Effects of light on color

Colour Temperature Chart

The effect of lighting sources on the perception of colour is an important point to take into account when choosing colours.

Colour temperature is a standard method of describing colours for use in a range of situations and with different equipment. Colour temperatures are normally expressed in units called kelvins (K).

04 light effect-colour-temperature

The Effects of Lighting on Colour Perception in Art

Natural Light

Art in natural sunlight looks good but is vulnerable to ultraviolet damage. Artists love to work in natural light because it shows colours at their most vibrant. Natural light is white light, without the hints of colour found in artificial light, so colours appear true. However, displaying artwork in natural light presents one major problem: natural light contains high levels of infrared and ultraviolet (UV) rays. The same wavelengths of light that cause a sunburn also fade and deteriorate paints and textiles, so art should never be stored or displayed near a window or in direct sunlight.

Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent bulbs are not recommended for displaying art. Fluorescent light has a greenish tinge, so colours in artwork do not appear true. Like natural light, fluorescent bulbs emit strong UV rays, causing rapid fading of colours. Experts do not recommend displaying works of art under fluorescent lights for any period of time.

04 light effect-fluorescent

Incandescent Lighting

Incandescent light enhances warm colours but not cool ones. Incandescent light has a warm, yellow tint, so it enhances warm colours like red, orange and yellow in artwork. It is much less harmful than natural sunlight or fluorescent light, but it is not ideal for all works of art. Incandescent light’s warm tone detracts from work with mostly cool colours like blue, green and purple.

04 light effect-incandescent

Halogen Lighting

Halogen lights designed specifically for art may be the best lighting option. Halogen bulbs emit a strong, white light similar to natural sunlight, so colours look vibrant and true. Damaging rays are minimized, but the jury is still out on whether long-term exposure to high wattages might cause fading. However, newer halogen bulbs, designed specifically for lighting artwork, redirect damaging wavelengths. Low-watt halogen lighting is a good compromise between displaying art to its best advantage and protecting it from damage.

04 light effect-halogene

LED Lighting

Due to recent technology advances, in the last 10 years LEDs have become prime contenders for replacing the kinds of lighting museums have used for most of the 20th century. For general lighting, digitally controlled multi-chip LED systems offer many advantages such as chromaticity control, better light quality, and higher efficiency.

04 light effect-LED

“Example of the affect of light on colours”




Schubert, J. K. Kim, “Solid State Light Sources Getting Smart,” Science 308, 1274-1278 (2005).


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