LED Lights: What is the difference between Warm White and Cool White?

lighting colour, warm white, cool white, led light colour

White is white, right? When it comes to LED lighting, there are different shades of white - and the shade you choose can affect the mood and improve the comfort of the room.

We're used to warm white light all of our lives and we've used it perhaps 99% of the time, but cool white is now an option. So what is cool white and when do I use it?  Where do I keep the warm white lights? Read on to find out. 

This article is also useful if you're now replacing those old, traditional incandescent or halogen lights with LED lights; you're planning on building a new space with LED lighting; or if you are not yet familiar with LED technology or have seen confusing terms such as "3000K vs 4000K".

So let’s talk first about LED light colours.


LED Colours


Technically, LED chips can be made to emit a specific light colour and from the red, blue, yellow, and pure white light spectrum.  This is why LED technology is applied to various applications.  The terms “warm white” and “cool white” are references to the low and high end of this white light colour spectrum.

cool daylight vs warm white vs natural white

Warm White - is a comfortable white colour that is used in living areas and residential applications.  It is what we are used to in Australian households.  More than 95% of domestic lighting is warm white and most households opt to install 100% warm white.

Cool White - is an artificially whiter light that is normal in retail shopping centres, offices, and useful in household work areas like laundries and garages.  Cool white, and the slightly less harsh "Natural White", are much lower demand than warm white for domestic use.

(Check out Renovator Store’s range of warm white and cool white LEDs. ) 

Now, light colour is not the same as the brightness of the light. A cool white LED light can be dim and a warm white LED light can be bright. While light colour refers to the shade of the emitted light, brightness refers to the amount of light produced and it is measured by lumens.

The technical measurement of light colour is in Kelvins, and this is discussed below.  As many LED lights are sold with a Kelvin colour specification it might be useful for you to read our simple explanation of the Kelvin light colour scale below.

 understanding kelvin in lighting


The Kelvin Scale


LED colour temperature is measured using the Kelvin scale represented by numbers followed by a “K”.  Manufacturers and retailers can differ in their definition of the light range titles, but typically:

  • Warm White is around 2700K to 3500K,
  • Natural White is around 4000K to 4500K,
  • Cool White is around 5000K to 6500K.


As an example, consider the colour temperature of other light sources:

  • Candle flame: around 1850K
  • Traditional incandescent lights: around 2700K to 3300K
  • Moonlight: around 4100K


Now let’s consider some of the common situations when choosing LED lights:

 


"I want to match the light colour of my old lights."

If you are replacing incandescent lights or halogen downlights almost all globes sold for general household purposes in Australia have been warm white.  You can always check the model number of the globe if you are unsure.

One difference in light colour you will be likely to notice is when you dim lights.  When you dim incandescent or halogen lights the filament would become increasingly orange (warmer).  With LED chips, however, the light colour will always remain the same regardless of the brightness.  So if you dim a LED light only its brightness will reduce. 

This is easy to get accustomed to, and regarded as an improvement by most of our customers. If you'd like to replace those old light globes, you can shop LED downlight kits now to replace them. 


"I want both warm white and cool white lights in my room."

While some areas like the kitchen may generally be a living area and good with warm white LED lighting, it is also a task area which might do some cool white lights. It might look awkward if you install both warm and cool downlights, as it may not visually pleasing to some people. For sure, installing both warm white lights and cool white lighting would increase your expense, and you'd probably end up using just either one of them for most of the time. 


"I have seen LED lights that are colour adjustable."

Some manufacturers and retailers are promoting lights where the colour of the light can be changed - often with a remote.  It's actually a light fixture with a warm white LED chipset AND a cool white LED chipset.  To change the colour you are switching between the two or using a combination of both.

Whilst this might sound attractive as you do not have to select your light colour upfront, the combination of two LED chipsets either materially increases the cost of the light, or the quality of the chipsets is reduced to keep the price competitive.  In my experience, customers that have selected such lights eventually switch them to warm white and never touch them again - therefore I believe the gimmick will eventually disappear from the market.


"Which colour temperature is best for me?"

It all depends on your needs.  Work out what the function of the space is and then select your light colour.  IMPORTANTLY: you should not mix light colours in a single space as the difference would be quite evident.

COOL WHITE FOR COMMERCIAL LIGHTING AND TASK LIGHTING - If you are fitting a factory or a hospital, Cool White is the best choice for you because it's "whiter than white" colour exaggerates colours and is ideal for working and task-based lighting.  It is sometimes called "icy white" and is equivalent to the light you get from the normal fluorescent tube lighting in offices and commercial buildings.

In the home, we recommend cool white (or natural white which is between cool and warm) for work and task areas such as home offices. In my house, I've put cool white in the laundry 'coz it's a self-contained room and it really helps to see if the washing is clean or not. It's also good for the garage and other work areas.

Although not common, some people choose natural white (about 4000K) for bathrooms and kitchens for task lighting. (For bathroom lighting, read Lighting Ideas: Why You Need to Upgrade Your Bathroom Lighting).  However, if your kitchen is integrated with living spaces you should not mix light colours and would utilize a light colour that suits the living spaces throughout.

WARM WHITE FOR LIVING AREAS - Warm White is by far the more practical and popular colour temperature for home installation, especially if traditional light bulbs are to be replaced.  As you can see in the image below warm white is a very normal light for the home.  People usually tend to stick with the kind of lighting they already have and warm white LED lights to offer a similar lighting colour. Warm white is regarded as almost essential for living spaces as anything above this is generally regarded as too harsh. This image gives you an idea of the difference when warm white and when cool white lights are installed:

cool white or warm white downlights

 

OUTDOOR LIGHTING - Selection of light colour for outdoor lighting is a matter of preference. We recommend warm white for outdoor living, warm white is also more popular for outdoor lighting fixtures.  The exception might be specialized security lights and access lighting.

 


Shop LED lights now or, if you would like further advice, please ring Renovator Store on 1800 RENOSTORE or (03) 9544 3003. You can also read about How to Pick LED Lights and The Ultimate All-In-One Home Lighting Guide.