Retail Lighting Design 101 – Definitions & Concepts

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Retail Lighting Design 101 – Definitions & Concepts

We want to see businesses grow to their full potential, that is our main motivation when it comes to providing you with necessary information in our Retail Lighting Guide. You’re set on improving your store’s lighting and we’re set on finding only what is relevant and useful for you as a retailer to know.

With this in mind, let us proceed to some basic definitions and concepts that will aid you in the quest of creating the best lighting setup that your store can offer:

Lighting Definitions:


We all know what light is, but to put it in scientific terms, it is an electromagnetic radiation. The first scientists to hypothesize about it were Sir Isac Newton and Christian Huygens, in the late 1600’s. Newton viewed light as a stream of small particles while Huygens described its behavior as waves. These two concepts set the foundation for our understanding and control of the light.

According to the Light Wave Theory light can both a wave and a particle theory at the same time. Light waves are called electromagnetic waves due to the fact that it is made up of electric and magnetic fields at once.

We recommend watching Steve Stanner’s Introduction To Lighting playlist on Youtube, where he explains in a concise manner all of the basic concepts in 8 nice and short videos.

Before we dive deeper, we would like to offer you some useful light and energy formulas that are easy to understand and apply when designing the lighting in your store.

Light Power or Strength

The power of a light bulb is measured in Lumens while the amount of generated light is measured in Foot-candles or Lux. The higher the lumens, the bigger the foot-candles will be. The image below shows how these two units are measured.

Light measurements foot candle lux

Light Color

If you remember your physics classes you will know that white light contains every wavelength of visible light, thus, when it is refracted we can see the colors of the spectrum.

Light pism

When discussing the color of light you should know that it is measured in temperature, the measurement unit is referred to as Kelvin.

Let’s get a better understanding of how this concept works:

The higher the temperature, the cooler or colder the color of the light will be, in contrast, the lower the temperature the warmer the color. Below you will find some examples, that will shed some light onto the types of bulbs and the colors they emit.

light color temperature

Warmer lights are commonly used in public areas because they promote a sense of comfort and relaxation while the colder hues are used in offices to increase concentration and help employees stay focused longer on their tasks.

Retail stores use a combination of the two to ensure a balanced effect for both customers and employees. For jewelry stores, it is slightly more complicated because there are specific lights that are used for diamonds, semi-precious gems, minerals and metals. We will discuss these specific light sources in further articles.

Light quality

The quality of the light is based upon how long the bulb is supposed to last, the quality indicator is called CRI or Color Rendering Index. The “rated life” or life expectancy of a light bulb, of those that are considered to be high-quality, exceeds 10 000 hours. In terms of CRI, the higher the index number, the higher the quality of the projected light will be. Anything over 90 CRI will have the ideal light quality.

View the image below to see these indicators for each type of light bulb and how this information can help you save energy and money.

Light bulb quality indicators

Also here is a comparison between CRI, the quality of the light and where each is most commonly used.

CRI Comparison in lighting

CRI lighting indexes and examples

Ceiling Height

This is an essential factor to take into consideration. When the planning , construction and design for the store setting is underway, lighting is also considered and added to the equation. The higher the ceiling, the further the light will move away from your merchandise, thus its intensity and strength are automatically diminished.

If your store’s ceiling is over 9 feet tall, lighting will prove to be rather challenging. This either means you have to use more lights placed close to each other in order to focus attention on showcases or by bringing the sources lower. This can be achieved by using track lighting, pendants or chandeliers.

You can read more about the types of fixtures used in retail lighting in the following article.

Part #2: The Importance of Lighting
Part #4: Lighting Fixtures For Retail
By |2017-05-29T00:54:37+00:00April 22nd, 2016|Retail Lighting, Visual Merchandising|

About the Author:

I'll tell you more about me later. I'm just the guy running ZenMerchandiser and I spend most of my time building stuff at MannequinMall as the Director of eCommerce. When I write, I write about cool stuff in retail, be it related to technology, design or marketing.
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