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 lighting
  • Task lighting
  • Accent lighting

Ambient Indoor Lighting

General or ambient lighting is intended to light up a room in its entirety. It provides 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 illuminates the tasks a person carries out in a given space such as reading, cooking, computer work. A brighter light is required in a smaller focal point of the room for these sorts of tasks.

For a more pleasant illumination, 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. When selecting the different types of lighting you will use in your situation, it is generally better to go from generic to specific.

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 our project department. Our experts will provide free energy audits, fixtures, and a solution with various types of lighting to improve it.

3 basic types of lighting infographic


  1. It’s an interesting idea to start broad and then identify areas that need accent lighting. There are a few different spots in my house that get a bit dark despite general lighting. I’ll have to find indoor lamps I can use for accent lighting.

  2. This article contains all the information needed to make changes in your house in terms of lighting. I had to search for a while to come across this useful piece of information. A big well-done to whoever wrote this.

  3. Thank you for all the information about the different kinds of lighting. I didn’t know that accent lighting could help make a room feel larger. I would love for my living room to feel larger. I will have to see if I could get some accent lighting in my home.

  4. Thank you very much for these great, practical ideas. Like others who have commented, I need to create/revamp some portfolio examples. This article is very timely.

  5. It’s good to know that accent lighting is designed to draw focus to a specific point in a room. My wife wants to buy an ornate lamp to use as a conversation piece in our living room, but she hasn’t known what to call that type of lighting. I’ll pass this information along to her so that she knows that she’s talking about accent lighting.

  6. Thank you for explaining that task lighting is the necessary lighting needed for someone to do different things in different areas. I have an old lamp that I would love to have next to my bed for late night reading, but I can’t get it to work. I will be sure to look around for a specialist that can get it fixed soon.

  7. Thank you for sharing the lighting ideas because most of us don’t know how and where the light needed to make it more attractive. But from this article, I learned the types of the lamp and their uses.

  8. I never knew that there were several different ways to be able to get an outdoor sign retrofitted with lights so that you wouldn’t have to replace the entire thing since that would cost more in the long run. There are also ways to be able to get outdoor signs to light up when you want to make the lighting as subtle or as eye-catching as possible and that means relying on ambient lighting. If I had the chance to look for ambient lighting then I would want to make sure that I have enough of it to use.

  9. It’s great you talked about the different kinds of indoor lighting and how each can be used to light up a room (forgive the pun). When planning a new business, usually the best kind of lighting to use would be ambient indoor lighting since it provides enough illumination to light up an entire room as well as to make sure that people can easily find their way around an office space for example. If I were working on a construction plan and would be asked to pick a lighting style for an office floor, then I would suggest ambient lighting.

  10. Thanks for pointing out that accent lighting will help a room appear bigger since it can highlight a part of the room to divert attention. With that in mind, I will be having this kind of light installed in my property since there is this room in it where it is quite confined. That part was our concern that is why the price of the property decreased because we brought that up.

  11. Hammed Balogun says:

    I really appreciate this am an interior decoration student saw your write up while searching for assignment given to on lighting thanks for the explanation and I would be glad to always get your write up on any documents related to decoration
    Thanks

  12. A debt of gratitude is in order for this extremely accommodating manual for lighting! I particularly enjoyed the part where you made reference to how individuals should begin with their encompassing lighting and after that going from that point. That way, property holders won’t be overpowered with every one of their decisions on the off chance that they can begin adding little by little to the entire lighting plan.

  13. I have read your post and found it really very informative and the way you shared the different types of lights.I am searching these type of lights from last two years.Thanks for sharing and keep writing.

  14. Thanks for this really helpful guide to lighting! I especially liked the part where you mentioned how people should start with their ambient lighting and then going from there. That way, homeowners will not be overwhelmed with all their choices if they can start adding little by little to the whole lighting scheme.

  15. It was really informative when you talked about the task lighting and how it is used to shed light on a person while they are doing a specific task, like reading, cooking, or work. If so, then I might have a task light placed at my brother’s reading corner. He usually uses a lamp or a flashlight which was weird considering how he is always there. Anyway, I might also consider using an antler light since he is also fond of hunting.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

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