Colors that Jump Off the Wall: How LEDs Make Art Look its Best

 In Art Galleries & Museums, Interior, Track Lighting

Artists choose their colors with care, layering and mixing paints to achieve just the right look for their artworks. To experience the finished art as the artist intended it, the painting needs to be lit well.

In the past, the lighting options tended to be either too heavy on warm colors (incandescent and halogen) or overemphasize cool colors (fluorescent and HID). All light sources had color sacrifices built in and there was no way to get perfect color rendering.

On top of the color limitations, traditional light sources emit sizeable amounts of damaging UV rays. To preserve the artworks from effects of the UV rays, galleries would dim the lights. So, art patrons would see the art in darkened rooms. Incandescent and halogen lamps glow warmer as they are dimmed, exacerbating the color situation with an even stronger emphasis on warm colors in the art.

Now, those limitations are gone, and LED lighting can provide outstanding color rendering. Plus, LEDs emit a miniscule fraction of UV rays that legacy light sources do, so galleries can illuminate their spaces much brighter with LEDs, further improving the viewing experience.

“LEDs can provide a uniform output of light that covers different spectrums and by doing so, the color rendering abilities of the lights is increased significantly,” said Carlos Alonso-Niemeyer, principal at Reflex Lighting, Amerlux’s manufacturer’s rep for the northeast.

“LED technology renders colors with better vivacity. Imagine walking through a gallery and seeing paintings literally popping out because the color is more vibrant. This was very complicated and expensive to do in the past, but it’s very simple now with LEDs. A CRI of 90 really enhances the art and the colors jump out immediately,” continued Alonso-Niemeyer.

Until LEDs were developed, halogen lamps were the standard for color rendering. Except, they weren’t very good. They cast a warm hue over everything, especially whites and cooler-toned colors.

The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is one of the scales that measures how colors appear under a given light. Quality LEDs have CRI ratings of more than 90 for full saturation of color. With high CRI ratings like that, whites are white, reds are red, and blues are blue. Art seems to jump off the walls in LED-lit galleries.

Aside from the brilliant color rendering LEDs deliver, a further advantage is the lack of UV emissions. Over time, UV rays from lights gradually burn away at the materials—kind of like what would happen if you held a magnifying glass between the sun and a leaf. All lights emit some UV rays, but LEDs emit such a tiny amount that they are safe to use with fragile works of art without needing to dim the lights or positioning them far away from the art.

When the Queens Museum in New York City upgraded from halogen lamps to a state-of-the-art LED track lighting system, they found immediate improvement in how they could light their exhibits. Curator Larissa Harris said under the new LEDs, “The light levels were more appropriate so that the works could be seen more accurately. They were lit brighter than before [with the halogen lights] and looked better.”

LEDs help art galleries and museums showcase their exhibits in the best light. Show your art in the best light – learn more!

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