The importance of lighting in a tile installation

8th Apr 2020

The importance of lighting in a tile installation

When it comes to tile installations lighting plays a huge part in how the overall result will look. Modern spaces now have multiple lights including ones inside the bath or shower stall and directly above walls. We are seeing a lot of splashbacks with modern LED strip lighting and while they create a contemporary feel, the placement of lighting can make a dramatic difference in the appearance of the tile.

Even with perfect tile installations, some light distortion caused by the natural variation in the tile's surface is inevitable. Lighting can take the smallest variance and cast a large shadow on the tile surface joints, dramatically affecting how the tiles look. The severity of the shadow is determined by the angle of the light.

Critical lighting over tiled grey diesel camp subway splashback

The example below shows the same kitchen splashback under natural light and with wall wash lighting. The top photo shows the effect of overhead lighting panels, this harsh lighting technique creates shadows that accentuate any irregularities in the tiles surface. When the lighting is turned off there is a dramatic visual improvement.

Critical lighting over tiled white subway splashback
Overhead lighting

White subway splashback example of no lighting
No lighting

Lighting placement is a critical aspect of every project. Wall wash lighting is by far the most common lighting to cause problems, the most critical view is when the light source washes straight down or across the surface of the tile. Natural lighting can also have the same impact on a tile project, so window and door placement should also be taken into consideration. Once the tiles are laid if the lighting causes a severe shadow there is no solution from a tile installation standpoint, the only option is to move the lighting.

Critical lighting over tiled black square splashback

Below is an example of the same mosaic tile used with slightly different overhead lighting. The first image you see the light has been placed just a few centimetres off the edge of the wall, this is how you want your tiles to look when installed. In the second photo, the lighting is too close, resulting in a large shadow on the tile surface joints, dramatically affecting how the tiles look. It's also important to match your grout colour, a close-coloured grout will make the space look premium whereas a badly matched grout colour will make the whole job look worse when it’s laid.


Critical lighting over tiled bisazza mosaic splashback

Unless specifically outlined in the contract specifications, imperfections that are only visible under critical light do not indicate defective workmanship. Source: See below for some top tips on lighting in a tile installation.

1. Install the permanent lights prior to the tile installation, this will allow the tile installer to make adjustments during the installation.
2. Locate light fixtures away from the edge of the wall, moving the lights just a few centimetres off the edge of the wall will make a difference to the perception of the tile.
3. Where wall-wash lighting effects are desired, ensure the substrate is perfectly flat as any variations in the flatness of the substrate will make it more difficult to lay the tiles.

Still got questions? Find your nearest Tile Space store to talk to one of our expert design consultants and Download our TILE 101 booklet.