Properly lighting a painting or artwork can be a challenging and painstaking task, but it is a critical aspect that can greatly enhance its overall quality and impact. Whether you are an artist looking to highlight your work or an art enthusiast wanting to get the most out of the artwork displayed on your wall, lighting plays a crucial role.

Over the years, various techniques have been developed to light artwork and accentuate it once it is ready for display, each with its own benefits and drawbacks, highlighting the subjective and personal nature of art.

Direct Sunlight Or Natural Sunlight

Sunlight is not only the most natural and direct means of lighting but is also considered the best among all the different forms of lighting. Therefore, lighting a room or a painting can be separated into two main categories: direct sunlight and natural sunlight.

Direct sunlight is when the sun's rays reach a certain spot without obstructions or hindrances. This direct source of illumination from the sun is often considered the most coveted source of lighting for illuminating and supporting the raw beauty held within a painting.

On the other hand, natural sunlight is a softer term that refers to sunlight that has been obstructed by something, such as the clouds in the sky or the blinds of a window. This results in a subtler, softer, and more spread-out appearance, which lights a room more evenly.

Both have pros and cons when it comes to the question “how to light artwork on a wall”. Direct sunlight is best for highlighting a single painting that is the room's centerpiece. While natural sunlight often works better as a backdrop or for a room with multiple paintings.

The main disadvantage of natural light is its incapability to highlight a specific point in the room, while the opposite is true for direct light. Of course, neither one is perfect, but as a source of illumination, nothing can compare to the sun's rays.

Types of Lighting For Artwork

When a natural light source is not readily available or doesn't quite succeed in properly lighting your artwork, there are a whole host of other artificial light sources to lend a hand.

LED Lights 

LED lights are one of the most modern, efficient, and popular lighting options today. They are energy efficient, have a long bulb life, and are considered a safer option due to their low temperature. However, they lack the intensity of light as a result.

Incandescent Lighting 

Incandescent lighting is your classic light bulb. Its light source comes from a wire filament inside, which glows when heated. It works well for lighting small areas, such as around a painting, although not everyone enjoys their drab yellowish hue.

Halogen Lights 

Halogen lights are similar to incandescent lights in many regards. The major difference is the brighter intensity of their output. They also offer more color temperature. However, they have less longevity than other lighting options.

Fluorescent Lighting 

Fluorescent lights are unique in what they do. They offer more of a visual effect than any other lightbulb and normally come in tubular form. They are known as the energy-saving bulb but can be somewhat harsh on the eyes.

These are some of the most popular forms of artificial light bulbs. Each has its own benefits depending on the requirements of the artwork. However, it is crucial to keep in mind the potential of heat damage, glaring, and sufficient brightness based on how close or far they are fixed from the painting.

Practices For Lighting Art

Boy Lighting a Pipe 1623

Lighting artwork can be an art form in and of itself. For centuries now, lighting has played an important role in showcasing and strengthening the genius of an artist's work. Various lighting methods have been implemented, adapted, and altered to succeed in this aim over the years.

Until the invention of electricity, galleries, and art exhibitions had to rely almost solely on natural light, gas lamps, or candlelight as a lighting source. Since then, museums and galleries have taken full advantage of advances in electrical technology.

Solely depending on the piece of art, some of these can include spotlights at the base of a sculpture or painting or a picture light hung from above at a 30-degree angle. Several other methods were also popular, with the goal always being to add ambiance, tone, or decoration to the piece.

In recent years though, LED lighting has become the preferred mode of lighting for many galleries worldwide. As LED lights do not produce UV or IR light, they are perfect for sensitive settings such as art galleries. This can also be applied to lighting a painting in one's home.

How To Properly Light Artwork With Attached Lighting

Attached lighting is one of the best ways to answer the question “how to light artwork on a wall” and illuminate any space in general. In addition, attaching protruding lighting to a ceiling or wall greatly accentuates a room's mood, ambiance, and to a certain extent, glamor.

Regarding lighting for artwork, overhead lighting, in particular, is still used in many studios, galleries, and museums today. This is partly due to the notion that a light shining from above signifies divinity. One such lighting technique used in both painting and photography is what's known as butterfly lighting.

Placed above and pointing down, this lighting technique has been used in many famous portrait paintings and paintings of people as it focuses the light on the subject's face. Attached lighting can offer a similar focus and spotlight in a painting or sculpture.

Lighting Art With Built-In Lights

Built-in lights offer a much more intimate feel to the artwork they are showcasing and are a favorite for helping to emphasize color in paintings. This is also a preferred method of smaller art galleries for the incredible intimacy and mood it sets.Built-in lighting is also known as ambient lighting and offers an irreverent soft glow to a room. In the case of either a watercolor or oil painting reproduction, lighting the artwork on your wall with built-in lighting is a sharp choice.

Lighting Art With Ceiling Spots

Of all the methods for lighting artwork, ceiling spots are among the best. Not only do they add a sleek, professional feel to a gallery, but they can also be positioned and adjusted so that they spotlight and properly light artwork on a wall perfectly.Similar to the attached lighting, these lights primarily focus on illuminating the painting from above, resulting in a spotlight effect. This will not only make the highlighted artwork stand out tremendously but also adds an element of class and prestige that cannot be surpassed.

Lighting Art With Unattached Lights

Unattached lights are another unique and professional-looking option for properly lighting a space. These can be placed anywhere, on the floor or a table, for example, and in many cases, are wireless and lightweight.Unattached lights are one of the best ways to light artwork on your wall and bring attention to it as the room's centerpiece. Moreover, they can come in all shapes and sizes, and because they are freestanding, they can be moved and placed wherever best suited.

The Key to Lighting Art is Balance

Tom and Jerry at a Coffee Shop near the Olympic Theatre Strand Midnight

Like practically everything in life, balance is the number one ingredient in lighting. The greatest lighting consists of a fine balance between light, space, and shadow, all working together to maximize the ambiance of a painting and/or a room.

In oil painting reproductions of famous portraits, landscapes, and tree paintings, for example, artists have applied this idea of the balance of light time and time again to achieve their magnificent masterpieces.  

A professional painter or photographer will tell you that overexposure to light is one of the worst things that can happen. The same principle applies to lighting a room. If it is too bright or too dark, it will become a place you won't want to spend much time in. But, if you apply a balance of light, the positive effects will be palpable.

The Beauty Of LED Technology

LED luminary technology has quickly become the preferred lighting for many professional art galleries and museums. This artificial lighting method has become increasingly popular for displaying artwork for many reasons.

For starters, it is one of the cheapest and most energy-efficient modern lighting options. Furthermore, LED lighting can also offer a greater level of color rendering compared to other light sources.

This is important to measure how natural color is rendered under artificial light. So, the next time you find yourself in a museum looking at the artists and painters featured there, take a moment to also look at the lighting used and its amplifying effects on the artwork.


Whether it is fully appreciated or not, lighting is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the essential aspects when it comes to complimenting and promoting the beauty of a painting. Just like the lighting and shadow within the painting itself, external light also plays a significant factor. So, keep this principle in mind if you want to get the most out of your painting. Additionally, if you want to buy replicas of the most popular masterpieces of art, you can find them at 1st Art Gallery.