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With the temperature in Austin dancing around the freezing point, I remember as a child asking my mother what color icicles were? Some times they looked white. Some times they looked a little blue or a little green or a little red. I remember a moment on a very cold day when we opened the door from our house that was buzzing with the sound of the heat running and watched amazed as frost in the shape of intricate ice fans quickly cascaded across the glass door. As they did, I told my mother the color of each ice formation. Not wanting to squelch my enthusiasm, my mother didn’t mention to me that the ice was merely reflecting the colors around it.

stones color rendering index

stones color rendering index

Now that I design with light, I often have the opportunity to discuss the color of light with my customers. We often talk about the Color Rendering Index or CRI. As defined by Wikipedia, the Color Rendering Index is the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of various objects faithfully in comparison with an ideal or natural light source. So, think about looking at a white marble wall during the day. What colors would you see? In addition to white, you would likely see sparkles of silver and shades of gray. If you looked at a wooden fence during the day, you would see the apparent color of the fence but you would also see subtle color variations related to the primary color.

Color of wood color rendering index CRI

Color of wood color rendering index CRI

Now envision looking at that same white marble or brown wooden fence at night. We might expect that the white marble would appear gray and the dark brown wood of the fence would look dark gray or nearly black. That is a function of the color rendering index. The ability of the light source to represent the color as it would with a natural light source such as the light of day depends on the quality of the artificial light source which is the light bulb.

Color of trees - color rendering index CRI

Color of trees - color rendering index CRI

Often when we go on lighting demonstrations and the homeowner has existing outdoor lighting that they know they want to replace, we talk about and show them things like the yellow of the light they are using. The goal of good outdoor lighting should be to faithfully render the color of the item as it would look during the day or with a natural light source. Look at the pictures you see here. If you look at the picture of this tree, you can see the true green of the leaves that you would expect to see during the day. You can also see various other shades of green. This light (our light) has a very high CRI because it faithfully renders the colors you would see in natural light.

Another thing you want to look for with outdoor lighting is the ability to see nuances such as flat patterns and depth. Can you see the knots in the wood? Can you see the subtle elevations of a stamped concrete?

Michael Wynn, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives

Michael Wynn, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives

The quartz halogen bulbs we use with our outdoor lighting has a tremendously high CRI. Take a look at your outdoor lighting if you have some. Examine the colors of the items that are being illuminated. Are they gray? Are they yellow? Do they render faithfully?

Michael

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives

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