Soft White vs Daylight vs Cool White - Color Temperature Lighting

Soft White vs Daylight vs Cool White – Color Temperature Lighting

Light is just light, right? Well, not really. The thing that dictates how we perceive objects within our view is the color temperature of the light. The most commonly used terms are “cool white”, “soft white”, and “daylight”.

How do these differ from each other? Which one is the best for lighting the rooms in your home? Here’s everything you need to know.

How Does Light Color Temperature Work?

Imagine a filament of an incandescent light bulb getting heated with fire. As its temperature rises, the filament begins to glow. In the beginning, it glows red. As it heats up more and more, its color turns to yellow, and then white.

The wavelengths of light coming from the glowing filament correspond to certain temperatures on the Kelvin temperature scale.

The red light coming from a candle equates to the temperature of around 1800 Kelvin. On the other end of the scale (above 15,000K) is the light we see when we look at a clear, blue sky. Soft white and cool white are somewhere in between, at  3,000K and 4,000K.

To summarize – the whiter the color temperature, the higher the degrees Kelvin.

How Does Light Color Temperature Affect Us?

Many studies regarding the effect of light color temperature have been conducted in the last couple of decades. There’s a general agreement that bright cool light during the day promotes productivity and alertness.

At night, on the other hand, warm light helps us relax and sleep better. The blue light should not be used during nighttime –  it can mess up one’s circadian rhythm. Light color can even influence the way in which we perceive time. With blue light, time appears to pass faster.

A person’s brain adapts to how he or she sees light. When you’re sitting in a room that’s lit by an incandescent light bulb, you probably won’t realize how everything has an orange hue.

The type of light can make it hard to differentiate colors. A good example is when people buy paint at a paint store and discover it to be of a different shade when they come home. The reason is the different lighting in the paint store.

Types of Color Temperature

Types of Color Temperature

Here are the primary characteristics of each type of color temperature:

Soft White

Color temperatures below 2,700 and 3,100 degrees Kelvin are classified as soft white. These would be the warm, yellowish colors you can see in older light bulbs.

It’s a traditional, warm kind of lighting, and the best one for living rooms and bedrooms. It’s the most common choice for residential use. However, most people consider it to be inappropriate for business environments.

Cool White

Color temperatures between 3,500 and 4,100 degrees Kelvin are classified as cool white. In other words, this color temperature is located on the higher end of the white light spectrum. It produces an extremely intense, clean white light that resembles daylight.

Cool white LED bulbs provide a more modern, contemporary kind of light. Their bright white glow promotes productivity, which makes them ideal for rooms such as the garage or kitchen. They are often used in office buildings, particularly in those lacking enough windows or skylights.


In terms of color temperature, the best way to describe daylight is the one produced at noon. This, however, varies depending on the time period, climate, and current weather. Typically, color temperatures of around 5,600 degrees Kelvin are classified as daylight.

Even though bulbs are far from perfectly replicating natural sunlight, many consider daylight LEDs to be the next best thing. As they provide the greatest contrast among colors, they are ideal for accent lighting, reading, and working on projects. While I’, on the topic of LED, check out my post on other eco-energy solutions as well.

Matching Color Temperature to the Environment

You’ve probably already experienced the dramatic impact of color temperature. To most people, this happens when they replace an incandescent bulb with a fluorescent one. The room can suddenly become cold and unpleasant.

Every object inside a room is influenced by its lighting. A 4000K light source can easily make a white wall look green. Under a 2500K light source, on the other hand, the same wall can look yellowish. This is precisely why designers recommend installing the lighting before furnishing a room.

Besides the appearance of your room, the light’s color temperature can also affect your everyday life. This is why nowadays many customers buy bulbs that mimic daylight. Unlike the traditional soft-white bedroom bulbs, these help people move quicker in the morning.

Furthermore, a lot of reading lights available on the market use daylight bulbs. This color temperature makes reading black letters on white paper much easier on the eyes. This type of lighting is also popular in bathrooms. For many women, applying makeup under a daylight bulb is a true gamechanger.

See also: Bathroom Vanity Cabinets Trends

Replacing soft-white bulbs with daylight ones in the bedroom can also have negative effects. Not only can it make falling asleep difficult, but also kill the romantic mood. Whatever you do to change the lighting in your house, remember that it can impact your everyday mood and make your house feel homey.

So, Which Color Temperature Lighting is the Best?

When it comes to selecting bulbs for homes, a few basic strategies are available. The most popular one is also the simplest. Go for the color temperature you like and install the corresponding bulbs everywhere.

The most significant advantage of this strategy is having uniform lighting in the house. In other words, transitions from one room to another become less harsh.

Alternatively, you can use soft white bulbs in areas like the dining room, living room, bedroom, and hallways.

Cool white and daylight bulbs, on the other hand, are suitable for rooms where you need to pay attention to details. The kitchen, home office, garage, and bathroom are all good candidates for daylight or cool white lighting.

All in all, there are no rules about which types of bulbs should be used in which rooms. Experimenting is the key. It’s the best way of finding out which lighting works best for your needs.

Read my post on small garden lighting ideas as well.

led bulb

LED Bulbs – The Ultimate Solution

Unlike older technologies, LED bulbs come in a much wider range of colors. Thanks to their rise, “color tuning” is now one of the most popular options. It’s the ideal choice for consumers who want to define their rooms through customizable lighting design.

The newest type of LED bulbs allows homeowners to switch between soft and cool white light at pleasure. It’s even possible to set the color to whichever one you like – from purple to pink. This rapidly growing market includes products from iLumi, GE Link, Cree, Osram Lightify, Taba Lumen, Lifx, and Philips Hue.

Replacing your existing bulb with one of these is as easy as it gets. What’s more, many can be controlled via smartphone apps. You can set a different color temperature lighting for every room of your house. Pretty convenient, wouldn’t you say?

Read also: Houseplants to Keep Flies Away


Different types of lighting have different effects on people. This is precisely why it’s important to use adequate color temperature for every room.

If you still don’t know which type of lighting to get, go with adjustable LED bulbs. While somewhat pricier, these will free you from having to pick different bulbs for every room.

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