Warmer, Colder, Kelvin, and Color Temperature

Please stop confusing me!

We all know the phrases “white hot”, “red hot”, “blue lips”, but these colors mean different things to different people.  That’s ok until we try to talk to each other.

What is “color temperature” ?

If you have experienced “bone chilling cold” you were certainly pleased when you could get inside in front of a fire or a ‘heat lamp.’   You felt more ‘warming’ than just getting inside the house with warm air.  Why?  Because the fire, or the old electric heater, is radiating vast quantities of infra-red light which penetrates through your skin and deeper into your muscles or joints.

If you have ever watched a man heat treat metal, you know the color of the hot metal is very important to them.  The color indicates the temperature.  The color you see being radiated is a function of the temperature.  The first colour you see is red; heat it more, and it will start glowing orange.  Keep heating it and if it does not melt, it will eventually get white hot.  This is exactly what colour temperature means.

Stating the colour temperature in degrees Kelvin means that your light source color is identical to something ‘perfectly black’ heated to that temperature.  Read much more about color temperature on Wikipedia.

Interior designers and photographers say they want ‘warm colours’ or ‘cool colours’ and what they mean is exactly the opposite of physics.  They want reds and oranges, “forgetting”, well, ignoring, that blue is hot, red is cold.  To me, the ‘coldest’ colour is white; the color of snow.

Will the Kelvin colour temperature actually tell us the colour?  I found a blog by Steve Jenkins  “Choosing the Right LED Bulbs” that may interest you.  (They are not BULBs even though thats what people are calling them.)  He has a chart that tells us the 2,000° K is ‘warm’ and 6,000° K is cool.

So please remember that if you are not educated in science that when you talk to someone who is, one of you is going to be quite confused.

Our next article will explain “When Color Temperature Fails Us”

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