How Light Changes Colors Part One: Light Bulbs

Jun 1, 2016

It happens all the time: you walk into a space and the color is so striking you have to have it for your own home. But when you paint in your home or office it doesn’t look right. Why?

One word: Lighting.

The tracking of the sun throughout the day and the light bulbs you use in your home all change the way the way colors look.

Sure, the hardware store puts their color samples under the purest light they can find so you can see the “real” color. Even if you use the same bulbs as the paint store, that’s not how the color will look in your space. Light bulbs as well as natural exposure to sunlight influence how colors look.

Light bulbs change the tone of color

The incandescent lights that most of us grew up with cast a yellow tone over colors. They muted blues and greens and made reds and oranges extra bold.  If you still have incandescent bulbs, you may notice a yellow or amber shadow against white walls when the bulb is on.

These bulbs are in the process of being phased out because they are not energy efficient. In fact, you can’t buy incandescent bulbs for the most popular bulb sizes anymore. If you have some stock piled, don’t be surprised if your rooms look different when you finally transition to a different type of bulb. Incandescents are the only bulbs that cast a yellow tone.

Fluorescent Lights

This is the lightening you are most likely to encounter in big home improvement stores and offices.  Fluorescents give off more of a blue tone, making blues and greens look great.

You may have noticed “soft white” or “warm white” fluorescent bulbs. These are intended to mimic incandescent light. In reality, they make all colors look faded.

CFL, or compact fluorescent lights, also fall into this category. They are more neutral, but often have a blue-ish tone as well.

Halogen Lights

Halogens are similar to natural lights and make most colors appear more vivid. In fact, halogens might be your best option for consistent color if your home gets good natural light throughout the day.


LED stands for “light emitting diode.” LEDs are the most energy efficient lights available. They use electricity to emit a bright light from a small bulb. Because of how they harness electricity, LEDs can cast any color of light. This means they can cast a pure white light, a warm yellow light, or even match natural light.

Sure, they’re cool for lighting effects in home bars, but they can also be used to cast your colors in the most flattering light.

Light bulbs only tell part of the color story. Continue reading to learn how natural light impacts how paint colors look in your home and office.

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