3 Important Tips for Properly Lighting Your Artwork

 In Art & Gallery News, Articles
Artwork by Duaiv

Artwork by Duaiv

Properly lighting a work of art can make all the difference in the world when it comes to displaying it. The painting that moved you to the tears in the gallery might not have the same effect if it’s always bathed in shadow or blasted with sunlight.

Whether used for an elaborate display or just a soft and subtle highlight, lighting is meant to place your art at center stage. With proper lighting techniques, your artwork can be admired safely and optimally for years to come.

If you follow these 3 easy lighting tips, your art will always be cast in the best light possible.

1). Consider Lighting and Longevity

Artwork by Patrick Guyton

The main concern in choosing the proper lighting is determining what conditions will best preserve the artwork. Aesthetic preferences should be a secondary consideration.

Aggressive lighting choices can often cause heat and light damage, often resulting in permanent color distortion and brittleness. Follow these rules to ensure the longevity of your collection:

  • Avoid displaying artwork in direct sunlight. Ultraviolet light and infrared radiation can cause fading.
  • Don’t allow light to directly face artwork. This will protect your artwork against heat damage.
  • Avoid fluorescent lighting. It emits a high level of ultraviolet energy, which accelerates color fading and distorts the color of the artwork.

To test for potential heat damage, place your hand between the artwork and the light source. If you can feel heat from the light, the light source is likely too close.


2). Pay Attention to Different Types of Lighting

Lighting should highlight artwork by being three times brighter than the room’s ambient light.

In general, lighting for artwork should be three times brighter than the rest of the room’s lighting. This can be achieved by using the appropriate intensity or ambiance.

To ensure the artwork’s colors are portrayed accurately, seek out high CRI (Color Rendering Index) percentages in your lights. The closer they are to 100 percent, the more vibrant the colors will appear. Consider the following options when lighting artwork.

  • LED: LEDs boast a long lifespan and give off little ultraviolet radiation and heat. They are a good option if there is little space available between the art and the light source. They are available in warm and cool color temperatures.
  • Halogen: Halogen lights cast a cooler tone but generate higher levels of heat. Keep them at a safe distance from the artwork and consider UV filters.
  • Incandescent: Incandescent lights cast a comforting warm glow. That being said, traditional incandescent lighting should be avoided since it displays too much warm light. They are also comparatively inefficient when compared to LEDs.


3). Specific Mediums Often Need Specific Lighting

Lighting should be angled at 30 degrees to reduce glare. Add 5 degrees for larger frames and subtract 5 degrees to highlight textures.

When lighting artwork, the suggested angle for the light is 30 degrees. This will reduce any glare or reflectance and cover the artwork in sufficient light. To avoid casting shadows with a larger frame, add 5 degrees to the angle. To accent the texture of a painting, subtract 5 degrees.

Adjusting the angle of a light affects how the details of a painting with texture are illuminated. Artwork by Slava Ilyayev.

Oil paintings are typically textured, especially those created with a heavy impasto technique. Using direct lighting can cause different shadows or highlights to appear. If this effect isn’t desired, lighting oil paintings with a broad light ensures all details are evenly illuminated.

Placing lights at a 30-degree angle reduces the glare on artwork under glass. Artwork by Chris DeRubeis.

Watercolors, serigraphs, lithographs, and other graphic media under reflective glass can result in glare. Use the 30-degree angle techniques mentioned above to reduce this occurrence.

displaying sculptures

Notice how the difference in lighting can improve the details shown on these Nano Lopez sculptures.

Sculptures should be well-lit by three diffused light sources to highlight all details. In general, avoid lighting sculptures from directly below, but use your discretion in deciding the angles.

At the end of the day, much like art itself, aesthetic lighting is subject to the discretion and taste of each collector.




If you’re interesting in building up your own art collection—or if you’re just sick of staring at blank walls—register for our weekly live online auction.  You can contact our gallery consultants at (800) 521-9654 ext. 4 during business hours or at sales@parkwestgallery.com. They are experts at helping people find the perfect work of art.

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Showing 29 comments
  • Debbe Benware

    This was a very useful artical on protecting our valuable treasures. We choose art that we love and want to enjoy everyday. Protecting is important.

  • Burt Grant

    I am a Park West customer but also do lighting design. Your comments on LED lamp selection are correct but you missed two items. One is beam spread which would be selected based on the size of the picture and the distance from the lamp. The other is the use of framing projectors which will properly frame the picture and eliminate spill light on the wall. Just some considerations.

  • James Jansen

    We light our Max angel acrylic from the bottom using multiple leds in a wooden base.

  • Jon Domke

    I’d love to hear what other collectors use to illuminate their pieces. Since most don’t want to hire an electrician to run wires all over their ceilings in their houses, what products are they using. I assume something mounted on the ceiling and battery powered with LED. Any product suggestions or a place to look that specializes in this?

  • Lionel Dace

    Very useful and helpful.

    Thanks for the tips.

  • Dan Penkar

    Very useful article. Will save for using to protect our art and to test against the lighting we currently use.

  • Rochelle Berenbaum

    Thanks for the great tips on lighting. We will put them to good use with our lovely Park West art!!



  • Robert O'neil

    If you have lightning cans in your ceiling near where you want to light your artwork. You can take out the light bulb out and screw in a METHOD LIGHTS PICTURE ACCENT LIGHT.That just screws into the fixture.It is adjustable up and down.It can be set for warm or cool settings.And can also be adjusted so that light doesn’t light the wall around the artwork.Also you can set the intensity of the lighting plus more.They can be purchased on Amazon.Com I have three of them lighting my artwork.And they work really well

  • Edward Goss

    I have (among others) 3 prices by Daniel Walls. I have no lighting to accent these. I am certainly open to hiring an electrician and installing proper lighting. The 3 pictures are apart enough to require 3 separate “fixtures”. I am looking for recommendations. Type of bulbs, type of fixtures, etc Help me please . many thanks, Ed

  • Reply

    To hang the artwork properly you should do the right measurement as it is very necessary to take out the right measurement and mark it out as this will be easy for you by marking it out and lightly hang your artwork. Ensure that the proper art is showing and it is fitted on the wall so that if the light falls on it can be easily visible to you.

  • Taylor Bishop

    I wanted to thank you for this advice for lighting up art. It’s good to know that LEDs can be useful if there isn’t much space between the art and the light source. It sounds important to really understand the distance and space you’re working with so you know what type of lighting is ideal.

  • Ben K

    I am confused about the 30 degree lighting angle. Most other websites show 30 degrees from the ground (vertical) and 60 degrees from the ceiling (horizontal). This Park West page sows the opposite with the 30 degrees being from the ceiling (horizontal). Can you confirm for best lighting if it is 30 degrees from vertical or 30 degrees from horizontal? Also, any recommendations for a good recessed lighting fixture to use.

    – Park West Collector

  • Dennis Sheil

    We keep telling ourselves we are going to bite the bullet and have gallery type lighting installed in the house. But then we find another piece of art we like and the lighting gets put on hold. Been in this cycle for a few years now – not that it’s a bad cycle to be in. 🙂

  • Dean McLeod Photography

    I very much enjoyed reading this article, as there are many points to consider when properly lighting art.

    In an effort to help my clients when they are lighting their new luxury fine art photography prints, I have written a very comprehensive article on lighting art that clears up most of the confusion of fixture placement, bulb types, color temperatures, beam angles, fixture styles and much more. It can be found here: https://www.deanmcleodphotography.com/gallery/6-tips-to-light-your-art-like-a-pro/

    I hope that some of your readers may find it useful!

    -Dean McLeod Photography

  • Stephen Lankford

    We light our Max heavenly attendant acrylic from the base utilizing various LED’s in a wooden base.

  • Pennie Johnson

    I have a 50″ oil and have done a scale drawing using the 35 degree light angle to the center of the large painting. The results aren’t great and it raises questions. To achieve the required angle dictates the fixture at 9’high must be 6’out. I’m afraid people seated under the painting will need visors (smile). When they stand it would be worse. Surely I’m missing something here. Moving the fixture closer would eliminate that problem. In spite of the common formula of 30-35 degree angle, paintings are commonly shown with a light bar only a foot +- away from the art and that doesn’t allow the 30/35 degree angle I keep hearing about. I believe a projector light is above my pay grade. Can you help me with the apparent contradictions?

  • Pennie Johnson

    I just read another article on lighting and their diagram shows the lighting angle as taken from the center of the face of your painting to the center of your light source, the opposite of your diagram. Totally puzzled but that makes more sense to me – but I’m not a lighting guru. Could you please clarify? Also, how do you make sure the fixture will accommodate your size of your painting. One of your writers mentioned ‘cone of light. Or is it specified by the terms ‘flood’, ‘spot’ or Hm-m-m-m…. this just seems to get more complicated! Then there’s another question ……What lamps (bulbs) have that cherished 85-100 CRI? Any help would be appreciated.

  • julie shymansky

    Hi! Great article. I have an oil painting that is highlighted with Williamsburg interference oil paint. The colors change constantly with the natural lighting in the room. When I hang the painting, what is the best type of light to buy to bring out the iridescent/interference quality?

    Thanks in advance!

  • J. V. Bentley

    Have read numerous comments about lighting art, but I am surprised that no one has mentioned “rheostats” to control the brightness of the light. This control allows the user to “dim” the light on the picture and in many instances bring out other points of interest in the artwork … and certainly, in a more informal (i.e., residential) setting allow the user to diversify the ambience. Also, a rheostat on individual pieces can allow one to give varying accentuation to multiple pieces within the same room.

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