As we've discussed in a previous article, color temperature is one of the most fundamental questions and decisions to make when setting up lighting for an art studio.
In that article, we discussed the importance of using daylight-calibrated color temperatures of 5000K or 6500K, rather than warm-white color temperatures such as 2700K or 3000K.
A question we sometimes receive from customers is: why do art studios use daylight color temperatures when oftentimes, artwork is ultimately displayed in a warm-white color temperature environment?
Read on to learn how we tackle this very reasonable and insightful question!
What will the exhibit's lighting environment be like?
No matter how much effort we put into optimizing our art studio's lighting environment, once your art piece is complete and on display, you may or may not have much control over the lighting used to exhibit it.
Some art galleries and exhibition spaces will have a higher color temperature due to their incorporation of plentiful natural daylight (5000 - 6500K), while others may be located in dark basements and rely solely on halogen spot lights running at 3000K (warm white).
Some may even have inconsistent lighting across the day, utilizing natural daylight during the day but then switching to halogen bulbs at night, making it nearly impossible to reliably predict the lighting environment that your art pieces will be viewed under.
If you're working on a painting, there is a good chance that your art piece will be exhibited under the illumination of a picture light. Traditionally, these light fixtures have utilized incandescent and halogen bulbs, providing a very warm color temperature white light. Correspondingly, modern LED versions also offer a warm-white color temperature.
If your art piece is to be displayed in a residential or hospitality setting (hotels, restaurants, country clubs, etc), there is also a good chance that your art work will be illuminated by warm white color temperature lighting.
If it's something that will be displayed in your own home, you'll be able to have the final say as far as exhibit color temperature is concerned. Again, however, depending on the location and other peripheral uses of the space, you may be restricted to certain color temperatures.
Looking to display your painting above the family couch? There's a good chance your family members would object to having anything but a softer and more comfortable warm white color temperature.
All that to say, there are a wide range of possibilities for where your artwork will be displayed. In some cases, lighting conditions will be impossible to predict and be variable, while other situations may have more consistent, warm-white lighting environments.
Should art pieces be displayed under warm-white color temperatures in the first place?
We've just discussed a variety of situations in which art pieces are displayed under warm-white color temperatures. There is a more fundamental question that we should address, however, and that is whether or not displaying artwork under warm-white color temperatures is optimal for viewing purposes. In other words, should art pieces be exhibited under warm-white color temperatures at all?
The answer to this question is a bit nuanced, because it can be answered from different perspectives. Below, we discuss three perspectives that all have their own answers to this question, each with compelling arguments.
From a pure color science perspective, warm-white is not an ideal color temperature for accurate color viewing and judgment. Warm-white color temperatures contain a proportionally higher amount of yellow, orange and red wavelength energy. This can distort our ability to discern shorter-wavelength colors such as cyan, blue and violet. We further discuss this issue in one of our articles concerning color temperatures for art studios.
From an artistic or aesthetic perspective, things can be a bit more subjective. Certain art pieces may simply appear better under warmer color temperatures. At a basic level, if a painting, for example, contains lots of warmer color hues such as oranges and yellows (think sunflowers by van Gogh), similarly warm color lighting may subjectively look better. On the other hand, paintings with bluer hues may do better under daylight-white color temperature lighting.
Finally, from the practical perspective, the best color temperature for displaying artwork may come down to what is feasible or realistic given the limitations of where the artwork will be displayed. If an art gallery plans to be open during daytime only, and it has plentiful windows, it may simply be unrealistic to expect warm-white lighting in such a venue. On the other hand, if an art piece is to be displayed in a residential or hospitality space (e.g. hotel lobby) there likely are many other factors such as architecture, interior design or financial constraints that ultimately dictate the lighting environment.
With all that being said, we believe that the color science perspective deserves the most focus. We can say in quite certain terms that all else equal, warm-white lighting is less desirable as it contains too much yellow, orange and red wavelengths to be able to accurately perceive colors.
Art studio lighting considerations for artwork whose lighting environment is unknown, variable or unpredictable
In most cases, your art piece will be displayed in a location where lighting color temperature is both unpredictable and inconsistent. Our general recommendation is to stay with a daylight-calibrated color temperature such as 5000K or 6500K.
Our reasoning here is that since the lighting environment for your art pieces is will fall across a range of color temperatures, we should choose the one that allows for the best color acuity and accuracy.
Nonetheless, there is a role for warm-white lighting in your art studio if you think your art piece may be displayed in a warm-white lighting environment from time to time. Since warm-white color temperatures are heavily tilted with higher amounts of yellow, orange and red wavelengths, it may be helpful to view your art piece under warm-white lighting on occasion as you work on your piece so that you can get a sense of how your work appears under both types of lighting.
You may want to consider installing a few warm-white bulbs in the corner of your studio, or, if practical, you could even bring your art piece into a separate room with exclusively warm-white lighting.
Art studio lighting considerations for artwork that will be exclusively displayed in a warm-white lighting environment
If you are certain that all of your art piece will be displayed in a location that will always and consistently be exhibited in a warm-white color temperature environment, that is one situation in which you may want to consider installing warm-white lighting in your art studio.
As we have mentioned above, however, warm-white color temperature environments do not provide as much color clarity and accuracy. An argument could be made, however, that any color differences that you would be missing in your warm-white color temperature art studio would be equally lacking when displayed under warm-white color temperatures.
Additionally, care should be taken to use exclusively use warm-white lighting, and this means no windows or any natural light, as this would alter the lighting environment and introduce a cooler color temperature.
Things to consider when purchasing warm-white color temperature lights for art studios