How To Properly Light Artwork

Purchasing a stunning piece of artwork is an exciting endeavor. Any artwork that is worthy of central wall space is worthy of lighting properly. Continue reading to learn how to properly light artwork in your home or office.

How to properly light artwork
"Agave Visions" | Prestige Series | Omega Frame

Using Natural Light To Light Your Artwork

The first consideration that you will need to account for is the natural light within the room. Almost all rooms will have some form of natural light. Your artwork should be hung in a location that does not receive direct sunlight. UV light is very harmful to any type of artwork and it should be avoided at all costs whenever possible. If direct sunlight cannot be avoided, then automated blinds that open and close with the sun are the best option for preserving your artworks integrity.

NaturalLight is not always available because the sun is not always up. This means you artwork will benefit from some form of artificial light even if you have good ambient light in the day time. Don't let your precious piece of artwork go unnoticed at dinner parties due to insufficient lighting.

Lighting Artwork With Artificial Light Sources

Even if you have a room with large windows and plenty of ambient light the sun will eventually set causing your artwork to rely on artificial illumination. There’s nothing worse than watching your beautiful artwork fade into nonexistence because it is lacking proper lighting. When artwork is lit, it becomes a part of the atmosphere and creates energy within the space in which it is displayed. Lighting signifies that the art is important and worthy of discussion. When combined with dimmable main lights, artwork lighting can create the feeling of being in an art gallery. Your guests will surely notice and discuss your artwork when it is illuminated properly.

Artwork lighting
"Into Infinity" Premiere Series Framed Acrylic Print

Choosing The Best Artwork Lightbulbs

When choosing a light fixture, it’s important to take into account the type of bulb that is uses. Incandescent lights use more energy, produce heat, and put off a small amount of UV light. LED lights are the best choice for artwork because they stay relatively cool and produce almost no UV light. Using LED light will help ensure the longevity of your artwork.

The Best Color Temperature For Lighting Artwork

LED bulbs are sometimes call monochromatic because they only produce one color of light. These bulbs come in a variety of color temperatures that are measured in Kelvins. A low kelvin number (2,700 K) indicates a warm light while a high number (5000 K) indicates a cool light. 4000 K is considered neutral. The ideal bulb temperature is subjective but in most cases, you will want to avoid extremely warm and cool colored bulbs because they will add a color cast to the artwork and could be detrimental to the viewing experience. Studies have suggested that the optimal lightbulb color temperature for viewing artwork is between 3700 K - 3800K regardless of brightness.

light bulb color temperature comparison

light bulb color temperature comparison

CRI - Color Rendering Index for Artwork

Did you know that the quality of light produced by lightbulbs can vary? A cheap lightbulb may not have accurate color reproduction when compared to a more expensive bulb that is designed for artwork viewing. In fact there is a color standard for lightbulbs called the Color Rendering Index. (CRI)

This index measures the ability of a light source to reveal colors of objects in contrast to the sun. A rating of 90 and above is very good and suitable for artwork. A rating of 60-85 is suitable for general house lighting but may have some color distortions so bulbs with fall within this range are best not used for artwork.

CRI color rendering index example
CRI light quality comparison

Floodlights Vs. Spotlights

When it comes to artwork lighting, many manufactures offer a variety of options including spot light, semi-focused and flood. The type and size of the artwork you are trying to light will determine the type of light that you need. If you’re trying to light a small sculpture a spotlight will probably be your best choice. If you’re trying to light a large photograph or painting you may want to use semi-focused or flood lights to illuminate the entire surface area.

How To Angle Artwork Lighting

The best method for lighting your artwork is to light it from above at a 30 degree angle from the ceiling. This will help ensure that your viewer does not see reflections or glare when viewing the artwork. To understand this concept deeper, it is important to know how light works. Light will reflect in the exact opposite direction that is came from. That is why lighting from anywhere other than the ceiling can cause some major problems. When the light source is on the ceiling, the angle of light will cause the light to bounce towards the floor instead of into the viewer’s eye.

Now that we know our desired angle of light for our artwork we need to figure out the appropriate distance from the wall to obtain a 30 degree angle. To calculate the correct distance from the wall to install the light, multiply the distance from the ceiling to the center of the picture by 0.5774. For example, if the center of the picture is 4 feet from the ceiling, multiply 4 feet by 0.5774 to get 2.3 feet away from the wall.

Best angle of light for artwork

Best angle of light for artwork

If you have tall ceilings in your house, consider using a higher wattage bulb with a narrow beam. A 10 degree light beam will light a 30”x30” print from 20 feet high. If you have a large print you may need to use more than one light to get the job done. Consider using two lights placed off to the side of the artwork at a 45 degree angle for large pieces. This will help to reduce the chance of glare and reflection by bouncing the light away from the optimal viewing area. The 45-degree angle also helps to wash the light across the print’s surface to evenly light it instead of just hitting it and bouncing off.

Proper Artwork Lighting
"American Bison" Framed Archival Pigment Print

Types Artwork Lighting Fixtures

When it comes to lighting artwork, there’s a wide range of options but most will require hiring a contractor if your home is not already outfitted with artwork lighting.

Existing Ceiling Can Lights

If you are lucky enough to have adjustable can lights installed in your ceiling already, you may be able to harness them to lights your artwork. Before you hire a contractor to do an expensive rewire, take a look at your ceiling and see if you can direct any pre-existing ceiling can light towards your artwork. Remember that a 30-degree angle is ideal. If your can lights cannot be repositioned, consider using the ML-Direct PLUS artwork light mentioned further down in this article.

Frame Lighting

The absolute easiest way to light two-dimensional artwork is to use a light that attaches directly to the back of the artworks frame. These lights come in two options and can either be hard wired into the wall or simply plugged into an electrical outlet. The obvious advantage of a frame light is that they are easy to install with no need to deal with wiring as long as there’s an outlet nearby. The downside of frame lighting is that it can be distracting to the viewer and is not as clean of a look as ceiling mounted lighting. Non hard wired frame lights also will have a cord that hangs below the print unless there is a socket directly behind where it is hung. Situ Lighting makes a wide range of frame mounted artwork lights that are very reasonably priced.

frame mounted artwork light

frame mounted artwork light by Situ - No hardwiring required.

Track Lighting

Track lighting is the most versatile lighting system when it comes to lighting artwork. It can also provide some of the most beautiful light since there are many different bulb options. Track lighting comes in a variety of styles that will fit in with the décor of any home. One of the biggest benefits of track lighting is that it allows you to perfectly place the lights in the position that you need. The track system will also allow you to move the light fixtures if you decide to change your artwork later on. If your budget allows for it, installing track lighting will produce the best artwork viewing experience.

If you do not already have track lighting installed in your home, you’ll need to hire a certified election to install it for you. Hiring an electrician can be expensive but the final results are often worth the investment.

It's important to note that track lighting utilizes there different types of light bulbs. When purchasing an artwork bulb make sure that the base of the bulb matched the socket in your track lighting.

Types of Track Lighting Bulbs

Types of Track Lighting Bulbs

Battery Powered Ceiling Artwork Lights

Sometimes hardwiring new fixtures into your home or office is out of the question. In this scenario, a high-quality battery powered light might be your best option. Method Lights manufactures an attractive ceiling mounted fixture that requires absolutely no hardwiring and comes with a high-capacity rechargeable battery. The ML-200 Plus - Wireless Picture Light fixture can be operated by remote and can be programmed to a specific color temperature ranging from 2700 K to 7000 K. The light fixture can be dimmed to match the lighting of the room and can be programmed to turn on or off at a specific time.

Battery operated artwork light

Light Socket Artwork Light

The ML-Direct PLUS by Method Lights allows homeowners to produce high quality angled light from any traditional light socket in their house. This artwork lighting solution is perhaps the easiest option for folks who do not have track lighting and do not want to deal with rewiring their existing lighting. The ML-Direct PLUS could be a good solution If you have a light socket near your artwork.

Artwork lighting solutions

Final Thoughts

A properly lit pice of artwork can radiate through a room whereas an insufficiently lit piece or artwork can get lost or go unnoticed. If you're going to invest money in original artwork or a limited edition print do yourself a favor and invest in proper artwork lighting.

Every home will have it's own set of lighting challenges but when budget and infrastructure allow for it, track lighting will often lend itself to the best artwork viewing experience. Consider purchasing dimmable fixtures and lights so your art with match or just outshine the rest of the room lights.

Thanks for reading!

How to light artwork
"Halfdome, Full Moon" In Roma Tabacchino Frame - Dark Ash