How to Light Artwork on a Wall

When it comes to wall art, lighting can make all the difference! Choosing an appropriate lighting fixture can give your wall art the perfect spotlight it needs to stand out. The type of bulb and the temperature of its light will also make a differencebright, white lights can add a more modern, gallery-like aesthetic to your home while warmer, more yellow lights can provide a cozy, intimate feel. How you display the artwork on the wall can complement and elevate your design scheme while ensuring the artworks colors stay vivid over time.


[Edit]Choosing a Light Fixture

  1. Install track lighting for flexibility and a modern, industrial look. Track lights can slide along the installation beam, which is useful if you regularly change your art display or decide to move your art pieces around on the same wall. You'll need to consider the height of your ceiling before you install the track lighting to ensure the light hits the artwork at a 30-degree angle.[1]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 1.jpg
    • If your ceilings are high, install the track away from the wall where the art is hanging.
    • For a ceiling high, the track should be away from the wall.
    • For a ceiling high, place the track away from the wall.
  2. Use a wall washer with multiple bulbs to evenly illuminate a large piece. A wall washer is a long strip of several small lights in a single unit. Washers are great for lighting wall art because each bulb ensures even light is projected onto the piece. You can either mount them from the ceiling near where it meets the wall or from the wall itself about to above the top of the artwork.[2]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 2.jpg
    • Wall washers mounted from the ceiling directly above the artwork are ideal for lighting artwork with lots of texture.
    • If you want to use recessed washers in the ceiling, take the height into count. For example, if you have ceilings, mount the washing fixture to away from the wall so the light hits the artwork at a 30-degree angle.
  3. Mount a picture light on top of art frames for an intimate viewing experience. Picture lights can be more inviting and cozy, which is ideal for a small den or family room. They typically use low-wattage lamps that will invite you to stand closer to the piece to look at it. A picture light wont work if the art doesnt have a sturdy frame that you can attach it to.[3]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 3.jpg
    • If you're a renter, this is a great option because it doesn't require cutting or drilling holes in the ceiling.
    • Note that some picture lamps have cords, so you'll need an outlet nearby. Other types require batteries (typically AAA-size) that you'll need to replace as necessary.
    • The shade size of the picture-light lamp should be at least 1/2 the width of the artwork (e.g., do not use a picture lamp thats less than long for a painting thats wide.[4]

[Edit]Selecting the Bulb Type and Temperature

  1. Mimic a professional gallery with bright, white halogen lights. Most art galleries and museums use halogen lights because of their high color rendering index (CRI), which is a number that determines how correctly a light brings out the true color of an object. Halogen lights typically score the highest with a CRI of 95 to 100.[5]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 4.jpg
    • One downside to halogen bulbs is that they get extremely hot, so its important to keep them away from flammable materials and the painting itself.
    • Halogen bulbs have an average lifespan of 2,000 hours, so youll need to replace them more often depending on how long you leave them on each day.
    • Halogen bulbs are a great choice if you plan to install track lighting because it will be far enough from the painting to provide a spotlight and not so close that the heat might damage the painting.
  2. Use LED bulbs to showcase oil paintings while using less energy. Many galleries use LED bulbs because they emit a diffused, more uniform light that wont cause uneven streaks and highlights on oil paintings. Theyre the most energy-efficient bulb and last 10,000 to 25,000 hours (the longest lifespan of any type of bulb).[6]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 5.jpg
    • LED lights come in a variety of temperatures from warm white light to cool white and daylight.
    • Consider using a dimmable LED bulb if you like the flexibility of highlighting or lowlighting your artwork.
  3. Choose an incandescent bulb for a warm, yellow light. Incandescent bulbs will highlight the red, yellow, gold, and orange tones in an art piece, which can also create a flattering contrast for blues and greens. Theyre perfect for accenting artwork in a cozy bedroom, den, or dining room.[7]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 6.jpg
    • Incandescent bulbs typically come in 60, 70, or 100-watt varieties, so choose a wattage thats higher than the other bulbs in the room to make the art piece pop.
    • A disadvantage is that incandescent bulbs arent considered environmentally friendlythey produce a lot of heat (decreasing their already-short lifespan of 750 to 1,000 hours) and emit carbon dioxide.
  4. Flatter cool-toned artwork with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. CFL bulbs are the more energy-efficient version of traditional fluorescent and incandescent lightsa 23-watt CFL bulb will emit the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb. The light tends to be on the cooler side, which is perfect if you have paintings with a lot of cool colors like green, blue, and purple.[8]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 7.jpg
    • While they can be more expensive than regular fluorescent bulbs, theyll last about 9,000 hours.
    • CFL bulbs also come in low color temperature ranges that emit warmer, yellowish light that flatters paintings with warm colors (red, orange, and yellow hues).
    • A disadvantage of CFL bulbs is that they have a relatively low CRI compared to other bulbs (50 to 90), meaning it wont render the colors as true as theyre meant to be.
    • Note that CFL bulbs emit a small number of UV rays, so its best to only use CFL bulbs with art thats framed with UV-filtering plexiglass.
  5. Pick a color temperature that complements the colors of the artwork. The color temperature of the bulb is reported in Kelvins. Look at the painting and assess whether you want to highlight the warm or cool tones (that is, red, yellow, and orange hues versus gree, blue, and purple tones). Look at the bulb's package to determine it's Kelvin value.[9]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 8.jpg
    • A low range (2700 to 3000K) emit a warmer light much like incandescent bulbs and will enhance red and yellow tones. Cool colors might look a little dull under this type of light.
    • Higher values (3500 to 6500K) give off a brighter, white light that will bring out blues and greens in the artwork. At a very high level, reds, yellows, and oranges might look slightly distorted.

[Edit]Displaying Artwork

  1. Place the artwork on a wall that isnt exposed to sunlight. Sunlight can cause colors to dull over time, so hang your artwork on an interior wall that doesnt get any sunlight throughout the day. If this isnt an option, use curtains to protect your artwork from the strong morning and afternoon light.[10]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 9.jpg
    • Another option is to frame the artwork with UV-filtering acrylic plexiglass instead of regular glass.
    • For unframed paintings, purchase UV-protecting varnish from any art supply store and spray it onto the painting.
  2. Adjust the light so it hits the art at a 30-degree angle. Whether youre using recessed pendants or surface-mounted lights, the light should hit the artwork at a 30-degree angle. Increase the angle to 35 degrees to highlight any textural aspects of the artjust dont go over a 45-degree angle because it will cause a distracting glare either from the frames glass or the from the artworks varnish.[11]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 10.jpg
    • Lighting a piece from a 10-degree angle is too close and may end up casting shadows onto the art.
    • If youre using a picture light, choose one that sticks out a little from the painting so its not being lit from directly overhead. However, feel free to break the 30-degree rule if you like the look of direct overhead lighting on a particular piece of art.
  3. Hang artwork at eye level or from the center to the floor. Galleries and museums abide by this rule because its the most comfortable viewing angle for most people. Use a tape measure and pencil to mark a spot from the floor. Hold the painting up to the wall to determine where exactly you need to hang it so that point meets the center of the painting.[12]
    Light Artwork on a Wall Step 11.jpg
    • Note that you will not be putting the nail into the center markingyoull need to make a hole higher on the wall depending on the length of the wire hanger.
    • If youre hanging artwork over a couch, the bottom of the painting should be to above the back of the couch.
    • However, feel free to break this rule as you like by leaning a tall painting against the wall, hanging a small painting over a doorway, or hanging it higher to create the illusion of tall ceilings.[13]


  • If you have different types of bulbs, screw each one into a lamp and point them at the painting to see which type you like best.


  • If you want to install track lights, wall washers, or recessed lights, its best to hire an electrician to install it for you.