Light bulb color comparison examples, photos:
LED & Halogen colors & brightness: this article describes the variations in perceived color and color temperature of different indoor-use bulb types compared with sunlight. We illustrate both interior lighting bulbs (incandescent, three types of fluorescent bulbs, halogen lamps, and LED bulbs) comparing both color temperature (color rendition) and brightness.
We illustrate what different object colors look like under different types of lamps (bulbs) including incandescent, all types of compact fluorescent bulbs, halogen lighting, and LED lighting. We include comparisons of types of LED bulb brightness using flashlights for an example.
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At Color Temperature and CRI for Indoor Lights we introduced and defined color temperature and CRI.
Here we provide additional details and photo examples of variations in perceived color and color temperature of different bulb types compared with sunlight.
We illustrate both interior lighting bulbs (incandescent, three types of fluorescent bulbs, halogen lamps, and LED bulbs) comparing both color temperature (color rendition) and brightness.
Skin tones look best under lamps rated from 2700K (standard A-bulb) to 3500K and with a CRI over 80. Residential lamps range as high as 7500K for continuous spectrum fluorescents, such as GE’s Chroma 50 or 75. These simulate daylight and are good for detailed work where color accuracy is critical, but they give skin an unflattering greenish tone.
At Color Temperature and CRI for Indoor Lights we include a table comparing the color temperatures of the most common types of lamps used indoors.
The display below, available at many Home Depot stores, compares lighting among four bulb color types, from left to right
The accuracy of color rendition of different lights and the CRI scale are explained at Color Temperature and CRI for Indoor Lights.
The four lamps (bulbs) described above are shown inside the display, below. We kept the camera on the same "automatic" white balance setting for all four bulb color photographs.
These colors are not exactly what your eye will see, nor do they consider the effects of the colors of surroundings, but you can see the color temperature differences among these light bulbs.
The display, which includes a spot for you to insert your hand to observe what each light does to the perceived color of your skin, also describes the applications for these bulb color temperatures (corresponding to left-to-right above) as:
Watch out: if you didn't notice, the compact fluorescent bulbs such as the models shown above include a warning printed on the bulb base indicating that these bulbs are intended for dry locations, and are not for use in luminaires controlled by a dimmer or totally enclosed recessed lighting fixtures. Check the specifications on lamps you are buying if you have other needs than those that fit these restrictions.
Recognizing that the human eye does not see light and color exactly the same as any camera, film or digital, we set our camera to a white-balance setting based on white typing paper in indirect sunlight to begin the light color temperature comparison photographs shown here.
Each photograph was taken with a glass soap dish placed on plain white typing paper. The white balance of the camera was set to normal for the white typing paper alone, in sunlight.
We take the first soap dish color photograph as our reference standard, as this image was taken in outdoor sunlight.
At below left a string of eight (4 shown) mini globe incandescent bulbs give the glass soap dish a pink hue that is very close to the color we found in sunlight.
You can see that the soap dish as a very light pink-purple color in the reference photo. Actually outdoors, to the human eye, we saw this dish as more "pink" than did our camera.
We set our camera white balance to the same white paper under incandescent lighting indoors (below left) and then for compact fluorescent bulbs in an overhead light fixture (below right). You will observe that the indoor incandescent shifts the original image towards red/pink hues while the compact fluorescent lighting shifts the image towards blue-green.
At below right we illustrate what these same objects look like under a standard (long tube) fluorescent lamp. Compare that photo (below right) with the compact fluorescent lamp lighting photo (above right) and you can see a shift towards green.
At below left we illustrate our darkroom test set-up for light source comparisons, in this case with a "blacklight" or UV ultraviolet light bulb (Woods lamp) installed in our test fixture using a 13W bulb produced by Feit Electric. (280-410nm usually narrowed to 368-371 nm wavelength light). Some septic system and building inspectors use UV lamps to detect the presence of septic test dye that contains fluroscein, or to screen for animal urine stains.
See UV LIGHT BLACK LIGHT USES for definitions of fluoresence, UV light, black light, and the use of UV lights in buildings to track down different substances including animal urine or even blood. Also see BLOOD in ART WORKS, TESTING FOR.
As explained at explained at Color Temperature and CRI for Indoor Lights, the color rendering index (CRI) of light bulbs provides a scale of 1 to 100 where a bulb rated at 100 closely matches a reference light source.
Halogen lamps such as the bulb we show at below left operate at around 3000K and give off a whiter light than incandescents and most fluorescents. At below right we include an example photograph of our color references used above, but here, illuminated by a halogen lamp. Comparing this result (below left) with our example from daylight (above) you will see that the halogen image is rendered rather close in color temperature to daylight.
At Lumens, Definition, comparisons we defined Lumens as
a measure of the amount of light contained within an area or within a defined beam or angle emitted from the light source. Lumens is further defined as the total amount of visible light emitted by a source.
Here we offer a more subjective comparison of the brightness of light emitted by LED bulbs, using flashlights as an example. Take a look at the rated light output in lumens when you can find that information. It is both useful and very interesting. For example when purchasing LED-designed flashlights, you will usually observe that the very inexpensive units may look exactly like others that cost five to ten times as much.
But the light output of the low-priced units is often 1/10th the light output of the costly versions. Brighter LED's cost more. And if the flashlight marketing information on the package does not tell you the light output of the device... well that tells you something, right?
And our digital camera "sees" light differently than the human eye - a fact that can add difficulties when photographing some subjects, as our three comparison photographs of light beams from two LED flashlights illustrate above. All three photos are of the same two LED flash light units. But depending on external variables our eye and the camera see different brightness.
From left, with no flash the right-hand LED flashlight looks brighter shining on blue ceramic tile. With a flash to eliminate dark background, the bulbs look about equal. With no flash and shining the two LED flashlights onto a darkened wall, the left-hand LED flashlight looks brighter (and less diffuse, which confuses the matter). [Click any image to see a larger version.]
As Bliss points out in Color Temperature and CRI for Indoor Lights, the comparison standards for color temperatures of lights produced by different types of lamps are not uniform. Quoting:
For incandescent lamps and all others with a color temperature of 5000K or less, the reference is an incandescent or halogen bulb, which are both assigned CRIs of 100. For lamps with a color temperature of over 5000K, the reference is natural daylight, which also has a CRI of 100.
CRI numbers are best used to compare lamps with color temperatures within about 300K of each other. Colors will look very different under a 3000K lamp and a 6000K lamp with the same CRI.
Do not confuse color temperature (in degrees Kelvin) with brightness. The table below describes color temperature (or you could say "hue", not the brightness of the light source.
Light Source or Type
Color Temperature in oK
|Match flame||1,700 oK - 1850 oK||Very low color temperatures, more warm or red in hue.|
Candlelight - flame from a single candle
Candle flames are 1850-1930 oK. Some sources say 1,800oK Notes 2, 3
Sunrise/Sunset color temperature range is 2000 oK to 3000 oK
|Horizon light (simulating daylight)||2,300 oK||Note 4.|
|Standard incandescent bulb, 15-watt||2,470 oK||Tungsten filament household bulb|
|Standard incandescent bulb, "soft white"
Living areas. Typical incandescent bulb color temperatures range from 2,700oK to 3,300oK
(Incandescent tungsten filament household bulbs range from 2,470 to 2,900 oK depending on bulb wattage)
|Krypton bulb, 500W||2,900|
Soft white compact fluorescent bulb
|3,000 oK||Other sources rate halogens at 3,400 oK Note 3.|
|Projector type bulbs, filament||3,100 oK|
Photo floodlamps, studio lamps
Quartz lights range from 3,200 to 3,500 oK
Tungsten 5k or 10k Lamps have a higher color temperature of 3380 oK
3,200 oK is a common reference color temperature for expressing RGB values used to simulate the colors of images captured on "indoor" photographic film. 6.
|Studio "CP" light
|Halogen bulbs||3,400 oK|
|Fluorescent bulb, color corrected||3,500 oK||Fluorescent light color temperatures range from 3,200 to 7,500 oK|
|"Bright white" bulbs||3,500 oK - 4100 oK||Kitchens, bathrooms|
|Projector bulbs, carbon arc (traditional movie)||3,900 oK|
|Fluorescent bulb, cool white
Moonlight (natural, full moon, clear night)
|4,100 oK||Some sources put moonlight at 4,200 oK 3.|
|Cool white fluorescent "store lights"||4,150 oK||Note 4.|
|Daylight, with industrial smog conditions||4,700 oK||Note 3.|
Cool White or "Daylight" CF bulbs
Fluorescent lamps rated as "artificial daylight" have color temperatures of 5,000 oK or 7,500 oK Note 4.
Noon sunlight range: 5,000 5,400 oK
|Dayligt (sunlight) under hazy conditions||5,100 oK||
Color temperatures over 5,000 oK are considered cool colors and are more blue-white in hue.
Sunlight through clouds or thick haze range from 5,500 to 6,500 oK
Notes 2, 3.
|Daylight - sunlight
Electronic flash (cameras, pocket)
|5,500 - 6,100oK||
Sunlight at 30 deg. over the horizon is typically 5,500 oK while sunlight at 50 deg. over the horizon may be 6,100 oK.
Daylight ranges given as 5,500 to 6,500 under a clear sky
Electronic flash from larger photo-flash devices may be rated at 6,700 oK 3.
|Daylight: sunlight at mid-day||6,500 oK||Whitest light. Some sources rate this as "overcast light" 2|
|Fluorescent bulb, "daylight" rated||6,500 oK||Reading, close-work|
|Daylight (sunlight) through overcast sky or in indirect light||6,500 oK - 7,500 oK||
More blue than sunlight.
Some sources put overcast sky daylight at 7,400 oK 3.
|Electronic flash (cameras)||6,700 oK||Note 3.|
|Daylight (sunlight) measured in a shaded area||7,000 - 8,000 oK|
|Daylight (sunlight) measured under a partly clouded sky||8,000 - 10,000 oK|
|Daylight: foggy conditions||8,300 oK||Note 3. [further study needed-Ed.]|
|Computer monitors, LCD or CRT screens||6,300 - 9,300 oK||Note 2. Adjustable on many devices. Most RGB monitors, measured by examining a white point, are 6,500 - 7,000 oK|
|Sunlight, 5 Meters under water, near the equator||14,000 - 20,000 oK||Note 5.|
Notes to the table of light source color temperatures
1. Also see Table 5-23, "Color Temperatures of Common Lamps" found in Lamp & Bulb Abbreviations & Type
I have heard of ANSI coded bulbs but do I need to worry about these codes? Where can I find what the ANSI bulb codes mean? - Anon. 5/14/12
ANSI (American National Standards Institute) codes for light bulbs permit a standard definition for bulb shape, design, electrical connections, light output, and other parameters. ANSI has defined approximately 100 bulb codes, typically 3-letter designations such as
Many bulb (lamp) producers and distributors provide an extensive index to lamps by ANSI bulb codes and bulb types or applications. Perhaps because ANSI standards are sold you won't find it easy to obtain the details of most ANSI standards at ANSI's own website. A website that does an excellent job of illustrating the various ANSI bulb codes, bulbstock.com explains:
ANSI (American National Standards Institute) coded light bulbs meet specific industry standards for light output, bulb shape, base type, beam spread and other lamp specifications. If a manufacturer offers a light bulb with an ANSI designation, that bulb should be identical to a similarly ANSI designated bulb from other manufacturers. 
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