The Three Basic Types of Lighting Used in Lighting Design

Updated: Sep 13

Proper lighting adds functionality, safety, and comfort to your home or office. Light can make a large room feel cosy, or a small room appear open and airy. A well-designed lighting plan can completely change a room's atmosphere, as well as its occupant's mood. Once you understand the three basic types of lighting - Ambient, Accent, and Task - you might be pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is to develop a lighting plan that completely transforms your home or workspace. Compared to most other decorating options, updating your lighting plan costs considerably less and is far easier to execute.


Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting, also known as General lighting, delivers essential lighting to indoor and outdoor areas. Pretty much all of us have created an Ambient lighting plan at one time or another. Merely replacing a higher watt light bulb with a lower watt bulb could be considered initiating a new lighting scheme. But, of course, there's much more that you can do to enhance the beauty, safety, and mood of your spaces. Here are a few things to consider when creating a General lighting plan:


Fixture Location - Balance makes a big difference when choosing the location for light fixtures. Lighting only one corner of a large room, for example, could cause an unbalanced and awkward look. On the other hand, lighting all four corners of the room might make it too bright. To help with placement, lower the room's (or exterior space's) lights as far as possible without sacrificing visibility. Take note of the areas like pathways, furniture, fireplaces, and anything else that requires additional lighting.


Intensity - Intensity depends on the function of your light fixture. If it's the primary source of light in a room or outdoor area, you may want a higher watt bulb. Also, remember that colour temperature plays a big role in lighting design. The most common bulbs used for home applications run between 2000K-3000K in temperature on the Kelvin scale. Bulbs in this range give off a soft, slightly yellowish glow. Bulbs rated under 2000K emit a dim glow similar to candlelight. The light given off by bulbs above 3000K have a bright white look (think kitchen or office space).


The Type of Fixture - Once upon a time, most people used table or stand up lamps in the living room, fluorescent fixtures in the kitchen, and an overhead light in the bedroom. Nowadays, though, fixtures such as puck lights, recessed ceiling-mounted lights, and track lights make it easy to incorporate your light fixtures into a room's décor.


The Room or Area You're Lighting - The space you're lighting sets the tone for all of the above. Think of Ambient lighting as a replacement for sunlight. Consider how you use the space and the appropriate amount of and type of light needed. For instance, on an outdoor walkway, you might want to light eight to ten feet on both sides of the path with floodlights for safety at night. A screened-in porch or sunroom might require little more than a reading lamp or two.


Accent Lighting

Accent lighting draws attention to items or areas that you wish to highlight. Museums use accent lighting to show off paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. Lighting designers often use sconces to add a decorative touch to corridors, corners, and bathrooms. Gently lit house plants create an inviting atmosphere in almost any space. Depending on their brightness, under-cabinet lights in the kitchen may double as both Accent and Task lights. Outdoors, landscapers use Accent lighting techniques to illuminate things like statues, shrubs, and fountains.


For example, Cross Lighting creates a striking three-dimensional effect on a feature such as a tree by lighting it from two or more sides. Underwater lighting adds a romantic feel to small ponds, swimming pools, or fountains. Reflecting soft, coloured lights off of the water's surface creates a magical mirror effect. Accent lighting works best when used subtly.


Task Lighting

Task lighting provides extra light to aid with specific tasks. It comes in especially useful for reading, sewing, cooking, or any other job that needs more light. Task lighting can also help with operations that require accuracy, like chopping vegetables, soldering electronics, or even reading the fine print on a bottle of medicine. For maximum effect, Task lighting works best as a contrasting light.


For instance, a desk lamp adds little help in a brightly lit room but will help you see with less glare and shadows when used in a dimly lit space. Pendant lights over a kitchen counter, vanity lights on a bathroom mirror, and reading lamps in the library are just a few of the many types of fixtures used for Task lighting. When creating a lighting plan, always consider what tasks will be performed in a room. Plan for various furniture placements, and consider using portable lights like stand up or tables lamps for maximum flexibility. And remember, before bumping up your eyeglass prescription, a little Task lighting might just be all that you need to finish the crossword.


Creating the right lighting plan may seem complicated. In truth, though, much of it comes down to knowing what you wish to accomplish and how to go about it.