We all know that candlelight has a magical effect, doing wonders for ambience as well as skin tone. But there’s more to it than just the ‘brightness’ (quantity) of the light. White light also has a ‘warmth’ (quality) and getting this right it essential to creating the effect we want in our homes.

The new generation of energy saving bulbs were often criticised for producing a much harsher quality of light (reminiscent of the old fluorescent strip) than the much loved incandescent light bulb which was much warmer. Fortunately the technology of the new bulbs has now caught up and it’s now possible to get different ‘colours’ of white light bulb. These colours are Very Warm White, Warm White, White, Cool White and Daylight.

Understanding how these colours work and what effect they give, is very important to making sure you get the ambience you are trying to create right. After all, we’ve all had that experience of fitting a light bulb that suddenly makes our room seem more like a dentist’s surgery than the hoped for romantic boudoir.

The colour of light is measured using a special scale called the Kelvin scale. The higher the temperature the “whiter” the light colour tends to be with Warm White having the lowest temperature range and Daylight having the highest temperature range. Put another way, to the human eye the lowest temperature range seems to emit more red/orange light, whilst the higher temperature range emits more blue light. Interestingly, in our colder northern climes, we tend to prefer warmer light, whilst in hotter countries like Hong Kong they much prefer ‘cooler’ blue light. Makes sense when you think about it.

The quality of the light has no connection with the finish of the light bulb, e.g. if it’s clear or frosted. This only effects the way the light is distributed – I.e. frosted coatings will diffuse the light, whilst clear glass has more ‘glare’.

Very Warm White (2700K)

Very Warm White has a very soft colour tone that most closely matches to the yellow tinge of light traditionally associated old lower watt incandescent light bulbs. As the warmest available artificial light, it can be used to great effect as accent lighting in lounges or general light in bedrooms. It also creates a warm, inviting ambiance in restaurants, boutiques and reception areas.

Warm White (3000K)

Warm White is a whiter colour than the more traditional incandescent bulb, but it still has a yellow-ish hue. It is associated with the light quality given out by traditional halogen light bulbs. It is still considered a nice soft tone which is very useful in the home and there are now a wide range of LED bulbs that come at this temperature which makes them very suitable for domestic lighting designs.

White (3500K)

White is the colour code for a more neutral colour and is whiter than the two described above. Being neutral it’s often used in both domestic and also commercial lighting designs. It’s particularly suitable for offices where people need ‘bright’ light so they can see what they are doing, but not so ‘cold’ as to appear clinical.

Cool White (4000K)

This is a ‘crisper’ light and is the whiter light that is often used in fluorescent tubes. It shows colours in the environment in a brighter more vibrant state, so is often used in offices and retail shops where the quality of colour is important. It is also very useful in lighting designs for kitchens and bathrooms where good crisp lighting is required for food preparation and tasks such as putting on make-up or shaving.

Daylight (6000K-6500K)

The ‘daylight’ bulb colour is the crispest and of all the colours and most closely resembles natural daylight. This colour is very useful for people in working environments who rely on the best possible colour rendering, e.g. artists and other creative people. Jewellers also like it as it’s the best light to ensure that cut gems sparkle. Daylight bulbs can also be used by people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), although you will need to check that the bulb does simulate natural daylight and not just rely on this colour coding.