Track Lighting 101

Track lights are one of the most versatile lighting systems because the individual fixtures can be positioned anywhere along the track and then swiveled, rotated, and aimed in any direction.  It’s possible to create a variety of different effects, and you can tailor the lights to best accentuate your room.

However, this also means it’s hard to know where to start!  Consider this your how-to guide for using track lights to create the perfect effect.

First, you’ll need to decide what type of light you want the track fixtures to provide.  Track lights are typically used in one of three ways:

  • Accent lighting, highlighting a particular object such as a work of art.
  • Wall washing, evenly illuminating a wall.  Should be used for non-textured vertical surfaces.
  • Wall grazing, dramatically highlighting the texture in a wall.  Should be used for textured vertical surfaces like brick, stone, or draperies.

Made your decision?  Now just follow the guidelines below!

Accent Lighting (Best used with halogen light sources):

Measure the distance from the ceiling to the middle of the object being lit.  Multiply that number by 0.55 to determine how far away from the wall you should place the track fixture.  For example, if you are providing accent lighting for a painting that is three feet below the ceiling (measured from the ceiling to the middle of the painting), you should place the track fixture 1.65 feet away from the wall.*

After you’ve determined the distance from the wall, position the track fixture so that the light makes a 30-degree angle with the wall/vertical surface you are trying to light up.  This is the optimal distance to prevent glare and minimize shadows.

*If you are lighting any object that has the potential to produce direct glare (such as a photograph with a glass frame), do not place the track lighting any further than three feet from the wall.

Wall Washing (Can be used with either fluorescent or halogen):

Mount the track fixture parallel to the wall.  If your ceiling height is 9 feet or lower, place the track about two to three feet from the wall.  If the ceiling is between 9 and 11 feet, place the track about three to four feet from the wall.

Then, space the fixtures the same distance apart as the track is from the wall.

Wall Grazing (Can be used with either fluorescent or halogen):

Any time you are aiming for the wall grazing effect, mount the track 6 to 12 inches from the wall.  Space the track fixtures 6 to 12 inches apart and aim them downward.

The light source recommendations are based on how well various light sources produce easily focused light.  Wall washing and wall grazing does not require as much of a controlled and focused light source, but this quality is very important in accent lighting.

Emily Widle

Emily Widle

Emily graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She enjoys scouring the news to report on the latest in the lighting industry as well as bringing valuable remodeling tips and exemplar home projects to light.

  • Jannette

    We are converting an historic (1838) country church to a community hall and event space that will, among other things, host art exhibits. We are planning on using track lighting to illuminate the wall spaces where the art will be hung as well as stained glass windows for viewing from the outside at night. We need advice on what tracks and fixtures to buy and how best to arrange the lighting. Can you help?

    • Emily Widle

      Hi Janette,
      Of course! I think your best bet will be to call our customer service number, though, so you can discuss how much artwork you have, how large the stained glass windows are, etc. – It’ll be easier to go through all the details of your project so we can give you a good recommendation. The number is 800-392-4818 – or you can submit a request through our Help Desk.

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