Bright Ideas

Essential types and forms of lighting

Posted by Joe Lightman on Mar 28, 2016 1:10 PM

Layers of light

The lighting plan of a facility can greatly impact the interest, enthusiasm, and psychological comfort of its occupants. The right combination and balance of layers of light can help to create a welcoming and attractive environment in a restaurant, office, theatre, hall, factory floor or other space. At a high level, lighting is organized based on its intended use into three broad categories or layers of light: general (ambient), accent and task lighting. We have added a category for decorative lighting.


      1. General lighting

Also commonly referred to as ambient lighting, general lighting is the primary source of illumination in a theatre, restaurant, office, workshop floor, or any other commercial or industrial facility. Ceiling-mounted luminaires are used to ensure that the entire facility is optimally lit for general tasks and orientations. Some examples of general lighting include pendants, wall washing, downlights, and cove lighting. Ambient lighting helps to enhance the general appearance of a space. Luminaires with lighting levels between 30 and 50 foot-candles are recommended for ambient lighting.

  1. Task lighting

Task lighting is used to provide a focused and localized illumination to a space that is used for a specific activity. It provides supplemental light to spaces that are used for tasks that require more illumination such as reading, assembly and cooking. When selecting fixtures for task lighting, special attention should be paid to their finish and style to ensure that they match with the décor. Reading lights, floor lights, and table luminaires are examples of task lights. Luminaires with lighting levels ranging between 50 and 200 foot-candles are recommended for task lighting.

  1. Accent lighting

Accent lighting is used to highlight the aesthetics of an object. Types of accent lighting include track lighting, directional luminaires, wall washing, amiable downlights and other lights which draw attention by creating dramatic emphasis on textures, shapes, colours, and finishes. Typically only the most favourable attributes of an object would be accented.

  1. Decorative lighting

The look of a space is enhanced by adding decorative lights to the lighting plan. Cylinders, pendants, chandeliers, table lamps, and floor lamps are examples of decorative lighting. Apart from adding to the style, décor, and beauty of a space, decorative lighting contributes illumination to the lighting plan. Decorative lights also have wide applications in commercial and industrial facilities.

Light layering tips

To achieve the desired ambience and visual comfort, lighting designers generally consider the following factors relating to layers of light in their lighting plan:

  1. Effects of natural light

Natural light can have a significant effect on the overall lighting of a space, which makes it an important consideration. To get a good idea of the possible effects, you should consider the number and size of windows and elements such as trees or obstacles that are likely to block sunlight.

  1. Use lighting controls

Alongside selecting the right luminaires for your facility, it’s important to consider lighting controls, which regulate the strength and quality of light in a space as well helping to minimize energy wastage.

  1. Use high-efficiency luminaires

High-efficiency luminaires have low energy wastage, providing a sustainable solution and also reducing the total cost of lighting. LED fixtures offer an increasingly wide range of energy efficient options.

  1. Integrate layers of light

Often, one layer of light is not enough to produce the desired ambience and visual comfort. It’s important to combine and balance layers of light to maximize illumination.

Forms of lighting

There are various forms of lighting which include the following:

  1. Architectural Lighting

Architectural lights are used to highlight attributes of a building and its environment. The luminaires used produce a variety of lighting effects. The energy efficiency and quality of light of LEDs make them a suitable choice for architectural lighting.

  1. Feature Display Lighting

These lights emphasize important attributes of a product display by highlighting its texture, colour, or shape. They also enhance the attractiveness in the eyes of a customer. LEDs and fluorescents are commonly used in feature display lighting.

  1. Refrigerated Display Lighting

Refrigerated display lighting helps to enhance the visual appeal of items in refrigerated cases. These lights are designed to produce uniform illumination. LEDs are increasingly replacing fluorescents in refrigerated display lighting mainly because they don’t produce UV and have low energy consumption.

  1. Warehouse and Industrial Lighting

A range of lights are developed specifically for warehouses and industrial facilities. The life and efficiency of luminaires should be considered to ensure that the cost of operating and maintaining the lighting system is minimal. LED lighting systems have replace many traditional commercial/industrial systems due to their high efficiency and range of options.

  1. Outdoor Lighting

For outdoor lighting, high efficiency luminaires that save energy and provide quality lighting should be used. Outdoor lights are installed in outdoor locations such as pathways, parking lots, streets, sidewalks and roadways. Integrating outdoor lights with natural light helps to minimize energy wastage.

  1. Signage Lighting

These are lights used in facades, roadway signage, and billboards and other such applications. Today Sign lights are mostly designed using LEDS or fluorescents. A signage light should stand out and be pleasing to look at. It should also be clearly visible during the day and night. 

  1. Specialty Lighting

Specialty lights come in different shapes, colours, and sizes including string lights, holiday & seasonal lights, bubble lights, twinkle lights, rope lights and solar lights. They are used in entertainment halls, receptions, malls and many other places.. They are mostly made from LEDs and their power consumption is usually low.

Lighting is obviously a big topic and it’s hard to know everything. Our RAB Design lighting consultants deal with all kinds of questions every day, including many about lighting controls. If you have any specific questions, please send your request in through the button below.

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Topics: Commercial and Industrial Lighting