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Why LEDs are the Preferred Choice for Presenting Artwork

Why LEDs are the Preferred Choice for Presenting Artwork

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) have quickly become the preferred technology used to safely and accurately present artwork. From infrared and UV safety, cost savings, and energy efficiency we’re going to take a look at some of the reasons we feel LEDS are the best solution for increasing the enjoyment of your artwork.   

After you’ve made an investment in a piece of artwork (painting, picture, tapestry, etc.) you’ll want to ensure it’s properly displayed.  It’s not uncommon for us to receive calls from customers disappointed with the presentation of the artwork in their home relative to what they had experienced in the gallery.  The difference is all in the lighting and LEDs are the perfect companion to this presentation.

One of the principal benefits of LEDs for lighting artwork is their safety relative to legacy light sources. LEDs transmit 80% less heat than halogen bulbs, offer greater safety from UV rays which can oxidize pigments and cause other forms of damage to delicate silks, tapestries, antique pictures, and of course, paintings.

Pictured below is a painting with pigments beginning to break down and fade from exposure to heat and UV light.  Notice the lack of saturation and overly warm shift of the pigments?


Art Painting of a mother with her toddler


Another benefit of using LEDs is the small form factor of the diodes relative to legacy bulbs.  This allows us to manufacture smaller fixtures and create a more discreet presentation of your artwork when compared to traditional light sources.  This allows your artwork and not the fixture to remain the center of attention.  Halogen, fluorescent, or incandescent bulbs, are much larger and thus require much larger fixtures to accommodate them. 

A notable example of the company design possible with LEDs is the 1 light Rechargeable Micros Series, the smallest art light in the world. The compact design of the fixture allows for coverage on artwork up to 24” wide and 30” tall, while having an 1/2” diameter and only weighing 11 oz with batteries included.  The Plug-in Micro Series fixture is similar to the Rechargeable Micro Series light in size but is lighter than the Rechargeable Micro Series at only 4 oz, comes with a remote control, and has greater light intensity.  Designs like this simply were not possible prior to the prevalence of LEDs.

Another important consideration in the use of LEDs to illuminate artwork is the quality of light offered.  The Color Rendition Index is a numerical measure of a light’s ability to display all colors as they would under natural sunlight (a maximum of 100).  Lower CRI (below 90) lighting provides muted or dull representation of color, most apparent in the orange and red wavelengths of visible light.  Put another way, CRI is a measure of a light’s ability to display colors accurately and vividly. A high CRI value (90+) will provide for vibrant, and crisp colors across the full visible spectrum. Your artwork deserves to be on display. All of our lights feature 93 – 95+ CRI values.  You can delve deeper into the definition and importance of CRI on our site here: 

The directional nature of LEDs and their small form factor have enabled the development of many proprietary optical systems.  These systems improve the collection of otherwise wasted light (and electricity), its reshaping, and then the efficient redistribution depending on the size and shape of your artwork.  As an example, these systems are required for lighting tall artwork (over 35”) that few picture lighting companies employ (we are an exception). You will find that most art lighting companies do not discuss a maximum recommended height for their artwork and this similarity across most manufacturers is why! You can read more about us, our and our artwork sizing recommendations here:

While traditional bulbs emit light in 360˚, LEDs, by design emit their light directionally; most often at 120˚ prior to the application of optical systems.  This helps further reduce energy consumption as less light is wasted or trapped within reflectors and diffusers. These systems can result in losses of nearly half the generated light from traditional bulbs relative to the 90%+ efficiencies of LED optical systems. 

The expense to light a cherished piece of artwork will also be a consideration. LEDs were once more expensive than legacy light sources, but pricing for quality LEDs have dropped significantly since their mainstream adoption. The benefit of lower electrical bills and a lesser need to replace LEDs are the other cost benefits.

The following chart outlines the typical lifespans of various lighting technologies.  Typically, the important parts of a light bulb, such as the filament, weaken and fail over time, which eventually causes the bulb to burn out and fail completely.  LEDs do not “burn out” like legacy bulbs; instead, the amount of light they produce decreases gradually over time in what is called “lumen depreciation.”  Their runtimes are instead measured based on their available light output over time.  These are evaluated under the various L70 & IES LM-80 standards. 

Rated Life Chart

 In addition to the lifetime cost savings offered by LEDs they appeal to environmental concerns beyond their energy efficiency.  The manufacture of the diodes creates a negligible carbon footprint and they offer no toxic emissions as LEDs are mercury free versus CFL’s incandescent, halogen and fluorescent bulbs.

LEDs are also an exceptionally durable and reliable form of lighting – they can operate safely in colder temperatures and can withstand more impact and vibration than other light bulbs because they have no filaments or other fragile parts. Now we certainly hope your artwork is not exposed to these conditions, but it is related to our discussion of LEDs. For this reason, LEDs are often referred to as solid state lighting systems.

LEDs also have the advantage of instant illumination once turned on. Unlike CFLs, which take a few moments to warm up, LEDs operate at full brightness and consistent color temperature for instant viewing of artwork from the moment you flip the switch.

While an incandescent bulb operates by heating its filament to a temperature that produces light, an LED emits electromagnetic energy as light when electrified. By turning energy into light instead of heat (rather than using heat to generate light), LEDs can operate at a significantly lower temperature than other types of light bulbs.  In other words, filament-based bulbs create light as a by product of heat, while LEDs emit heat as a marginal by product of creating light.

What little heat LEDs do generate is dissipated through our art lights’ various heat sinks, which relatively are designed to absorb and disperse heat safely away from the diodes. While the actual fixture or base can feel warm to the touch, LEDs themselves do not emit infrared radiation in their beam, meaning they radiate(transmit) very little heat. This makes them optimal for use in heat-sensitive areas, such as displaying artwork and are less likely to cause fading or other heat damage to paints, dyes, or substrates relative to traditional lighting technologies.

In the article above we’ve covered the following benefits of LEDS:  (list all of the benefits we covered).  While not a comprehensive discussion these are many reasons most galleries and nearly all distinguished museums have transitioned to LEDs for their art lighting needs.

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