3 Tips for Lighting Art

Artwork by Duaiv at Park West Gallery.

Properly lighting a work of art can make all the difference creating a dynamic home gallery.

Whether used for an elaborate display or as 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.

Follow these easy lighting tips to cast your artwork in the best light.


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.


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.


Lighting for Specific Mediums

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.

For tips on displaying art, learn 3 Simple Rules for Hanging Art, how to display sculptures, or discover how Park West Gallery collectors display their art.

14 Responses to 3 Tips for Lighting Art

  1. Debbe Benware says:

    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.

  2. Burt Grant says:

    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.

  3. James Jansen says:

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

  4. Jon Domke says:

    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?

  5. Lionel Dace says:

    Very useful and helpful.

    Thanks for the tips.

  6. Dan Penkar says:

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

  7. Rochelle Berenbaum says:

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

  8. HOWARD WALLEN says:


  9. Robert O'neil says:

    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

  10. Edward Goss says:

    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

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