Guideline 15.1

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The following Standards and Guidelines are a work in progress intended to spur discussion between exhibit personnel, conservators and other museum professionals. Please check back in the future as information is added to expand on the Guidelines without currently active links.
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Guideline 15.1: The designer creates a lighting plan

What is an Exhibit Lighting Plan?

A lighting plan is a systematic approach to designing exhibit lighting to coordinate the diverse requirements of an exhibit. This plan is developed throughout the design process. In its final form, the plan should ensure that the exhibit lighting satisfies the exhibit’s interpretive and aesthetic concerns while also protecting exhibit objects from damaging light exposure. At the same time, the plan must work with budget requirements and accommodate the constraints of the particular exhibit space.

“Exhibit Lighting Plan” refers both to the document recording the plan’s details as well as to the process of designing the exhibit lighting. Once the plan is finalized, the document should provide a detailed description of the lighting design, including the light sources to be used, their location, and what tracks, fixtures, lamps, filters and other lighting control systems are to be employed. The plan should describe the lighting in the general exhibit as well as the lighting in exhibit cases. Detailed written instructions in this document will help ensure that the conservation elements of the design are correctly installed and maintained.

[Conservation considerations for light exposure are described in Guidelines **.]

What are the characteristics of an effective exhibit lighting plan?

When developing an exhibit lighting plan, ensure the following:

  • The finalized plan fulfills the Conservation Requirements. The conservation requirements will have established the amount of light that objects can be exposed to without damage. The exhibit lighting system and lighting design should conform to these requirements.
  • The plan is initiated early in the design process. The lighting plan must take shape early in the design to ensure sufficient time to meet the diverse requirements (aesthetic, conservation and budgetary) that should determine final lighting choices and levels.
  • The plan is produced in conjunction with the conservator or a lighting designer. Lighting issues are complex, so the lighting plan ideally should be developed in consultation with the conservator. And because lighting technology is developing rapidly, consultation with a lighting designer would also be helpful. Look for one with experience in designing museum exhibitions and meeting conservation lighting requirements. Technical information for the exhibit designer is also available from lighting manufacturers, who generally supply reference material and may even provide individual technical advice on the use of their products.
  • All light sources are factored into the overall light exposure. The impact of all light sources in the exhibit and adjacent spaces, including light from architectural features such as windows or skylights, must be factored into the plan.
  • The plan is allowed to evolve during the exhibit design phase. Several lighting options may be proposed, and considerable deliberation will be necessary to arrive at a lighting scheme that adequately addresses all requirements.


What information should be included in the Exhibit Lighting Plan document?

The written plan should contain sufficient information to guide the fabricator.

The plan should allow the exhibit fabricator to procure and correctly install the lighting systems. Any change in the wattage or color temperature of a bulb or the aim of a lamp will alter the amount and quality of light falling on the objects.

Although the specific content of a lighting plan will vary with each exhibit, a plan should generally include the following information:

  • Placement of light track and individual fixtures
  • Lamp types with product manufacturer and number
  • Exact location, aim, and beam characteristics of each lamp
  • Visible light control methods such as dimmers, diffusers, and filters
  • Measures to prevent UV radiation from light sources falling on the objects
  • Mitigation techniques for natural light entering the exhibit space
  • Projection of light levels falling on each object
  • Sketches, elevations, or other forms of visual identification of lighting locations, beam angle, etc.
  • Energy consumption projections
  • Information on access to all lighting fixtures for installation and maintenance purposes
  • Location of other relevant features including HVAC vents, fire suppression and detection equipment
  • Identification of task lighting, including maintenance and emergency lights
  • Electrical layout, including location of circuits and junction boxes


The written plan should contain sufficient information to serve as a maintenance document.

Information must be sufficiently detailed to ensure that exhibit lighting will be correctly maintained.

  • Detailed documentation will help ensure that bulbs of the same wattage, beam width, and color temperature are used for re-lamping. The angle of aim for each lamp fixture should be recorded, and dimmers should be marked or fixed to prevent casual readjustment.