How to Choose Lighting for Paint Colors


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!