What is natural daylight, and why does it matter for art studios?

What is natural daylight, and why does it matter for art studios?

When considering art studio designs, lighting is of paramount importance. Specifically, natural daylight is considered the gold standard for the type of lighting that should be used in an art studio.

But what exactly is natural daylight, and is it better than artificial lights? Furthermore, what is the best way to know if you should use natural or artificial daylight? Read on to find out as we discuss these questions and more!

Natural Daylight Defined

Natural daylight, in the context of art studio lighting, generally refers to daytime light that comes in through a window facing outdoors. It can be comprised of a mix of light from both the direct sun, as well as light reflecting off clouds, the sky, or even other objects such as walls or trees.

Natural daylight originates from the sun, which is inherently a natural, full spectrum light source. Furthermore, it is a no-cost and renewable light source, and for the most part, it is consistent throughout the day, seasons and location.

We oftentimes refer to natural daylight in order to distinguish it from artificial light sources, such as incandescent, fluorescent and most recently, LED light bulbs.

Advantages of Natural Daylight (vs Artificial Lighting)

Historically, natural daylight has been considered to be superior to artificial lights for the following reasons:

  • Natural daylight is a full spectrum light source and has a CRI rating of 100. Household fluorescent and LED bulbs have CRI ratings closer to 80. This means that colors under natural daylight will appear as true and accurate as possible, while colors may appear incorrect or dull under artificial lighting.
  • Natural daylight is a free and renewable light source, and apart from installing windows has a $0 cost of ownership or maintenance. Energy-efficient bulbs may have lower electrical costs, but have a much higher up-front cost.
  • Natural daylight has a proper daylight white hue, and has less variability in light color and quality. Incandescent bulbs have too much yellow and orange light in its spectrum for proper color judgment, and household fluorescent and LED bulbs can vary wildly in color balance, spectrum quality, reliability and consistency.

As such, natural daylight has almost always been the first choice when it comes to illuminating an art studio.

Disadvantages of Natural Daylight

There are, of course, disadvantages to natural daylight, as well as situations where our assumptions about the advantages of natural daylight are not necessarily true. 

  • Natural daylight is a great light source during the day, but it is obviously not an option during evening hours. This is an issue that is especially pronounced during the winter season and for art studios located in polar latitudes.
  • Natural daylight requires the installation and maintenance of windows, which of course cost money. Additionally, windows can contribute to other unexpected costs, such as the need to operate the air conditioning system more due to the increased solar heating, or higher heating costs due to imperfect insulation. Some window products may claim to mitigate these effects, but as a premium product they will cost more to purchase.
  • Depending on the architectural layout of the art studio, some window configurations can introduce significant variability into the quality of natural daylight. For example, south-facing windows will allow direct sunshine into the art studio, which will introduce warmer tones and hues into the light spectrum during early morning and late evening hours, but cooler, bluer hues during mid-day hours.
  • Even with optimal architectural designs for art studios, weather and seasonal variability can introduce variability into the quality of natural daylight. For example, even with an optimally placed north-facing window, color temperatures may be at around 6000K on an overcast day, but during early evening hours on a clear day, color temperatures may reach as high as 10,000K.
  • A related issue is that the objects outside the window can also alter the light quality of natural daylight. For example, if your window is located near a big, red barn, much of that natural daylight will reflect off the barn wall exterior and enter your art studio with an altered, red-hue light color. Any object that is not a neutral color (i.e. along the white-grey-black spectrum) will have the potential to alter the light color upon reflection. Leaves on trees are a common and problematic factor, as the saturated green leaf color gives way to saturated yellow and red colors during the fall season, followed by no leaves in winter.  

When should you consider LED lights instead of natural daylight?

With companies like NorthLux Lighting pursuing the latest in LED lighting technologies to improve light quality and consistency, artificial lighting can actually be superior to natural daylight for art studios. Most or all of the following, however, should be true for you to consider doing so:

  • The LED lights you are considering for your art studio are calibrated to daylight color temperatures (5000K or 6500K) and have a high CRI of 95 or higher. Household LED light bulbs do not meet this requirement as they generally have a color temperature at or below 3000K and have CRI ratings less than 90.
  • Your lighting needs for your art studio justify the additional expense of installing artificial lights. For example, you only have time to work during evening hours, or your art pieces are especially color-critical.
  • The natural daylight available to you in the art studio are either insufficient in quantity (brightness) or quality (color). A large and ideally placed north-facing window will typically provide optimal art studio lighting conditions. In some situations there may be architectural or other restraints that prevent you from being able to access natural daylight of such quality.

Finally, considerations if you choose to mix natural daylight with artificial lighting

In closing, we'll discuss a few things to consider when mixing natural daylight with artificial lighting. As we have outlined in our article about color temperatures for art studios, you may have an art studio whose windows allow for the type of natural daylight that you need, but may be insufficient in brightness or duration. In such situations, you will want to ensure that the color temperature of the artificial lights match that of the color temperature of the natural daylight, which is primarily determined by which direction the windows face.

For art studios with north-facing windows, we almost always recommend using 6500K lighting to match the consistent, blue-sky hue you will have coming through your windows.

Art studios with south-facing windows will likely benefit from 5000K color temperature lights, as you will have the sun come in during most of the day, especially during the morning and late-afternoon hours.

East and west-facing windows can be a bit trickier, and our recommendation here would be dependent on what hours of the day you plan on using the art studio.

An east-facing window, for example, will have lots of morning sunshine, lowering the color temperature of your art studio. By afternoon, however, the sun will be shining on the other side, and the window will be letting in light close to 6500K, the same as what you would get from a north-facing window.

Bottom Line

In this article, we discussed how natural daylight plays a critical role in art studio installations. While traditionally considered the best type of lighting for an art studio, with improvements in LED lighting technologies it is now possible to install lighting in an art studio that performs even better, especially when the natural daylight is lacking in consistency or duration.

It is very important, however, that artificial lighting is chosen with care, as insufficient color rendering (CRI) and incorrect color temperature selection can lead to inferior results. Ultimately, you can't cut any corners when it comes to lighting for art studios, as color judgment can become very challenging without the correct kind of lighting for an art studio.

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