Lighting Your Art #2: Enter The Wonder Bulb

A Literal Bright Idea:
Regular halogens  are low-voltage bulbs that last longer and are more energy efficient than incandescents.


You may already be familiar with the small MR16’s commonly used in modern track lighting. Though they generate a lot of heat, designers love these because the color of the light is almost pure white.

They are much better behaved than fluorescents in terms of degree of UV and infrared rays they throw off, but not entirely innocent in this regard either. Until now, that is. A low watt halogen-based bulb has come on the market in recent years which redirects damaging UV and infrared rays of light out the back of the fixture, thereby rendering them harmless to any art or object in line for illumination. It offers full spectrum light that is amazing close to natural daylight.

Mixed bag. The best lighting solution will come from mixing the light from a regular low-voltage incandescent to bring out the yellows and reds in the artworks and the new and improved low watt halogen based bulb to render the cool green/blue end of the spectrum.

This combo will do the most complete job of bringing out all the intended colors and shades in any artwork.

A bulb is only as useful as the fixture directing the beam. Picture lights from yesteryear were a gesture but not much of a solution. They tended to cause glare and to light top the frame, while leaving the rest of the picture in shadow. Clearly, this is not the most effective way to display fine art.

There are three basic types of fixtures that use low-voltage bulbs suitable for lighting artwork:
  • Picture lights – perhaps the most familiar art lighting solution, their performance has been improved. They hang directly on the frame or might be attached to the wall just above the piece.
  • Track lights – these have movable fixtures that hang on a track attached to the ceiling or high on a wall.
  • Recessed lights – designed to be flush with the ceiling, they are the most discreet but understandably the most expensive option.

Each of the basic three categories has fixtures specifically designed for different tasks. Wall washers are a good example of this. Available in track or recessed lighting they provide even lighting from floor to ceiling.

This is a good overall solution if you like to switch out your art from time to time.

Options that do tricks. With adjustable track and recessed lights there are also a variety of attachments to alter the light pattern such as diffusers that will soften and spread out the light and louvers that help to minimize glare. There is even an interesting device called a framing projector, which has four shutters to create a four-sided beam that can be adjusted to the exact dimensions of any picture or painting.

Spot lighting can’t be more specific than this.

Next Time: Lighting Your Art Part 3: Think Like A Lighting Master

Related Posts

(Lighting Your Art Three Part Series)

Lighting Your Art #1: Seen In The Best Light

Lighting Your Art #3: Think Like A Lighting Master


The original version of this article was published on It’s represented here as a foundation for further topic discussion and updates.

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