Best Lighting Techniques For Acrylic Prints Wall Art
It’s a question we get a lot. My acrylic print is beautiful but how can I light it to make it pop even more.. to make it look its best? It’s a great question without a simple answer, so it’s worth an article to look at all the ways to illuminate that art on acrylic!
Light is such an important part of the equation of getting the most from your acrylic print. The reason for that is that light refracts within the acrylic creating an almost backlit appearance if it’s able to receive an abundance of light. This is a significant advantage of traditional framing using glass where the light just simply passes through.
We have had a few customers initially disappointed that their acrylic print isn’t as lively as they were hoping when initially removing it from the box. However, once they get it in decent natural light or under some good LED art lighting, it truly comes to life, especially with the metallic paper giving it a little extra pop. Acrylic prints provide the most vibrancy and dimension of all the photo presentation methods available, but it needs good lighting just as all art does.
So where to begin? What’s the best way to get the most out of my acrylic print or gallery wall of prints? We’ll look at all the options in this article from easy/less expensive to more difficult/expensive and options in between. Before you get started though take your acrylic print into different rooms and display it with different light sources to see what you like best. Take it outside and look at it under true natural light. This allows you to get a sense of what temperature of light you prefer and how much of it you need.
Make use of the existing light/light sockets in the room.
This is going to be the best option for many people buying an acrylic print. Take a look at the location where the acrylic will be hung and really get a sense of the lighting throughout the day. Is there a lot of natural light during the day? At night do you have enough lighting near the print to help illuminate it? If neither of these is true, maybe an acrylic print isn’t the best choice for artwork in that location especially if you don’t want to spend the money to illuminate it. Move the print around your home to get a sense of which lighting looks the best. Perhaps it fits better in another part of your home! If that’s not possible, you’re not stuck! There are options to use both the existing light socket and some wireless art lighting options as well.
NOTE: We aren’t getting any commission from Method Lights or Amazon for this recommendation. We were looking at distributing their product in the past so can vouch for the support and quality. Read all the Amazon reviews and consider calling them on the phone. It’s been a few years since we last reached out to them so see if you can get a human on the phone to answer your questions.
Don’t rewire it, just get a new bulb to bring your art to life! There have been terrific advances in LED technology in the past few years and some terrific products are coming from Method Lights. We have not done extensive testing of the products, but have played with them a bit in the past and have spoken to the USA-based company about the products. You can read the reviews of the product on Amazon as well which are generally very good.
Assuming you have a light socket somewhat near the acrylic print, how about giving an adjustable LED art light a try? No wiring is needed, and it’s built specifically to illuminate your art with many options around color temperature, beam angles, etc. You can even program it to come on and turn off at certain times. Check it out on Amazon.
Have a recessed can nearby? Consider switching to an adjustable LED made for artwork. This obviously isn’t as easy as the Method Light option, but it’s definitely another good option to consider! It’s a fairly simple conversion, but for many, it likely requires an electrician. At least you won’t have to create a new recessed can in the ceiling, and if the adjustable LED is fairly close to the artwork, it would allow you to get good lighting on it. Here are some adjustable, LED recessed cans with a CRI score of 95 (more on that later) at Build.com.
If you don’t have good natural light in the room and/or want to light it up at night and don’t have a light source nearby, the next suggestion is to consider a wireless art lighting option. It’s important to know that the cost varies widely from an option from Method Lights running around $300 all the way down to the $20-$50 range for competing cheaper made products.
Method Lights produces their lights in China like everyone else, but they are based in the USA and offer support and a 3 yr guarantee. They were the original wireless art lighting manufacturer before knock-off versions arrived on Amazon and offer far more customizing for true art light than the competing products. For example, the ML 200 can adjust the color temperature within a wide range (2700K – 7000K) and has a CRI rating of 95+. What the heck are color temperature and CRI you ask? We’ll get into all that below!
Use a picture light.
We’re not a huge fan of these, but in some cases, it can be a great option for smaller prints 30″ and below since you can use a wireless option. For larger pictures, you’ll likely need a plugin or hard-wired option.
In our opinion, it kind of takes away from the art when you have a light looming over the top of it, but it’s an option, so we include it here! There are some higher-end, modern looking, more discreet lights out there on the market which does look quite nice.
There are so many brands and so many options we can’t make a recommendation here other than you definitely want to use LED lights and probably want it rechargeable/cordless. One high quality USA made brand in this space is Situ Lighting, and they have a couple of rechargeable options. For larger photos, you can get multi-light units from Situ, but you’ll need to plug it in.
Of course, there are lots of China made products on Amazon you can explore, just don’t expect them to last a long time or have the same quality of light. From a color perspective, you’ll want to get at least 2700k-3000k on the color temperature and a CRI of at least 90+ If the light doesn’t discuss the CRI rating then it’s probably not worth considering as a quality art light.
NOTE: If you’re the type that wants the best of the best and doesn’t mind plugging it in or hard-wiring it, check out the art lighting from Revelite. They can make any custom dimension for you, and it’s all done in California. It comes at a high cost though… over $1k to light up a print 36×24″ or larger.
Install gallery quality art track lighting.
The last option is the most professional way to light up your art but probably only worth it if you have a very large print at 60″ or larger, a gallery wall consisting of many art prints and/or moving prints around on the wall(s). It’s more work to set up initially and may require an electrician, but well worth it over the long run in terms of flexibility of lighting locations, hassle-free-ness (gotta/should be a word) (aka no charging), and possibly higher quality lighting sources. If you’re doing a remodel or building a new home, it’s definitely worth it to consider wiring for art lighting since it will be far less expensive. The wireless options are fantastic for getting set up quickly, but batteries do lose their charge over time and require consistent charging depending on how often it’s used.
Track lighting for art can be a complex endeavor especially if you don’t know where to begin. Outside of paying attention to the important lighting parameters below such as CRI we don’t have any specific recommendations here and don’t want to get into all the options available since they are many, but we want to steer you in the right direction!
What direction you go largely depends on your budget. From various cheaper options at Amazon and Wayfair to custom solutions offered by USA-based small businesses with in-house lighting experts, you can spend a little to a small fortune. One brand we see mentioned quite a bit is Solux out of Rochester, NY which makes bulbs specifically for art lighting and various hardware options depending on the art and setting. Another NY company that is mentioned a lot in art lighting circles is WAC, and their products are sold just about everywhere. They also have a nice art lighting guide and offer consultations to potential customers. We also came across a small business in Brooklyn, NY called Banno Lighting which offers a really nice guide on track lighting and a free consultation.
What To Look For In A Light
Go With LED
Halogen art lighting is still used today, but LED lights are increasingly being used, and it likely won’t be long before LED is used 100% due to a big reduction in heat and damaging UV rays while increasing efficiency. With the upfront costs decreasing and the LED technology getting better and better each year, it becomes a near no-brainer to go with LED.
Color Rendering Index (CRI)
A score of 1-100 measures the ability of a light source to accurately reproduce the colors of the object it illuminates with a score of 100 representing natural sunlight. It’s recommended to use a bulb with a score of 90 or higher and the closer to 100 you get the more vibrant and accurate the colors will be. The best art lighting bulbs will be 94 and higher.
Color Temperature (Kelvin)
Measured in degrees Kelvin with lower numbers (typically 2000-3000K) representing warmer light (think yellow/orange) and higher numbers (above 4500K) emitting more blue light. This one is fairly subjective and depends on personal preference but the closer to neutral, the better for your art prints. The recommendations for art lighting really span the spectrum, but you’ll see most recommendations in the 3000-5000k range.
What the heck is R9? We’re going down the rabbit hole a bit here in terms of lighting, and not all bulbs will even display an R9 score but just know it’s related to how well a bulb displays the color red. Why is red so important? It’s important because many parts of an image that don’t appear red are a combination of colors including red such as in skin tones. Without quality, accurate art lighting skin tones can make people appear too pale or even green. You also don’t want that beautiful reddish sunset to appear dull! If the light you’re considering getting discusses the R9 score, you know it’s a quality light made for art!
Mathematically, R9 is far more difficult to achieve a high score compared to the other R values that comprise the CRI calculations and is far more sensitive to spectral variations. Therefore, an R9 score of 50 or above would be considered “good” while an R9 score of 90 or above would be considered “excellent.”
You will therefore find that most lighting products available in the market will rarely specify the R9 value, and when they do, rarely will they guarantee anything higher than 50. Even at Waveform Lighting, we specify R9 > 80 or R9 > 90 and are unable to guarantee anything higher than R9 > 95 due to this sensitivity.
Most common angles are 10, 25, and 36 degrees, and the beam angle needed will depend on how large the print is and how far away your light source.
Some Fine Art Lighting Do’s & Don’ts
Shine at 30 degrees.
A 30-degree light angle helps avoid glare in the art as well as keep shadowing from the art to a minimum.
Avoid sustained direct sunlight.
Natural light can be a great source of light during the day, but be sure to avoid consistent direct sunlight over several years as it can increase the possibility of fading colors over time. Our acrylic prints are unlikely to fade even in direct sunlight since there is UV protection in the ink as well as the acrylic itself (standard acrylic has 75% UV protection while premium Trulife acrylic has 99% UV protection). Our other mounted inkjet prints will hold very well as well (ie dibond, birch, bamboo, etc). You do have to be a LOT more careful with Chromaluxe metal prints since that is a dye-sublimated product that can fade far easier. They may only last 2-5 years in lots of direct sunlight.
Shopping: Build.com has the absolute best site for searching for lighting since you can filter by color temp, CRI, beam spread, etc. It’s fantastic. For example, here’s a link to their adjustable LED recessed can lighting with CRI scores of 95. You’ll see only WAC lights in there at $110. If you want more options expand the search to include CRI 90 and above.
5 Tips From An Art Lighting Expert
Architectural Digest: How To Light Artwork In Your Home
Photographer Dean McLeod: How to Light Fine Art Prints Like A Pro
Lighting Tips From Photographer Scott Smorra
If you don’t have an acrylic print to light up, be sure to check out our detailed buy guide on how to get the best acrylic print! You don’t want to light up a lemon!