How Can I Make Fluorescent Lighting Warmer?

While it is true that florescent lighting is energy efficient, the quality of the light emitted by tube fixtures and compact florescent lamps (CFL) is very poor. Florescent lighting produces a rather cold and often blue-tinged light that is often psychologically depressing and unflattering to skin tones, and ruins color schemes. There are several quick and easy ways you can correct these effects if replacing florescent fixtures is not possible.

Warmer Lamps

Both florescent tubes and CFL lamps are often available in several different "color temperatures." The bluest lamps are often labeled "Cool." Lamps with warmer light output will be labeled "Warm." You can sometimes purchase florescent tubes and CFLs that impart a distinct pink tone to the light. These are particularly flattering to skin tones when used in bathrooms.

Some florescent tubes come in "Natural" or "Full Spectrum" colors. These lamps will have labeling that boasts of "light like natural sunlight." While full-spectrum lamps are better than standard cool lamps, they still emit a light that is cold compared to our concept of warm sunlight. Full-spectrum light is actually whiter than "golden sunlight" and not as cheery as hoped. But full-spectrum lamps can help counteract the bad effect normal "blue" florescent lights have on colors in a room.

Modify with Gel

If you cannot find a suitable florescent lamp, modify the light coming from a covered tube fixture with a trick used by theatrical lighting designers. Simply insert a sheet of gel media inside the fixture cover lens. Gel media is a paper-thin plastic product impregnated with color, available in hundreds of colors and textures. One gel color, "Light Bastard Amber," produces a cheerful, warm light that is close to "sunlight yellow."

Manufacturers of gel media post examples of their gel colors online. You can also test gel colors yourself with a sample swatch book. Order gel online or ask a local theater group to sell you a few sheets. Gel media used in a florescent fixture should last indefinitely.

Pattern of the Lens

One of the uglier aspects of florescent tube fixtures like those found in institutional settings is that dull glowing rectangle the lights form against the ceiling. They instantly spell "institution," a design look that invokes a dreary feeling of chill. This too can be quickly modified to create a more stylish look, even if the bulb color temperature remains "cold."

Use sheets of 1/4-inch thick black foam core poster board (or two layers of standard black poster board) to create a lens mask.

Cut the black foam core to a size just slightly smaller than the fixture lens cover. Cut out geometric shapes from the poster board. Slide this mask into the fixture between the tubes and the plastic lens cover. The mask will reduce the amount of light, and the cut-out shapes will glow. Experiment with how much you want to reduce the light with different sizes and numbers of cut-out shapes. Add a layer of gel media to further boost the warmth factor.