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Low Voltage Art Lighting

Apr 10, 2008
Low voltage art lighting fixtures are manufactured in a wide range of fixture, bulb, and lamping styles. Some fit over the picture frame and spread illumination downward and across the surface of the image. Others reside in the ceiling itself or suspend from tracks parallel to the surface of the wall. Still others mount on the underside of the ceiling and project a field of apparently sourceless light for lighting pictures or even a three-dimensional sculpture lighting.

Far safer and more cost effective than high voltage light sourcing, low voltage lighting offers art consultants, museum collectors, office and home interior decorators, and private art collectors a highly eclectic and adaptive range of equipment options.

Fixture selection really depends upon both the environment in which the collection is found and the nature of the art collection itself. Low voltage lighting is incredibly safe and cost effective, and with a commercial grade manufacturer and the right professional consulting and installation service, adaptable to virtually any eclectic, commercial, or residential environment.

Low voltage art lights make it easier to minimize, if not completely eliminate, infrared and ultraviolet lights. IR light creates heat, which can dry out many forms of paint such as acrylics and watercolors. UV light has a destructive impact on all forms of paint, and it is the most notorious enemy of premium-grade oils and original canvases.

Low voltage art lighting fixtures utilize a number of tools to eliminate these harmful light rays. Almost recessed halogen lights come equipped with IR and UV filters to reduce the excessive heat their bulbs produce. Picture lights increasingly are now being manufactured with LED bulbs that burn cool and give off no UV light whatsoever, and track lights controlled by dimmer switches allow lighting and power levels to be controlled directly by the user.

All low voltage accent lights, with the exception of battery powered LED's, use transformers to convert 120VAC to 12VAC power. Because they use only 1/10th the power as high voltage lights, 12VAC fixtures make for better sources of illuminating exhibitions or residential decorative settings where the lights have to be left on longer than 12 hours at a time.

There are many different types of low voltage art lighting fixtures on the market, and an almost infinite number of fixtures styles available within individual type.

Low voltage over the picture lights

These lights install directly over the picture by attaching to the frame. Currently, the most popular over the picture art lights are low voltage LED accent lighting units that either operate with a concealed transformer or eliminate wiring altogether with internal battery power.

These cordless picture lights, powered LED's are remarkably inexpensive, safe, and easy to install and transport. Their only disadvantages are limited battery life and the obvious visible presence of a fixture--no matter how decorative it may be--protruding out from the frame. This does not work very well in formal settings, but on the flipside often proves invaluably convenient to public art sales and many municipal displays where local art or classroom art from local schools is publicly showcased.

Low voltage art lighting with recessed fixtures

Recessed lights are so named because they resided in a recessed fixture that is either partially or completely embedded in the ceiling. Recessed picture lights can be fitted with dimmers to allow the user direct control over lighting levels. They can also be fitted with filters to eliminate UV and IR radiation, placing only the desired portions of the spectrum over the piece.

The primary advantage of recessed lights is a concealed light source that can be projected at a precise angle toward a picture(s) on display.

The disadvantage of low voltage recessed art lights is that multiple fixtures must be used to light an entire row of pictures, or a large number of pieces along a wall. If there are too many works in the collection, it becomes impractical to install an equivalently large number of recessed lights in the ceiling. In these settings, track lights are usually a preferred choice for low voltage art lighting.

Low voltage art lighting with track lights

Track lights are so called because they hang suspended from a track that runs parallel to a wall.

They offer an advantage in number over recessed lights. In a gallery where a wall may be full of paintings or photographs from a specific genre, any number of track lights can be installed to provide an individual light source for each individual work.

The obvious disadvantage to track lighting is lack of concealment. Track lights are clearly visible and the more fixtures a track contains the more visually obtrusive they become.

Low voltage lighting with Art projectors

Art Projectors lights represent the highest level of sophistication in low voltage art lighting. They hang suspended on pedestals that normally install in the middle of the ceiling. Because they are capable of a full 360 degrees of rotation, art projectors can be aimed at any point in the room to illuminate a two dimensional image or three dimensional sculpture.

Most contain some sort of filtration technology as well that strips the light beam of IR and UV wavelengths prior to the light ever passing through the lens. Most feature as well some method of adjusting the lenses to focus the width of the beam spread and to control the brightness of the light itself.

However, many framing projectors are limited by a fixed optical system that prohibits fine-tuning adjustments known as "key stoning"--a technique lighting designers use to eliminate glare and frame shadows. Others are bulky and clearly visible hanging from the ceiling and present an inconvenient challenge to rotate and fine tune. This can result in a "fuzzy" lighting effect, or it can create light "spillage" beyond the boundaries of the frame.

To achieve the level of precision adjustment necessary to completely shape the light to the exact dimensions of the artwork itself, it is necessary to use a projector such as the Phantom Contour that will allow the shutter blade system to be locked into a specific position. This then allows the light beam to shape itself to the piece. Custom templates and internal filtering mechanisms within projector allow low voltage light to pass invisibly from the lens to the art, showing itself only at the last minute as a field of illumination that appears to magically radiate from the painting or sculpture itself.
About the Author
Phantom Lighting manufactures proprietary, high-end art projectors and custom linear strip lights for residential and commercial fine art and display lighting purposes. Visit http://www.phantomlighting.com/low_voltage_art_lighting.htm and http://www.phantomlighting.com for more information on Phantom products and network of lighting agents spanning from North to South America.
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