Tech Talk: How White Is Your White?

Posted on October 29, 2010

Mike Graham pensive in front of MVP video panels.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET Professional

Color temperature has become a benchmark that is used to determine how bright a lamp source appears to the naked eye. In architectural lighting, the color temperature tells the lighting designer which white is right for a given application.

This is a diagram from inside the chromaticity space. It shows the range of color temperature inside the range of white. The measurable range of white is between 1,500K and 10,000K.

How do we measure color temperature? Color temperature is measured on the Kelvin scale (K). The Kelvin temperature number is determined by comparing the light source’s chromaticity with that of an ideal blackbody radiator. The temperature at which the heated blackbody radiator matches the color of the light source is the color temperature for that source.

Different applications call for different color temperatures.
•    In architectural lighting the typical range of color temperature is between 2,800K and 5,000K. These are the levels of white with which people are used to working and living.

•    In theater, a typical stage is lit between 3,200K and 3,400K. Theatrical paints and costumes are created with this range of color temperature in mind.

•    For the big shows. The advent of discharge lamp sources upped color temperatures to the 5,600K to 8,500K range depending on the lamp that is being used. These higher color temperatures help us create the huge light shows and make the bright looks that cut through all of the other action in a rock show.

So, when you are working on an installation, production, corporate event, or any other kind of lighting job and the client asks for white, you are totally justified in asking, “What color temperature?”