6 Tips To Light Your Art Like A Pro

Once you've made the decision to invest in a beautiful luxury fine art print that you absolutely love, it is important to know that there is one last step involved that will really make your new art piece get the attention it deserves- and that is to give it proper lighting. Correctly illuminating art is essential for showing off the amazing detail, colors, and three-dimensionality that make it so amazing. You have to make the choice as to whether you are content with the natural light in the room or if you will illuminate your new print to maximize it's potential.

Remember that when they are properly lit, many premium-quality print materials have reactive properties that make them come alive with a glowing response that almost makes them appear back-lit. Adding this extra accent lighting will put your new art piece at the center stage so it commands attention as a breathtaking focal point in the room. Below is an easy step-by-step guide for you to light your art like a pro.

Winter Wonderland
'Three Sisters', Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Limited Edition of 50.

1. First, what to avoid

The first and most important thing is to make sure that you never place your art on a wall that receives direct sunlight. Even with the UV protection built into the acrylic or laminate on your photograph, sunlight contains infrared radiation and ultraviolet light which will damage and fade your print. Avoid direct sunlight at all costs.

Placing warm accent lights too close to your print can also cause heat damage. Put your hand in front of the print with your lights turned on; if you can feel any heat, those bulbs are too close.

Finally, never use fluorescent lighting. These bulbs not only emit a lot of ultraviolet light which can fade the print, but the color of the light distorts the natural colors in your photograph, making them appear unnatural.

2. Light bulbs- the good, the bad and the ugly

As mentioned above, it is not recommended to use fluorescent lighting for artwork, as it can damage your print and cause the colors to look unnatural and even ugly.

Halogen lighting came on to the scene many years ago and was very popular for all types of ambient or accent lighting in your home. But although halogen bulbs do a good job of replicating the color of natural sunlight and will make your art look great, there is a problem. It's the heat. These bulbs can damage artwork, are inefficient, and are no longer the best choice for our application.

With today's technology when it comes to lighting, it seems as though there is an endless stream of choices out there for many applications. But thankfully when it comes to lighting art, there is one choice that stands above the rest- LED bulbs. These are simply the best for lighting art. They are energy efficient and produce very little heat.

3. Understanding light bulbs

There are four important terms to understand when purchasing bulbs to light up your art, but they are easy to understand. Have a look and you'll be well on your way.

1. BULB TYPE. This includes common bulbs such as fluorescent, incandescent, LED, and halogen. LED stands for 'light-emitting diode' and is by far the best for your artwork. They are energy efficient, produce very little heat, and are available in a wide range of color temperatures and CRI ratings. Try to get dimmable bulbs for more control later on.

2. COLOR TEMPERATURE. This is a way to describe the appearance of the light provided by a bulb. It is measured in Degrees Kelvin (K) on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000. In a typical residential home, most common bulbs range in temperature from about 2000K to 6500K.

Bulbs in the 2000K to 3000K range have an 'amber' or 'warm white' appearance. Bulbs in the 3100K to 4500K range have a more neutral white color and are often referred to as 'cool white' or 'bright white'. Finally, bulbs in the 4600K to 6500K range produce a very crisp light that even has a bluish tint to it.

3. COLOR RENDERING INDEX. Also known as 'CRI', this is a different scale ranging from 0–100 that measures how accurately a light source renders color and intensity, as compared with a natural source, like sunlight. Basically, the higher the CRI number, the better the colors will appear in your artwork. A CRI of 85 is good, 90 is even better and 95 or higher is just plain awesome!

4. BEAM ANGLE. This is the set angle of the beam or 'cone of light' coming from the bulb, measured in degrees. The larger the number of degrees, the wider the light beam. Terms like 'spot' or 'flood' along with numbers like 10, 25, 36, 50, etc. are often used to describe the beam angle and are sometimes printed on the box. Most bulbs can be purchased in a variety of beam angles depending on your needs, but we will get to that later. Also, this term is not to be confused with the fixture angle, which you will learn about below.

These examples show how the color temperature of the bulbs has a dramatic effect on how your fine art will look. The middle photo looks the most natural.

4. Where to install your light fixture

Museums and galleries around the world agree that when illuminating art on your wall, it will look it's best if the fixture(s) are angled at approximately 30 degrees from vertical. The reason for this is twofold; it will help to prevent the viewer from seeing the reflection of the light bulbs on the shiny surface of the artwork, and it will also prevent casting a shadow of your own head on the art when you art standing in front of it.

Of course, in order to maintain the 30° fixture angle with different ceiling heights, you will need to install the light fixture at varying distances from the wall. Hanging the art on your wall such that the very center of it is approximately eye-height (or 5 feet 6 inches off the floor) is a good place to start.

As this may not always be possible, and you are hanging it HIGHER, then you would install the light fixture SLIGHTLY CLOSER to the wall. Conversely, if you are hanging the art SLIGHTLY LOWER, then you would install the fixture SLIGHTLY FURTHER from the wall. The diagram below explains this theory.

This diagram gives you the wall-to-fixture distances for ceilings from 8 to 12 feet. If your ceiling is higher, simply increase the distance from the wall by approximately 7 inches for each foot of height.

5. The basics of light fixtures

There is a vast array of lighting fixture styles available today that are able to illuminate your new artwork, and the choices can be dizzying. Rest assured, we can break them down into four basic categories, which may assist you in deciding what is right for your space.

1. Picture lights. These are the decorative fixture style that you may have seen in a museum, attached to the wall, or even onto the frame of a painting. Remember that they need a power source, so they will need to be either hard-wired to your wall or plugged into a nearby outlet with a cord.

2. Wall washers. These are fixtures that can be mounted to a ceiling, wall, or even the floor to cast a large volume of light over the entire wall, rather than shining a focused beam in one particular area. If you are not concerned with targeting your artwork directly, and just prefer to place it on a well-lit wall, this is always an option.

3. Track lighting. Small tracks of varying lengths can be installed on your ceiling, after which one or more fixtures are attached to the track. This is probably the most versatile setup for lighting art, as the fixtures can be angled in almost any direction, offering a lot of flexibility. Also, some of the newer designs are much more attractive than they used to be, making them an excellent option.

4. Ceiling mounted lights. These fixtures can be mounted on the surface or recessed into the ceiling for a flush, discreet look. You'll want a style that can be aimed to provide light in the direction that you need it. These are probably the most labor-intensive to install, as you'll often be cutting into your ceiling drywall to place them, and once they are there, may not be as versatile if you choose to move your art or change your mind later. But for a sleek look, they are hard to beat.

6. Choosing the correct beam angle

Now that you have your artwork hung on the wall at the correct height, and installed your light fixture(s) at the right distance from the wall and pointed them down at 30 degrees towards the middle of your art piece, we have one final step- and that is to purchase your new bulbs with the proper beam angle. As we said previously, this is the set angle of the beam or 'cone of light' coming from the bulb, measured in degrees.

In terms of the beam angle, there are two basic factors that will determine which bulbs are the right ones for your space; the distance of the bulbs to the artwork, and the size of the artwork. For example, if you held a very narrow-beamed bulb in your hand and walked right up close to your artwork, it would cast a very small 'cone of light'. Now if you slowly stepped back further and further away from the wall, that same cone of light will get bigger and bigger.

Next, the size of the artwork will determine which beam angles are best, as well as how many fixtures are necessary to evenly illuminate your artwork. For example, if your art piece is perfectly square, you may be able to light it quite evenly with just one fixture. But if your art piece is landscape oriented, portrait-oriented, or even a panoramic style, you will need at least two or maybe even three fixtures to light it evenly edge to edge.

As you can see, the beam angle for the bulbs you will need is really a matter of trial and error. So try purchasing a small variety of bulbs with different beam angles, keep your receipts, give them a try and return the ones that don't work. Studying the images below will show just what this means.

In each of the photos above, the angle of the light fixtures has not changed. Only the bulbs, with narrower or wider beam angles, have been changed. Generally, your artwork will look it's best if it is illuminated softly and evenly, edge to edge, without too much light spilling onto the wall.

In summary

Now that you are an expert on lighting, here is a summary of points to remember before you tackle your new lighting project.

1. ALWAYS hire a qualified professional when installing those new fixtures. Working with electricity is dangerous.

2. As for the bulbs you purchase, make sure they are LEDs with a color temperature of approximately 2700K to 4000K. Look for the highest CRI rating you can find, make sure they are dimmable and experiment with the beam angles.

3. Many light fixtures are designed to accept only certain types of bulbs. Before you purchase fixtures, BE SURE that the bulbs you purchase are compatible with them.

4. If you are choosing ceiling mounted light fixtures (either surface mounted or flush mounted), BE SURE that once installed, you are able to aim them down near that 30-degree angle that you are targeting. Some fixtures cannot be aimed, depending on the design.

5. Consider adding a dimmer switch to those new lights while you're at it (this is why you need dimmable bulbs). It will give you much more control over the brightness of your artwork and the ambiance of the room. And, if you already have some ceiling lights in the room for general illumination, you can also swap out that standard on/off switch for a dimmer at the same time at a reasonable cost. Make sure your old bulbs are dimmable too, but if not, it's not that much trouble to change them. Having full control over all of your room lighting with dimmer switches can create an amazing atmosphere, putting your new fine art print at center stage.

Making it all easy

It only stands to reason that with all of the recent technological advancements in LED lighting, there are many companies that manufacture world-class fixtures and bulbs that make it simple for the consumer to achieve gallery-quality lighting in their home.

Lumicrest Professional LED Lighting, a Canadian company, make a wide variety of high CRI dimmable LED bulbs in a variety of sizes, color temperatures, and beam angles, found HERE. My personal favorite is the Pro Series Adjustable Lens Par 30, with a CRI of 98 and a continuously adjustable beam angle from 15-degree spot to 60-degree flood with a twist of the wrist, seen HERE. They also retail a variety of integrated track light fixtures, track systems, and dimmers for one-stop shopping.

A New York company called Tailored Lighting, Inc. are the manufacturers of the ColorView LED Artlight®, which is an amazing track light fixture with a highly advanced bulb featuring a temperature of 3150K, a CRI of 94 and a continuously adjustable beam angle from 12 degrees to 60 degrees. For the ultimate in flexibility, this light is hard to beat. You can read about them HERE.

Another company worth checking out is SORAA, a California company manufacturing world-class LED bulbs for a variety of applications. They have a nice lineup of dimmable, high CRI bulbs in a variety of temperatures and beam angles, seen HERE. These bulbs are available online from a variety of bulb dealers. To see these SORAA bulbs in action, you can click HERE to read a humorous but insightful blog post all about them from Kyle Neuberger, founder of Franklin Arts.

Finally, it would be wise to consult with an expert to be sure that any of these bulbs will be compatible with your light fixture of choice.

Now let's get to work and light up those beautiful works of art!