What is Task Lighting?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Task lighting is lighting which is focused on a specific area to make the completion of visual tasks easier. It is differentiated from area and mood lighting, which are designed simply to illuminate various regions of a space, sometimes creating specific desired effects. There are a number of forms of this type of lighting, from generator-mounted lighting for night-time roadwork to lights which are installed under kitchen cabinets to ensure that counters are brightly lighted.

The task lights in a kitchen are typically located under the top cabinets and illuminates the counter below.
The task lights in a kitchen are typically located under the top cabinets and illuminates the counter below.

Obviously, visual tasks are easier to perform when the work area is well lit. Task lighting also eases eye strain when it is installed with care, which can make the work environment more pleasant. In industries where eye strain is a major issue, like computing, appropriate lighting can also keep workers healthy and happy. Many people incorporate good task lighting into ergonomic office and workplace layouts, recognizing that well lighted conditions are very important for everyone from jewelers to computer programmers.

Jewelers use task lighting when inspecting diamonds.
Jewelers use task lighting when inspecting diamonds.

In kitchens, task lighting ensures that work spaces are well illuminated so that people can clearly see what they are doing, allowing people to read recipes while they cook, for example, or ensuring that people clean their counters properly. In places like living and dining rooms, it is often situated over tables and chairs to make it easier for people to see each other or to read. In the workplace, this type of lighting helps reduce eye strain from computers and from focusing on work which can range from sewing to welding cars together.

A sewing machine has a task light above the presser foot.
A sewing machine has a task light above the presser foot.

A number of different styles of lights can be used to create task lighting. Many people like to use lights on flexible bases or necks so that they can be adjusted as needed; medical professionals, for example, use easily moved lights so that they can readily illuminate various portions of their patient's anatomies. In other cases, task lighting is fixed; as in the instance of a light mounted under a kitchen cabinet for better visibility, for example.

Many lighting stores carry various lamps and lighting tools which are designed to create task lighting, and staff may be able to help you select the right light for the job. The lighting must strike a balance between being too bright and too dark, and it must also work well within the space. For example, a gooseneck lamp in a kitchen might not be a good idea, because the springs and hinges could get dirty, but adjustable track lighting could be installed at a distance from the work area to provide adjustable light without accumulating things like flour, grease, and sauces.

Task lighting eases eye strain.
Task lighting eases eye strain.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@seag47 – I also love to paint, and I have started using a bright gooseneck lamp to illuminate the canvas so that I can photograph it. I can adjust the lamp to whatever angle I need, so I never even have to take the painting outside for a good photo.

I sell my work online, so high quality photos are crucial to my business. If a photo of my work is unflattering, then it sends potential customers away. No one wants to pay over a hundred dollars for something that doesn't look absolutely stunning.

Lighting is the most important element in canvas photography. When I shine it at the proper angle, it allows my digital camera to pick up on every tiny detail, and it shows off the glossiness of the paint without causing a glare.


I use a task lighting lamp while I am working on my acrylic paintings. Without the proper lighting, it is impossible to see every brush stroke, and I've often had to go back and correct areas after taking the painting outside in the daylight to see it better.

I set the lamp up behind me and shine it directly onto the canvas. I can see every little detail of the texture and color, and this is exactly what I need to create a quality painting. Since I sell these, this is important to me, because maintaining a good reputation for producing high quality paintings is essential to my career.


The vent area right above my oven has a light installed in it. There is a knob that I can turn to adjust the degree of light I need, from dim to super bright.

This is good task lighting to have, because there are cabinets way above my stove that block the light from above. When I turn on the extra light, I can see what is in the pots and pans on the stove top, and I can tell if things are starting to boil.

Without this light, it is hard to tell if I have already sprinkled seasoning on certain foods. As soon as I turn it on, though, I can see every little flake. I had never had a light above my stove before, but now that I've gotten used to it, I wouldn't want to be without one.


@golf07 – My husband uses a big halogen lamp out in his shed, but it is probably more powerful than the one you use for crafting. It lights up the whole area at night like a powerful spotlight, and it even makes the shed warmer.

Sometimes, he doesn't get finished with what he is working on by dusk, so this type of portable task lighting is helpful to him. Since the shed is open to the outside, it also helps him see if any snakes or spiders are in there with him.

I don't have to worry about him forgetting to turn this lamp off, because it is pretty hard not to notice you have left it on at night. It probably could be a fire hazard, since it puts off so much heat.


When I am working on crafts, I like to use halogen task lighting to see what I am doing.

There are many times when craft work involves detail that is hard to do if you don't have adequate lighting.

This light is portable, and I can move it around from room to room as I need it.

We don't have any overhead lights in our living room and many times I use it there when I am reading.

It puts off more light than a lamp on an end table. I like being able to work on crafts and read with a bright light shining right where I need it.


When we had our home built, we installed cabinet task lighting underneath our kitchen cabinets.

I love leaving these lights on in the evening and during the night. If you get up in the middle of the night to get a drink or you are looking for a snack, you don't have to turn on the overhead lights.

The lights under the cabinets give off just enough light so you can find what you are looking for.

I also leave these lights on when we leave the house in the evening. That way when we walk in the door, we don't have to fumble around for a light switch and can see where we are going.


I love to read in bed at night and have a good reading light on the headboard. This comes in handy if both my husband and I are reading.

If one of us is sleeping and the other one is trying to read, this light is often too bright. I have bought several book LED task lights that illuminate the pages of my book while I am reading.

While this gets the job done, it is not nearly as convenient because you have to move the light every time you turn the page, or mess with a flimsy clip on light.

I ended up buying some magnified reading glasses that have a light built in on each side of the glasses. This has been a great solution for task lighting when I don't want to disturb someone else.

The magnified part of the glasses makes reading easier, and the light illuminates the pages of the book without lighting up the rest of the room. There is a small battery on each side that needs to be replaced after about 15 hours of reading.

I am not so sure I would use these anywhere else but home, but they were just the solution I was looking for to read in bed at night.


I find the older I get, the more I rely on task lighting for certain things. One of the most important things for me is bright desk task lighting.

I spend a lot of my day in front of the computer, and like to have a bright light next to me. Even if there are good overhead lights in the room, having a desk light makes my job much more pleasant.

It is easier for me to work and focus when I am in a room where there is good lighting. If the light is too dim, it is too easy to get drowsy and tired.

I also have a flexible light that plugs into my laptop. This really comes in handy when I am using my laptop on the couch and need some extra light to see the keyboard.

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