There are plenty of picture lights available from DIY sheds and high street department stores but this review concentrates on suppliers and manufacturers who make luminaires designed to do the job properly. A strip of LEDs in a shiny brass tube is not a picture light!
Of course, the reason to use a picture light is to make the image stand out by making it brighter (having a higher luminance) than the background. If the wall already receives a medium to high level of illumination, then you will need the picture light to produce more light than an equivalent location in a darker room or gallery.
This may sound obvious but it is surprising how many picture lights don’t actually highlight the picture. Worst of all are those picture lights that just produce a hot spot of illumination and leave the areas next to the borders dim.
Most picture lights can be individually dimmed. This is useful where you have pale and dark pictures adjacent to each other and you want them to appear equally bright. Thus, the whole room can be dimmed whilst retaining the comparative brightness of the pictures.
An aspect that is sometimes forgotten is that the luminaire, itself, needs to look attractive. No-one cares very much about the appearance of an industrial highbay. Besides, they are usually seen from a distance.
On the other hand, a picture light is often seen close up and is generally in attractive surroundings – that’s why the pictures are there. Check that the size and appearance does not direct attention from the pictures. Recessed luminaires are ideal in this respect.
There are also some technical aspects to consider, colour rendering being the obvious one. You also need to make sure that the beam is similar in width to your picture. Too narrow and the picture has a bright blob in the middle, too wide and the wall becomes as bright as the picture thus defeating the purpose of the picture light in the first place.
Think about the height of the picture. It is pretty much inevitable, due to the Cosine Law, that the top of the picture is brighter than the bottom. However, a good reflector and optical system will minimise the effect. Most picture lights allow you to adjust the tilt of the beam.
Always look at the edge of the beam. Some poor-quality luminaires exhibit what is called colour over angle which is where the LED module/reflector system does not fully mix the light at source. This has the effect that different colours are seen at the edge of the beam. The result of this on the lit object is known as colour fringing.
When reviewing these picture lights, we shone them on a sheet of matt white paper. This highlighted the smallest imperfection in the beam in terms of variations of colour or intensity. These may not be noticeable under normal conditions.
The Clarus is a design classic which has been winning awards since its launch 40 years ago. The key is the absolute simplicity of its appearance. Just two, slender 6mm diameter arms in a semi-circular arc have an almost seamless connection to the 14 mm diameter linear light source. There is little to distract you from the picture it is illuminating.
The quality of the metallic and paint finishes is excellent and there is a choice of 3000K with a colour rendering of Ra 94 or a warm 2400K with Ra80.
The light source enclosing tube can be rotated over a wide angle to suit different heights of picture. However, the small diameter of the tube means that you need to take care with the aiming to avoid a direct view of the LEDs.
The sideways spread is very wide and, personally, I would prefer it to be narrower.
The Clarus has a touch dimmer so you can easily adjust the brightness of each individual luminaire.
The Tide is a wall washer suitable for surface, track or recessed mounting. There are three beam distributions but for lighting a mural, you would choose the asymmetric version.
Maybe the most noticeable aspect is that it is so small. The surface mount version projects just 17 mm down from the ceiling and, being painted matt white, it is almost totally invisible. The LEDs are only 5 mm apart and so the beam is very uniform laterally.
As you would expect from a wall washer, as opposed to a picture light, the sideways distribution is very wide. The benefit is that you can illuminate a wide wall with very few fittings but the corollary is that you could not highlight an individual picture. This aspect applies to any wall-washer-type luminaire.
The single 600mm wide unit is rated at 27W delivering approximately 2,000 lumens or 40W delivering approximately 2,600 lumens. It is available in 3000K and 4000K with a colour rendering, Ra93.
Rather than being used as a stand-alone unit, the Tide works best in combination with the renowned Beacon Muse spotlight. The two together mean that you could light any combination of pictures and artefacts on just about any size of wall.
Palco is the name for a huge range of display luminaires. There are 2W spotlights 19mm diameter all the way up to 31W and 142mm diameter. You can have fixed, adjustable and framing optics with a mains or low voltage supply. There is something in the Palco range to suit any application.
The particular one we looked at is 122mm diameter and 30W. The 3000K version has a CRI >95. Other colour temperatures have a lower CRI. There is a rotary manual dimmer on the rear of the spotlight.
It has a particularly nice beam and this is due to the deep reflector with a myriad tiny facets. There is no colour fringing and the beam has a soft edge.
Mike Stoane Lighting
Mike Stoane luminaires are known for being finely engineered and this is picture light is no exception. A useful feature of this unit is that the LED head can be tilted +/- 18 degrees and so it can accommodate pictures of different heights.
The LEDs are mounted very close together and so the uniformity across the picture is excellent.
The lit width of the head can be 400, 600 or 800mm and these have the option of 1,500 lumens or 2,700 lumens output per metre. The colour rendering, CRI, is >90 for the 2700K, 3000K and 4000K versions. 5000K and 6000K are also available with a slightly lower CRI.
Raylight only makes luminaires for fine art. The Optima picture light works best in conjunction with the Powerail suspension system. This is a really thick brass rail which both acts as a 24V dc conductor and also as a suspension for the pictures.
The luminaire itself has high-power LEDs typically spaced at 150mm centres. These are mounted on an inner tiltable rail. The standard unit is 3000K and Ra95.
If you are illuminating several pictures, a useful feature of the Optima is that each luminaire has an individual 16 position dimmer set via dip switches. These are much less likely to be accidentally altered than a rotary knob. The benefit is that you can dim all the pictures together via the rail circuit.
Picture lights may look similar but it is the details that count. The design of the Goodwood has been carefully considered so that, for example, the hood has an inner louvre blade. Coupled with the rotating hood and run of LEDs, it means you can achieve a sharp cut-off both at the top and bottom of the picture. During installation or removals, the light can easily be removed from the picture and the driver from the mains.
The Goodwood has excellent colour rendering with a CRI >95 and has a strong red component, R9, of 97. What this means is that the colours on the picture are rendered really vividly.
Another feature that I liked is that the LEDs are located high in the hood. This has the benefit of minimising sideways spill light on to the wall. It also reduces the chance of the LEDs being seen.
Supersystem Integral wallwasher
This luminaire is better described as a mural light rather than a picture light. It forms part of the huge Supersystem range which has been specifically designed for art galleries, retail and hospitality applications.
The performance of this unit shows the benefits of proper optical engineering. Although it is recessed, the light on the wall reaches from the floor right to the ceiling. Most recessed luminaires produce an unlit area near the top of the wall. There is no glare or scatter. No colour fringing or uneven striations; just even light all the way.
The effect is achieved with a free-form reflector in combination with a lensed cover so that there is no direct light on to the wall. But forget the tech, it just works terrifically well.
It is worth mentioning that there is a neat little tool on the website called the VPI (Vertical Planar Illumination). It shows the lit effect of different spotlights and wall washers on the picture and wall.
- See the latest picture and mural lights at the LuxLive 2019 exhibition. The show takes place at ExCeL London on Wednesday 13 November and Thursday 14 November 2019. Entry is free if you pre-register. For more info, click HERE