What Color Temperature Is Best For Garage Lighting?


You can really geek out on buying shop lighting. When I was doing my research, I was amazed at how passionate some people can get about their lights.

I’m going to be sharing everything I’ve been learning while trying to figure out how I’m going to set up my garage lights.

One of the most common questions I hear is what color temperature lights should I get for my garage.

What color temperature is best for garage lighting? For most people, lights with a color temperature of 5000 Kelvin yield the best overall results. This is a slightly warmer shade than natural daylight while still looking crisp and clear. However, depending on how you use your garage, you may need slightly warmer or cooler lighting.

There’s no “one size fits all” solution for garage lighting, and choosing a color temperature is no different. It all depends on how you use your garage.

I’ve put together a handful of the most common use cases and some specific recommended color temperature lights that work best for each one.

But first, here’s a little refresher on what we mean when we talk about color temperature.

Image: Wikipedia

What is Color Temperature?

Okay. So what is color temperature?

Color temperature is a way to measure the color of the light source on the visual spectrum (from infrared to ultraviolet). You don’t really discuss color temperature when talking about fake greens or purple lights, because it just doesn’t really make sense.

Lights that have a reddish or yellowish hue are said to be ‘warmer’ while lights that have a blueish hue are said to be ‘cooler.’

As the color of the light reflects off of the thing they are working on, that thing is going to look different colors.

Here’s an illustration with the same room and the same set of furniture with different color temperature lights. In some takes on a more yellowish hue and into cooler lights it takes on a brighter white hue.

What you’ve probably heard about color temperature is wrong

Even though color temperature is measured in ‘degrees Kelvin’ (what we call absolute temperature), it’s not a measure of temperature at all. It’s actually a measure of electromagnetic radiation.

You’ll often see color temperature incorrectly described at the color that a piece of metal (usually iron) gets as it gets hotter.

While this is a great example to help you get the idea, it’s actually describing the concept of ‘red heat‘ and not color temperature.

For example, iron will not show a warm red or yellow color at 3000 Kelvin.

It won’t show any color.

It’ll be a gas at that temperature. 🙂

Color temperature makes a difference

From your own experience you know that different colored lights make you feel different ways.

We’re more alert with natural, bright light then we are with candle light. Studies have shown that brighter lighting with cooler color temperatures caused noticeable increases in attention and memory. By contrast, warmer lighting caused subjects to feel more relaxed.

In fact, warmer lights (around 3000K) actually increase your chances of dozing off. (source)

As we move towards cooler color temperatures, lights take on a more bluish hue and bring things into sharper focus.

Natural daylight is the equivalent of 6500K. Higher than 6500K and that sharpness actually begins to hurt our eyes.

If you’re setting up a garage workshop that you’re going to be in for long lengths of time, try to find that happy medium between lights that make you fall asleep and lights won’t hurt your eyes.

It’s a big investment to upgrade the lighting in your garage – both in time and in money.

It’s easy to tell lights have the wrong color temperature, but harder to tell what the right color temperature is.

What I mean by that is, you’re going to know instantly that you’ve got the wrong lighting.

Something will just be…off.

I’ve compiled some advice from experts and weekend warriors alike to make sure you’ve got the right color temperature lighting, no matter how you use your garage.

General Recommendations

In general, a color temperature between 4000-5000 Kelvin is ideal, depending on your personal tastes.

When I was a kid, we used incandescent lights in my house, so lights around 3500K – 4000K ‘normal.’ Through the years, home lighting has gradually moved towards cooler, whiter light. Those cooler lights will probably seem out of place.

If you’re just using your garage for storage, you can get by with any color temperature. Although, it’s worth noting that a brightly lit garage helps keep the bugs and critters out.

Color temperature for detailing your car

Color temperature for detailing your car

Your car’s in the sun a lot, so it makes sense that’s the kind of light you want to detail it in. You want to be able to see any smudges or imperfections clearly so you can take care of them.

Here’s a catch 22: The best light source you can get for detailing your car is natural sunlight, but all the experts say you should never wash your car in direct sunlight.

The same way that we wouldn’t want to be outside for hours on end, we also don’t want to be working in a garage with high color temperature lighting for hours either. It just puts too much stress on our eyes.

Experts recommend between 5000K and 6000K color temperatures for detailing your car. If you’re a professional detailer, then go with the 6000K lights. If you’re just a weekend warrior, go with the 5000K lights overhead and some smaller, 6000K lights for detail work.

Matt from Obsessed Garage has this to say: “We’re so conditioned to see a more yellow (light) that it almost looks artificial. But when you’re looking at paint…I prefer it than looking at a more artificial 3500-4000 Kelvin that you’d normally do. It’s a whole lot whiter.”

Not only do you want something that has a high color temperature so that it mimics natural daylight, when you want something that has a high color accuracy as well.

Placement of lights is also a major factor here. You want something that has full body coverage of your car.

However, there’s more to getting great lighting for detailing your car than just picking the right color temperature. Thankfully, I’ve written a guide to that as well. You can check it out at the link above to see my recommendations and see what I use in my garage!

Color temperature for woodworking

Color temperature for woodworking

To really bring out the natural hues of the woods, you want lighting that mimics the light in your home, but with some additional lighting for detail tasks.

As more homes shift to cooler lighting, shop lighting has shifted as well. Woodworkers have moved from 2700K incandescent bulbs to cooler LED’s, so look for lighting between 3500K and 4000K.

Charlie from SoloWoodworker believes that lighting is very much a personal preference, especially for woodworkers. He recommends seeing different lights in person to try to get an idea how they’ll look in your shop.

“If you can’t find a display and don’t already have a preference, 3500K is somewhat neutral and not a bad place to start. “

Color temperature for garage gym

Color temperature for a garage gym

Think about the last time you went to the gym. Was it bright or dark?

Every gym I’ve ever been to has had so many lights it feels like the treadmill is on the surface of the sun. Come to think of it, I can’t remember ever seeing a dark gym.

The reason for that is that our bodies respond better to exercise when we’re awake and alert. Good lighting helps push us and get the most out of our workouts.

Tim from GymCrafter puts it simply. If you can’t get sunshine inside your gym, you should have one overarching goal: “To use lighting that is as close to sunlight as possible in amount, direction, and color.”

That means using lighting that has a color temperature of 5000K, which is as close to the mid-day sun as possible. Avoid lighting that is either yellowish or blueish in hue because it will adversely affect your workout performance.

Color temperature for grow lights

Color temperature for a grow room

I’ll admit to being out of my element here. I jokingly say that I have a black thumb when it comes to growing any kind of vegetation.

So I turned to Johnny’s Seeds, a privately-held seed producer in Maine for their advice.

“As a general recommendation, choose a full spectrum grow light with a color temperature in the blue range (5000K – 7000K) to promote vegetative growth and choose a color temperature in the red range (3500K – 4500K) to promote fruiting and flowering.”

Conclusion

We all want our garage to be a place we can go work, play or workout. Choosing the right garage lighting can make all the difference in the world.

Its hard to get good color temperature recommendations when researching garage lighting. I wanted to know, in simple terms what the best lighting was for whatever I wanted to do with my garage.

I hope that this article makes your journey a little easier.

Once you’ve selected the right color temperature, the next step is to find the best LED shop lights. Check out my super-detailed guide to garage lighting for more tips!

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