Choosing the Right Light II – Colour Temperature and Brightness

In the last post, I wrote about which lamps to avoid because of the toxic materials used inside them. In this post, I will give some advice on what to take into consideration when you are looking for lights that are meant to serve as working lights in an artist’s environment (painter, illustrator, model maker – wherever the “right” perception of your colours is key).

The colour temperature
The colour temperature of light is measured in Kelvin. If you are interested in a more detailed article about colour temperature (which is important especially for those of you who are into filmmaking) you can check out this article. In order to choose the right bulb for our painting environment we can summarize: the “colder” (blue-ish) the light looks, the higher the number of Kelvin. The “warmer” the light looks, the lower the Kelvin. The colour temperature of the sun, for example, is about 5,870 Kelvin. An ordinary light bulb has 2,700 K, which makes it feel “warmer” – or yellow-ish/red-ish.

The best light for drawing and painting is, of course, indirect, diffuse natural light. If for whatever reason natural daylight is not available you should seek out a light source that is as close to natural light as possible. Why? Because an ordinary light bulb, which emits a warm light, skews your perception of the colours in your painting: The colours look warmer and therefore more beautiful. The surprise comes when you look at your painting or illustration at daylight or neon light: The colours look a bit off, they are not what you had in mind while you were creating your artwork. On the other hand, if you create your image using a light bulb that emulates daylight, your painting has a bigger chance of looking the way you wanted – also under several other lighting conditions (as long as you don’t light your image with freaky coloured lights of course).

So I would recommend choosing a light bulb that has a colour temperature between 5,000 and 6,000 Kelvin. This is what you will usually get when you look for daylight lights. I bought some bulbs with 6500 Kelvin and they seem a bit too cold, but I am still able to work with the light they emit.

Just be warned: Daylight bulbs are not what you would use in your bedroom or living room, because due to their colour temperature they are not what most people would call a pleasant light for an overall lighting.

Watts and lumens

In the old days, I used to buy daylight bulbs with 60 watts. 40 watt-bulbs usually were not bright enough and 100 watts were not really necessary. Apart from that, too much light is not good for the eyes, either. Even with the old light bulbs having been prohibited in Europe, you can still use the watt characteristics of LED lights to estimate how fitting a bulb will be as a working light: LEDs usually come with a description that says something like:

40 W equivalent


60 W equivalent

So the package of a LED daylight bulb might read something like

9W, 60 W equivalent

I have to say, that several product testing studies came to the conclusion that these “equivalents” specifications of energy saving lights are discovered to usually be overestimated (which in this example means that a 9 W energy saving lamp would not reach the 60 W of a traditional light bulb). This is because (at least in Germany) the manufacturers of light bulb must declare the specifications of their lights – but usually nobody checks if the specifications are really right.

But for you this does not matter that much – if you try out an energy saving bulb (like LED) which is specified as 9 W / 60 W equivalent it will still do its work.


Visible light is usally measured in lumens. Ordinary light bulbs which emit a warm light, which you would use in a living room for example, might have somewhere around 270 Lumens. I think that working lights for an artist’s studio should be a bit brither, somewhere above 500 Lumens. I am currently using use two 806 lumens, 9 watts, 6500 Kelvin LED bulbs on my painting desk, which is slightly too bright and too cold. I am still looking for the perfect LED bulbs manufacturer. 🙂

artist's studio

You have to know, I am still grieving for my old school blue-ish light bulbs. Below is the very last one I have. 🙂


Ok, that was a lot of tech, now what shall I buy?

Summarizing, you can say that if you want to buy lights for your painting and drawing studio as working lights, you shall try out lights that have a colour temperature of 5,000 – 6,000 Kelvin and the equivalent of 50 or 60 Watts. Of course, everybody is different, but I think that this is a rather good starting point.

4 responses to “Choosing the Right Light II – Colour Temperature and Brightness

  1. Great post, some handy bits of information there about these bulbs. I think we are all missing the old style bulbs really, the light was always better from them. Those old school bulbs are great, still have a couple left as well, I will be very sad when they are finally used and I have to change over completely to the new bulbs.


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