So if you’re kind of new to flashlights you’ll notice when you try to buy a light many times you’ll have the option of cool white or neutral white or warm white light.
Scientifically there is a color spectrum of white color.
In this article, we’re going to go over the differences between light with a cool tint versus a light with a neutral tint.
If you go to buy a new light bulb for your house you’ll notice there are lots of different color tints the one you normally don’t see is neutral white. But, in the flashlight world, neutral white shows up quite a bit.
I know we just want a pure white but what does that even mean? Is pure white what the sun puts out or is is just a colorless bright white? Do you want range and brightness or great color accuracy?
Cool White vs Neutral White on the white spectrum
Here are a couple definitions that we have to get out of the way first.
Correlated Color temperature (CCT): according to Cree the correlated color temperature is it scientifically formalized measurement that idealizes if you had a perfect blackbody radiator the color that would come out at certain degrees Kelvin temperature. This going back to incandescent light bulbs where a filament was being heated to produce light.
Color rendering index (CRI): rendering index is how close colors look to the color they actually are when a certain light is on them. Getting an accurate color reproduction is more important in some functions like photography and fashion as opposed to hunting.
Luminous flux (Lumens): luminous flux or lumens is the total light output from a light source.
A couple questions we get all the time are:
What is the difference between cool white and neutral white?
So according to Cree technically any LED that has a color temperature range of 3500 to 4000 Kelvin color is considered neutral white and any LED that puts off between 4500 and 5500 Kelvin in color is considered cool white light and will have a slight blue tint. The third one that we aren’t talking about here is warm white light which is any LED that puts off between 2700 and 3000 Kelvin.
These numbers are called correlated color temperature (CCT). Comes from back in the day when incandescent lights heated up a filament to produce light. In an idealized filament, the amount of heat (Kelvin) would always be a certain color of light.
This is how the idea of heat has become a reference point for color even tough LEDs do not put off much heat.
Is cool white brighter than neutral white?
Yes, for the same LED type an LED labeled cool white will have higher lumens than an LED labeled neutral white.
Now the science behind LEDs shows that there are dependencies and junctions between the Luminous Flux (Lumens) or brightness of an LED and chromaticity or CCT.
It shows that as flux decreases (less lumens) then the CCT decreases (less kelvin color) which matches up lower brightness levels with warm light temperature colors. Also as flux increases CCT increases which matches brighter light with cooler tints or bluer-looking light.
What is the color temperature of cool white?
The way that Cree labels LEDs a cool white LED is one that is between 4500 and 5500 Kelvin and the light color can come off as blue white. Many would consider this a brighter, clearer light.
What is the color temperature of neutral white?
The way the Cree labels LEDs in neutral white LED is one that is between 3500 to 4000 Kelvin and the light color can come off a little orange or yellow tint. If you want something more in the orange to red tints then you would fo for warm white.
Why would you pick cool white over neutral white?
The reason you might want to pick a cool white light over a neutral light LED is that a cool light gives off more brightness or in other words these flashlights have higher lumens with the same amount of power.
Another reason, on top of higher lumens, the bluish light stands out more to the human eye.
So if you really just need to see far away and the up-close color rendition does not matter then you will want the extra punch of the cool tint lights.
Why would you pick neutral white over cool white?
The reason you would want to pick neutral white light over cool tint has to do with something called the color rendering index or CRI.
The CRI is a rating between 0 and 100 that describes how the human eyes see the color of an object with that light on it. If you are doing something where the color that you see is important then you would want good color accuracy.
Where cool white LEDs are typically around 75 percent CRI Neutral white LEDs can be anywhere between 80 2 mid-90s CRI. What this means is that when you shine the light on something it’ll look like it’s the same color as you normally see it as without too much color tint.
When you shine a cool bright white light on a white surface it’ll have a blue coloring to it and anything you shine that light on it will be a slightly bluer tint than it actually is.
When you shine a neutral white light on something it’ll be the colors closer to what you actually see during the day.
Final Thought, Which One Do You Want?
It’s really up to you, personal preference, and you have to decide whether or not you care more about light being bright or if you care more about a light giving off a more realistic color.
Sometimes neutral LEDs are called natural white since they make things look a little more natural.
We also compare cool white and warm white here.
What kind of beam tint do you want?
For instance, right now I’m looking at a flashlight it has two LED options 1 is around 6000k and the other around 4000k.
If you get the LEDs that are 6000k you can go up to 2000 lumens but if you get the LEDs that are 4000k you only get up to 1500 lumens so a 25% reduction in lumens but, 1500 lumens is still a lot and the color that you see out of it will look way more realistic.
Now this does not mean that color temperature and CRI are exactly the same thing.
It just means that typically a certain color temperature values have higher CRI by default.
But, CRI is still a separate metric that can be optimized for. Some of the top brands in regards to CRI are Nichia, Samsung, Osram, and Luminus
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