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How to Choose Picture Lighting

We often get questions about how to select the right lighting for artwork and pictures. From deciding on the type of picture light to figuring out the proportionate size, we’re breaking down the basics to help you choose the best fixture for your artwork.

What size picture light do I need?

As a general guideline, the picture should be at least half of the width of the frame you are illuminating. For example, if your frame is 20 inches wide, choose a picture light that has a width of 10 inches. This guideline applies to pictures up to 30 inches wide only. For a 60” picture, choose a light that is 40”, or about two thirds of the frame.

Frame Width

Picture Light Width

12 to 18 inches

16 to 24 inches

25 to 37 inches

Over 35 inches

6 to 9 inches

8 to 12 inches

12 to 18 inches

18+ inches

What types of picture lights are available?

You have a few options when it comes to the type of picture light. Popular choices include wall-mounted lights, ceiling-mounted spot lights, or clamp on lights. Below is an example of each type. Which type you choose will depend on your personal style preference and the look you want to achieve.

Wall-mounted

Ceiling-mounted

Clamp on

Wall-mounted picture lights are typically installed directly above the frame of the picture. This is a good choice if you have high ceilings, as you will need to leave enough wall space for the light to be installed. These picture lights will have an arm that extends from the wall to shine light on the picture. Since wall-mounted picture lights are situated very close to the art itself, it draws special attention to the piece, inviting guests to take a closer look.

Ceiling-mounted lights are a great option when wall space is limited. Spot lights can be adjusted to shine directly onto the picture. The WAC Lighting Vector LED Spot Light is a great option for this application. Track lighting also lets you adjust the direction of the light, and allows you to light up the entire picture or even multiple pictures. This is a great option for galleries or collections of artwork. Recessed lighting is another option for illuminating displays, although they don’t have the same flexibility as track lights.

As a general guideline, ceiling-mounted lights should be installed so that the light beam is aimed at the center of the picture when the fixture is adjusted to a 30-degree angle. Following this general rule will help avoid shadows and glares.

Clamp on picture lights get attached to the picture or frame, not the wall or ceiling. The light will then arc out over the picture to shine light from the front. This type tends to be the least expensive option.

Choose from one of the above types based on your personal style preferences. Every piece of artwork is unique - so it is ultimately up to you to decide the best way to illuminate it.

What color picture light should I choose?

If possible, try and match the picture light finish to the finish of the frame. Otherwise you can choose a color that pairs nicely with the color of the walls or wallpaper. Picture lights come in a variety of finishes, including chrome, gold, brass, bronze and black.

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