Art Lighting: Seeing Your Art in the Best Light

Art lighting has unique requirements to preserve works of art and present it with true colors
Published on November 29, 2022

Last updated on April 11, 2023 2:03 pm


Choosing the right lighting for any space can be a challenge. Lighting for art can raise the stakes.  

Whether lighting an art gallery, museum, an art studio, or your living room, selecting the best lights for your work of art requires knowledge and understanding of foot-candle requirements, beam spread, color temperature and the color rendering index.

LED lighting has largely simplified the illumination of art.

Track lights offer the benefit of directional art lighting in this gallery to properly light each painting
Adjustable LED track lighting is a popular choice in galleries

1. Opt for LED lights

LED lights offer a range of benefits for lighting art:

  • Art preservation: Heat radiation from some halogen bulbs can be problematic for works of art. LEDs offer 80 percent heat reduction versus halogen, helping preserve artwork while it’s on display.
  • Reduced monthly utility costs: LED lighting consumes a fraction of the power of traditional gallery lighting and lasts up to 100,000 hours[1]
  • Improved color rendering: Patrons can view art in the truest light, seeing colors as the artist intended

2. Use High-CRI Fixtures and Select the Best Color Temperature

Natural lighting is the best light for displaying fine art. 

Sunlight has the highest CRI (Color Rendering Index), which is the measurement of a light source’s capacity to accurately reveal the various colors of an object. In other words, it’s the truest representation of the actual colors in a work of art. The next best thing to natural light is LED lighting. This is where technical factors come into play when selecting lighting in an art gallery.

Art studio lighting that complements the natural light coming through the floor to ceiling windows
LED lights in this art studio complement the natural light afforded by floor-to-ceiling windows

Color temperatures and color rendering indexes help lighting designers get as close as possible to mimicking natural lighting. White light is measured at its purest at 6500K; many artists paint with bulbs closer to 5000K, which is less “blue” or cool.  

Contrary to popular belief, sunlight is not yellow. With color temperatures ranging from 5,200 Kelvin to 6,400 Kelvin, sunlight is closer to blue.

Choose LED lighting with a color temperature range of 5,200 – 5400 Kelvin for lighting art

LED lights are typically the best option for art lighting thanks to their superior color rendering capabilities. These bulbs mimic the properties of sunlight, specifically CRI and light color temperature.

Not only that, but LED lights offer excellent longevity. Incandescent light bulbs last around 1,000 hours, but the best LED light fixtures can last up to 100,000 hours – nearly 20 years.  They also require significantly less energy, which makes them an economical choice for lowering electrical costs for a gallery. 

3. Consider Color-Tunable Lighting for Art

Color heightens and deepens the senses. 

Color-tunable lighting is a lighting technology that allows users to adjust the color temperature and intensity of light. It combines LEDs of different color temperatures into single bulbs or strips. 

Color temperature table showing the tone, atmosphere and application uses for different Kelvin temperature light fixtures
Color tuning lighting technology allows you to cycle through color temperatures and set Kelvin color temperature as desired.

Color tuning is ideal for installations where the owner of the space wants flexibility and control over lighting. The ability to alter both the hue and brightness of lighting enables art displays to be tailored for a particular piece or artist, creating more depth and impact for viewers. The result is an enhanced viewing experience: Patrons see the work as the artist intended.

Learn more about color tuning ≫

4. Understand the Benefits of Directable Lighting

The primary advantage of track lighting is the capacity to aim spotlights where needed. LED track lights also offer the benefit of retaining their proper color temperature even when dimmed. 

Track lighting or mono-point spot lights are ideal for lighting art displayed on a wall because you can direct the light at a 30-degree angle from the center point of the painting.

However, this type of LED lighting is often seen as cost-prohibitive for smaller galleries with budget concerns. The good news is that the cost of LED track lighting is becoming comparable to its halogen counterparts. So, it may be worth pricing out LED options for your client and including lifetime maintenance costs as part of the conversation.

In addition to professional track lighting, trimless adjustable LED recessed lighting is another option. Adjustable recessed lighting provides a cleaner, more high-end look, and is often preferable in low-ceiling applications.

Adjustable trimless recessed lights offer a more polished, clean approach to gallery lighting
Trimless recessed lighting can still offer the functionality of directing light while providing a cleaner look.

​​Choosing the right accent lighting for any space can be a complex decision, particularly lighting for art and other wall-mounted displays. Keep these rules of thumb in mind when selecting light fixtures:

  • LED lighting, unlike halogen lighting, does not emit heat or ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can oxidize pigments and damage rare silks, old photographs and paintings.
  • LED lights with the right specifications (high CRI+ 5000K-5300K) render artwork colors with greater accuracy, as opposed to halogen or fluorescent lighting, which tends to distort colors by adding hues and tones (usually yellow and orange).
  • Directional lights such as track lighting and adjustable recessed lighting offer the most flexibility for aiming the light at the desired art piece.

With these guidelines in mind, you can design the best lighting for a gallery, creating the right atmosphere while still allowing the art to be seen in the best light possible.

Art Lighting FAQ

What is the best lighting for artwork?

The best lighting approach for artwork is one that accurately replicates natural sunlight. Natural light is ideal for art viewing as it provides the most accurate color rendering. Keep in mind that natural light can be manipulated with curtains or shades to enhance art lighting when necessary. 

LED art gallery lighting is another excellent option for art galleries, as its superior CRI, color temperature range and longevity make it an ideal illumination solution for art displays. 

Lastly, color-tunable products provide flexibility and control over art lighting, allowing users to tailor the visual experience of each piece on display. 

Ultimately, selecting a combination of these three light sources will create an optimal art viewing experience and ensure that your artwork looks its best.

Are LED lights good for art?

LED lighting is an excellent choice for art galleries and museums because it provides superior color rendering index (CRI) compared to other light sources. The high CRI of LED art lighting ensures that colors are accurately illuminated and that art pieces are represented as intended by the artist. 

Additionally, LED art gallery lighting lasts longer than traditional options, so art galleries can save money on energy costs and reduce maintenance requirements. Plus, LED lights come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, making it easy to customize any space with the perfect solution for your artwork.

What light do artists use?

Artists typically use natural light to create art. Natural sunlight is the best source of lighting for art and provides the most accurate color rendition. 

For art viewing purposes, LED art lighting is also becoming increasingly popular due to its superior color accuracy and longevity compared to traditional lighting options. 

Color-tunable lighting offers maximum control, allowing users to customize their art viewing experience depending on their needs.

Why is lighting important in galleries?

Lighting is an essential feature in art galleries, as it can enhance the art viewing experience and bring artworks to life. Without proper lighting, art pieces can appear dull, muted or distorted. Thus, art galleries need to select the correct lighting setup for each individual artwork to accurately represent the artist’s vision. 

Additionally, lighting also has a major impact on the ambiance of a space and can set the mood for an art gallery exhibit or presentation. Art galleries and museums (not to mention your own home!) can use specific lighting solutions that will create an inviting atmosphere while bringing out all the details in the artwork on display. Ultimately, good art lighting is key in conveying both emotion and detail.

Source: [1] What is the life span of an LED bulb or light fixture? –

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[…] Good looks combined with reliability and lower cost; read more about the benefits of track lighting for displaying art in the Art of Lighting Art.  […]

[…] a lot to think about when it comes to the art of lighting art. On the technical design side, there are two main factors to consider: light color temperature, or […]

Teresa Pfiffner
5 months ago

Can you recommend lighting manufacturers for residential

5 months ago

Have a log building with sheet rock walls – need ideas of lighting art work on the walls for a gallery Friday night art shows !! With Very Tall ceiling and Log beams throughout the space.