Color temperature is a unit of measure that represents the color component of light. In theory, the black body temperature refers to the color that the absolute black body appears after warming from absolute zero (-273 ° C). After being heated, the black body gradually turns from black to red, turns yellow, turns white, and finally emits blue light. When heated to a certain temperature, the spectral component contained in the light emitted by the black body is called the color temperature at this temperature, and the unit of measurement is "K" (Kelvin).Do you know what the color temperature of the LEDs is? The color temperature of most off-road LED lights is typically within the 5000k-6500k color temperature range. This is the optimum range of operating color temperature as this range is the closest to natural sunlight at or around high noon. The closer the color temperature to that of natural lighting, the easier it will be for you to see without straining your eyes.
It is often a misconception that all LED lights are bright white, even blue, in color. Based on the image above, you can see that LEDs come in a variety of color temperatures that help create warm, cozy lighting on the lower end of the spectrum, while also creating a bright, clean look with white and blue lighting on the higher end of the spectrum.
How is color temperature measured?
- Below 3000k- A light bulb that produces light perceived as amber to yellowish will have a color temperature of around 2700K-3000k. Extremely low color temperature kelvin lights are typically used where infrared spectrum lighting is needed.
- 3,000- amber- yellowish-white: When the lights color temperature is around 3000K – 3500K, the color of these types of lights appear to be a little less yellow, with a bit more white light being emitted.
- 3000k- 3600k lights are or used to be one of the most popular color temperatures for stock halogen or incandescent bulbs. These lights are close to the 3000K color of lights, but they have more of a mix of soft white light than that of the yellowish tint. This color temperature is typically what most people want to upgrade from as these color lights appear to be to dim with no light intensity, not to mention the aesthetic reasons of buying and installing the newer types of automotive lights.
- 4000k-4600k: As we start getting above 4000k we start to see the common color temperature of most stock off-road HID light systems. These lights are substantially whiter than that of 3000k-3600k but still have a minute tinge of bright yellow in the mix. If you are looking for that cool to bright whitish blueish color appearance, the 4300K-4600k lights would not be the best selection. You would have to find a light with a color temperature of around 6000k+ if you want to go with the newer modern look.
- 5000k: When the color temperature is 5000K-5600k and/or higher, the light produced ranges from cool to bright white color, sometimes with a light tinge of blue mixed in the light beam.
- 6000k: When you start getting into the 6000 kelvin range and above, you will notice that the color of this lighting appears to be a mix of bright white light and blue light. This color temperature is what you commonly see on newer vehicles that have bluish- whitish automotive lights. Depending on what manufacturer or retailer you purchase your automotive lights or off-road lights, the difference in color temperature can vary drastically, especially when you get into the 5000k + rated lights.
- 7000K- Once you start to get above the 6000K + range in terms of color temperature, you will start to notice that these types of automobile lights have more of a blueish tinge to the color of the light beam. Once again, the higher the kelvin rating, the bluer the light beam appears. The 7000k rated lighting systems are common where vivid lighting is needed. Some examples outside the automotive world of lighting, these types of lights would be commonly found and used in places such as jewelry stores, commercial buildings, museums, etc.
- 8000k: Even at 8000k the light appears to be in the color spectrum of lighter blue. These automotive lights are much bluer than the 6000k rated lights, but are still not in the vivid blue range.
- 10000k: 10,000k rated lights produce a dark blue light beam and are in fact, very close to violet in the spectrum(once again, this will depend largely on the light manufacturer). This high of a kelvin rating is uncommon in most automotive and off-roading lighting applications as these lights can actually decrease visibility substantially when driving at night.
- 12,000K: 12000k rated lights are closer to the color violet in terms of the color spectrum and is typically the max threshold for just about any type of on or off-road application. 12000k lights in the automotive world are usually used as purely decorative lighting for wheel wells or puddle lights, under body, used as DRL, and/or used as automotive accent lighting. These lights are NOT recommended as a substitute night time driving light.
- 20,000k-30,000k- This high of a kelvin rating is well into the UV spectrum in terms of color temperature and are hardly ever used in practical on and off-road applications. In some instances, 20000k-30000k rated lights are utilized on vehicles when and where ultra-violet lighting is needed.
How to choose LED light color temperature?
Now that we know the color temperature range for LED lights, how do you go about choosing the right one for your space?
For best results, the LED color should be the same as the lens color. If the bulb is behind a clear lens, use the appropriate color for turn and brake light functions.
When installed in a housing that has a matching colored lens, red and amber bulbs will appear brighter than white LED bulbs—even though they have lower lumen outputs.
As an example: a red lens will filter out all but the red portion of light from a bulb, so if the light being emitted from the bulb is all red, none or very little light will be blocked by the lens. The light from a white LED bulb contains very little light in the red portion of the visible spectrum, so most of the light that contributes to its higher lumen value would be filtered out by a red lens. This makes the white bulb appear dimmer than the red bulb.