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How to Choose the Color of Fluorescent Bulbs

By Bill Brown ; Updated July 21, 2017
Fluorescent bulbs come in a variety of shades.

Traditional fluorescent bulbs and new compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) come in a range of colors. It is helpful to know how color is classified for light when looking at options. Light color is calculated using a scale in degrees Kelvin, in which a hypothetical object is heated. The color that it would emit at each degree Kelvin corresponds to its color temperature. At 2,800 degrees Kelvin, it would emit a warm, orange-like light similar to that of a household incandescent bulb. At about 7,000 degrees Kelvin you get the clear, bluish light from the sun. Fluorescent bulbs come in colors across the spectrum now, to accommodate all ranges interior or workplace needs. They have become even more popular because they save energy over incandescent alternatives.

Assess your lighting fixtures to see what types of bulbs they take. This will determine the range of your options. For screw-in bulbs, CFLs will work; for tube fixtures common in workshops and garages, you will need tube fluorescent bulbs, which present different color options.

Decide what you want from the lighting depending on the location. For a workplace, you want maximum lumens and clarity. For a living room, you can sacrifice the amount of light to get warmer, more pleasing colors. Remember that CFLs generate about four times as much light per watt as an incandescent bulb, so a 15-watt CFL puts out about as much light as a 60-watt incandescent.

Select bulbs for tube fixtures. Tube fluorescent bulbs are generally available in cool white (around 4,000 degrees K), which throws an almost greenish tinge; warm white (around 2,700 degrees K), which is more orange-like but not as pleasant as an incandescent; and daylight bulbs (around 6,500 degrees Kelvin), which are blue. The cool white and daylight throw a clean, clear light but are not too homey. You can add warm white bulbs to the mix to make it a bit more pleasant.

Select your bulbs for screw-in fixtures. Because CFLs are made to emulate incandescent light, more pleasing options prevail. Natural or daylight bulbs emit light at around 3,500 degrees Kelvin and are good for reading; we sense them as being a bit brighter. Their light can be a bit icier. Soft white is closer to an incandescent (at around 2,700 degrees Kelvin) and warmer.


About the Author


Bill Brown has been a freelance writer for more than 14 years. Focusing on trade journals covering construction and home topics, his work appears in online and print publications. Brown holds a Master of Arts in liberal arts from St. John's University and is currently based in Houston.