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Three color swatches on a gray wall.

Warm vs Cool Colors – Everything You Need To Know

If you plan on painting your home exterior or interior, you are probably racking your brain to decide what color to pick. It’s a big decision because the color of any room or home exterior can radically affect the tone of the space. Not only do you need to consider the hue, but you need to consider things like the shade, tint, and color temperature. 

Today we will explain color temperature and compare warm vs cool colors to see which is best for your home environment. 

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What is Color Temperature?

Color temperature is typically used to reference the quality of light, but it can also be used to judge the qualities of individual colors. Color temperature measures the value of a given color/light source through a numerical value. 

A chart showing color temperature.
Original image from Wikipedia.

That probably sounds confusing, but it’s actually pretty simple. Color temperature is measured on a Kelvin scale, and the higher the color temperature, the bluer it will appear. The lower the number is, the more yellow and orange it will appear. 

However, the numerical value does not directly determine whether a color is warm or cool. That moniker is determined by the hue the color skews toward. For example, 10,000 Kelvin (K) is pure blue. However, even though 10,000K is higher on the Kelvin scale, it is a cooler color. On the flip side, the lower a number is on the Kelvin scale, the warmer (more orange) it will be. 

Warm vs Cool Colors – Why Does It Matter?

A chart from Studio Binder showcasing color temperature and warm vs cool colors.

It may seem like a subtle difference, but color temperature can greatly affect the mood of a room. Warmer colors tend to feel more stimulating. They are great for spaces with a lot of activity, like offices and living rooms. They are also great in predominantly cool spaces for a pop of contrast.  

Cool colors, on the other hand, are very calming. They are ideal for bedrooms and other relaxing and inviting spaces. Cool colors, particularly as they lean closer to white, have an almost sterile quality. That makes them great for kitchens and bathrooms where you want the space to look and feel clean. 

These are important qualities to consider when you are selecting colors for your home. 

Your Light Fixtures Matter Too

You also need to consider the light source hitting the surface (including any daylight through the windows). The light source and its color temperature will dramatically affect the quality of the paint color. Everything from the time of day and the direction of the room can affect whether the paint will be hit my morning or evening daylight. This is another thing to consider when you’re thinking about color: “What type of daylight will be hitting it regularly when I can see it?”

Then there is the artificial light in the house. Regular incandescent lightbulbs give off a warm light, which will make warm colors more vibrant while desaturating cool colors. LED lights have a wide range of color temperatures from warm to cool, and many of them have adjustable light modes. 

Things get even more complicated when you factor in RGB lighting for mood lighting or PC gaming setups. If you have a more complex setup like this, you will definitely want to get a sample swatch and test it under these lights to see how it looks. 

Warm Vs Cool Colors for Painted Walls

To showcase the differences lighting can make, here are some sample swatches we tested under different lighting conditions. You can see the difference for yourself.

For this test, we chose Sherwin Williams Banana 6673 Cream for a slightly warm color, Sherwin Williams 9147 Favorite Jeans for a cool color, and Sherwin Williams 9170 Acier for a neutral gray. Here are the results.

Daylight

These were all taken under a halogen light with daylight coming through the windows. It’s interesting to note how the color sample also affects how you see the wall around it.

Daylight LED

It’s more of the same with the daylight LED. These photos are the closest to the “natural” color of the samples.

Warm LED

Under a warm LED, the Acier looks more or less the same. But the Favorite Jeans is desaturated where the Banana Cream is a bit more vibrant.

Cool LED

And it’s the opposite story here. The Favorite Jeans has a bit more pop whereas the Banana Cream is duller.

Blue LED

Under the colored LED conditions, things become more noticeable. The blue pigment really pops in the Favorite Jeans, whereas Banana Cream is almost entirely washed out.

Green LED

The same is true of this warmer green color. The yellow has been overtaken by the green color, but its far more vibrant than the now almost gray Favorite Jeans.

Violet LED

The blue in the Favorite Jeans gets a boost from the violet LEd, where the Banana Cream is almost lifeless.

Red LED

Under the red LED, the Bananan Cream is highly saturated and basically orange, whereas Favorite Jeans looks almost gray.

What About Exterior Colors?

It still ultimately comes down to preference, but we think warmer colors are best for exteriors. Daylight leans much cooler for most of the day, except when the sun is about to set. That means that cooler colors will look bluer in daylight than it really is. Warmer colors will be slightly desaturated during the day but will be closer to their true color. 

Warmer colors that are more muted and neutral are consistently the best choices for home exteriors, especially if you plan on selling in the future. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take risks! Heritage Custom Painting offers complementary virtual renderings for our clients so they can visualize how a color will look on their home before they commit to it. 

How Do You Find the Right Color?

Heritage Custom Painting offers complimentary color consulting for all of our clients. Our on-staff color consultant will understand your needs, show you the benefits of warm vs cool colors, and give recommendations based on what you need and want for your home. And the high-quality paints we use will retain their luster and color for years to come.


If you’re ready to get a jump on your home interior or exterior project, fill out the form below to get a free estimate from Heritage Custom Painting. We are proud to assist our clients and find the right color, and we can help you fall in love with your home again too. Get your free quote today, because our 2022 calendar is filling fast. 

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