Museum Lighting Guidelines
Lighting is an integral part of museum design. An effective lighting scheme can enhance a visitor’s experience and enjoyment, ensuring that artefacts and exhibits of all shapes and sizes are illuminated clearly. The right lighting will also make sure that visitors can find their way around the space, that signage is clearly visible and information panels are easy to read.
Museums often feature a series of rooms or spaces, grouping the museum display by timeline, geographic locations or style of exhibits. As well as being functional, a museum lighting scheme can help to create ambience, adding interest and atmosphere.
There are some key areas to pay particular attention to when planning museum lighting. A successful museum lighting scheme should consider all the different ways that items can be presented, from items mounted on the walls or large objects on plinths, to small, intricate pieces inside display cabinets. Museums frequently host special or temporary exhibitions, so museum lighting fixtures should also keep in mind how the space might need to be altered in the future, as exhibitions change.
This variety of display techniques and the broad range of items on display calls for a mixture of different lighting fixtures, from ceiling mounted track lighting to small cabinet lights on poles. Art museum lights will typically concentrate on wall displays. Choosing dimmable fixtures with adjustable beam angles allows the lighting technique to be tailored to the item on display. A costume on a mannequin may be best displayed using a wide beam angle to create a pool of light, whereas the detail of a small item of jewellery will benefit from a narrow and focused beam.
Museums often take visitors on a journey through a period of time or to a specific location or historic event. Lighting can enhance this storytelling. One way to do this is through the choice of lux levels, to select whether areas will be dimly or more brightly lit. The lux level refers to the intensity of light. Whilst the lumen output of lighting refers to the overall amount of light, the lux level depends on the area that light is spread over. A 1000 lumen light spread over one square metre will be much more intense that the same light spread over 10 square metres.
Blending light levels can help to add interest or draw attention to specific areas. This can also be aided by choosing dimmable fixtures, which it can be useful to group for easier control. Colour temperature is another variable which will affect the feel of the space. A warm colour temperature, around 3000K, is softer and creates a more relaxed ambience. A cool white colour temperature, around 5000K, is closer to daylight and aids focus and concentration.
Track lighting can provide a very customisable solution as it can cover a range of these lighting techniques. Track lights can be placed exactly where needed and easily adjusted as and when exhibitions change. Track can be recessed, if required, to keep the ceiling clear and uncluttered. Track lighting in cabinets can also be recessed, into a box above the cabinet.
The quality of museum lights is important. Chip on board (COB) LEDs provide high quality light, are highly energy efficient and have a long lifespan which minimises any maintenance requirements. LED lighting with an excellent CRI (colour rendering index) should be selected for museum spaces, where it’s important that colours are rendered at their most vibrant.
Unlike halogens or metal halides, new museum lights using LEDs are full spectrum lights, which won’t cause any damage to sensitive museum artifacts. LEDs also generate very little heat, which is useful in a temperature sensitive environment.
Track lighting is a customisable option which is ideal for lighting paintings. Track should ideally be mounted a metre from the wall and the artwork medium, as well as properties such as colour, tone, size and shape should all be considered when selecting the appropriate track lighting head. Lighting an oil painting on canvas can require a different approach to a photograph mounted behind glass. We can help advise on how to tailor the best solution.
For Picture Frames
Some track lights will allow you to closely frame the artwork for impact, others will give a broader wash effect. Tightly framing artwork can produce a more striking display, particularly in a dimly lit space.
Cabinet Light Series
Museums often display small items inside cabinets. Display cabinets can range in size and orientation, either portrait or landscape. The contents of a cabinet may range from jewellery to bones, or pieces of pottery.
It is difficult to effectively illuminate items inside a cabinet by using lights fixed outside the glass. We offer a range of lights which can be fitted inside a cabinet, ensuring each item is well lit and allowing small details to be seen clearly.
Our mini 1W and 3W track lights are available in a range of colour temperatures and a choice of beam angle. These sit inside a display cabinet and can be rotated through 355°, and tilted up and down through 90°. There are versions with a snoot, which creates an oval beam rather than the standard circular beam, or a zoom. All options have a CRI of 95 for excellent colour rendering. These mini track fixtures are available in a black or white finish and are dimmable.
An alternative to mounting these lights on track is to opt for our Pole Up lights. These feature the same lighting heads but mounted onto a 275mm slim upright pole. Pole Up lights can be positioned around a display cabinet for a straightforward solution where you don’t want or can’t use track, such as for open-top cabinets.
L’Art Series (Track Lighting / Spotlights)
L’Art is our specialist art gallery lighting product range which is also highly suited to museums. We have five types of light in the range which can be used to highlight freestanding items as well as wall hung pieces of art. L’Art was designed with the requirements of galleries in mind.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why indirect lighting in museum?
Museums tend to be darker spaces and they don’t have light everywhere, but rather use light to focus attention on the exhibits. Ambient light is often cast towards the ceiling, so the background lighting effect is softer. This also prevents light glaring off any glass cabinets or display panels.