Which color temperature is best for a backlit graphic lightbox

Color temperature is an important yet often-overlooked detail, when ordering backlit display lightboxes. Blue River Digital offers quite a few different color temperature options, depending on the lightbox model you’re looking at. But before we discuss which models offer which color temperatures, first let’s chat about what color temperature means on a basic level.
Color temperature is a measurement of the “whiteness” of a light source. The classic reference point is for those of us who’ve browsed the Paint department at the local hardware store, trying to decide which version of “white” we want to paint our house trim with. There are so many “colors” that look totally white when we view any one of them by itself — but then line up all the variations on the same card and all of a sudden you can see all the different hues by their relative “color shift” from one color chip to the next — first you have a bluish white, then a greenish white, then a pinkish or orange-ish white… you get the idea.
This scenario is a good example of the reason we need to measure whiteness, or color temperature. Without color temperature ratings, two sources of white light that are slightly different “hues” from each other would be hard to describe without some subjectivity. Imagine trying to describe the color temperature of each set of headlights in oncoming traffic at night: “Let’s see, this car’s lights are kind of yellowish, and the next ones are kind of purplish, but the third car’s are kind of in between and maybe closer to…..” Good luck, right? So the scientific community has developed this universally-recognized scale as the first step in controlling which actual color temperature range we want to specify in a given context:
color temperature chart
Oddly, the “warmer” whites were assigned lower numerical values than the “colder” whites, but once you get past this counter-intuitive anomaly, the Color Temperature scale is pretty common-sense. Reds and oranges are at the warm end of the spectrum, while the blues and violets reside at the colder end.
Now let’s talk about applications of light sources with various color temperatures.
To milk the earlier hardware store scenario a bit more, let’s take a stroll over to the Lighting department, where we’ll find lamps and bulbs of every type, and we’ll see that many are labeled with a color temperature rating. Even more, some of them will say “kitchen and bath” or “commercial” near the color temperature. This is because consumers generally prefer to install warmer color temperatures in kitchens and baths, and the colder temperatures in business environments. There’s a consensus that warmer color temperatures reflect more favorably on skin tones while imbuing a softer, more relaxed atmosphere — whereas colder color temperatures foster alertness, focus and a professional ambience. We’ll leave the veracity and psychology of these cultural assumptions to you the customer, but we do have one more extension of the “ideal color temperature” conversation to help you think about:
Which color temperature do we want for our backlit displays?
Extrapolating from the above general opinions as to which color temperatures work best for which situations, you can imagine why warmer color temperatures are more popular for model photos, portraits and skin tones, cosmetics, most fashion industry backlits, certain types of fine art, and other duratrans backlit artwork where the content is organic, softer, more mellow. On the other extreme, hi-tech product photos, machinery, jewelry, certain text and logo themes, and selective types of progressive or abstract fine art lend themselves to a colder color temperature. By now you probably know which category your own artwork belongs in, but if you’re still not sure, give our Lightbox Specialists a call at 800-706-4276 and we’ll ask you a few questions and chat about which color temperatures and which lightbox models may be ideal for your project.
Lastly, let’s briefly explore some of the standard color temperatures across the world’s largest selection of backlit lightboxes, found only at Blue River Digital:
To oversimplify things just a bit, the two most common color temperatures in the entire commercial backlit lightboxes industry are 4100°K and 6500°K (give or take a couple hundred degrees Kelvin). The 4100°K range temperatures are commonly labeled as “cool white”, but the 6500°K flavor are usually not given their own adjective, so you’ll usually just see “6500°K” and that’s it. Occasionally you’ll see a lightbox specification that says “warm white” and this usually indicates a color temperature in the 2700 to 3500°K range, loosely speaking. Before you get concerned about exact numbers, first be assured that two color temperatures within a few hundred degrees of each other are actually difficult to distinguish from each other; it usually takes between 500 and 1000° of separation or more before the difference is detectable to the naked eye.
color temperature comparison
To return to our Lighting department field trip once more, consider these common labels and color temperature ranges — but keep in mind these are not absolutes, just general ranges that the Lighting industry tends to follow:
Kitchen & Bath
2700 to 3500°K
Cool White
4000 to 4400°K
5000 to 5500°K
[numeric value only]
6500 to 8500°K
Now that we rambled off-track again, let’s try to get back to Blue River Digital’s line of lightboxes and color temperature options:
Almost every Blue River Digital lightbox model that uses fluorescent lamps defaults to cool white, because this is the most popular color temperature in the fluorescent lamps market. Also, almost every fluorescent model can be upgraded to warmer or colder lamps on request. The coldest fluorescent lamps generally available are in the 5000 to 5500°K (daylight) range.
For LED lightboxes, the default is usually 6500°K for the simple reason that this is the most commonly-available LED lamp color. Colder lamps are available for some models but rarely requested because this begins to skew the hue away from pure white and toward blue or violet. The most common color temperature upgrade request for LED lightboxes is to switch from 6500 to 4100°K, to get the warmer (or less cold) white for photos of people, nature scenes — anything that benefits from a less-harsh, less blue tone.
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