How do you arrive at the right color?  A good first step is to start with the lighting!  It really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the paint color, flooring, or fabrics: The lighting is what makes your color look like the right color.

This is one of the topics that I’m very passionate about!  Customers are always perplexed about why they struggle getting the right wall color. This post is meant to help! I’ll try not to bore you with too much techy language, but if you are only vaguely familiar with the difference between watts and lumens, aren’t sure what CRI is, or didn’t know that colors had temperatures….this is for you!

When incandescent bulbs were the main type of light bulb, we became accustomed to selecting based on wattage.  We knew that the more wattage, the brighter the bulb and there weren’t other things to think about. Now that fluorescent and LED have come to the forefront, we need to learn a new language. The electricity sent to an LED is the same as incandescent but they do different things with it to produce light.

Incandescent relies on heating a filament to the point of glowing.

Fluorescent lights up when the gases inside are electrified.

LED stands for “light emitting diodes” which work on an electronic premise.

Just knowing this makes it a little clearer why light looks different when you change the bulbs. But why do colors look different?

source: Upshine Lighting

Let’s get a refresher on color.  You may remember ROY G BIV, the acronym taught in school to memorize the colors of the rainbow. Starting with red, the spectrum  is arranged from warm (red) to cool (violet). The warm colors of Red, Orange, and Yellow are more visible when using light bulbs that allow these frequencies to be seen.  Likewise, the cooler colors of Violet, Indigo, Blue, and Green are more visible with other bulbs. So when we say that a bulb burns cool or warm, we are really referring to how we are able to see colors using that bulb.  This is referred to as color temperature. This is very important when replacing your incandescent bulbs with new LED bulbs.  Look for the Kelvin rating or color temperature. The higher the number, the bluer (cooler) the light and the lower the number, the warmer the light.  A high number like 5000 Kelvin will make your flesh look gray and lifeless but make the blue sweater you’re wearing almost vibrate with color. A low number like 2700 will have a warm yellow glow that plays up skin tones and plays up the warm colors.  Most incandescent bulbs burn between 2700-3000 Kelvin. Many people see a high Kelvin rating and assume that this is a brighter bulb. Kelvin rating is not a measure of brightness and that’s what is confusing to a lot of people.

source: Westinghouse Lighting

This leads us to another important measure of a bulb.  It’s the CRI. The Color Rendering Index of a bulb lets you know how accurately you will be able to see colors when using the bulb.  The sun delivers 100 CRI, meaning that its light is the standard that all other bulbs are measured against. All the ROY G BIV colors are perfectly visible with sunlight.  When I first learned about CRI, I associated it with school grading scales. I thought an 80 was like a B and 90 was like getting an A, but as it was explained to me, there is a larger than expected gap between an 80 and 90 CRI.  If a bulb has less than 80, chances are you won’t find it shown on the box. Less than 80 might as well be a failing grade that nobody wants to brag about. If you can help it, only buy 90 CRI and better. The 80 CRI bulbs are for places that might not matter to you for color, like a security light, or the light inside your fridge. If you’re working to set the table with beautiful food, apply makeup, or just watch TV with pleasing light from a lamp, CRI will matter. 

source: Jackson Electric Membership Corporation

The last term that helps me select light bulbs is Lumens.  This is the measure of brightness pure and simple. Wattage really brainwashed everyone into thinking it was king of measuring brightness. Americans are concerned about energy consumption and how much energy a bulb is going to consume. GE and other bulb companies label products with that information front and center.  Since wattage was big and bold, it made it easy for us to know if we were getting a bright or dim bulb. That worked fine when we were accustomed to using incandescent in our homes. Now that we have more choices, it’s really important to understand that an incandescent bulb that uses 75 watts can be dimmer than an LED bulb that only uses 20 watts. The LED efficiently produces more light with less energy.

These three terms can shed light (HaHa) on why you may have regretted replacing all of your recessed lighting with the newest “brightest” LEDs.  Did your walls seem to change colors? Did you find it hard to get to sleep after spending the evening hours in this room? (Research blue light) Do you look in the mirror and say, why do I look so unhealthy? Most of the cheap LEDs on the market have a very poor CRI rating and may not even divulge the information on the box.  Add to that the marketing that a high Kelvin equals brightness and you have a bigger problem. Your perfect gray takes on a purple undertone or your red throw looks dingy even though you just bought it. LED bulbs have a place in our homes. They can save you money in the long run, but let’s choose them using our new vocabulary.  Go ahead, impress the salespeople in the bulb aisle!

Seeing you in the best light,


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