Light Your Way to a Better Studio

Full Spectrum LightingAsk any studio artist who works with physical media on a daily basis (such as painters and sculptors) and they will tell you the ideal art studio will have skylights or large, north-facing windows or both. Why? Light of course, and its by far the best quality light – clean, white, illuminating objects so they reflect their true, natural colors. Studio artists are not alone. Visual design industries such as interior design, printing and photography for example have long known the benefits of natural light for judging, proofing and illuminating color.

Good news! Great light for everyone!

Assuming big, north-facing windows aren’t a possibility, studios obviously have to employ artificial light to illuminate their desk or work space. Full spectrum or natural daylight bulbs have been around for some time but they were often expensive, specialized bulbs and fixtures not readily available at the average local home store. Such is not the case anymore. With the advent of compact fluorescent bulbs, lighting manufacturers have given us an interesting array of choices, not the least of which are full-spectrum light bulbs that can be put in just about any lamp or fixture, and the best part?… the cost is now about the same as any standard bulb of the same design. Coolness!

These days full-spectrum lighting is easier to find and cheaper to buy than ever before!

Full spectrum light example and comparison
The picture speaks for itself. Full spectrum lighting yields a clean, bright, light that lets you see color and visuals accurately. A must for any studio artist.

The science of full-spectrum light and why you need it.

Without getting too overly nerdy about this, remember those elementary school experiments where sunlight from a window directed through a prism would project that little bar-like rainbow? Very simply put, all those color wavelengths are the components of full spectrum lighting. Full spectrum lighting is called such exactly because it includes such a wide array of light from the visible spectrum all combining to make it almost neutral in color. Light is characterized mainly by its color temperature  (expressed in Kelvin or the symbol K). This neutral, full-spectrum light falls around 5000-5500k on the Kelvin scale. Light below this level will be warm, like that trusty old soft-white incandescent bulb producing the yellowish light in your night stand lamp. It falls at about 2700k on the scale. The light of a daylight fluorescent bulb such as in a typical workshop or overhead garage fixture is above that neutral level falling at about 6500k on the scale and emits a colder light. If you’ve ever shot with a digital SLR camera and had to manually set the white balance you already know how different light temperature can be. The camera’s white balance must adjust to various light temperatures to render a pleasing, natural image. All that to say this. Studio lighting is at its best when its at a white-balanced light temperature of 5000-5500k, utilizing all of the visual spectrum to illuminate colors accurately… i.e. full-spectrum lighting. The benefits are clear, and these days its easier to find and cheaper to buy than ever before!

What we’re looking for in a studio lighting situation is a white-balanced light temperature of 5000-5500k, utilizing all of the visual spectrum to illuminate colors accurately… i.e. full-spectrum lighting.

The ultimate work light. Not just for artists.

Balanced, color-free lighting has more benefit than to just studio artists and other visual design disciplines. It can now be easily and affordably integrated into any area of the home, benefitting anyone wanting a well-illuminated work space where accurate color and bright, clean, white light is a plus. Consider, for example, mixing the light in living areas where main reading lights are full spectrum, but leaving the warmer glow of the soft white bulbs in peripheral accent lighting. Try switching out fluorescent cool white bulbs in overhead work shop or utility room fixtures, with full spectrum bulbs, adding a more pleasing, livelier, less cold light to the work space. Other great uses in the home might include children’s desks, hobby and crafting areas, or cooking areas. With today’s affordability and accessibility, trying full spectrum lighting just about anywhere is simple.

Buying. What you need to know.

While full-spectrum lighting is now more plentiful, accessible and affordable, finding the correct bulb is not always as easy as just finding the “Full-Spectrum” section on the light bulb aisle. Trust me, it doesn’t exist. It takes a little hunting and verifying. The descriptions and labels of various manufacturers are often misleading too, not necessarily meaning what you might think. The GE Reveal® line of bulbs is a good example. The Reveal description describes a clean, beautiful light that accurately enhances the colors in your home, so one might immediately think Reveal is a “full-spectrum” bulb. Not true by a long shot. Its still produces a very warm yellow light rated at 2500k. Woah!

Start with bulbs labeled “natural”, “daylight” or even “sunlight. Some bulbs may actually include “full spectrum” in their label or description. Then verify it by scanning the fine print. Almost every bulb maker will print the color temperature rating somewhere. Verify that your bulb is in the 5000k – 5500k range. If you can’t, don’t buy it. WARNING! – grow lights and aquarium lights are often full spectrum, but often include an extra ultraviolet component that makes the light look very bluish. Stay away from these bulbs unless you are indeed lighting an indoor garden or aquarium. Sometimes signage will help, for example, Lowe’s does a good job of including signage that aids the buyer with bulb choice. Regardless, get in the habit of double checking the light temperature rating on the package and you’ll be good to go.

Author: Steve Mitchell

Fine artist, illustrator, designer for over 30 years. But lately my mind's on watercolor.

1 thought on “Light Your Way to a Better Studio”

  1. Hello Steve,
    Thank you so much for the simple breakdown. We are soon to be moving our 25 years old sign business to a cavernous 4000sf space which has 16′ ceilings. The existing lighting is inadquate.
    Proper lighting is very critical for our wide format prints.
    After reading your article, I’ve become a lot more knowledgable and have gain more confidence when I go toe to toe with our contractor.
    Thanks,
    Deborah

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