One room can serve multiple purposes. It can be a place where you can relax, work on the computer, do arts and crafts, cook, share a meal with friends, and much more… This is why lighting features need to correspond to the setting or application of the room.

“The best advice I can offer is the following: no matter what you do, or what you hope to accomplish, always install three types of lighting in a room,” says Patricia Rizzo, of the Lighting Research Center . People often expect a single source of light to meet all their needs. Yet, each of the three types of lighting has a particular function to fulfill specific needs, which are: Ambient, task and accent lighting.

Ambient Indoor Lighting

General or ambient lighting is intended to light up a room in its entirety, to provide a uniform level of illumination throughout the space, independently of other lighting sources.

Moreover, its purpose is to ensure safe and easy traffic, as well as to create an overview of the room. The ambient light ‘bounces’ off the walls to illuminate as much space as possible.

Types of fixtures that can provide general ambient indoor lighting:

  • Chandelier
  • Ceiling mounted fixture
  • Wall-mounted fixture
  • Traditional recessed fixtures and/or LED Downlights
  • Track light
  • Floor lamp
  • Table lamp


Ambient Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting is usually installed in order to ensure visibility and increase security around a building. It is also recommended to light up the exterior of the building, entrances and stairs to reduce and perhaps eliminate the risk of injury that can occur when entering and leaving the building.

To learn more about outdoor lighting, read our article Economical, Efficient, and Safe Outdoor Lighting

Types of fixtures that provide ambient outdoor lighting:

  • Spotlight
  • Hanging fixture
  • Garage and canopy lighting
  • Post lantern
  • Wall lighting
  • Recessed fixture used in overhanging structures


Task Lighting

Task lighting sheds light on the tasks a person carries out in a given space such as reading, cooking, computer work, for which a brighter light is required in a smaller focal point of the room.

For a more pleasant lighting, it is often best to avoid harsh lights or lighting that casts troublesome shadows. It is also practical to install a single switch for focal lighting, independent from the room’s overall lighting switch.

Types of Fixtures that Provide Task Lighting:

  • Directional gimbal recessed fixture or downlight
  • Pendant lighting
  • Slim line bar and undercabinet
  • Tape and extrusion
  • Portable or desk lamp


Accent Lighting

Accent lighting is used mainly to focus on a specific point of interest or to achieve a desired effect. This type of lighting gives the impression of a larger room; it is more frequently used to highlight an architectural feature, a plant (in outdoor layout), a sculpture, or a collection of objects.

As a general rule, effective accent lighting requires the installation of three times more light on the focal point than ambient lighting generally provides.

Types of Fixtures that Provide Accent Lighting:

  • Track light
  • Slim line bar and undercabinet
  • Tape and extrusion
  • Directional recessed fixture or downlight
  • Wall-mounted fixtures


In short…

We often start designing our lighting plan with ambient lighting and then go on to identifying the areas where there will be a need for accent lighting. “I like to move from general to specific when planning the lighting for a room,” says lighting designer Markus Earley of Providence, R.I.

However, when multiple specific tasks are performed in a room (a jewelry store, for example) or when there are several points to highlight (such as a museum or an art gallery), it is best to start a lighting plan with accent lighting. Therefore, it is essential to know the purpose of a room before starting the development! For more information on lighting requirements, see article 7 Spatial Categories and Their Lighting Requirements.

If you need help designing your lighting plan (commercial or industrial), call STANDARD’s project department. Our experts will provide free energy audits, fixtures, and a solution to improve it.

3 basic types of lighting infographic


  1. It was really nice that I found this article because I am tasked to manage the lighting in the house after it is renovated. The problem is that I have no idea what type of lighting is required. That is why it got my attention when you mentioned the accent lighting and how it is used to focus on one specific item and achieve the desired atmosphere. I think this is what I need since it will be used to highlight the grand piano. Thanks for sharing!

  2. It sure was nice how you mentioned the different types of lighting and that the task lighting is used in lighting a space wherein a specific task needs to be carried out, like sewing. If so, then I am pretty sure that my sister is in need of a task lighting system and not anything else. She usually reads next to the living room table so I thought this is the one. I will work on it right away. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Task lighting can be all about utility. It provides direct light and illuminate such areas like the tables or the stoves. The purpose of the room selected must play a big role in deciding the type of lighting which you require for brightening up areas. Task lights focus on a particular function and serves as a functional light, may be your kitchen spaces might require the counter top lights which will allow you to see what you are chopping. Reading lamps also perform as task lighting. There comes the name for it literally serves as the lighting which can be used as aids for your tasks.

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