How your paint colors look is heavily influenced by the lighting in your home. These tips from the experts at the American Lighting Association will help you choose the best lightbulbs to make your walls shine.
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Whether you hope to create a warm, comfy setting or a bright, clean one, lighting affects more than just mood. The amount and type of light a room receives can also make a huge difference in how paint colors look on your walls. For example, a gray paint color that appears truly neutral on the paint swatch might reveal a green undertone when applied to your walls, or a bold, rich blue could turn out duller than you expected. Depending on the room's lighting, the color you chose can look significantly different than it did in the store.

Natural light is a huge factor, of course, but the type of lightbulbs you choose will also help determine whether your paint colors appear dimmed-down, intensified, or true to life. For tips on how to choose lightbulbs with color in mind, we turned to the experts at the American Lighting Association. Here's what to look for to make choosing the correct lightbulb for your paint color quick and easy.

kichler living room baland light fixture
Credit: Courtesy of Kichler/American Lighting Association

How to Use the Color Rendering Index

Colors often look their best in natural light, but that's not the only source of light in most rooms. For artificial lighting that helps your paint colors look their best, check the Color Rendering Index of your bulbs. Also known as CRI, this measures an artificial light source's ability to render color on a scale of 1 to 100, with natural sunlight as the 100 CRI benchmark.

Where lightbulbs land on that scale can impact how colors look in your home as well as how you perceive your environment. Gregory Kay, CEO and chief designer of PureEdge Lighting, explains it this way: "If I look at three same-color paint swatches in the sun, they all appear the same color because of the 100 CRI sunlight. If I take low CRI lighting (60 and 70 and 80) and I put the three color swatches under each, they won't look the same."

"The color dimension to life is something we don't think about," says Terry McGowan, FIES, LC, American Lighting Association director of engineering and technology. Lighting with a higher CRI "can result in higher satisfaction and happiness because surroundings are natural, bright, and clear," he says. "Lower CRI takes the color out of life. It makes things look drab and grays things down."

To avoid drabness and that graying of life, shop for 90 CRI bulbs. Although CRI is not always published on the lightbulb box, you can often find it online, McGowan says. "CRI above 90 is the difference between a sunny day and a cloudy day."

The CRI of typical LEDs ranges in the 80s. There is a cost premium, but the upgrade can be worth the price. "Go for 90 CRI if you have any kind of tapestry or wallpaper or fabric where color rendering is important," Cathy Choi, president of Bulbrite, says. "In the laundry room where you're sorting and matching navy, black, and brown socks? Maybe. In the garage? Probably not."

hunter mid century modern light fan
Credit: Courtesy of Hunter/American Lighting Association

How to Choose Lightbulbs Based on Color Temperature

Color temperature represents the difference between warm, yellow-toned light and bright, cool light. It refers to a light's color ambience or chromaticity, not heat. The higher the temperature, the whiter the light.

"Color [temperature]—warm or cool—is measured in Kelvins. The magic number is 2800K—equal to incandescent. My recommendation for homes is 3000K—a little bit whiter but still friendly," McGowan says. Many manufacturers use "cool white," "soft white," or "warm white," to mean 4000K, 3000K, and 2700K respectively.

Since lower-temperature bulbs give off a warm glow, they can make colors such as red, orange, and yellow appear even more intense. On the other side of the spectrum, higher-temperature bulbs emit cooler light that pairs well with the blue and green color families. Check the undertone of your paint color to help determine the best color temperature for your lightbulbs.

You can also consider the room itself for guidance on color temperature. In general, lightbulbs with warmer color temperatures provide a more relaxing atmosphere. Bedrooms are typically meant to be cozy, so opting for warmer-colored lights and paint colors will create a sanctuary effect. In the kitchen or living room, however, you might choose cooler-temperature bulbs to give off a clean, energizing look.

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