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Retail Light Sources and Color: 5 Things you Need to Know

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Datacolor Ebook: Fundamentals of Color
Consider these two scenarios:

  1. A customer finds the perfect blue sweater and purchases a matching jacket. But when they return home and take the sweater and jacket out of the bag, now the colors look very different.
  2. A company’s design and color teams agree on the perfect shade of green for next season’s collection. But when that collection shows up in stores, some of the pieces appear to be a completely different shade of green.

In both cases, use of the wrong light sources when the garments were being developed may be to blame. But it is not always a simple matter to ensure that everyone uses the same lighting to evaluate color, so a basic understanding about the naming of lighting is helpful for anyone tasked with managing the color of their products.

Read More: Why Visual Color Evaluation Is So Subjective

Lighting Basics Part 1: Understanding Color Temperature

When it comes to lighting choices, there are a lot of different brand and model names out there, but there’s one thing that will be consistent from one lighting brand to the next: color temperature.

Color temperature (expressed in degrees Kelvin, e.g. 6500K) is a convenient way to group lighting into similar color families.  The lower the color temperature of the light source, the warmer or redder the source will be. The higher the color temperature, the cooler or bluer it will be.

One important note: Fluorescent light sources have been used in retail lighting environments for a long time, and they have historically been assigned generic names instead of color temperatures. But now, fluorescent light sources are also assigned a color temperature. So, if you do need to go by name, below are their corresponding color temperatures:

  • CWF: 4150K
  • WWF: TL83, U30: 3000K
  • TL84: 4100K
  • TL835, SPX35, U35: 3500K

Lighting Basics Part 2: Light Sources Defined

There are a range of lighting products available today, and most produce light energy by one of the following methods:

  1. Incandescent and Tungsten Filament: A tungsten filament glows when electricity is passed through it. This used to be what you’d find in most homes. The downside? It generates a lot of wasted energy, so many have been discontinued. Now there are more and more compact fluorescents and LED lamps in homes. Also in this category are quartz halogen lamps, which have special characteristics that give them a more uniform output over time. They’re used when a yellowish to red source is required
  2. Fluorescent: Fluorescent light sources produce light when electrical energy is applied to a glass tube containing mercury together with fluorescent compounds called “phosphors”. By adjusting the types of phosphors in the lamp, lighting manufacturers can produce fluorescent tubes in a variety of styles and color temperatures.
  3. LED: Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have been used in electronics for over 50 years, but it wasn’t until the relatively recent introduction of white LEDs that they have become increasingly important in retail and consumer lighting. LEDs offer significantly improved energy efficiency compared to other types of lighting and are becoming the light source of choice for many retail, office and home environments. To ensure a positive consumer experience when products are viewed in LED lighting, it is essential that product color is developed and evaluated in comparable LED viewing conditions.
  4. Ultra-Violet: Ultra-violet (UV) light energy is not visible to the human eye but is present in natural daylight. UV energy is used to excite optical brightening agents (OBAs) and fluorescent dyes and pigments within a sample, causing them to emit visible light. The “extra” visible light makes white materials appear whiter and brighter than they would without the OBAs, and fluorescent colors exhibit the classic “neon” affect.

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Now that we’ve covered the basics, stay tuned for our next post where we’ll talk about the key stakeholders to involve in the process, how to build an implementation plan, and how to make a final decision on implementation.

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