumens) should i purchase to make my white walls look more white than yellow?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      3500K is a great balance point. It’s still a little on the warm side but it’s nowhere near as yellow as a standard incandescent bulb. If you want really white then use 4000-4500K. Be warned that smudges and dirt will be more noticeable the higher you go.

  • bobbie

    I’ve painted my fireplace gray but it’s looking bluish what light bulb would help reduce the bluish color?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Jessica Banke

      Hi Bobbie. Bulb’s with a warmer color temperature tend to enhance darker, earthier tones, so we would recommend using a 2700K bulb if you aren’t already.

  • torpedo.factory.125@gmail.com

    Most of our house is painted in Benjamin Moore’s London Fog – 1541. There are very few windows, and the color looks washed out (and, almost has a yellow-ish undertone in places). I’m assuming that’s because of the lighting. Would you be able to recommend the right light bulbs to bring out the true color of the paint/walls? I’m assuming we would want to replace all the recessed lighting in the house to really get the right color.

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Jessica Banke

      Sounds like you need bulbs in a higher color temperature. Look for bulbs with 3500K or above on the label. The higher a bulb’s color temperature, the more white-colored the light will appear. The bulbs you have now are most likely in a lower color temperature (meaning they emit yellow-colored light) which is distorting the appearance of your grey walls. Hope this helps!

  • Chris

    Is there a particular recessed light bulb that you’d recommend? It looks like there are a number of different options, including halogen bulbs.

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Jessica Banke

      Any light bulb in the right shape and size should be fine as long as it’s in the recommended color temperature range and has a CRI (color-rendering index) above 80. That being said, you may prefer LED or CFL bulbs because they don’t create much heat and are more energy efficient than halogen or incandescent bulbs.

  • Deena

    I just painted my kitchen a light gray, it looks light purple ,any suggestions for lighting?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      It depends on the undertone of the grey paint. Experiment with cooler or warmer lights. If your paint has a bluer undertone, then lower colour temperatures, 2700-3000K, could work. If it leans towards red, then higher temperatures around 4000K would work. Hope you find a good balance!

  • Deena

    What type of lightbulbs do you suggest

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      That would depend on the room and intent. Are you looking for something specific? If you need help, you can always contact our support staff.

  • Angela

    I have baby blue walls and I usually like to take pictures in front of them. I bought 3 5000k LED bulbs (these: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00N4SLZ9A/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1) and they are placed in my ceiling light. They make my walls look great in photos, but my skin tone (Chinese, so very yellow skin undertone) looks really dusky and dirty. Please advise?? Thank you!

  • Jo

    What lighting can I use to make my new polyurethane kitchen cabinets (colour is taubmans winter morn) look more white and less pink. At the moment, it looks pinkish from certain angles

    • Ashley Hunter

      You can try LED or CFL lights in color temperatures of 4000K or higher. However, it may still look pinkish as Winter Morn could be considered a very pale shade of red-orange.

  • Ashley Hunter

    Well Connie, it sounds like you have warm lights in your room, meaning more yellow from the color spectrum is being projected. You could try brighter lights in 3500K or 4000K color temperature to add more blue color and balance out the walls.

  • Victoria Brodsky

    Hi, my kitchen will be in white and grey tones: BM cloud white Cabinets and super white quartzite countertop. I am not sure what LED lights to use in spot lights: warmer like 3000k or whiter like 3500-4500. I don’t want it to be to harsh but also afraid of a yellow tint on white and grey.Thank you!

    • Ashley Hunter

      I would suggest sticking to a 3000-3500K range if you want to avoid harsh light and keep the warmth. We normally compare our 3000K LEDs to the same color temperature as a standard halogen bulb. “Halogen white” or 3000K is slightly yellow but has a touch of blue tones in the light. We often suggest 3000K for kitchens or other task-related areas. But to be on the safe side 3500K, the middle of the road temperature, should achieve what you are looking for. I wouldn’t use a color temperature higher than 4000K. “Cool white” or 4000K will have quite a bit of blue tones in the light, more likely to create the “harsh” look you wish to avoid.

  • Joshua Santa Cruz

    Hello Allison,

    There are a few variables to take into consideration before we are able to recommend a light bulb. What type of wattage, kelvin temperature, or bulbs do you currently have for your recessed lighting? Also, is there any other lighting source (ie. Lamps, wall sconces, etc.) other than recessed lighting you had mentioned for the room?

    It seems like you may need an additional light source, perhaps some floor lamps or wall sconces since recessed lighting is more directional and concentrated. You may be experiencing shadows due to placement of the lighting. Is your recessed lighting adjustable? If it is, then your problem could possibly be resolved by directing the lights in a different angle. Depending on the color temperature of your bulb, you might want to go with a cooler color temperature (around 4000 Kelvin) to bring out your walls and really define your couch color.

  • Joshua Santa Cruz

    Hello Amber,

    There are a few factors to consider for the desired result, like lumen output, light placement, and color temperature. Is there more than one lighting source for the room? If so are they the same color temperature?

    From the information provided we would recommend your dining room have a cooler temperature of around 3500K to 4000K (keep in mind 4000K is rather bright). As far as your family room we would recommend a warm color temperature of around 2400K to 3000K.

    • Amber

      Hi Joshua, thank you for the response. The house was just built two months ago so right now my dining room has one central standard chandelier with 5 little candles that are 60w type B-10 max bulbs. My kitchen has 6 recessed lights, one flush mount and a pendant (60w, 485 lumens) above the breakfast table. Theses lights run in an L shape following the cabinets, which I should have mentioned are a medium brown that pull orange. Thanks.

      • Joshua Santa Cruz

        In order to go brighter, I recommend switching to LED bulbs. LED bulbs run at lower wattages compared to CFL or Incandescent bulbs and produce the same if not more lumens which in this case would brighten up your dining room. Also, please do not try to exceed the 60-watt max for each socket on your chandelier.

        Another factor to consider is possibly finding a LED lightbulb with a high CRI (color rendering index) of around 90+ or so. The higher the CRI, the more natural the color appears. If you are still unsure about the lighting for both your dinning and family room I recommend consulting an interior or lighting designer to better assess your light levels.