What colour is white? How designers see it.

When you think white, what you see in your mind might not match what you see. As designers often find, one person's idea of white can be different to others'. The differences can be caused by a number of factors.

What is pure white?

White is the lightest colour your eyes can possibly see. Light is made up of three components, red, green and blue. White is what your eye sees when light is brighter than the surroundings and has the red, green, and blue in exactly equal shares. It has no shading or greyness and no hint of any colour. Yet what we actually perceive is effected by everything from the brightness of the surroundings to the source of light. For instance, whether we are outdoors in bright sunshine or inside at night under 30 watt light bulb, the same white will look different.


Colour temperature of light in Kelvin

White paint and light

When we view a white painted shutter under a low pressure light bulb it will actually look a pale creamy yellow. Whereas if we were to turn on a halogen bulb lamp it would look white. Different light sources can be measured by their "temperature", which runs on a scale of degrees Kelvin (K) from low to high. Not to be confused with the temperature of the air, the colour temperature of a light source doesn't change with the weather. As we move up the scale of K temperature of each light source, the colour hue changes, from shades of warm red and yellow, through crisp clear white, to blue.

The next chart shows the K temperature of different lights. It is ordered by the CRI value, which is an ascending measure of brightness. Depending on the type of light a white shutter is viewed under, the same white could look a different hue of colour and shade of grey.

Lights from lowest colour temperature 1800K & least bright -44

light colour index chart

light colour index chart

A white shutter viewed under a traditional low pressure light bulb of 1800K will appear a pale pinkish hue and because it's a dim light slightly dull or grey. When lit by a "warm-white" flourescent tube at a higher 2940K, it will appear slightly yellowy cream. And viewed under a "cool-white" 4230K flourescent tube, it will have a bright white and bluish hue, approaching how it would appear in daylight.

White paint hues and changing fashions

Over the years we've seen different white paints come in and out of fashion:
80s Antique White
90s White Opal
90s Antique White USA
2000s Hog Bristle
Today Natural White and the blue hued Lexicon are the popular choices.

When choosing a white paint for your project, consider if the shutters are going to be viewed indoors or out, with warm or cool lighting. Also consider how it will fit in with the surrounding surfaces, paint and materials, are they warm or cool hues of colour? View your swatches of shades and hues of white under the light conditions that the finished shutter will be installed. Then you'll know what to expect when your shutter is installed.

A paint manufacturer's range of white shades


White shutters installed by Luigi Rosselli Architects, viewed in daylight

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